By: Blonde Two
Fi Darby (Blonde Two) is a Devon based copywriter specialising in outdoor and travel writing. For all your online and printed writing needs feel free to get in touch with Fi today.
Welcome to autumn!
Too early? Well we can hope for sunshine but the sun’s definitely lower in the sky than it was two weeks ago, and we’ll be needing torches for evening walks before long.
Although I often start to struggle with the winter seasons by the end of January, autumn is one of my favourite times of year to go for a walk. Whether it’s the smell of autumn leaves, the tang of salt on windy beaches, or the rushing of rivers as they gain momentum, autumn is an exhilarating time of year to be outside.
Finding the best autumn walks
So how do you find those autumn walks that will help you make the most of this fascinating season? You could resort to Google or social media of course but it’s far more satisfying to work out and explore your own quiet (and secret) locations. All you really need is an Ordnance Survey map of your area. And a few map-reading tips from us of course!
Finding autumn colour walks
The colours of autumn leaves in an autumn wood has to be one of the main attractions of the season but have you ever noticed the smell of autumn in the earth as it gathers those leaves in? It’s one of my favourite smells but how do you find it?
Well you need trees of course. And not just any trees. You need deciduous trees (unless you happen to know where to find a stand of larches, these unusual (and beautiful) conifers go a lovely orangey-brown before they lose their needles). I’m afraid a map can’t help you with the larches but it can tell you which forests are deciduous, and which aren’t.
The map symbols above are fun to describe when we are teaching navigation skills. I call the top one the ‘Christmas tree tree’ and the bottom one ‘the Playschool tree’. If you’re searching for autumn leaves, avoid woodlands with spiky trees (they will be conifers) and go for the round trees (officially mixed woodland but mostly deciduous).
Finding mushrooms and fungi
I’m definitely not advocating any mushroom eating here but autumn is a great time to get photos of marvellous mushrooms and fabulous fungi.
Although some fungi do like growing on poo (all kinds of poo), woods and forested areas are amongst the best places to spot a few stars. If you were really keen, you could find a forest walk on your map that had deciduous and coniferous sections, then find out if different fungi grow in each.
Finding beautiful beach walks
Beaches, especially windy ones, can make for great autumn walks but a successful beach walk requires a beach you can actually walk on, and some access to the water.
Your map can help you with both of these. Take a look at Blue Anchor Bay below. To the east (right) you’ve got rocks, and to the west you’ve got mud and shingle if the tide is out far enough. There is however a small sandy section near the middle of the map (also usefully near the toilets). If did want to crawl through shoe-sucking mud to the sea at low tide, you would have to walk over half a kilometre (that darker blue line next to the water is the mean (average) low tide line).
Probably not the best choice for autumn beach satisfaction.
Finding river walks
Rivers really come into their own in the autumn, find one in a woodland and you’ll be mesmerised by the floating carpet of leaves. My favourite autumn rivers however are the rushing ones. With more moisture on the hills, rivers start to fill in autumn, and become a joy to walk next to.
Accessing rivers for walking however is not always as easy as you might think. Once again a map can help you. Take a look at the one below. the steep contour lines towards the west (left) of the map suggest that the River Dart dashes through a gorge here. Wonderful to see (you can often hear it from the tors above) but tricky to get to (contour lines that close together require a fair degree of agility).
Look to the east however, and you will see Deeper Marsh (known locally and on social media as Spitchwick). Here you’ll find a flat area (widely spaced contour lines) next to a bend in the river. Not only that, the green diamonds show a national or long distance trail, which means you can get there on foot from the southerly (lower) car park (the northerly car park has been closed for some years now).
I can definitely recommend this little section of river for autumn walking but not on a hot summer day. It gets far too busy then, and sadly is an example of an area of Dartmoor that has been somewhat spoiled with overuse.
So there you have it. Our top tips for using your map to find those perfect (and perhaps secret) autumn walks you’ve been looking forward to. Don’t forget that the nights are drawing in now, and you need to make sure you allow plenty of time to get back before dark. Happy exploring!!