14 places to see gorgeous autumn colour in Suffolk
- Credit: Fred Ixer
During a year and a half of lockdown restrictions, many of us have found solace in the outdoors. A whole generation of new gardeners has sprung forth. And we’ve been forced to really, truly embrace the landscape that surrounds us. Walking has become, for many of us, a necessity. Something grounding. Breathing space. A stress reliever.
There is often a sense of dread, going into the cooler months. A longing for those drawn-out summer evenings and beachside picnics. But there is so much to embrace about this time of year – not least the phenomenal, fiery, visible changing of the seasons in our woodlands.
Christchurch Park, Ipswich
Need to know: Open from 7am each day – a whistle blows 15 minutes before the gates shut. Closest parking at Crown Street. Toilet facilities available. Refreshments at Christchurch Mansion.
Suffolk’s county town has some truly brilliant parks – from Holywells, to Bourne – but Christchurch is the one most will hold dearest to their hearts. Boasting a history stretching back at least to the Saxon times, the park isn’t just the home of Ipswich Music Day or the town’s firework display. In addition to play areas, bowling greens, tennis courts and a trim trail, you’ll find evidence of a long, prosperous heritage around the site – which is on the register of historic parks and gardens of special interest.
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Many of the oaks and sweet chestnuts are over 400 years old. And did you know there are 14 Grade II listed aspects to see (from drinking fountains to an ice house)?
Admire the changing seasons in the arboretum, with its rock and peace gardens, and watch as the red brick mansion house blends into the treescape. Oh, and look out for Mabel the park’s beloved owl.
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Rendlesham Forest, near Woodbridge
Need to know: Open from 9am to 6pm every day except Christmas Day. Parking is £3 for two hours or £5 all day. There is free parking at Butley Corner nearby. Toilet facilities are available and there are refreshments from a visiting food truck. Dining is available close by at The Unruly Pig, The Froize Inn, The Green Man at Tunstall, or The Wild Blackberry café at Swann’s Nursery.
Standing in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Rendlesham has it all. Multiple walking and cycling trails, a BMX area, fantastic play areas, and picnic spots. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the woodlands here are part of a conservation project to provide a habitat for woodlarks and nightjars, and are mostly made up of pine – with a towering effect that makes you feel really quite small once you’re in the thick of things. Many visit because of Rendlesham’s famed ‘UFO sighting’ - there’s even a UFO trail.
Need to know: The National Trust Site’s car park is open from 9am to 6pm and costs £6 for the day. There’s a tearoom here, and visitor information, open 10am to 5pm. The Ship at Dunwich pub, and Dingle Hill Tearooms are also close by.
If being by the sea soothes your soul, there’s no better place to experience beauty and colour than in the salty air, on a sandy path at Dunwich Heath. In early autumn the habitat (known for nightjars, woodlarks and adders) comes alive with an explosion of purple and pink heather. Combine the heaths with the burnt colours of autumn by enjoying a 4.5mile walk along Dingle Marshes and via Dunwich Forest. Start at Beach Road (IP17 3DZ) and follow the orange-topped posts. The northern of the woods is grazed by Dartmoor ponies. They’re wonderful to watch, but please don’t touch or feed them.
Brandon Country Park
Need to know: The site has a visitor centre, café, cycle hire and many waymarked walks. It’s open from dawn to dusk daily, with parking from 8am to 8pm at £2 for two hours or £3 for over two hours.
In the 19th century Edward Bliss made his fortune in the flint industry, buying up 2,500 acres in the Brecks, with Brandon Country Park forming part of the estate. Several well-marked routes will take you around the majestic parkland – home to buzzards, nightjars, woodlarks and nuthatches. Copper Beech Avenue is not to be missed at this time of year. Nor the arboretum, where plantings include monkey puzzle and giant redwood trees. Don't miss the spooky haunted mausoleum!
Pin Mill, Chelmondiston
Need to know: Open 24 hours. Park at the Babergh Car Park for Pin Mill (open 9am to 5pm, 30p per hour). The Butt and Oyster pub is right next to the walk. Or there’s gastropub dining at The Red Lion in Chelmondiston, a short walk away.
There is something really very special about this small section of woodland abutting the river Orwell. Head right at the car park, and up the concrete steps, following the path to a kissing gate and into a place that feels unspoilt and timeless. In high autumn the forest floor is a carpet of colour – fallen leaves and fungi, with a variety of broadleaf, fruit and nut trees. Follow the footpaths east and down to the river’s edge onto open marshland. The multiple boat wrecks scattered on the shoreline (many refurbished and inhabited) are fascinating.
High Lodge, Thetford
Need to know: Open daily from 9am to 6pm (not Christmas Day). Parking from £2 for an hour, to £12.50 for a full day. Parking can be pre-paid online. Cycle hire and café on site. Book segway and tree tail experiences with Go Ape.
Thetford Forest spans 3,464 acres between Brandon and Thetford, straddling the Suffolk and Norfolk borders, and planted with Corsican pine, Douglas fir, larch, Weymouth pine and broadleaf trees.
It is truly a fantastic day out for families, or those seeking adventure, with easy, and more challenging walking and cycling trails, a sculpture trail, and even a walk dedicated to The Gruffalo, with a companion app for interactivity. Despite being popular, the size of the site means you’ll always find your own space to admire the changing seasons. The café is excellent, but there’s a large clearing where you can picnic or barbecue (using the marked spots).
Wolves Wood, near Hadleigh
Need to know: Open 24 hours. Parking is free from 9am to 6pm (or dusk). The site is very uneven so not recommended for wheelchairs and buggies. Hadleigh is a very short drive away and has toilet facilities and multiple places to eat.
It’s hard to believe this ancient hideaway was once connected to seven others that covered East Anglia. There’s been woodland recorded on the site since the 1600s, and coppicing continues here to maintain vital habitats for bird and insect life.
Wolves Wood is rarely busy, making it ideal for seeing in autumntime without the crowds. It has an ‘untouched’ feel, with boggy ponds, walkway, and gnarly, twisted trees. Wear sturdy shoes as there are lots of uneven, bumpy patches along the way.
Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds
Need to know: Open 8am to 9pm until of October, and until 6pm November to March. There’s a café, play area and bookable football pitches. Parking is £2 for up to two hours, or £3 over two hours.
Part of the Oakes family estate until 1985, Nowton Park is probably best known in Suffolk for its far-as-the-eye-can-see displays of daffodils, which carpet the grounds in springtime.
But there is much to admire in autumn too – not least the oak tree-shaped maze, made up of 2,500 hornbeam trees!
Visit the arboretum to see how specimens such as eucalyptus and Chinese paperbark maple change with the seasons. Enjoy the grandeur of one of the UK’s best lime avenues. And stop by the bird feeding station near the main house, where you could spy long tailed tits and great spotted woodpeckers amongst the lark, cherry and oak trees.
Bradfield Woods National Nature Reserve, near Felsham
Need to know: Open 24 hours. Free car park on site. The award-winning Brewers pub at Rattlesden is nearby for lunch or dinner. Toilets (including disabled) available.
Another truly wild wood, which has been under coppice management since 1252! It’s a veritable haven for wildlife, with sensational colour displays in autumn, and an abundance of birds and moths. Suffolk Wildlife Trust hosts lots of nature-based events here for families.
Staverton Thicks, off the B1084 near Rendlesham Forest
Need to know: Open 24 hours, no car park.
This off-the-beaten-track woodland has been described as ‘a lost world’ and can form an interesting section of a walk within Suffolk Coasts and Heaths. Found in the remains of Staverton Park, it combines heath and grazing land, and woods, with many rare trees and lichen to be discovered – some of the oaks are hundreds of years old. It’s also home to some of the tallest holly trees in the country.
Alton Water, near Holbrook
Need to know: Open every day. Car park open from 9am to 6pm until October 31, then until 4.30pm until March 31 – from £1.70 up to an hour, to £6 all day. A new ticket system is in place, paying on exit with a ticket taken when you enter – and contactless payment is available) Café and cycle hire on site. Camping is available.
Action-seekers should head here where, as well as seeing autumn come in via the woodlands, you can cycle the eight-mile cross country track, sail, kayak, paddleboard or even fish.
Alton Water’s 400 acres really are very beautiful all-year-round, encompassing bird hides, ponds and lots of wild nooks and crannies. Pack a picnic and spend the whole day here.
Need to know: Open 9am to 5pm. A shop and café are on site. Entry is £10 for adults, £5 for children and £25 for families. Good toilet facilities and some accessible trails available.
Ickworth’s Italianate rotunda is unfailingly gorgeous. And the collections inside the main house are well worth visiting. But for many daytrippers, it’s the grounds that are the true beauty of this place. In spring the magnolia garden is not to be missed. And there are neatly kept formal gardens in the shadow of the property. However, at this time of year we recommend heading into the parkland to herald the beginning of autumn. The circular 4.1mile Lady Hervey Walk will take you through woodlands and via the two lakes.
Thornham Walks, near Eye
Need to know: Open 9am to 6pm until the end of October and until 4pm November to March. Parking is £2 on week days and £3 at weekends. Two all-terrain electric wheelchairs are available to book in advance at £2. There’s a café and deli on site.
Wow. That’s just one superlative to describe the walks on the 2,000 acre Thornham Estate. Home to the Henniker-Major family for more than 250 years, Thornham is a delight, made up of lakes, walled gardens, a restored folly, walled garden, memory garden, nuttery and conifer-laden pinetum. There’s even a pet cemetery.
Furze Hill Park, Mistley
Park at Mistley’s recreation ground, disappear into the woods. And find yourself in an almost Neverland-like landscape, of twisted trees and rope swings. The woods are home to Old Knobbly, thought to be one of the oldest trees in Britain (at around 800-years-old). Legend has it women hid from the Witchfinder General in its hollows.