Family Day Trips from Bristol: Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Known as the National Arboretum, Westonbirt spans 600 acres and is home to an incredible 2,500 species. Originally planted by the Holford family in the mid-19th century, it now houses one of the finest collections of trees in the world, including five national plant collections. It's open all year round, but of course the most popular time of year to visit is Autumn, when there are spectacular colours to discover. Such is the interest, there is even an autumn hotline set up between mid-September to November which tells you where the best displays can be found on a weekly basis!
We visited this Gloucestershire attraction on a soggy Sunday afternoon in mid-October. Due to the earlier rain, it was a little quieter than usual when we arrived at the main car park after an easy 45 minute car journey from Bristol. Entrance tickets cost £10 for adults and £4 for children (during peak season March - November) and car parking is free. We were handed an Autumn trail map by the friendly staff next to the Welcome Building, as well as a special family trail map for the kids.
There are two main parts to the arboretum, with The Old Arboretum being more suitable for little legs. The autumn trail is 1 mile and takes around 1-1.5 hours, and it includes the famous Acer Glade, which is a must-visit during Autumn. As we'd been to The Old Arboretum a few times before, we chose to visit Silk Wood this time, which is much bigger. If you follow the autumn trail, it is 2 miles and takes around 1.5-2 hours, although there is lots more to explore if you venture off the suggested route.
When you head towards Silk Wood, the main entrance route is across the stunning Treetop Walkway which was opened in 2016. Standing at 13 metres high and 300 metres long, it takes you up into the tree canopy and it is step-free, meaning it is accessible for everyone. Along the way there are lots of interactive signs and information boards which were really engaging and kept the kids interested. There are a couple of stops where you can climb onto viewing platforms even higher up into the trees and the views over the arboretum were fantastic.
Once we entered Silk Wood, we found the first Treasure Quest on the family trail map and each member of the family decided on their own mission, whether that was to find the brightest red leaf, the smoothest nut, or the helicopter leaf which could fly the furthest. It's little touches like this which makes Westonbirt the ideal place for a walk with children, as there is always something to capture their interest. Along the way, there were also chances to build dens, and to play 'What's The Time Mr Wolf?', whilst in The Old Arboretum, there is the popular Gruffalo Wood for little ones.
The majority of paths are flat and accessible for buggies (the ones that aren't are clearly marked on the map). Don't let the weather put you off, as even if it's raining, that doesn't spoil the fun - just put your wellies on and splash in all the puddles! Plus there are plenty of big trees to shelter under! It didn't feel particularly busy when we visited as there is so much space that the paths never seem to get overcrowded (although I would advise arriving as early as you can on a dry autumn day). Whatever the time of year, you'll always manage to find a quiet spot somewhere and there are plenty of benches dotted around where you can sit down and take in the spectacular surroundings.
Despite the odd shower, we continued our journey through Silk Wood where there are plenty of photo opportunities, especially at Maple Loop. Westonbirt Arboretum holds the national collection for maples and autumn is definitely the time to see them at their colourful best!
Once we'd completed the trail in Silk Wood, we made our way to the cafe for a well-deserved hot chocolate and slice of cake! There is also a restaurant, shop, and play area in this section of the arboretum, as well as toilets, so it's a good place for a pit stop. If you intend to spend the whole day at Westonbirt, then this is the perfect area for lunch before tackling a second trail in the afternoon.
THIS CITY MUM'S TOP TIPS FOR A GREAT DAY OUT AT WESTONBIRT ARBORETUM
Arrive early or late - before 11am or after 2pm are the best times as these are less busy during the Autumn season.
If you've never visited before - I recommend exploring the Old Arboretum on your first visit. It's a shorter walk, the tree collections are closer together, and it's really spectacular during Autumn.
Dog walks - if you're taking your dog with you, then they are welcome in Silk Wood but NOT in The Old Arboretum or the Welcome Building which are dog-free zones.
Be prepared - make sure you use the toilets in the Welcome Building before you start either of the trails as there are none once you reach The Old Arboretum or Silk Wood - and it's a long trek back!
Take your time - sometimes easier said than done, especially if you have young children with you. But it's really worth taking the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the wonders of nature all around you. Westonbirt really is a special place!
Don't miss: The Treetop Walkway, Acer Glade (Old Arboretum), Maple Loop (Silk Wood), Gruffalo Wood (for little ones).
This is one in a series of articles about day trips which are an hour or less from Bristol. Check out my other posts about trips to Wiltshire and Wales.
Disclaimer: Complimentary family entry was provided by Westonbirt Arboretum in return for an honest review. All thoughts and photos are my own.