It’s a season when the air turns crisper, the lochs become stiller and the landscapes grow more atmospheric. Autumn in Scotland gives countless good reasons to come calling – here are the best of them.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of visiting Scotland over the autumn months is the time and space you’ll have to enjoy the country. Gone are the heavy crowds and congested attractions of the peak summer months, to be replaced by a more tangible sense of freedom. You won’t find yourself entirely without company, of course – the pull of Scotland is far too great for that – but there’s a marked change in pace and atmosphere once autumn arrives, and tourists tend to revel in it. What’s more, hotel rates (and green fees for golfers) are often lower.
You only have to look at the number of fine dining restaurants in the country (12 Michelin stars and counting) to see that Scottish cuisine is a serious proposition. Today’s Scotland is a bona fide food destination that places real emphasis on fresh seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients. Autumn is the time when lamb is at its most succulent, game meats are plentiful and fruits such as apples, plums and pears are at their best. It’s also a great time of year for native Scottish oysters.
Scotland’s spellbinding landscapes are one of its greatest assets. Mountains crowd the horizons, islands glimmer offshore and great valleys curve across the map. They boast a year-round beauty – a special wild something that marks them out as Scottish – but it’s during autumn when their colours are at their fieriest. Intermingled with evergreen Scots pines, the ochres and reds spread across the hills, tinting the woods and reflecting in lochs. Great spots for autumn foliage include The Trossachs (80 minutes north of Glasgow) and Perthshire (around 75 minutes north of both Glasgow and Edinburgh).
Summer might be over, but autumn is no off-season where Scotland’s wildlife is concerned. One of the country’s great natural spectacles takes place at this time: the rutting of the red deer, during which males clash antlers to assert their dominance. The best places to witness the sight include the Cairngorms National Park (northern Scotland) and the Isle of Arran (southwest Scotland) – be sure to view from a safe distance. Other wildlife highlights at this time of year include Atlantic salmon leaping upstream to reach their breeding grounds. Grey seal pups, common on the Moray Firth (close to Inverness, northeast Scotland), are usually born in autumn too.
You’re unlikely to encounter many midges on a regular sightseeing trip to Scotland, but for tourists set on exploring the Highlands and islands in depth, particularly in the northwest, the presence of these clouds of tiny insects can be a real pain over the summer months. Luckily, once the cooler temperatures of autumn arrive, midges tend to all but disappear. They’re barely to be seen by October, leaving visitors free to enjoy the outdoors.
There’s no better place to round off a day of Scottish exploration than in front of a log fire – ideally with a dram or two of Scotch whisky to hand. Autumn sees daylight hours draw in and the great outdoors become more bracing, serving not only to intensify the country’s scenic drama but to make the prospect of a cosy evening fireplace all the more appealing. Whether you’re at a grand country hotel like Gleneagles (50 minutes north of Glasgow) or Glencoe House (30 minutes’ drive from Fort William, western Scotland), or a traditional pub such as The Jolly Judge in Edinburgh, the blaze of a log fire is rarely far away.