Ah Christmas time. The perfect opportunity to put on your pyjamas, eat takeaway food, and sit in front of rubbish movies on a Saturday night. Well, yes. But also no… it’s also an excellent time make the most of the increased number of festive inspired events at stately homes, castles to and other cultural places of interest all over the UK and get outside!
One such event is the Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. The evening-time trail takes visitors around the castle’s stunning grounds, with its ruins and gardens all lit up. This year’s event has an Alice in Wonderland theme, which was right up my street, and so I headed over on opening night to see what all the fuss was about, hoping I might bump into the Mad Hatter for a pot of tea at some point during the evening.
Having not visited Sudeley Castle in the day, I really didn’t know what to expect from the grounds themselves, let alone the light display. The castle is absolutely massive. It is set in a 1,200 acre estate and has ten award-winning gardens, and there is even a Queen buried in its own 15th Century Church. We will certainly be back in the daylight to explore and learn more about this amazing old castle without the restriction of the set trail.
The light trail goes through the castle gardens, pheasantry, and even through some of the ruins themselves. All the way around there are lights in the trees to guide you, and a number of installations that help tell the story of Alice in Wonderland. I loved the attention to detail on the theming; we had clocks, cards, signposts and roses all the way along, and followed the White Rabbit to meet the Cheshire Cat, the smoking Caterpillar, and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. There were also more subtle nods to the story, including a group of flamingos, and a single white rose in the Queens Garden.
And, of course, the Mad Hatter made an appearance, interacting with people as they walked along the trail, and we found the Queen of Hearts in the Queens Garden – very apt.
It wasn’t just about Alice in Wonderland. There was also a stunning field of red poppies, meteors hanging from trees, a garden of Moroccan lanterns and the most amazing moon display in the formal pond. There was also a mini fountain and light display set to music that made me smile; I could definitely have done with more of that on the way around.
We – two adults – took almost exactly an hour to make our way around the trail, including taking lots of photos but without stopping for food and drink (which smelt amazing) or waiting to have photos taken with any of the live actors. Any faster and we’d have rushed it, there is a lot to see, but you could easily take longer over it.
I recommend reminding yourself of the Alice in Wonderland story before you go, especially if you’re going with kids; they will ask about each of the displays and want to know what the significance of each element is – there are no boards describing the story or the displays (it’s dark…). It’s a story I know well and I really did appreciate the props that had been used – it certainly made me want to go back and read it again.
There were a few steps on the trail (bear in mind this is an old castle and part of the route takes you through some of the ruins), but the path was easy to follow and well signposted except at one point when we had to check with a member of the team whether we were going in the right direction. There were a couple of bottlenecks at the most popular photo spots, and in a couple of places if there is a push chair in-front you can’t get around (organisers recommend you don’t bring a buggy). It was quite muddy in places and with all the footfall will probably only get worse, so I’d recommend walking boots or wellies – certainly not your favourite trainers. And don’t forget to layer up, it’s cold out there!
To keep crowds flowing, organisers have a timed entry system and you will normally only be allowed in at the time on your ticket – but once inside you can spend as long as you like enjoying the lights and installations. Parking was no problem and was free.
The Spectacle of Light is on selected dates between now and the end of December. Tickets are £15.75 for adults in advance. You can turn up and pay if you prefer (even if it says sold out on the site). It really is an excellent way to spend One Hour Outside this December. Find out more on their website.
I was invited to attend the Spectacle of Light on opening night in return for a blog post about the event, but as always, opinions and enjoyment are my own.