Sudeley Castle has long been a family-favourite attraction for locals and visitors to the area, but the winter months have always seen the 15th-century stately home closed to members of the public – until now.
Coming up with the idea after working on famous festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe, experienced event specialists Nic Beeby and Michael Dare approached Sudeley Castle with the bright idea of transforming it into a magical after-dark experience.
Many months of meticulous planning and testing later, and the first ever Spectacle of Light descended on the historical Winchcombe landmark on Thursday 1 December 2016, running until Friday 23 December 2016, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first in line to enjoy the action.
Starting off along the special trail and soon enough we were all – include two short-attention toddlers – gazing up into the trees with mouths wide open, oohing and ahhing at the hundreds of bright white lights dancing all around us.
As we made our way along the path, the sounds of Mike Oldfield’s iconic Tubular Bells could be heard in the air, offering the perfect accompaniment to the scene of Sudeley’s moat lit with rows of colour-changing lights, flickering on the water and in the canopy of trees overhead to make a breath-taking scene. Nobody could resist stopping to whip out their iPhones and capture it forever.
The castle’s award-winning gardens are spectacular in the summer, so it was fantastic to see them come to such life in December; the Secret Garden and East Garden both dazzlingly illuminated, making way for the first proper views of the awe-inspiring building itself under the glow of light – but not before a peek inside St Mary’s Church, candlelit as it has been for centuries.
The ruins of the Plantagenet banqueting hall, built during Richard III’s reign, appeared beautifully eerie in red, while visitors were also directed through a stretch inside the castle – with the chance to brush up on some Tudor history along the way – before being back outside for what was our highlight of the evening.
If you’ve ever struggled with getting your Christmas lights just right at home, you wouldn’t believe what the event organisers pulled off in the famous Queen’s garden, as all around us hundreds of LEDs had been meticulously positioned to bring the world around us alive. The pinnacle was making our way up to a viewing platform, turning around to see England’s most romantic castle and its grounds as we had never before seen – truly stunning.
Around 45 minutes after setting out and little legs were getting tired, so steaming cups of hot chocolate in the café couldn’t have come at a better time. It was also a perfect chance to reflect on the experience with dozens of other visitors who’d just finished the trail, equally brimming with festive spirit.
I’d personally like to see even more music and interactivity added for 2017, but you’d never guess this was the event’s debut, and the organisers have done a fine job of making the most of this Gloucestershire treasure. Spectacle of Light makes for a unique experience for all ages, and one we’d heartily recommend booking tickets for while you still have the chance.
By James Fyrne
Thursday 08 December 2016
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