Stargazing

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars," Oscar Wilde famously said. Thankfully Scotland has no shortage of more salubrious locations to gaze at the heavens.

One of the best is Galloway Forest Park, which became the UK's first Dark Sky Park in 2009. A lack of light pollution means that more than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye, including the bright band of the Milky Way.

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The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington, on the edge of the park, runs events most weekends.

Cosmic firework displays to look out for include the Draconid and Orionid meteor showers, expected to reach their peaks on October 7-8 and 21-22.

Elsewhere, nine locations on Skye have Dark Sky Discovery Site status alongside the west coast of Kintyre and Assynt in the north-west. Street light-free Coll in the Inner Hebrides has earned it the title of Scotland's Dark Sky Island.

The nights may be fair drawing in but the good news is that stargazing season is officially here.

Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (scottishdarkskyobservatory.co.uk)

Pumpkin picking

Carving a turnip lantern has long been a rite of passage for Scottish children. We are talking at least three days' hard graft, muscles bulging like Popeye, while chiselling away until every spoon in your mother's good cutlery drawer had been bent in half.

In recent years, pumpkins have steadily ousted the humble tumshie at Halloween. Yet, unlike grey squirrels and signal crayfish, there's something to be said for this North American interloper.

Pumpkins are fairly easy to carve thanks to their soft, fleshy innards. They make a pretty decent blank canvas with a raft of YouTube tutorials and design stencils online for inspiration.

While found stacked high in the fruit and veg section, pulling some wellies on and getting your hands in the dirt to pick your own pumpkin is a lot more satisfying.

Arnprior Farm near Stirling (arnpriorfarm.com) and Cairnie Fruit Farm in Cupar, Fife (cairniefruitfarm.co.uk) open their pumpkin patches on October 14; Craigie's Farm Shop and Cafe at South Queensferry (craigies.co.uk) is open now.

Fungi walks

If the extent of your fungi knowledge barely extends beyond closed cup, baby button and chestnut, this is the time to brush up on your mycological knowledge.

It might not be circled on your calendar but October 8 is UK Fungus Day. From now until November is the generally the best time to see mushrooms growing wild as many species begin to flourish due to the moist, damp and humid conditions.

Themed events include a ranger-led walk delving into the weird and wonderful world of fungi around Linlithgow Peel on Sunday, while Plantlife Scotland and the British Mycological Society are running drop-in activities at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh this weekend.

The Scottish Crannog Centre hosts Fun with Fruit and Fungi on October 15, a celebration of seasonal fare found in rich abundance on the shores of Loch Tay during autumn.

Linlithgow Peel, Sunday, 1pm-3pm (historicenvironment.scot); Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Saturday and Sunday, 1-4pm (plantlife.org.uk); Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore, October 15, 10.30am-4.30pm (crannog.co.uk)

Nature watch

With the shortening days, it is tempting to hunker down and enjoy being bathed in the warm glow of the television, but there's all winter to binge on Netflix and boxsets.

As part of October TayFest in Perthshire, Aberfeldy-based Highland Safaris is running daily Autumn Watch wildlife tours with the chance to see red squirrels, grouse, mountain hares and golden eagles. You may even hear the primal roar of the stags during the annual red deer rut.

The traditional salmon closing takes place at the Kenmore Hotel on October 14. Other events include ghost walks, tree climbing, archaeology, bushcraft adventures, a pop-up market and autumn fair.

RSPB Scotland have three fascinating events on the Galloway Kite Trail this month where budding ornithologists can catch a glimpse of red kites and geese in flight.

October TayFest (octobertayfest.co.uk) takes place from October 14-22; Galloway Kite Trail on October 22, 24 and 26 (rspb.org.uk)

Autumn cycles

Time was that as September drew to a close, bicycles were dispatched to the garden shed until next spring. Crisp autumn days. Clear blue skies. Ice-free roads. What more encouragement do you need to throw a leg over the saddle and start pedalling?

Anywhere in the vicinity of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is beautiful at this time of year. Test your legs on the Duke's Pass on the road from Callander to Aberfoyle.

Another idyllic cycling spot is the nearby Rob Roy Loop (7.8 miles) offering a family-friendly ride through Strathyre Forest and Balquhidder against a backdrop of mountains, lochs and nature.

The Ayrshire Coast Cycleway, a 19-mile route between Irvine and Ayr, has breathtaking views across to Arran and passes through the wildlife reserves of Gailes Marsh and Shewalton Wood. All that sea air should blow away any cobwebs.

Check out the NCN routes on Sustrans (sustrans.org.uk)

Foraging

People who poked around in hedgerows used to be seen as a bit well, strange. But since every chef worth their salt started putting foraged ingredients on the menu, finding your own food has become not only more fashionable, but accessible too, and this is the perfect time of year when wild mushrooms, berries and nuts are so plentiful.

And, with the rise of foraging prompting an array of articles, blogs, cookbooks and how-to guides, first-timers should have no problems finding out how to get the best out of the experience.

The Woodland Trust has a fantastic foraging guide (woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/) that includes advice on everything from making sure you don’t harm the environment to avoiding potentially deadly mushrooms.

A sumptuous season of homemade, foraged bramble jam, roasted chestnuts and – maybe – wild mushroom fricassee awaits.

Leaf peeping in Perthshire

So, who wants to go leaf peeping? Say this in Scotland and you may get some funny looks. Suggest it in the US, however, and you’re likely to inundated with suggestions on where to see the best autumn colours.

There’s an endless list of great places in Scotland to see the leaves turn, of course (especially since our disappointingly wet summer is actually a good thing in terms of colourful foliage), but it’s hard to think of anywhere as lovely as Perthshire.

This is no secret, of course, and tourists from around the world already fly in to experience the particular beauty of the red, orange and gold hues of the countryside.

There are few places that match the simple beauty of Lady Mary’s Walk in Crieff, a glorious spot for leaf peeping for the last 200 years, though the Killiecrankie Path and Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park both come close.

Faskally Woods, meanwhile, finds itself transformed during autumn into the Enchanted Forest (enchantedforest.org.uk), a spectacular night time light and sound installation. New England eat your heart out.

Visit pkct.org

Take a balloon ride

IF experiencing the autumn colours from the ground isn’t exciting enough, why not take to the skies and see things from a whole new perspective?

Balloon rides are a relatively cheap way to get airborne, and offer a great day out. As well as surveying the landscape from above, you’ll get a fascinating insight into how hot air balloons, the gentle giants of the sky, fly through the air.

Most flights last around an hour – weather permitting, of course – and include a glass of bubbly. The high life, indeed.

Try Alba Ballooning (albaballooning.co.uk) which operates in the Lothians, Perthshire and the Borders, and Virgin (virginballoonflights.co.uk), which flies from five Scottish locations.

Take a Highland Hop in Pollok Park

With more than 90 parks, Glasgow truly is the dear green place, and Pollok, in the city’s south side, is arguably the jewel in the crown. It has a wilder feel to Glasgow’s other parks, and is a great spot to see the seasons change.

Autumn is particularly stunning, as the woodland walks turn golden and the diverse array of wildlife stocks up for winter. And, since this is a working estate, you can get up close and personal with the animals that call the park home.

At various dates you can take a Highland Hop around the with Pollok’s prize-winning Highland cattle fold – complete with the coolest fringes on the planet – hearing about their history at the park and watching as these magnificent beasts are washed down and prepared for the ring.

Elsewhere, visitors might be lucky enough to see the much-loved Clydesdale horses get new shoes.

Visit glasgow.gov.uk and whatsonglasgow.co.uk

Take in some urban culture on a city walk

Whenever the weather app on your phone promises a crisp sunny day, it’s tempting to head to the country.

But the milky autumn light has a particularly fine effect on sandstone, and both Glasgow and Edinburgh are perfect for urban strolls in the sun, helping residents and visitors see and explore the architecture in a different way.

Both cities have a plethora of free walking guides online, so mapping your route couldn’t be easier.

If you fancy something more organised, there are a plethora of special interest tours waiting to be walked, from a Mackintosh-themed (gsa.ac.uk/visit-gsa/mackintoshs-glasgow-walking-tour) or a food tour in Glasgow (try weefoodtour.com) to a spooky ghost walk in Edinburgh (witcherytours.com).

Surely the easiest and most diverting way possible to achieve your daily 10,000 steps?

Watch the deer rut

Loud, primal, rather menacing cries coming off the moor at this time of year may bring to mind Hound of the Baskervilles.

The reason for all the racket is the deer rut, which goes on till the end of October, and though it’s entirely natural, in many ways it is no less dramatic – or indeed potentially fatal for the main characters – than the Sherlock Holmes tale.

It’s stirring stuff as red deer stags pumped full of testosterone jostle, shove and fight for mating rights from dawn till dusk, literally locking horns in a bid to dominate their rivals.

The islands of Arran, Jura and Rum are all prime spots to witness this natural phenomenon, while the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore (highlandwildlifepark.org.uk) has a large herd too. Needless to say, it’s best not to get too close to the action.