Westonbirt creates an Enchanted Christmas

Walking through a wood at night isn’t an obvious crowd-pleaser but the Enchanted Christmas light show at Westonbirt is different. In fact, it’s become so popular this year sees advanced booking only and timed tickets.

The annual display is now in its 20th year and for many families seeing hundreds of lights transforming the National Arboretum is a traditional start to their Christmas.

Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the 12-day event, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from the end of November until just before Christmas.

It’s the increasingly popularity that has led to the change in ticketing, explains arboretum spokeswoman Emily Pryor.

enchanted christmas
Coloured lights highlight the trees

“We’re striving always to improve the quality of visitors’ experience. We want it to be the best we can give.”

As a result, there will no longer be the option to pay at the gate and all tickets to the route will be issued in one-hour time slots, although people can enter the arboretum any time after 5pm to visit the restaurant and shop.

And Emily stresses that once on the illuminated trail there is no pressure to get around in a given time.

“Visitors can take as long as they need,” she says.

As well as new arrangements for tickets, the display in the Enchanted Christmas has also seen some changes with a complete overhaul of the equipment used to ensure an even brighter and more dazzling show.

enchanted forest
The lights create a magical world

This includes a more powerful machine to pump bubbles out into one part of the trail where they will be picked out by UV lights.

“It looks quite amazing in the dark,” says Emily.

Meanwhile, an ‘elf village’ for Santa’s helpers will have tiny houses lit up among the trees, while Father Christmas – dressed in the original, traditional green – will be taking Christmas requests and Mrs Christmas will be telling stories.

Although the one-mile trail follows a different route through the Old Arboretum each year, the concept remains the same. Lights in every shade from red, blue and white to green, purple and orange transform Westonbirt’s trees, picking out twisted limbs, fissures in bark or the graceful shape of weeping specimens.

Enchanted christmas
The Enchanted Christmas is a popular annual event

Some trees are lit with a steady spotlight, others are part of an ever-changing display as lights go on and off with timers.

Among the most popular elements are those that involve audience participation. The ‘singing tree’ has lights that are sound sensitive and visitors are encouraged to sing or shout to illuminate it. Elsewhere, a sequence of lights is triggered by visitors beating on drums.

And there is the chance to light up the Enchanted Christmas with pedal power by riding on a bicycle.

“It’s a huge hit with kids.”

There’s even a touch of disco with a huge mirror ball that reflects back onto the trees.

The Enchanted Christmas opens on Friday November 25 and runs on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 18th.

The trail is pushchair and wheelchair friendly. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended.

For more details and booking information, visit Westonbirt

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Westonbirt lights up

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.”

westonbirt arboretum
The lighting creates a magical atmosphere © Forestry Commission

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.

westonbirt arboretum
The illuminated trail is through the Old Arboretum © Forestry Commission

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