Longleat’s Festival of Lights 2017

I’ve talked about Longleat and its winter lights before. I’m an annual pass holder so I go regularly but I especially go for the lights.

I don’t like Christmas. I find it stressful, I loathe enforced fun, I hate the movies, I don’t like the songs and I hate that it begins so early and ends so suddenly. But I love lights in the dark and choral music.

The safari park at Longleat is great. I go on the safari bus rather than drive myself, which is easier, quicker, less stressful, better for your clutch and fuel consumption and comes with live commentary (sample from this weekend – in the lion enclosure, I kid you not: “What’s this chap doing? I think he’s broken down. That’s going to get complicated because if they need to recover the car, they’ll have to put the lions away first. And oh yes, as we drive past you can now smell it – he’s definitely burnt out his clutch.”)

And the other attractions are great and have I mentioned that I adore the bats?

Cheetahs at Longleat
This is cheetah mother Wilma and her cubs, Poppy and Winston. They’re in the paddock today, away from male (not the father) Carl.

But I went mostly for the lights.

Every year, a team of forty artists come over from China in October and spends three weeks creating the new display. They always reuse the flowers somewhere but there’s always something new. Last year commemorated Beatrix Potter. This year’s theme was the magic of storytelling. We had a huge castle out the front – two castles, actually. A dragon surrounded by flames. Marble statues of many of the safari animals. We had Cinderella’s coach, the Ugly Duckling, the Frog Prince, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, the Little Mermaid, Goldilocks, the Snow Queen and finally the Nutcracker. It’s spectacular.

You do have to wait for it to get dark for the full effect. Fortunately, that happens pretty early this time of year. And of course, it’s always freezing cold. And I never take enough warm clothes because it’s Wiltshire, not Svalbard.

This year they’ve imposed a one-way system on the lanterns, creating a bottleneck at the Frog Prince. I sneaked through the house (where you’re not allowed to take photos), warmed my hands on the roaring fire therein and then emerged at the Cellar Cafe on the other side of the queue. Yes, it would have been quicker to just queue.

I finished off with a trip into Flight Before Christmas. I knew it was some kind of show and it turned out to be a princess reading a story from a huge book – brought to life by live owls swooping overhead. The tawny didn’t really want to go anywhere. The barn owl landed on someone’s head instead of the perch. But the enormous eagle owl was good as gold – and horrifyingly huge to have flying right over your head. I met an eagle owl in Edinburgh over the summer – they’re heavy and it’s a good thing this one didn’t land on anyone like the barn owl did.

Dragon lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Nico the gorilla lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Cinderella's coach lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Snow White lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Little Red Riding Hood lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

The Little Mermaid lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Prince Ivan's Castle lantern at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Giant sweets lanterns at Longleat's Festival of Lights

Beauty & the Beast lantern at Longleat's Festival of Light

Sleeping Beauty's castle lantern at Longleat's Festival of Light

The practical information

  • They didn’t sponsor me
  • Open Friday to Sunday throughout November, daily throughout December (except Christmas Day), 10.00 – 19.30.
  • Adults £33.95 on the gate (£30.55 online), children £25.45 (22.90) for a day ticket
  • Adults £23.95 (£21.55), children £17.95 (£16.15) for a twilight ticket (admission after 3pm) on selected dates only
  • Just off the A36 between Bath & Salisbury at Warminster.
  • Make sure you visit the bats.