The run-up to Christmas this year put me in something of a quandary – Ross and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint the kids and deprive them of making special festive memories but the traditional visit to Santa inside his workshop was out for obvious reasons and going along to any potentially crowded event made us nervous about people spreading germs not joy.
Stourhead to the rescue!
The beautiful National Trust site based in Stourton, Wiltshire has long been on the list of places in the South West I would like to visit (and photograph) and I had that chance when I captured an engagement shoot in the summer. So, when our family were invited to the Christmas Light Trail at Stourhead, we were chuffed to bits!
With the kids bubbling over with excitement, we set out mid-afternoon on the 4th of December and arrived after an easy commute to find plenty of parking, friendly attendants, and twinkling lights illuminating the darkening sky.
A range of takeaway vans comprise a mini Christmas market at the entrance to the trail, enabling visitors to buy themselves a cup of something hot to warm them during their walk or food to fuel their feet, although there are several places along the route where food and drink are available.
So, why not grab a tea, coffee or cocoa and come along with me now for my photo tour of the Stourhead Christmas Light Trail!
We were delighted to have been invited along to this spectacular light trail by the fine folks at SEE tickets and the National Trust, a very much appreciated early Christmas present!
The National Trust protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. The organisation look after hundred of houses and close to a million objects, along with vast areas of coastline, countryside and green spaces, for everyone’s benefit. Celebrating their 125th anniversary in 2020, they continue to carry on the ambition set out by their founders to care for nature, beauty and history.
Stourhead itself is a 1,072 hectare estate at the source of the River Stour in Wiltshire, extending into Somerset, easily accessible from the A303 and within striking distance of Wincanton, Frome and Shaftesbury.
The Light Trail Experience
The trail takes visitors on a gentle amble of around an hour or so – depending on how quickly or slowly you might like to walk – with no challenging terrain for those who may have mobility concerns. We made the circuit at a moderate pace in just over an hour with four year old Rex happy to walk the entire distance and not asking for a “carry cuddle” once (for which Ross’ back was most grateful!)
Within moments of starting on the trail, we were met with these huge and spectacularly lit displays setting the tone for what was to come – as you can see in the picture above by the people walking by, these light trees are absolutely huge and truly magnificent.
We all got a delightful surprise upon turning a corner to find the jolly bearded fellow himself standing in a yard outside one of the estate’s buildings. Cleverly arranged behind an unobtrusive fence, Father Christmas was able to interact with the little ones and offer pictures without compromising social distancing or safety. Stourhead’s St. Nick had a lovely little chat with the awestruck (therefore uncharacteristically quiet!) Rex, who spend much of the remainder of the day marveling over how Santa had been there at the same time as us. We were told “I was not expecting Father Christmas to be there, Mummy” on a number of occasions!
Static, the above picture looks pleasant but, in person, it’s one of the absolute highlights of the trail as the six light bars flash, sparkle and change colour in time with festive music, combining to create an enchanting light show which projects around the area, even creating the effect of falling leaves in the trees above it. We were entranced by this and could have quite happily spent a considerable time standing and watching this alone.
An number of small fire sconces are used for this display, set far away enough from both visitors and woodland to ensure safety but close enough for passers-by to feel the heat as they watch the flames flicker.
Upon seeing this impressive light bulb array, Ross joked that the tree had obviously just had a very bright idea, while Grace was reminded of a scene in the Simpsons’ Movie!
One of our personal highlights came as we approached this imposing festive laser display with the beams bouncing from tree to tree deep within the woodland. Grace, in true teenage fashion, attempted to wind Rex up by saying that he’d better not go near the lasers as their beams would cut whatever touched them in half. The joke was on her, however, as moments later she attempted to run her hand through one of the rays only to find that it was not, in fact, a laser beam but instead a cleverly lit collection of strings! The panic on her face as her hand touched something solid was absolutely hilarious.
Whenever you’d like to stop for a moment, there’s plenty to look at throughout the trail and even a fire-pit with adjacent marshmallow stand where you can buy a flavoured marshmallow on a stick to roast over the flames – a tasty treat relished by both Rex and Grace, although Rex’s eyes were bigger than his tummy and Grace didn’t so much roast her marshmallow as liquefy it…
Hundreds of tiny light-boats float in the estate’s pond, changing colour and transfixing the viewer in a peaceful, calming scene.
The finale of the walk featured sweeping festive lights floating across the water and illuminating the Stourhead bridge to the music of ‘Let it go’ from Frozen.
From beginning to end, we absolutely loved this experience. Length and time-wise, it’s just right to feel like you’ve been somewhere and done something without being overwhelming or too challenging for those with limited capabilities or lesser attention spans! The paths were wide enough to allow all visiting groups to remain at a comfortable distance, while never feeling as if you were touring in isolation. Given the challenges we all face right now, creating Christmas spirit around others can be difficult but the Stourhead Christmas light trail achieves this with ease. All of the staff were friendly and happy, the range of food and drink options were varied and appealing, and the impressive lighting displays have been put together with care and skill, creating a most memorable experience which we would entirely recommend to anyone looking to add something extra special to their festive season.