Autumn: Turn over an old leaf

Here's the theory. As the summer days remain warm but become shorter, and the nights are longer and colder, leaves stop making chlorophyll and their greenness is replaced by other pigments. Jon Winter tests out the practice among the red, red leaves of h
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The Independent Online
There are few more revitalising activities at this time of year than a stroll through the woods on a beautiful clear morning with your breath just visible in the cool, crisp air and the turning leaves ablaze with autumn colour.

It's a time in the seasonal calendar to appreciate the simple pleasure of nature at its most vibrant; to observe a natural phenomenon, as autumn sunshine and cooler nights halt the leaves' chlorophyll production, allowing latent pigments such as carotene (yellow), tannin (brown) and anthocynin (red) to reveal themselves.

In New England, a concentration of the most colourful trees growing in favourable conditions ensures an annual rush of visitors for the fall. But while serious "leaf-peepers" head off to marvel at maples in Maine, here in Britain, if you know where to look, there is ample opportunity to witness the inflamed brilliance of the scarlet oak, maple and dogwood that are the pride of New England.

Here's a selection of autumn hot spots, recommended by the Forestry Commission and the National Trust.

Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Gloucestershire

(01666 880220)

Seven hundred acres of woodland with a huge collection of rare and endangered species. Renowned for its autumn colour - especially the Japanese maples, whose vivid reds and oranges steal the show throughout October.

Open daily from 10am until dusk. Admission: adults pounds 3.20, children pounds 1.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle, central Scotland

(01877 382383)

The eastern shore of Loch Lomond is bordered by this 75,000-acre space, with waymarked walks offering rich rewards for the casual "leaf peeper". Colour from larch, rowan, hazel, alder, ash, spruce and willow.

Admission free.

Whinlatter Forest Park, near Hawkshead, the Lake District

(01229 860010)

Although the park has acres of conifers, it is illuminated in autumn by a blaze of colour from two sources: first, large areas of semi-natural ancient woodland; second, the many exotic species planted by the original owners, Cunard. The line's ships brought back indigenous trees from wherever they sailed, and they are now enlivening this part of Cumbria.

Open daily, from dawn to dusk.

Parking: pounds 2 all day.

Hamsterly Forest, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham

(01388 488312)

More than 4,000 acres stretching across two valleys, with spectacular autumnal scenes from the larch that cover the valley slopes.

Open: daily.

Admission: pounds 1.50 per car.

Glen Affric Forest Reserve, near Cannich, the Highlands

(01320 366322)

Superb autumn colour set in a picture-postcard Scottish valley. Panoramic views ablaze with golds, yellows, purples and browns from birch, rowan, aspen, willow, Scots pine, bracken and heather.

No admission charge.

Sheffield Park Gardens, Uckfield, East Sussex

(01825 790655)

This 120-acre garden, landscaped by "Capability" Brown, is famous for its autumn colour, with scarlet oak and Japanese maple, yellow bitter nuts and speckled nyssas set around five lakes.

Open 11am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday until 16 November; then 11am-4pm, Wednesday to Saturday, until 21 December.

Admission: adults pounds 4, children pounds 2.

Stourhead, near Warminster, Wiltshire

(01747 841152)

A superb autumn show from oak, maple and many rare species, set in 100 acres around lakes, temples and grottos.

Open all year, from 9am to dusk.

Admission: adults pounds 4.20, children pounds 2.10.

Bodnant Garden, Colwyn Bay, Clwyd, Gwynedd

(01492 650460)

Beautifully situated, with views across to the Carneddau mountains in Snowdonia, Wales's finest formal garden offers tremendous autumn appeal with paperback maples and Chinese red-barked birch.

Open 10am-5pm daily.

Admission: adults pounds 4.20, children pounds 2.10.

Attingham Park, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

(01743 709203)

Enjoy a two-mile walk through the deer park, where red oak, dogwood, sumachs, horse chestnut, beech and hawthorn bring the complete autumn palette to Attingham's 70 acres.

Open daily from 8am to 8pm.

Admission: pounds 1.50 adults, 75p children.

Ickworth Park and Garden, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

(01284 735270)

Eighteen hundred acres criss-crossed with waymarked woodland trails where beech, Norway maples, hornbeams and field maples provide splendid autumn colour.

Park open from 7am to 7pm all year, garden open 10am-5pm until 3 November.

Admission: adults pounds 2, children 50p.

Because the timing, longevity and colour intensity of autumn are all dependent on the weather, the Forestry Commission advises that walkers wishing to observe the trees at their best should keep a daily watch on changing conditions.

Next Friday, 3 October, the Commission will launch a campaign called "Autumn Colours '97: Going for Gold". An Autumn Leaf Line will operate for about six weeks; call 0131-314 6111 for up-to-date advice on the best sites around the country for looking at autumn trees, or for a free information pack. You can also visit the commission's web site on the Internet at

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A compendium of hazards facing the traveller

Next time you rent a car in the United States, you would do well to choose the model carefully. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just published an index giving the `driver death rate' for each make of car. The survey, covering the years from 1992 to 1996, shows alarming variations in the numbers of driver deaths. With 100 as the average, the Chevrolet Camaro registers a score nearly three times as lethal: 295. Close behind are the Geo Tracker (264) and the Pontiac Firebird (260). At the safer end, the Ford Windstar - an MPV-type van - rates just 25. Limousines hold the next three places. The Toyota Lexus ES 300 scores 30; close behind, at 32, are the Cadillac Fleetwood and the Volvo 850.