Visiting a festive light trail has become one of my favourite family traditions and if ever there was a year when we needed twinkly lights, Yuletide cheer and glittering delights, 2020 is it. When the government announced the latest restrictions following English lockdown 2.0, I thought our Westonbirt Christmas experience was going to be a no-no, so when the tier 2-designated attraction announced it was continuing to welcome tier 3-ers like us, we were over the moon. Here’s my review of the gorgeous Enchanted Westonbirt Christmas: Journey to the West Pole.
*Disclosure: I was invited to visit Westonbirt Enchanted Christmas in exchange for coverage. All opinions and festive delight are my own.
We’ve been to Westonbirt’s illuminated festive trail several times before and it’s most definitely one of the best outdoor family-friendly Christmas experiences around. On the 35-minute journey from Bristol, I’d prepped my girls with the background story to this year’s event: Journey to the West Pole, provided on our tickets.
Their little faces lit up in wonder as I explained that while everybody knows Father Christmas has a workshop in the North Pole, did they know that he also has workshops (or poles as he calls them) all over the world to help him on his journey across the globe on Christmas Eve? Rumour has it that one of them, the West Pole is located amongst the trees of Westonbirt, The National Arboretum.
If anything, the magic starts as you drive through Willesley, a pretty English village next to the arboretum, whose homeowners had already adorned their front gardens with glowing golden foliage. Next minute, you’re turning into Westonbirt, a luminous sign and rainbow-lit trees a taster of the colourful scenes that are about to come.
We really lucked out on the evening we visited – the weather was crisp, cold and dry and with one of the early slots booked (4.30pm), the sun was just sinking under a pink sky as we parked up. Covid safety meant that trail entry time slots were staggered and masks were to be worn in toilets. Trail admittance time slots are shown on a LED banner above the entrance to the illuminated trail. There was lots of space should people gather in certain areas and there were hand sanitising stations around eating areas. We found it uncrowded – almost like we were on a private tour of the lights (!) – and of course it’s all outside too and there’s not much to touch, so it felt very safe.
The Westonbirt Christmas illuminated adventure
A cubic light tunnel marks the entrance to a towering forest ablaze with beams of colour. Venturing into the dark wintry night, animated surprises pop up amidst the trees, real-life and ‘projector-beamed’ elves holler cheery greetings, ancient trees spark to life with friendly characters, while others trill Christmassy tunes as you wander past. My youngest daughter believed herself to be ‘controlling the trees’ and barked orders at them to ‘start talking!’ while totally mesmerised by what each trunk had to say.
Twinkly lights guide the way along the mile-long trail, past sparkling trees into a magical world illuminated in kaleidoscopic colour. It’s a sensory experience of epic proportions from start to finish – disco balls cast dazzling patterns across branches, a gleaming rainbow ceiling shoots across the sky, sparkly stars dangle from branches, giant candy canes pave part of the route and a fairy-sized village gleams in the darkness, hiding potential tiny unseen residents.
Round every twist and turn in the path a new surprise awaits; elves need help in the form of Christmas cheer from passersby to light up Rudolph’s Runway, others invite you to join in with their games, and best of all, close to the end, Santa’s closest aides are in the midst of helping out Father Christmas himself! My two ran around the whole route, squealing in delight at everything they saw.
Reaching the end, we pass a ‘digital elf disco’ and somebody giving out a gift for the kids to round off the trail perfectly. Children can also pick up an activity pack at the beginning of the trail (although mine were too excited to stop for long enough to complete it!)
Strategically-placed refreshment stalls waft delicious smells into the air and provide the perfect incentive to quaff some winter warmers en route, such as scrummy mini doughnuts and hot Nutella sauce. Or there’s a chance to refuel at the Christmas Village (which has been split into two parts this year) with something like a Bratwurst or hog roast bap at the end.
A total festive feast for the senses that is truly magical in every way, the enchanting Westonbirt Christmas doubled as a wonderful birthday treat for my daughter (whose celebration options were seriously limited this year), filled us all with Yuletide joy and was the perfect tonic to 2020.
*The event takes place from Friday 4 -6 December, Thursday 10 – Sunday 13 December, Friday 18 – Monday 21 December. Pre-booking essential.