~ UK ~
Review: Review: Blenheim Palace Illuminated Light Trails 2019, The Cotswolds

Review: Review: Blenheim Palace Illuminated Light Trails 2019, The Cotswolds

The last day of my 2019 Cotswold trip consisted of visiting Blenheim Palace for its Alice in the Palace Experience in the morning and the Illumination Trails at night; with a break at nearby Oxford in between for a lightning fast visit.

 

Christmas Events

Both the Alice in the Palace Experience and the Illumination Trails are limited Christmas time events and Blenheim Palace had a Cinderella in the Palace Experience and a different Christmas Lights Trail last year.

Fortunately this appeared to be a very popular event, judging from how many people turned up during my visit, and something similar should be available next year. It was actually tricky to find the history of the Illuminated Trail at Blenheim Palace, I think a small version was held in 2016 but the official Trail with its extravaganza of lights and extensive advertising only started in 2017.

Review: Blenheim Palace's Illuminated Light Trails

The themed character in the Palace Experience is even newer as I could only find information about the Cinderella experience from last year. I think they just lugged giant Christmas trees into the Palace and had traditional winter decorations before.

I really liked the Alice in the Palace Experience but the Illuminated Trail was something special, mainly because it was my first lights trail and the event utilised the Palace grounds really well. This is a quick run through of my experience.

We had popped onto the 18:33 no. 500 bus from Oxford and arrived at the Blenheim Palace bus stop around 19:00.

The Christmas trees at the entrance to the grounds were lit up and there was a cute mini display to the left when you walk through. It wasn’t anything beyond what your neighbours would put up for Christmas so far, but it was cosy and cute. I felt they missed a trick as the long driveway up to the palace was flanked with trees which would have looked amazing lit up. Instead there were strings of red and white bulb lights which were primarily there as direction towards the Palace entrance.

The fairground rides looked more exciting with their lights on at night, but I couldn’t help but notice that the swinging ships were still the emptiest ride around out of only four rides. I guess constant wind in your face isn’t so popular on a cold day.

The market was equally well lit up and had a much stronger Christmas atmosphere than in the morning. The map of the Illuminated Trail was helpfully placed near the ticket offices. We were too early for our 19:40 entrance and so popped over to the gift shop to buy a warming cup of overpriced mulled wine for £5.75.

Review: Blenheim Palace's Illuminated Light Trails

What I was really buying was something warm to grip and a seat indoors, but the mulled wine tasted decent enough. Is it odd how mulled wine is the only red wine that I like? Red wine is such a heavy drink.

We then shuffled out into the cold and joined a surprisingly long and hidden queue when we finally passed the Christmas stalls opposite the palace.

We should have followed the Palace’s suggestion to queue 15 minutes before your scheduled time, but I had the naïve assumption that timed entry slots meant less queuing. 

I was wrong.

Review: Blenheim Palace's Illuminated Light Trails

Welcome Wreath

We finally reached the start of the trail and saw the first light installation: the welcome wreath. This was a giant bauble with a bow and reminded me vaguely of Childish Gambino’s album cover for “…Awaken, my love!” with the bright luminescent colouring and dark background. Either that or a hair band with spikes.

Speaking of Childish Gambino, it turns out that I am one of those hipsters who knew Donald Glover mainly through his work on the internet sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy from 2006 – 2010. It was very odd to see him go from standard loudmouth comedian to the edgy and weird image he has in 2019…

Well anyways there was a small caravan just by the entrance to sell the standard hot chocolate and snacks at probably very expensive prices. Cathedral of Light Now this is more like what I paid to see! Plastered all across Blenheim Palace’s website for the Illuminated Trails is an image of a little girl spreading her arms from within the Cathedral of Light installation.

 

Review: Blenheim Palace's Illuminated Light Trails

It was a very iconic image and the reality was even more impressive as we got more of a sense of how long the installation was.

The Cathedral was made up of little flower fairy lights which gave off a warming and even holy yellow glow very appropriate for its name. If you stare through the installation on the left hand side you would see the Palace, but I didn’t focus too much on it as it was obviously the last showstopper of the Trail.

We still have a very long way to go

Neon Boathouse

After the Cathedral there was a bit of a walk along the water before the Neon Boathouse installation, I really appreciated the decent number of workers in hi-vis peppered along the trail to offer assistance in the dark. There were some fairy lights along the ground, but it was extremely dark and the Palace website recommended some torches for emergencies.

The Neon boathouse itself was cute with the little penguins, but I swear my neighbours had a very similar display last year and they weren’t even the most impressive displays on the street. It would have been nice to make use of the surrounding water but I guessed dipping electronics into the water could be dangerous.

Light tunnel and snowflake lights

This wasn’t listed on the trail map but I loved the trippy effect of the blue and white light tunnel and genuinely thought this was a showstopper piece. The large snowflake spotlights at the end were cute too.

Snowdrops

These were very hard to photograph in the dark and I didn’t manage to capture the subtle change in the snowdrop lights. Individually they looked very chunky and as if you could buy it from B&Q, but as a whole I found the snowdrop field delicately pretty and naturally transitioned to the snowflake sticks at the end

Flynn

Why was this called Flynn? I don’t know. I guess chandeliers/sea creatures/Cthulhu are an Irish invention? You learn new things every day.

UV Strings

The sound effects for the UV strings installation were the most effective of the trail and fitted into the futuristic theme perfectly. The electrical current and sizzle soundtrack added to the Tron-like atmosphere and combined well with the methodically stretched and arranged neon strings. There were actually very few lights in the area, with a few spotlights lighting up the neon of the strings. I felt that this was a very well thought out section that was more than the sum of its parts.

Laser Garden

The Laser garden really tested my camera and I think my Sony mirror-less lost if this picture is the proof: There was just something about darkness and flashes of intermittent light that messed up all my shots, but I managed exactly three okay photos in a section where they pumped out fog. This managed to spread out the light in a way that gave my camera a fighting chance. It captured the look of the area quite well and the scene had an air of a pumping disco with the fast paced music combined with the spinning lights.

Spiral Trees

This was fine, but there could have been more spiral trees. It felt a little bare bones and it was a shame that the lit up bridge nearby couldn’t be accessed. However it was important for the showstopper pieces to be balanced out with more simple displays and in this way the spiral trees had an important function.

Hedge-lights and Waterfall

Another area not shown in the map which was a shame because I felt that the waterfall was one of the more impressive areas with the ever changing water. Combined with the lit bridge nearby it made for a very pretty picture, which goes to show that water makes everything better. The hedge-lights were just pretty, so I took photos. Oh who am I kidding? I would’ve taken photos of a bin if someone stuck lights on it.

Snowflakes

We then arrived at another food area selling tea, hot chocolate and other items with lit up cube seating. The area also housed the snowflakes display which were essentially a series of large snowflake lights combined with spinning floodlights and a blaring soundtrack. This was essentially a mini lights performance with a series of different songs; the cheerier songs lit the snowflakes in red whilst the slower ones were accompanied with blue lighting.

I was a little surprised to recognise the song “Once upon a December” from the Not-Disney 1997 production of “Anastasia”. It was a song for an animated movie which answered the question of “Can you give a fairy tale ending to the Romanov family executions?”

NOBODY ASKED YOU, NOT-DISNEY. NOBODY.

Pretty song though.

The Vines

We zipped passed a Christmas tree cone before arriving at the very fun vines installation. These LED tendrils made for a fun interactive experience that were a hit with children. The red hued lights made it look like tendrils of flames as well.

Fire Garden

We then went to an actual fire garden. There was a hymn-like soundtrack with chanting which created an almost spiritual experience in the round garden. The presence of actual flames added to this raw spiritual feeling and it was actually a very beautiful display.

Unfortunately due to the uncontrollable nature of fire it was much harder to capture an attractive photograph than if the installation was fully electrical. Because fire is dangerous there was a solid fence that prevented us from getting closer and there were moments when the wind blew hard that I wondered if the garden would set on fire. On the one hand the photographs would be so charming, but on the other hand everything would be burnt to a crisp. So all in all it would have been a pretty neutral event.

Sledge Tree

This was a neat idea of a Christmas tree made up of 365 illuminated wooden sledges, but I was pretty surprised that they couldn’t find a single architectural/structural firm in the UK to design this structure and had to outsource it to a company in Budapest. By surprised I meant not impressed. By not impressed I meant that I would have been happy to design it for a princely sum of £50.

Father Christmas and the Elves

I knew that this event was advertised for absolutely everyone and family tickets were available, albeit for two adults and two children so leave any extraneous kids at home, but I did not expect to see a pantomime of Father Christmas and the Elves along the trail.

Firstly pantomime was already an acquired taste popular mainly with some children, secondly children only made up a portion of the crowd that night, in addition many people (like me) would skip the pantomime if they didn’t arrive right at the beginning of the story and lastly it was a lot to expect people to stay still in the cold for the show.

There is a reason why traditional pantomimes are generally held in warm theatres with no distractions or wide open exits, so I wasn’t surprised at the sparse crowd in front of the stage.

What can I say? It was a freezing night!

Perhaps it would have been more popular if they added seating and giant heaters?

Go Crackers

…… …. … I thought these were angel wing lights. Albeit air-plane like wings. That is all I have to say.

Know Thyself

We passed along the lit path and a Winston Churchill statue that depicted the man trying to smile (?) to arrive at the “Know Thyself” installation.

This was a giant pulsing red heart that was flashing along with the thumping heartbeat soundtrack. It was a very earthy experience that felt more like an art installation than part of a trail. It looked like it belonged to a museum with rich people murmuring over it with champagne.

Galaxy Truffles

We then reached the sponsorship section of the trail with Galaxy truffles taking over a space. They didn’t do very much with it. I skipped it so quickly that I think I missed out on free chocolate and a chance to win a hamper. Oh well.

Water Terrace Finale and exit

This was the big showstopper finale and unmissable. The fountains were lit… The trees were lit…

Most importantly a side of Blenheim Palace was lit with a light show in time with music.

 

Review: Blenheim Palace's Illuminated Light Trails

It ended in a blaze of rainbow to the belting notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas”. We then passed through the Christmas trees to the exit which was actually the entrance to the trail.

Conclusion

Blenheim Palace’s Illuminated Trail was a great opportunity to see the Palace at different times of the day and experience a completely new atmosphere. It was a beautifully designed and competently organised event that made good use of the Palace grounds. The trail had elements of the traditional and the modern, of nature and technology, of fun and whimsy and sometimes even of spirituality. This event is appropriate for everyone as long as you wrap up warm and wear sensible shoes and I highly recommend a visit when Blenheim Palace inevitably brings it back next year. Did this post inspire you to visit Blenheim Palace?

Details

Blenheim Palace Christmas Night Trails

Website: https://christmasatblenheim.seetickets.com/christmasatblenheim/

Address: Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, OX20 1PP

Opening hours:

Friday 22nd November – Sunday 24th November
Thursday 28th November – Sunday 1st December
Wednesday 4th December – Tuesday 24th December
Thursday 26th December – Wednesday 1st January
4:20pm*, 4:40pm, 5:00pm, 5:30pm, 6:00pm, 6:30pm, 7:00pm, 7:20pm*, 7:40pm,* 8:00pm*
*Not available for every date.

Cost:

OFF-PEAK

Adult – Advance £18.00 – On The Day £20.00
Child (5-16 years) – Advance £12.50 – On The Day £14.50
Family (2 adults & 2 children) – Advance £58.00 – On The Day £66.00

PEAK

Adult – Advance £20.00 – On The Day £22.00
Child (5-16 years) – Advance £14.50 – On The Day £16.50
Family (2 adults & 2 children) – Advance £66.00 – On The Day £74.00

Children under 5 and carers go free for the Illuminated Trail and Alice in the Palace.

Blenheim Palace Annual Pass holders receive £1.00 off their Trail tickets (tickets must be accompanied by a valid annual pass).

Note: These are 2019 dates and prices, refer to the website for the most up to date information. 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: