So winter has finally started – at least according to the Met Office for whom the 1st December marks the beginning. For astronomers, we’re still autumn until the winter solistice (21st December) which seems a bit late to me. Whatever date you choose, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with autumn this year. I’d been planning to post a series of blogs highlighting the best places and walks where you could appreciate the full majesty of the glorious seasonal colours. Instead, the trees seem to have gone from green to bare branches in almost one fell swoop. Yes, there has been a degree of colour change, but the usual yellows, reds and oranges have seemed muted. I feel you’ve cheated me, Mother Nature! I find these riotous colours are one of the autumnal delights tempering the thought of winter’s cold, short days. That, plus the wonderful bounty of berries and fruit, and the comforting chutney-making.
So what determines the colours of the leaves? Why are the colours more spectacular some years but not others? Leaves find it very hard to photosynthesise (the process which makes food for the tree) at temperatures below 5 degrees centrigrade, so when it slows down or stops, leaves aren’t worth having around. Instead, the nutrients in the leaf are absorbed back into the main body of the tree and ‘recycled’. Daily temperature and day length are the two principle cues that spark this process: two chemicals in leaves (phytochrome and cryptochrome in case you’re interested) monitor red and blue light and can detect changes of as little as half an hour. As soon as the day length and temperature fall below a certain level, the leaves start falling.
What turns the leaf’s colour from green to the characteristic autumnal shades? The green colour is thanks to chlorophyll, the chemical photosythesis factory. When this is absorbed back into the tree, the green disappears and stops masking the yellow colours which, surprisingly, have been there since the leaf first grew in the spring. In late summer, red-coloured chemicals develop in the leaves but are also covered up by the green until the leaf starts to die. These reds are affected by the brightness of the autumn sunshine and temperature – when the days are sunny with chilly but not freezing nights, the reds become more vibrant and spectacular. This year, autumn has generally been mild and mainly overcast, which explains the muted colours compared to some years.
One enjoyable walk I did do in autumn, which would be good at other times of the year as well, took me to Paradise! Whilst many people would describe the countryside around here as that, Paradise is actually a tiny cluster of houses just off the A46 north of Painswick. Charles I and his army is reputed to have made their camp in this spot during the Civil War with the monarch gazing over the rolling hills and sighing ‘Is this Paradise?’. Whether true or not, it’s a lovely story as recounted by RR Gordon in his book ‘Little Cotswold Walks’. He’s written a serites of these books describing delightful walks around the Stroud valleys. The walks are generally an hour or two in length and, best of all, they always include a pub! As Mr Gordon says: ‘I aim for an hour or so – which justifies having a pudding at the pub!’ Now that’s my kind of countryside rambling. In fact, two of the books have pubs as the hubs of all the walks. Each route is also given a critique by Mr Gordon’s dog, Daisy – handy if you want to combine exercising your family pouch at the same time.
If you look in book 2: ‘The Painswick Valley’, you’ll find Walk 5 starting and ending at the Walkers’ car park at Painswick Golf Club and taking in Paradise along the way. It’s a fabulous walk, though a tiny bit strenuous and muddy in a couple of places, offering great views over the landscape and includes walking alongside a beautiful babbling brook. Take note, though, Mr Gordon’s description of the start of the route isn’t quite accurate: go past the golf club and keep going along the track until you see a sign saying ‘Walkers Car Park’ on your right. I got completely lost to start with by parking in the small car park on the right immediately opposite the golf club.
The walk is described here: http://www.rrgordon.com/TheLittleBookOfLittleWalks-2PainswickValley.pdf.
When to visit: route can be followed at any time of year. You get great views from many places on the walk so you’ll see something different whenever you go.
Location: beginning and ending in the Walker’s Car Park at Painswick Golf Club. OS Explorer map 179 SO863115.
How much time to allow: 1.5 – 1.75 hours (depending how fast/slow you walk).
Terrain: lots of ups and downs with stiles so definately not for people with mobility problems. The route takes you along a lovely stretch of the Painswick stream and along the valley bottom so it’s muddy in places. Wear stout, waterproof shoes.
Facilities: Painswick Golf Club has a restaurant and toilets.
Directions: Drive along A46 until you see the signpost for Painswick Golf Club and take this minor road which almost runs parrallel with the main road. Follow this until you reach the gold club and drive past club house. Keep going until you see sign saying ‘Walkers’ car park’ on right hand side and park in there. Follow the book for directions from here.