They arrive in droves. Children in brightly coloured wellies, adults with piled-high buggies, teens with bulging backpacks, photographers weighed down with tripods and cameras, artists with easels and bush hats. In chattering waves they sweep from the parking field, past noisy snack wagons and portable toilets, leaving a wide wake of mud as if a wildebeest herd had just passed through.
What have they come for? Celebrities? Shopping bargains? A once-in-a-lifetime event?
No. They have come for the trees.
Like New England, this little corner of Old England has an attraction that vies with the Christmas lights of London, the theme parks, the mountains of Scotland and the lakes of Cumbria. For just a few days, we are willing to leave the DSi, the X-Box, the TV, the computer, and walk along muddy trails marvelling at nature’s glory. It’s such a huge occasion that there are special road signs on the main routes, and an event management company has been contracted to direct parking and provide extra facilities. It reminds me of watching Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, the geyser that shoots boiling water high into the sky to a regular timetable. There were seats built around the area, and when it was over, the audience applauded. Quite surreal.
Yet how wonderful that in a world becoming increasingly urban, people still find the spectacle of autumn tree colours exciting. Most come only for the maples, those amazing Acers that blaze in scarlets and golds far brighter than our native species – but the fact that they come at all is encouraging, especially in such enormous numbers. And no doubt newcomers return in other seasons, once they have experienced the beauty, magnificence and pure joy of the woods and meadows at Westonbirt.
Long may the spectacle of autumn at Westonbirt Arboretum continue.