Sticking to the 10-mph speed limit up a long, elegant, tree-lined avenue to Batsford Arboretum takes some doing. The passing countryside is ‘Cotswold gorgeous’, but the leaf fiesta ahead is the prize. This autumn, particularly it seems at Batsford, the colours are ‘popping’. And the resultant endorphins are clearing head spaces and providing sanctuary in Covid-weary Britain.
The word ‘arboretum’ comes from Latin, simply ‘a place with trees’; but Batsford, on the edge of Morton in Marsh in Gloucestershire, is ramping up this definition. It is home to rare and commonplace species of trees – Acers, Birch, Maple, Oak, Ash, Lime, Magnolia, Mountain Ash, Pine, Fir, Spruce and more.
It’s also home to the penchants of its previous owners – a sculpture representing Daphne (who in Greek mythology escapes Apollo’s desire by being turned into a laurel tree) cohabits quite biddably with a hermit’s cave, rockeries, a thatched cottage, a Buddha, two Japanese deer and a mythical beast called Foo Dog. And a Japanese Rest house complete with rooftop dragon to ward off evil spirits!
This colourful legacy was left to the Batsford Foundation in February 1992, on the death of the 2nd Lord Dulverton. The trust was set up to ‘promote research and education into conservation, arboriculture, gardens and architecture’; and as marketing manager, Laura Summer says:
It’s just our job really to maintain the collection and keep it going for future generations, so the next generations can enjoy it too.
Colour is the buzzword for a visit to Batsford Arboretum at any time of the year but this year’s colour season sizzles. It generally starts at the beginning of October through to early November with a show-stopping colour crescendo mid-October. Half-term has seen visitor numbers capped to 700 a day from the usual 2000 because of Covid and everyone, it seems, is here for the colour. Laura Summer says: We’ve got trees from all around the world, quite a few Japanese trees; we’ve got some spectacular bright reds, oranges and golds – just a real kaleidoscope of colour. It’s our most popular time to come because the arboretum looks so pretty this time of year.’
There’s evidence that the season is waning with autumnal colour being crunched under foot, but in other parts of the arboretum the colour is still popping.
Across the whole country, this year, autumn, it seems, has outdone herself with extreme colour from the Golitha Falls in Cornwall to Loch Lomond in Dunbartonshire. And the simplest reason for this, as David Lewis, senior lecturer in forestry and land management, at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, says is – ‘the weather’:
The views from this 55-acre site are gorgeous and tranquil in equal parts. Clearings in the trees allow sights into the Evenlode Valley in the direction of the Cotswolds and Morton in Marsh town; with Cheltenham just over the hills. It’s a place to absorb beauty, be introspective and reflect. And as Laura Summer explains it’s a place to escape and reboot your own headspace:
Mental health charity Mind encourages connecting with nature to raise mood and help stimulate wellbeing – mental and physical. This is not lost on early retired couple Sally and John Elliot:
They arrived at Batsford in the late afternoon – the sun is beginning its descent, the leaves remain irrepressibly crunchy and the colours are indeed popping. Unquestionably, they are ‘in a good place’.