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(The Gear Loop) - The summer crowds have departed, the midges are gone and a hush has set in across our wilder places. The fellsides are blushed with purple heather, mist hangs in the valleys and in the woodland, the leaves are turning beguiling earthy shades of molten red and gold. Autumn is perhaps the finest season for hiking.

What makes for a good autumn hike? Blissfully silent summits? Cascades emboldened by September rain? The crunch of leaves underfoot? We’ve considered this question carefully to bring you half a dozen quintessential shoulder season walks. These are, quite simply, six of the best autumn hikes in the UK.

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Water and woodland combine beautifully on all of these hikes, yet beyond this, they each have their own flavour. The first two seek out waterfalls as their main objectives, one in South Wales, the other in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. Two classic woodland gorge walks form the meat in our autumnal sandwich, one in Dartmoor, the other in the Peak District.

Finally, we head for the Lakes and for Snowdonia to tackle mountains and to indulge in some simple scrambling and sensational summit viewpoints. One hike takes us to the top of Lakeland icon and the other delivers a knockout view of Snowdon’s great ridges. 

Waterfall walks

Autumn in Britain sees its fair share of rainfall. What better time is there, then, to seek out some of our island’s most spectacular waterfalls? Glorious is the sight of a cascade in spate, thundering down from above.

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Four Falls hike in the Brecon Beacons’ Waterfall Country

The marvelous Vale of Neath in the south of the Brecon Beacons National Park is often referred to as "Waterfall Country" due to its many picturesque cascades. This hike visits no less than four distinctive and characterful waterfalls: Sgwd Uchaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd-yr-Eira. The latter is thought to be the grandest and even gives you option of exploring behind its watery veil.

The hike begins from the Porth yr Ogof car park and before long you are following the Afon Melte downstream through lush woodland. The Clun-Gwyn pair of falls set the tone, the first one is the highest, crashing over a couple of ledges.

Next, Sgwd y Pannwr is a beguiling series of thundering falls and swirling eddies. However, the best is yet to come, as the limelight is undoubtedly hogged by Sgwd Yr Eira, which translates as "fall of snow" in Welsh. Take care on the slippery approach and marvel the 15-metre cascading veil. Taking a peek behind the falls is obligatory.

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From here, turn back and explore this magnificent landscape in reverse.

The majestic An Steall in Glen Nevis

The scale of Glen Nevis is breathtaking, especially if the high peaks catch an early dusting of autumn snow. You don’t have to haul yourself onto the ridges and summits for excitement and spectacular sights, there’s plenty of all that in the glen. This is a gorge walk that’s got a bit of everything, with a mightily impressive waterfall as its centrepiece.

It’s up to you how much of the glen you explore but the star attractions are found to the east of the car park at the road’s end. With the Water of Nevis thundering along its mighty gorge, you venture above on a well-constructed trail. 

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Without warning, you’re squeezed out of the gorge, the water’s cacophony abates and the woodland clears to reveal the Steall Meadows. This open and green section of the valley is backed by the huge An Steall waterfall, which plunges from Coire a’ Mhail, unseen among the mountains above.

To get up close to the waterfall, there’s a tremendously exciting and nerve-wracking wire bridge crossing. Safely across, you can bask in the glory of one of the Highland’s most iconic waterfalls, before reversing your route back to the car park. 

Woodland wonder

There’s something about a woodland hike in autumn. The rich scents released after rainfall are evocative of adventures past and the colours are always bewitching. Lace up your hiking boots and get amongst it.

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Castle Drogo and the Teign Gorge

A Dartmoor classic. The Teign Gorge walk from Castle Drogo is a delight all year round but especially wonderful in autumn when the leaves turn yellow and orange and the sense of seasonal change weighs heavy on the landscape.

Castle Drogo is famous for being the last castle built in England and makes for a grand start to this walk. From here, you venture east along the high Hunters Path before dropping into the valley at Fingle Bridge. The charming pub here is worth stopping at, if just to drink in the charming surroundings.

Here, you have a choice of paths on either side of the River Teign. If anything, this is a good excuse to do the whole walk twice. Either way, venture west through the bottom of this scenic gorge, with the river babbling alongside you. The northern path ascends and descends across the base of Sharp Tor, which adds a certain frisson to this part of the walk.

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The southern path takes you along the lower wall of Whiddon Deer Park with its fallow deer. Once both paths join back up, it’s a steep pull back up to Castle Drogo to finish.

Dovedale in the White Peak

Dovedale is one of the Peak District’s most picturesque dales. Famous for the nature-rich River Dove and its incredible limestone rock formations, it makes for a glorious autumn amble. However, its southern end is extremely popular, so try to avoid public holidays and set out early or late in the day for a more tranquil experience.

Dovedale is cared for by the National Trust, who have a large car park at its southern end. The entrance to the dale is guarded by the impressive conical form of Thorpe Cloud, a limestone hill on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. A detour to the 287-metre summit offers magnificent views, though it’s a steep, sharp ascent.

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Once you venture into the jaws of Dovedale there are plenty of conspicuous landmarks, some human-made, others sculpted by monumental geological forces. The iconic stepping stones are first up and then there’s a short ascent to the fine viewpoint at Lover’s Leap.

Perhaps the most spectacular sight in the dale is the abrupt limestone pinnacle of Ilam Rock, a great upthrust above the river. Eventually, you arrive at the pretty village of Milldale, where you can grab a drink and a bite to eat at Polly’s Cottage. After this, it’s just a case of enjoying the whole walk again in reverse.   

Magnificent mountains

Summer in the mountains is admittedly great: long days, clear skies and above freezing temperatures on the summits. However, we’d take autumn any day for the quiet solitude and greater sense of challenge. Besides, those uphill pulls are much more enjoyable without the sun beating down on you.

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Great Gable via Sour Milk Gill

Helvellyn and Scafell Pike may get the popular vote but those in the know consider Great Gable to be the Lake District’s finest mountain. A proper peak, Gable is conspicuous in many summit views across the national park and any trek to its historic summit is a delight.

One of the best ways to approach the mountain to start at Borrowdale’s Seathwaite Farm and ascend into fells via Sour Milk Gill. This is an easy and aesthetic ghyll scramble and is a spectacular way to leave the valley behind. A long ascent onto neighbouring Green Gable follows and then there’s a rocky clamber up onto Great Gable’s summit from the atmospheric Windy Gap.

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Great Gable when viewed from Wast Water has been officially named as England’s favourite view in the past. From the summit you are treated to the reverse of this view and it is arguably better, right down the length of Wasdale and its lake, which is England’s deepest. Descend to Styhead Tarn and follow the path alongside Styhead Gill back into Borrowdale.

The most poignant time to hike to Great Gable is on Remembrance Sunday in November when scores of hikers take a pilgrimage up to the First World War memorial on the summit to pay their respects.

Moel Siabod via the Daear Ddu Ridge

You know a mountain is good when it has a café named after it. In fact, the Moel Siabod Café is where this hike starts, before taking on the excellent Daear Ddu Ridge to the summit. The ridge is an easy grade one scramble, an ideal first foray into technical terrain for kids eager to get their hands on rock.

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From the café, you initially head southwest along the picturesque Afon Llugwy to Pont Cyfyng. From here, a track ascends gradually past industrial remnants and a couple of medium-sized lakes. The second is Llyn-y-foel, which you skirt to the west, before the ridge scramble begins.

It’s solid, straightforward entertainment even on a wet day and before you know it you arrive onto Moel Siabod’s lofty summit. Your eyes will undoubtedly be drawn to the west, where the full extent of the Snowdon Horseshoe is laid bare before you on a clear day. Few vistas in Wales, or indeed all of Britain, can match this. 

With a hot brew in the café beckoning, descend along the easy path to the northeast.

Now get the gear

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AKU Rocket DFS GTX

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These brand-new hiking shoes from Italian manufacturer AKU feature the same innovative dual lacing system as their Rock DFS GTX approach shoes. The Rockets are designed for fast and light hiking and they are waterproof thanks to a GORE-TEX membrane. The Traction Lug technology of their Vibram soles will give you grip on difficult terrain too. This all makes them ideal for autumn hikes, when conditions can be changeable to say the least.

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Lowe Alpine Cholatse 32:37

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Having a quality daypack that’s big enough to fit in all your waterproofs and additional layers yet small and light enough to not weigh you down can enhance your hiking enjoyment immensely. Lowe Alpine’s award-winning Cholatse 32:37 pack satisfies these demands with aplomb. It’s comfortable, breathable and designed to transfer weight away from your shoulders.

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Craghoppers Anderson Cagoule

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The amount of rainfall in the UK generally reaches a crescendo in November, which can often be the wettest month. September and October aren’t quite as damp but it’s still essential to have a quality waterproof jacket when you venture out. Craghopper’s Anderson Cagoule is a no-nonsense hard shell at a very good price. With a hydrostatic head rating of 15,000 and no full-length front zip, it’s designed to repel whatever Blighty has in store for you.

Writing by Alex Foxfield. Editing by Leon Poultney.