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Autumn in Scotland – The Greatest Show!

Posted on Sep 02, 2016 by David Russell

The greatest seasonal display in the Highlands is about to begin. This is why there is no better time to hike in the Highlands than Autumn.

After the glories of blooming heather in August things start to change quickly in the Highlands. The days are still long, but starting to shorten noticeably. Wild animals are busy migrating or making preparations for the winter ahead and the last harvests are being brought in from the fields.

In the forests the greatest show of the year is about to begin. It’s not just the animals that have to store reserves for winter. The precious chlorophyll that allows photosynthesis is drawn deep into the heart of the plant for storage, along with the sugars that will form the energy supply that sees  through the cold months. It’s purely a lucky coincidence that this simple process is also one of the most beautiful sights of all.

Autumn in Scotland

Autumn in Scotland

Bracken frond – first to change colour among the green foliage.


The first leaves to go are Bracken Fronds, Birch Trees and Field Maples. A hint of colour appears in the green ranks of the forest.

What prompts this sudden change? All across the Great Wild North of the planet the days are shortening and the overnight temperatures dropping. The temperature is close to or below freezing overnight yet still quite warm during the day. The jet stream moves further south over the Atlantic, punting more weather fronts in our direction. This all means a lot of moisture and energy in the air that makes for very dramatic weather and light. Sudden heavy showers pass through, giving way to epic rainbows. Morning mists dissipate in the early dawn. Heavy frosts form on clear nights that sparkle in the sun.


Misty Birch forest in the morning sun.


Dramatic rainbows pretty much follow dramatic rain!


Morning frost does not last long in the sun, but for an hour or so your mind will be blown!


As the season progresses, the birch forests swing into action. Changing suddenly and turning bright gold. A bit of luck is needed to catch the best displays. A good cold snap will encourage them all to get on with it and turn at the same time, but one good windy day can bring it all to a premature end. There’s nothing for it but to get out there at every chance you have to wander spellbound through the woods.

Autumn in Scotland

Blue sky days make the forest glow with translucent colours.


By October the landscapes are looking profoundly changed. The universal green of summer has changed to gold and browns, and the hills may be capped by the first dusting of snow. A carpet of leaves lies underfoot. Blue sky days are simply glorious.

Autumn in Scotland

If you’re lucky then early snows arrive before the trees lose their leaves.


Autumn in Scotland

The golden colour is not just limited to the forests.


The first signs have already appeared here at Wilderness Scotland HQ, so there’s lots to look forward to now in the Highlands.

If you want to come and see these spectacles for yourself, we still have places available on walking trips through the Autumn:

Want More Autumn Content? Have a read of Landscape Photography: the Real Secrets Behind the Lens and Top 5 Reasons to Visit Scotland in the Autumn.

David’s website:

About the author

David Russell

I discovered the magic of the outdoors while studying Physics at the University of St Andrews. After graduating I decided to follow my dreams of freedom in the hills and rivers, and trained as an outdoor instructor. After several years of guiding with Wilderness Scotland I moved into the role of Adventure Consultant, but I still get out when I can to share my special places with adventurers from all walks of life.

Read more articles by David | View David's Profile

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