IT is natural to want to retreat indoors at this time of year... 

But why not fight the urge to hibernate and instead get outside to enjoy some of the best autumn activities that Scotland has to offer?

Visit a pumpkin patch

Pumpkins are a fairly new trend on these shores and becoming ever more popular, ousting the turnip when it comes to carving a lantern at Hallowe'en.

Purists may grumble about eroded traditions and a lost rite of passage (generations of Scots children owe their Popeye muscles to hollowing out turnips, a feat requiring donkey-like stubbornness and the strength of an ox).

Yet, unlike some North American interlopers – such as grey squirrels, mink and signal crayfish – this adopted import isn't all bad. Pumpkins are fairly easy to carve thanks to their soft, fleshy innards, which is sweet relief to anyone who has bent more spoons than Uri Geller doing likewise with a turnip.

Lucy and Russell Calder will open their pumpkin patch at Kilduff Farm, near North Berwick, in East Lothian, from October 16. There are some 6,000 pumpkins available, grown from seed by the couple and their three children. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, all slots must be booked.

HeraldScotland: Mini pumpkins at Kilduff Farm, near North Berwick, in East LothianMini pumpkins at Kilduff Farm, near North Berwick, in East Lothian

Lucy is on a mission to encourage more of us to cook and eat what we pick this autumn, helping reduce food waste – last year an estimated eight million pumpkins, the equivalent of 18,000 tonnes of edible flesh, were binned in the UK.

She has shared some simple and tasty recipes on the farm's website (kilduff.co.uk) showing how to make soup, muffins, and pumpkin pie.

Craigie's Farm near South Queensferry (craigies.co.uk) opens its pumpkin patch on October 3 and Cairnie Fruit Farm at Cupar, Fife, (cairniefruitfarm.co.uk) from October 10. All slots at both farms must be booked.

Arnprior Farm in Stirlingshire (arnpriorfarm.com) opens on October 12 and is already proving popular for 2020 with tickets selling quickly. Keep an eye on their website and social media for updates on what dates/times are still available.

HeraldScotland: Arnprior Farm in Stirlingshire. Picture: Martin ShieldsArnprior Farm in Stirlingshire. Picture: Martin Shields

Hit the beach

Beach and coastal walks are great for blowing away the cobwebs. Belhaven Bay, near Dunbar, East Lothian – part of the John Muir Country Park – has a glorious stretch of sand. Other must-visit gems include West Sands at St Andrews, Fife, and Calgary Bay on Mull.

Why not do a spot of beachcombing or rockpooling to see what curios you can uncover? The sea can cast up an intriguing mix of natural and man-made objects, be it driftwood, old fishing nets, perhaps even a letter in a bottle.

Look out for cuttlefish bones, so-called "mermaid's purses" (the egg cases of sharks, skates and rays) and perhaps even a fossilised bone or tooth. In 2008, children beachcombing on the Yorkshire coast found a woolly mammoth's tusk that was more than 12,000 years old.

HeraldScotland: Rock pools at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Picture: Kieran Dodds/NewsquestRock pools at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Picture: Kieran Dodds/Newsquest

Guddling in rock pools is a childhood staple, although can be a joy at any age. The beaches at Culzean, Dunure and Portencross, all in Ayrshire, and Crail Roome Bay in Fife are ideal for rockpooling, home to the likes of whelks, limpets, crabs, starfish, urchins and sea anemone.

Visit nts.org.uk and visitscotland.com

Tuck into hearty seasonal fare

Soups and stews should be bubbling away in every slow cooker or oven at this time of year. Few things take the edge off a dreich or chilly day like tucking into a bowl of creamy Cullen skink or a veg-packed broth made with carrots, leeks and potatoes.

Cook a big pot of chilli to enjoy alfresco in the garden. Perhaps some stovies (we won't quibble on the recipe as it varies so widely geographically across our fine nation). In short, dishes that warm us from the inside out is the culinary mission.

Take a scenic drive

The North Coast 500 (northcoast500.com) through the Black Isle, Caithness, Easter Ross, Inverness-shire, Sutherland and Wester Ross, may be a spectacular must-tick on many bucket lists, but don't skip over the other routes that Scotland has to offer.

Why not try the South West Coastal 300 (visitsouthwestscotland.com) covering parts of southern Ayrshire and swathes of Dumfries and Galloway. There's no need to complete in one go – choose a section and explore that for a day.

Other options include the North East 250 (northeast250.com) that takes in the Cairngorms National Park, Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire and the Moray Firth coast. Then there's the Heart 200 (heart200.scot), weaving through Perth, Stirling, The Trossachs and Highland Perthshire.

Stop at a cafe, pop into a farm shop, find a viewpoint and dust off the binoculars. Then do it all again next week.

Read a book among nature

There's plenty of time for curling up under a duvet in January. Get a travel rug – or even better a folding chair – and find a quiet spot in your local park, garden or out in the countryside.

We can highly recommend the newly published The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph, £14.99), which is a beautiful follow-up to her bestselling memoir The Salt Path.

If you like your reading to be themed to the season, The Nature of Autumn by Jim Crumley (Saraband, £12.99) charts a colourful procession of markers – falling leaves, rutting deer, geese flying south – from September through October and November.

Have fun with fungi

From now until around late October is the best time to see wild mushrooms and other fungi as they flourish due to the moist, damp and humid conditions.

Scotland is home to more than 12,000 species of fungi. They are natural recyclers, breaking down dead plants and animals into nutrients. Fungi can help humans fight disease and are the source of some of our most successful antibiotics.

While admiring from afar is perfectly fine, you should never pick or touch anything without knowing exactly what you are doing as the results can be catastrophic.

Neville Kilkenny, a consultant field mycologist who is based near Haddington in East Lothian, teaches fungi identification workshops for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Ray Mears Woodlore School of Wilderness Bushcraft, among others.

He offers private mentoring and tuition for those looking to begin a foray in fungi.

Call 01620 810417 or visit fungi.co.uk

Wildlife watching

The soundtrack to autumn can send a tingle up the spine. Be it the call of whooper swans as they arrive from Iceland, or the cacophony from grey seals returning to our rocky shores to give birth.

Aberfeldy-based Highland Safaris is running tours throughout October with the chance to see red squirrels, grouse, mountain hares and golden eagles within the Perthshire landscapes. You may even hear the primal roar and clattering antlers as stags go head-to-head in the deer rut.

HeraldScotland: Deer Rutting. Picture: GettyDeer Rutting. Picture: Getty

Autumn Watch Safaris last two-and-a-half-hours, departing at 9.30am and 1.30pm. All tours must be booked. Prices are £45 (adult), £30 (teenagers aged 12-18) and £25 (child).

Call 01887 820071 or visit highlandsafaris.net

Bask in a warm glow

The immersive outdoor sound and light show GlasGLOW returns to transform Glasgow Botanic Gardens into a series of fantasy worlds, this year with a superhero vibe.

Zones along the illuminated trail will include The Origin Story, Meet your Nemesis and The Power Within. Organisers have also promised a return of the 2019 favourite Marshmallowland.

The event runs from October 29 until November 15. In line with Covid-19 restrictions, there will be reduced capacity and staggered arrival times. Tickets start from £14 (adult), £9 (child) and under-threes go free.

Visit itison.com/glasglow

HeraldScotland: GlasGLOW at Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Picture: Colin Mearns/The HeraldGlasGLOW at Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Picture: Colin Mearns/The Herald

Go for a cycle

There have been countless people throwing a leg over the saddle of a bike lately that hadn't done so for many a moon. Bikes, though, are about more than getting from A to B. We've a list of favourite routes as long as your arm.

For family-friendly rides, you won't go far wrong with the six-mile stretch of the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Boat of Garten that takes in heather moors and birch woodlands.

Another lovely pedal is the Rob Roy Loop, covering 7.8 miles through Strathyre Forest and Balquhidder village against a backdrop of mountains and lochs.

Those looking for a bigger challenge could tackle the Four Abbeys, a 55-mile circular route in the Scottish Borders linking Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh.

Visit speysideway.org; lochlomond-trossachs.org; cyclescottishborders.com

Find your favourite tree

A celebration of all things trees is a perfect way to mark the changing of the seasons. The Scottish Tree Festival runs until December 1 with a programme of visitor, self-led and virtual events such as talks and trails.

Gaze upon "the mightiest conifer in Europe" at Ardkinglas Woodland Garden in Argyll, marvel at the magnificent redwoods at Cluny House Gardens in Perthshire and seek out the stunning maples, rowans and Japanese katsura at Dawyck Botanic Garden in the Scottish Borders.

HeraldScotland: Dawyck Botanic Garden. Picture: Discover Scottish GardensDawyck Botanic Garden. Picture: Discover Scottish Gardens

Other locations taking part include Armadale Castle in Skye; Cambo Gardens at Kingsbarns, Fife; Castle Kennedy Gardens near Stranraer; and Attadale Gardens at Strathcarron, Wester Ross.

Visit discoverscottishgardens.org and visitscotland.com

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 on 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.

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.

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.

HeraldScotland: Brambles can be used to make jam. Picture: PABrambles can be used to make jam. Picture: PA

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 on 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: Faskally Wood. Picture: VisitScotland/Kenny LamFaskally Wood. Picture: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

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.

The farm’s pumpkin patch is set to open on 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.

HeraldScotland: Playing conkers. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WirePlaying conkers. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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

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.

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