Christmas illuminations seem to have been particularly popular this year. Just in the area around Bristol I’ve seen adverts for illuminations at Westonbirt Arboretum, Longleat and Stourhead. I think I first received an email about the Christmas at Stourhead illuminations back in June – long before I’d begun to even start thinking about Christmas. However, it was instantly something I was interested in. I’d never been to a light installation before and it sounded like it would be a fun thing to do so we found a free weekend and booked our tickets.
It wasn’t until we saw the weather forecast the week before that I started to think that booking something outdoors in the middle of December maybe wasn’t the brightest idea I’d ever had. Torrential rain was on the cards and suddenly going to a light trail over an hour’s drive away felt like the last thing we wanted to do. However, we packed our waterproofs and spare socks and decided to make the most of it. Luckily, it didn’t start pouring down until we’d just finished the trail which was a huge relief. I really enjoyed myself and although the lights themselves would have been the same, I don’t think I’d have had nearly as good a time if it had been pouring down the whole way. If you’re planning to go it is all outside so make sure you dress for the weather!
Everyone is booked onto a timed ticket which worked really well for parking and keeping the trail flowing. Initially it was really busy and I was worried about how crowded it would be all the way round, but after the first five minutes everyone starts going at their own pace. This made it much easier to stop and take photos (without worrying you were holding people up) or to get past people going a bit too slowly. There are benches where you can stop and rest about halfway through the trail and there are a couple of points where you can pick up a hot drink.
As you go round, the trail is broken up into different sections such as “Singing Trees” or “Cathedral of Light”. Throughout the trail there are wicker models representing the twelve days of Christmas which break up the different light installations. Most of the larger installations were set to classical versions of carols so it was nice to be able to stand, listen and watch for a while.
Unsurprisingly given the darkness, the trail doesn’t take you that close to the lake. However the large ‘follies’, that people familiar with Stourhead will recognise, are also illuminated which gives you a more distant focal point to admire. It’s difficult to know which was the best part, and as I kept moving from section to section James would tease me for claiming the new section was now my favourite part. I thought the lights that were set in time to music were really clever, but the lawn of light which slowly moved between different colours was really mesmerising and particularly pretty.
Although it took us a little while to get there, I’m really pleased that we bought tickets for the trail. It was quite magical and very different to anything I’ve done before. Having only previously been to Stourhead on quite a warm and sunny day, it was nice to have a completely different experience of the same place. I think I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve spoken to since, and I’m already keen to go on another light trail next year, although I might choose somewhere different for a bit of variety.
Things to know before you go:
- Parking is available and is booked at the same time as your ticket. There is a lot of overflow parking so we didn’t have a problem finding a space although you might be a short walk away from the main site. There have been lots of ramps and mats laid down in the fields so if you aren’t parked in the main car park you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud.
- Food and drink is available from a number of different vendors, as well as the National Trust restaurant. If it’s raining, your only real option is the restaurant or the Spread Eagle Inn (although I imagine pre-booking is required here!). We decided not to eat on site and picked up fish and chips on the way home instead.
- Waterproofs are probably necessary and I’d recommend wearing wellies or hiking boots. Although the trail itself isn’t muddy, the car park is!
- Take a camera but don’t spend the whole time trying to get photos. It’s much more enjoyable just enjoying it all as it happens and the photos I’ve come away with just don’t do it justice!
Christmas at Stourhead continues until 30 December 2019.