Nothing’s better than a crisp wintry walk to get you in the mood for the festive season. Over the past few years grand houses across the country have been making the most of the darkening evenings and their expansive grounds by creating lights trails for the whole family to enjoy. Having heard fantastic things about last year’s Christmas at Blenheim lights trail I was eager to try out this year’s instalment for myself.
Upon arrival, the imposing façade of the palace certainly looks extra impressive when lit-up, creating high expectations for an extra special trail. Entering the courtyard, you are greeted with old fashioned fairground rides including a helter-skelter and two carousals, and the smells of winter foods: Cotswold stew, pulled pork buns and, of course, bratwurst hotdogs (would it be an outdoor Christmas event without that popular German import?) are all tempting delights especially on a cold winter’s night. The place was rammed full of people of all ages and the shop was especially busy, with folks buying Churchill’s port, jewellery, ornaments and other delightful trinkets. Clearer signage would have made it easier to know where to go to find the trail as we and others had to be guided by a sequence of friendly staff before we were finally able to find the correct starting point.
After the bustle of the courtyard, the walk to the beginning of the trail felt peaceful and orderly with me and my companion following the queue of people past the palace and into the dark grounds. Guided by a white Christmas tree and a hot chocolate stall, we entered the trail with excitement and anticipation. The trail is aimed at all of the family and did well to make it physically accessible to all; some of the light displays are on uneven paths or up slopes but there was always an alternative route on offer for those with buggies/mobility issues. The first display to greet us was Santa’s workshop by the lake, complete with a Weasley-style clock telling the outcome of the manufacturing process e.g. Christmas puddings, toys, etc. A boisterous, ticking soundtrack accompanied the lighting, dictating the mood of the elves inside. We weren’t sure if the clock was broken as the hands seemed stuck on ‘nice’ while the music and sound effects suggested a changing atmosphere within the workshop but fortunately this didn’t detract from the spectacle. This was definitely one for the kids and was as gaudy and tacky as a rendering of the elves’
sweatshop workshop should be! The rest of the displays utilised the grounds, layout and sound effects in a somewhat more subtly artistic way which were appealing to any age group. Particular stand-outs for me were the ‘harbour’ of what seemed like endless light-up paper boats in time to ‘I Saw Three Ships’, a playful clash of the elements at the waterfall and a huge display of lights tumbling down a slope in time to ‘Joy to the World’. That display was completely mesmerising to watch – a child near us called it a “fairy meadow” which was spot on! The most impressive display however was a box-shaped structure, very similar to a
The organisers have put a lot of thought into appealing to a wide range of people of different ages and interests. Couples were offered a respite from the crowds with a charming walk around the peaceful rose garden, entitled ‘Mistletoe Moment’, complete with oversized mistletoe to guide their way/encourage public displays of affection. Children were treated to a brief, cheerful greeting from Father Christmas and his elf friend. There were plenty of opportunities to grab a bite to eat or warm up with some mulled wine which was handy but slightly spoiled the magic of the trail. Having already paid £16.50 per person plus parking, it would have been nice to reduce the number of stalls to the clump by the waterfall rather than frequently suggesting that we need to be consuming at all times to enjoy ourselves. Something else which slightly frustrated me was the constant stream of selfie-taking/group shots. The Blenheim team clearly know this is an important aspect of the trail for the public and have even included light-up frames to help you to take the perfect candied selfie with your group. In the age of Instagram and other forms of social media, one simply has to accept that people prefer to capture the moment for their followers rather than be in the moment themselves. Blenheim have done well to create a trail which is so photogenic that we witnessed several minor collisions along the way as folks bustled to find the perfect angle. Take the organisers’ advice and bring a torch with you to avoid falling into the lake/tripping over happy snappers.
After just under an hour wandering in the grounds, we came to the end of trail feeling slightly cold but dazzled by the striking displays. While the cost isn’t cheap, Christmas at Blenheim is a guaranteed festive treat for all ages.