Walking around a wood on a cold winter’s night isn’t the most obvious way to launch the festive season, yet for thousands that’s exactly what Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas does.
Indeed, the spectacular light show, which opens on Friday, has become so popular – last year saw more than 33,000 visitors over the 12 nights – the arboretum has been forced to limit some evenings to pre-booked tickets only.
“It’s because of the sheer number of people who want to come,” explains Recreation Manager Simon Hough. “We were getting to the point we could not get any more in.”
Limiting the numbers on Saturdays to 3,500 pre-booked visitors will, he says, help to preserve the atmosphere.
“The great thing about this landscape is it soaks people up and even when it’s very busy you still feel you’re having a unique experience out there.”
Now in its 19th season, Enchanted Christmas turns the world famous National Arboretum into a magical world of colour not due to the usual autumn foliage or spring blossom but with thousands of lights that pick out groups of trees or individual specimens.
Sometimes it’s the twisted shape of the leafless branches that are highlighted against the night sky, on others it’s the weeping form or intricate pattern of bark, while colours range from white, green and blue through to red, orange and yellow.
This year’s route is nearly a mile-and-a-half long around the Old Arboretum and highlights will include lights along Holford Ride towards Westonbirt School, some beautiful Scots pines and cedars on the downs.
“The big cedars lit up look magnificent,” says Simon.
Visitors are being encouraged to sing out in Savill Glade where sound-sensitive lights will respond to the volume and in Pool Avenue banging a base drum will bring on the illuminations.
This year, Father Christmas, dressed in a traditional green costume, will be joined by Mrs Christmas, who will be entertaining children with stories.
Other entertainment includes carol singing, stilt walkers, a children’s carousel and Christmas crafts.
“The Enchanted Christmas is our unique thing,” says Simon. “You cannot replicate a place like this. It’s magical.”
• The Enchanted Christmas is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night between November 27 and December 20. Pre-booking is advised and is essential for entry on Saturdays. The trail opens at 5pm, last entry to the car park is at 7pm and to the trail at 7.30pm. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended. For more information and to book, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-christmas