Five Top Hills for Autumn

A season of mellow light and dawn mist, russet leaves and purple heather, autumn is a bracing time on the hills. As a bonus the crisp air should be knocking back the midges. Dwidling daylight hours might nudge you towards shorter routes, so with this in mind here are five great half days with the classic autumnal mix of woodland and upland.

1. Catbells and Derwent Water

Skiddaw from Catbells, autumn colours, 152 kb
Skiddaw from Catbells, autumn colours
© Ice Nine

Bracken a rusty orange, broadleaves yellowing towards the fall, and long shadows on Skiddaw and Blencathra - the view from Catbells takes some beating at any time of year, but autumn might be best of all. Combined with a leg stretch along the shore of Derwentwater, thick with some of the most idyllic woods in England, this waterside mini mountain could have been purpose-built for a seasonal quickie. And summer's high season crowds should by now be a distant memory, too.

2. Schiehallion

Schiehallion from an autumnal Queen's View, Loch Tummel, 171 kb
Schiehallion from an autumnal Queen's View, Loch Tummel
© Dan Bailey -, Nov 2013

Standing alone in the heart of the highlands, the huge mass of Schiehallion has a gravitational attraction by dint of its sheer scale, its elegant simplicity of form, and the wide-ranging views that its height and position afford. From the forested shores of Lochs Rannoch and Tummel - something to write home about in the tones of autumn - Schiehallion masquerades as a striking cone, Perthshire's Mount Fuji. Broadside-on it's more bulky, like the hull of an upturned boat. Despite the mountain's 1000 metre-plus height, the standard route from Braes of Foss is a casual half-day up-and-back affair; a longer and more rewarding circuit takes in the west ridge too for a full traverse. Either way Schiehallion has all the classic seasonal ingredients: autumnal woodland, heather in bloom and, quite possibly, a dusting of early snow.

3. Lingmoor Fell

Elter Water and the eastern fells from Lingmoor Fell, 145 kb
Elter Water and the eastern fells from Lingmoor Fell
© Dan Bailey -, Nov 2014

From the pretty woods of Langdale to the gold-brown bracken and flowering heather of its knobbly spine, little Lingmoor Fell is a perfect autumn outing. With the familiar skyline of the higher fells encircling you, and a patchwork of valley pastures, trees and lakes below, the setting could not be more Lakeland. A quick bracing up-and-back and you can be down warming your cockles in a country pub for lunch.

4. Ben Venue and Loch Katrine

ben venue, 160 kb
ben venue
© jaggy bunnet, Oct 2009

Rising over the forested shore of Loch Katrine in the ever-popular Trossachs, Ben Venue combines easy access with a pleasing ruggedness, and expansive views spanning from the lowland Central Belt to the zigzag silhouette of the southern Highlands. The oak woods are a real treat at this time of year, while up above the trees you might be lucky enough to hear the grunting roar of rutting stags, a classic soundtrack to autumn walks in the Highlands.

5. Yr Aran from Nantgwynant

At the end of the day, a rainbow lifts the spirits after frequent squally showers dampen ambition.  Nant Gwynant., 240 kb
At the end of the day, a rainbow lifts the spirits after frequent squally showers dampen ambition. Nant Gwynant.
© David Dear, Sep 2011

A satellite of the Snowdon range, Yr Aran is more than just a minor add-on. This fine conical peak is a superb half-day destination in its own right, and has a close-up view of Snowdon - with luck dusted with early snow. But perhaps it is the valley at its foot that really steals the show. A collage of lakes, fields and trees, Nantgwynant is one of the most picturesque spots in Snowdonia, and looks stunning in seasonal colours. From Pont Bethania follow Snowdon's Watkin Path through mature oak woodland into Cwm Llan, then climb Yr Aran via the east ridge. To make a circuit head down to the woods of the Gwynant valley at Craflwyn Hall, before returning by a trail along the southern shore of Llyn Dinas.

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