Finding different ways and places to spend One Hour Outside in the winter months is not always easy. While there might be hundreds and hundreds of activities that can be enjoyed when the weather is wonderful, finding short but interesting activities when the weather is not so great can be much harder. I tend to default to lunch time walks, but they can get a bit samey even with the best will in the world. That’s where events such as Light Up Cheltenham come into play. They provide a reason to visit somewhere to explore, things to look at, and in this case, an option to do something very interesting while sitting down…
Cheltenham in Gloucestershire plays host to more than 25 different festivals a year. You’ll have heard of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, which is the world’s longest-running literary festival, the 70-year-old Cheltenham Music Festival, and of course the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Cheltenham Science Festival. Oh, and The Cheltenham Festival, which includes the legendary Gold Cup.
Light Up Cheltenham is probably a little less well-known. Over three weeks in February, around 30 buildings are lit up to celebrate the most complete Regency town in the UK, and it makes the town looks very pretty indeed.
The main draw of this festival is certainly the opening night, where street theatre and drumming groups put on light and rhythm shows, carnival style. I’ve seen the photos of this year’s event and it looked amazing, but sadly for me I was in Tenerife (read weekly blog episode 05 for more on that) and so missed out on the fun. This little festival officially lasts a few weeks, though, with buildings lit up in colours that change through the festival. There are guided and self-guided tours on offer, and an observation wheel in the middle of town to help you get some great views across Cheltenham.
The 35m observation wheel sites in Imperial Gardens, which was once the private grounds for spa-goers. but is now a pretty public square with thousands of bedding plants (25,000 per year, apparently!). It provides a birds eye view of the town including floodlit buildings such as The Queen’s Hotel, The Town Hall, No. 131 The Promenade, and a terrace of ornate Regency buildings.
And after a day working hard indoors yesterday, I hot footed it into Cheltenham to spend my One Hour Outside (read about my One Hour Outside project and join in) seeing the lights and taking a spin on the big wheel. I am a sucker for a city view from up high, I’ve written about many here on Splodz Blogz, and this is one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of weeks, and with the event coming to a close this weekend, I knew I had to ignore the weather forecast and go and take a look.
On my way to the wheel I wandered past many of the Regency style buildings that are lit up for the festival. It does look nice, it’s kind of a shame that they’re not lit up all year round, and perhaps also a shame that other business owners in town haven’t joined in with the fun like they do at Christmas-time, but it certainly made the wet and cold walk through town a much more pleasant one. If nothing else, it’s a really great way to notice the important and historical buildings in town; we can often wander through our home towns paying little or no attention to the architecture and history around us, perhaps not even looking up from our phones or feet at all. Light up Cheltenham is a great way to share the stories behind some of the most interesting front doors in the area. We should all do more purposeful urban wandering (a term I’ve borrowed from The Urban Wanderer) at home.
Costing £6 for an adult and £5 for kids (family ticket also available), you rotate three times and stop at the top once, and, which was very important for me on my visit, the pods are covered so rain doesn’t stop play (wind does, though and Ciara and Dennis have been very unkind to this year’s event). You don’t have to buy tickets ahead of time – I just walked up to the box office and grabbed one before stepping onto the wheel straight away.
And the views were good. There aren’t many tall buildings in Cheltenham, and so getting a glimpse from above without a helicopter is not generally possible. On a nicer day I’m sure you could see further, but even during my rainy twilight spin I enjoyed spotting the different places I recognised, and people watching from up high. If the building next door wasn’t covered in scaffolding my photos to the north might have been a bit better, but even with the close-by construction it was worth doing, it didn’t get in the way. I’ll be honest, it would have all been better in the sunshine for a number of reasons, I don’t think anyone would begrudge me that opinion, but the fact that buildings are lit up for the festival means the view from the wheel was very much worth seeing.
If you fancy a different kind of One Hour Outside this weekend, the wheel will be open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – you can find out more details including opening hours on the Visit Cheltenham website. You can also download a map of all the buildings taking part here and take a self-guided tour to see the lights and learn something about Cheltenham’s rich history in your own time.
Light Up Cheltenham ends on Sunday 23 February and I’ll be sad to see the pretty lights go. I do hope it comes back next year, including the observation wheel returns, I want to get to the opening event next time!
Visit Cheltenham kindly invited me to take a spin on the wheel for free, which was nice of them. This post is therefore marked as gifted.