Many of us who are regular visitors to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire are familiar with some of their most popular events such as ‘Treefest’ over the August Bank Holiday weekend and the spectacular autumn displays of colour in the acer groves. This year though – acting on the recommendation of one of the catering concession holders at Treefest – my family and I decided to make a visit to Westonbirt’s festive special: An Enchanted Christmas. This is an annual event taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings during December. The walking trail opens at 5pm each evening (with last admission at 7.15pm), although you can arrive earlier and take in the various gift stands and food stalls, all offering Christmas themed fare.
Being early in the evening, the event is especially popular with those with young children; the level, easy trail also helps in that buggies etc can safely navigate it – as can those in wheelchairs, mobility scooters etc. Having lived in Denmark for some years, we were expecting to see trees festooned with thousands of ‘fairy lights’ as they are at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, but this is something quite different. Creative lighting illuminates individual trees or stands of trees. Some of the coloured lights are static and of a single colour, others move around and change colour; each display carefully designed to show off some or other aspect of the trees.
Then there are the special features, requiring audience participation: tree stump ‘drums’ which when beaten (drumsticks provided) activate various combinations of coloured lights, a voice activated display where, the louder you sing/shout/squawk, the more lights come on, a machine firing smoke-rings up into the trees which are then illuminated by lasers as they drift upwards and a clever camera set-up which projects your face (or whatever else you position in front of the lens) onto a nearby bush. The whole trail is around a mile in length and can easily be completed in an hour, depending on how long you spend admiring the displays or for how long you monopolise the microphone at the voice-activated feature. The highlights for me? Seeing the trees illuminated from below and stripped of their foliage gave a whole new insight into their structure and shapes. Also, having spent the earlier part of the day being jostled and corralled around the seething mayhem which is Bath Christmas Market, a leisurely evening stroll beneath the trees in relative peace and quiet was a welcome antidote before the long drive home to Cornwall.