‘Now the leaves are falling fast’: Dawyck, late autumn

Listed as one of the ten best places in Scotland for autumn colour, Dawyck (it rhymes with oik), near Peebles, is one of Scotland’s three regional Botanical Gardens and lies down quaint, quiet lanes with the grand hills of Tweeddale looming mysteriously beyond. A light dusting of snow had fallen on the hills, and I stopped the car several times to take photographs. This made me late, but it was worth it.

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Gloom descends at around three-thirty in these parts, and it was already two when I arrived at Dawyck. I bought a coffee from the tiny café in the main building, and armed with a map and my camera, made my way into the Gardens where I quickly and intentionally got lost.

Having been several times to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, I think I expected Dawyck to be a similar version on a smaller, more provincial scale. It is, in fact, a completely different type of place, an arboretum, and once part of a country estate, now devoted almost entirely to trees.

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The air was still and damp, and it seemed as though I was the only visitor, so desolate was the place. (Later it transpired that I had been the only visitor). The trees had lost most of their leaves, which lay in coppery piles alongside the paths, and thickly under the canopies. The only living creatures I saw were a pair of exotic-looking glossy black pheasants, which strutted confidently through the grass, and soon afterwards another pair of pheasants, this time the ordinary kind.

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Dawyck Botanical Gardens was once part of the Dawyck Estate, and the gloomy, gothic façade of the old house graced several views, looking terribly like a Scottish Baskerville Hall. Parts of the grounds are private, and close to the house the woodland melted seamlessly into tantalising, chained off garden. There were large, mossy stone urns and even mossier stone steps lending themselves to the general burden of Victorian grandeur, but away from the house I could have been in any starkly beautiful woodland, this one distinguishing itself to the sharp eyed only in the number of non-native trees. The Botanical Garden was enormous, and soon I was as lost as can be, far away along the smooth, still paths, up and up the hill and further into the wood.

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I ate a picnic of bread and hot soup from a flask while sitting on a moist bench, and idled my way through the woods, before remembering that the place closed at four and I was at least half an hour from the main building. I reluctantly began my return, taking a different path from the one I had come along, stopping to read briefly the instructive boards that described the nearby trees, fungi and wildlife. I passed over a little bridge and beside a small pool beside which stood an enormous and ancient larch tree, and then found myself in a beautiful birch wood, followed by some breathtakingly beautiful sorbus trees full of berries red, white, or pink, whose branches were entirely covered in curly green lichen.

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My lasting impression is one of solitude, stillness, damp and closing gloom. Of carroty trees and old moss, of snaking paths and knee-deep dead leaves, and of hurrying back to the main building and reaching it just as the clock struck four and the receptionist was coming out to look for me, still regretting that I couldn’t have stayed another hour, even though as light was fast disappearing

Dawyck Botanical Gardens, near Peebles, is open daily from 1st February to 30th November and entry for an adult costs £6.50, with reduced rates for concessions and children, and free entry to Friends of the RBGE.

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20 Comments

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  1. What a marvelous, magical place! Those mossy trees and berries are lovely, as are the rest of your photos. I appreciate you sharing your visit!

  2. What wonderful gardens and the house looks great. I love the solid Victorian architecture and their naturalistic ideas for their garden. Amelia

  3. And what trees! Oh, you really should link this to my woodland theme this month – this is a fabulous place!

  4. How extraordinary that such a lovely place should have only one visitor on what seems to have been a fine bright day. But how lucky for you!

  5. smallsunnygarden 27 November 2016 — 6:55 am

    Beautiful trees and beautiful photography! As much as I love the desert, I do miss the sheer verticality of woodlands… thanks for sharing your wonderful visit!

  6. What a treat to have this glorious place to yourself, utterly magical. Stunning photographs, thanks for sharing.

  7. It is a very beautiful place and you’ve taken such great photos. The colours and views are spectacular. My favourite has to be the lichen covered trees and red berries.

  8. Lovely! You are such a good photographer. Thank you for sharing your pictures.

  9. Stunning photos! As I scrolled down, the season seemed to change from Autumn (golden leaves and light) to Winter (blue light and bare branches) before my eyes. So evocative of this time of year.

    • Thank you – probably the effect of the fast-fading light from afternoon (2pm) to evening 90 minutes later, and my poor camera searching for whatever light it could find. But yes, I agree the effect does mimic this rather strange time of year that seems to straddle two seasons.

  10. What absolutely glorious photos, Joanna – and what a privilege to have been the only visitor! Such a wonderful experience for you ☺

  11. Sorry about the emoticon – for some reason the ordinary smily face is coming out as this blushing (?) one instead. No idea why…

  12. Thank you for your visit and this lovely tour you posted. It was a pleasure to read your words and see this stunning place. I am not a writer or very good as of lately with my camera skills so this visit has enlightened me.

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