WITH the nights fair drawing in and the days growing colder, it is usually around this time that we begin to retreat indoors.

However, this isn’t an ordinary year and with ongoing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re all having to think of new ways to have fun.

Luckily, Scotland has no shortage of natural wonders and fascinating nooks to explore. Here, we share some of our favourite autumn activities.

Look for shooting stars

October marks the start of stargazing season and the chance to take in a stellar show. Galloway Forest Park, which became the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in 2009, is an excellent spot.

A lack of light pollution means more than 7,000 stars are visible with the naked eye, including the bright band of the Milky Way.

Another area given gold tier status by the International Dark Sky Association is Tomintoul and Glenlivet, forming the Cairngorms Dark Sky Park.

Nine locations on Skye are Dark Sky Discovery Sites, along with the west coast of Kintyre and Assynt in the north-west. Streetlight-free Coll in the Inner Hebrides is Scotland’s Dark Sky Island.

HeraldScotland: Galloway Forest Park. Picture: International Dark Sky Association/PA WireGalloway Forest Park. Picture: International Dark Sky Association/PA Wire

Check out the Draconid meteor shower, expected to reach its peak this Thursday (October 8). The couple of evenings either side should also make good viewing if the skies are clear.

The Orionid meteor shower, which occurs when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet, is expected to peak around October 21-22. Keep your eyes peeled in the hours between midnight and dawn.

Visit darksky.org; scottishdarkskyobservatory.co.uk; forestryandland.gov.scot; cairngorms.co.uk; and tomintoulandglenlivet.com

Make your garden snug

Rugs, patio heaters and fire pits have been flying off the shelves as the nation gears up to socialise alfresco through the autumn and winter months.

The current government rules about indoor gatherings could see many of us adopt the mindset of Scandinavian countries, where people routinely socialise outdoors in the depths of winter. Wrap up in warm, waterproof clothes and boots with plenty of blankets – thermal underwear is a must.

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Make your garden or outdoor space cosy with fire pits and chimeneas, patio heaters and rugs, then add some sparkle with twinkling fairy lights and candles. Toast marshmallows and sip a nice glass of mulled wine to take the chill off.

Create a wildlife-friendly space

It’s not only you who appreciates a bit of effort in the garden – birds and animals do too. Encourage wildlife to visit by rolling out the welcome mat.

Rake up leaves into a quiet corner where they won’t be disturbed as a nesting site for hedgehogs. Set up hedgehog feeding stations – these can be homemade using anything from an old storage box to a large flowerpot – with narrow, tunnel entrances to prevent pets from getting in.

HeraldScotland: A hedgehog in autumn. Picture: iStock/PAA hedgehog in autumn. Picture: iStock/PA

Autumn is a good time to start planning bird feeding stations too. Again, there is plenty of scope to make DIY ones by upcycling empty plastic bottles and egg boxes.

Visit hedgehogstreet.org and rspb.org.uk

Rustle up some bramble jam

The hedgerows are plump with wild brambles – blackberries to give them their Sunday name – so why not dip into nature’s larder to pick your own and make pots of homemade jam? Slather it on a hefty slab of bread for perfect autumn comfort food.

Go for a walk

Fill a flask with hot chocolate, pack a rucksack, and go for a walk. Being outside and engaging with nature is known to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Studies have shown that exposure to natural light boosts the immune system, improves mood, reduces anxiety and aids sleep.

If you are feeling energetic, why not tackle a section of the West Highland Way? The 96-mile route between Milngavie and Fort William celebrates its 40th anniversary this Tuesday (October 6). The walk is divided into eight chunks of between nine and 15 miles, so take your pick.

Visit westhighlandway.org

Enjoy the autumn colours

When the leaves begin to turn, Scotland can dazzle with red, brown and golden hues. Perthshire’s autumn colour is world-renowned, living up to its name as Big Tree Country with more than 200,000 acres of woodland.

Lady Mary’s Walk near Crieff and The Hermitage at Dunkeld rarely disappoint with their kaleidoscopic displays. Faskally Wood, part of the Pitlochry Path Network, is fantastic for an autumn walk, as is the Pass of Killiecrankie and the area around the Queen’s View.

HeraldScotland: The Hermitage, near Dunkeld, Perthshire. Picture: Colin Mearns/The HeraldThe Hermitage, near Dunkeld, Perthshire. Picture: Colin Mearns/The Herald

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is no slouch in this department either, be it the Duke’s Pass and Three Lochs Forest Drive or Bracklinn Falls at Callander to name but a few.

Further north, Glen Affric is breathtaking as it glows with a fiery blaze of autumnal shades, a triumphant last hurrah before winter. The Dog Falls Trail is spectacular at this time of year.

Visit forestryandland.gov.scot/autumn; visitscotland.com; and lochlomond-trossachs.org

Apple picking

Craigie’s Farm near South Queensferry has an orchard that grows many varieties of apples you won’t find in the supermarket, such as the wonderfully named Jupiter, Red Devil, Sunrise and Winter Gem.

Time slots for apple picking must be booked online and cost £2 per person. It is possible to pick your own fruit until late October, with apples costing £2.99 a kilo.

If you’re fortunate enough to have your own apple tree or mini orchard at home, Craigie’s offers a juicing service. The minimum quantity is 10kg and it costs £2 to get the juice pressed and pasteurised in a glass bottle with a personalised label.

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The farm’s pumpkin patch is set to open this weekend (October 3) with entry prices starting from £3 (adult) and £1.50 (child). Again, slots must be booked online.

Craigie’s Farm, near South Queensferry, Edinburgh, EH30 9AR. Open 9am-5pm daily. Last entry to the fields is at 2pm. Call 0131 319 1048 or visit craigies.co.uk

Collect conkers

No matter how old you are, the shiver of excitement when cracking open that spiky protective casing to reveal a glossy, mahogany-brown treasure nestled inside never wanes.

A horse chestnut should not be eaten – they are poisonous to humans, pets and livestock – instead add a length of string and use for a good, old-fashioned game of conkers. Sadly, the 2020 World Conker Championships are cancelled which means all the more time to train for 2021.

For tips on how to play, visit worldconkerchampionships.com

HeraldScotland: Conkers. Picture: David Cheskin/PA wireConkers. Picture: David Cheskin/PA wire

Watch the deer rut

The distinctive V-shaped formations of honking geese flying south is a harbinger of autumn. Another is the loud, guttural roars and barks of stags in the testosterone-charged spectacle of the deer rut.

The stags are duelling it out for mating rights and to watch it unfold is a mesmerising sight. Arran, Jura and Rum are all prime spots to witness deer rutting, as are the Torridon Hills in Wester Ross, the Knoydart peninsula and around the Fort William and Lochaber area.

Keep your distance and do not approach any rutting deer. Try to remain inconspicuous and use binoculars to view from afar. Wild West runs a four-hour, deer rut safari leaving from Fort William, costing £195 for up to six people.

Visit wildwest.scot and visitscotland.com

Take a woodland stroll

Hopetoun House near South Queensferry will host Wondrous Woods, a magical outdoor sound, lighting and effects walking trail from October 21 to November 15, taking place on around a mile of winding paths within the estate grounds.

Dubbed “Scotland’s secret lighting trail”, the route snakes through ancient woodlands and clearings. See if you can spot Woody the Owl and his friends hiding among the trees.

Tickets for Wondrous Woods (wondrouswoods.com) start from £19 (adult) and £9 (child), under-threes and carers go free. All tickets and parking must be booked. There will be a relaxed special educational needs session on October 27.

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Hopetoun House is running a series of two-hour, ranger-led Tree-mendous Walks – part of the Scottish Tree Festival – sharing stories about the nature, history and folklore of the specimens that grow on the estate.

These will take place on October 11, 18 and 25 from 1pm-3pm. Tickets £5.50 (adult), £3.50 (child) and £15 (family). These must be booked. Each walk is limited to 12 people.

Hopetoun House, South Queensferry, West Lothian, EH30 9RW. Call 0131 331 2451 or visit hopetoun.co.uk

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