Just add sparkle!
Lights, camera, Christmas! 10 twinkly trips and illuminated trails around Devon and beyond to add some sparkle to your Yule.
TRAIN OF LIGHTS, Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company, Paignton, 14, 15, 18,19, 20, 21,22, 23, 27,28, 29, 30 Dec
I’m no train-spotter but this is actually quite insanely exciting. A 7-mile round-robin trip by steam to Kingswear on a 10-carriage train strung with multi-coloured lights? Count me in!
The Christmas Train of Lights departs from a station rather like Harry Potter‘s Platform 9 and 3/4, all lit up with Xmas trees and a steaming puffing Billy, creating clouds of smoke worthy of a Sherlock Holmes novel and decorated with tens of thousands of lights.
The trip takes about an hour, chugging you through Churston stop and Greenway (near Agatha Christie’s home) – a choreographed illuminated train ride with luggage racks festooned with baubles and a festive commentary by Devon broadcaster Judi Spiers who cleverly builds the suspense and flags up what you’re going to see on the journey.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise but swirling snow, elves and unicorns all feature, with a 10-minute stop at Kingswear to see the pretty lights across the river at Dartmouth and take selfies with the train, then its back home to the sounds of Jingle Bell Rock and Mariah Carey. Just fabulous, but book asap as tickets are flying out. Family tickets cost £54 (2 adults and max 3 children). Note – there is NO Santa on this train, for that book their daytime Santa Express.
ENCHANTED SALTRAM, Saltram House, Plymouth, 10-24, 27-30 Dec, 10am-7.15pm
An illuminated walk around the lime avenue and gardens with a peep in through the windows of the Orangery and then into the Georgian house, full to brim with beautifully decorated Xmas trees that reach the ceiling (it’s the law) and dining rooms and kitchens, magically transformed with a fairytale theme. It can be a bit of a scrum in the car-park so go well before lights-on at dusk. Treat yourself to a hot chocky in the Winter Courtyard cafe tipi. Open 12 noon till 8pm every, day, house open from midday. Free to NT members.
ROSEMOOR GLOW, RHS Rosemoor, Torrington, every Thurs, Fri and Sat until 4 Jan 2020
RHS Rosemoor’s Illuminations return with colour-changing lights reflected in the Cool Garden lake, and the twiggy silhouettes lit up in rainbow shades. I want that giant mirror ball in my garden *hint hint*. Plus, the shop stays open late too so a chance to do some panic gift-buying. Trowels for everyone! From 4pm to 8pm. Last entry to the garden 7pm. Visit 14-15 Dec for the Xmas Food & Craft Fair. Free to RHS members.
CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND, Babbacombe Model Village, Babbacombe, 21-24 Dec, 27 Dec – 2 Jan
Babbacombe Model Village, always a treat, comes to life in winter, with all the miniature scenes lit up – so exciting for the littlies. There’s also a remodelled Sparkling Christmas Maze to lose yourself *or the kids* in and Santa is the finale of their mini 15-minute Panto in the afternoons from 21-24 Dec, just to get the kids into hyperdrive before the trip home. They also do a free return within 7 days if you have the stamina. Adults £11.95, over 65s £10.95, children (3 to 14 yrs) £9.95.
KNIGHTHAYES BY NIGHT, Knightshayes Court, Tiverton, every Fri, Sat and Sun evening Dec
Knighthayes is a shoe-in when it comes to atmospheric Gothic lighting and ooh, look – dancing lasers! The 19th century parkland is all aglow and inside it’s richly decorated for a traditional family Christmas, full of ideas for decking your own halls for Xmas. Free to NT members.
GROTTO AND LIGHTSHOW, The Big Sheep, weekends until 24 Dec
Less an illuminated trail, more a cool light-show around Santa’s Grotto at Woolly’s Winterland. A day ticket gets you entry to the park and Devon’s largest indoor playground, a ride on the Snowboard Simulator, all the usual rides and a meet and great with the Big Man (first come first served) and a gift for the kids.
CHRISTMAS AT FORDE ABBEY, Chard, Somerset, 15 – 22 Dec, 3.30-6.30pm
Just over the border in Somerset and well worth a trip if you’ve not been before, the family-owned home and gardens are lit up inside and out with candles and hand-made natural decs. It’s getting more impressive every year with the long borders and champion trees casting a magical shine over the house. It’s a real labour of love and it can’t fail to make your feel festive. Adults £10, kids £5.
FESTIVAL OF CHRISTMAS, Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, until 30 Dec
Christmas at Eden is always amazing – the ice-skating, Mother and Father Christmas in their grotto – and this year there is Luke Jerram’s Gaia, a giant floating replica of the earth, created using detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface, as it might be seen from space. You can catch it until 5 Jan. The site and biomes are all aglow after dark, and you can wander through a spectacular Avenue of Lights to see giant willow lantern creatures light up the night. Magical.
WINTER WONDERLAND, Bournemouth, until 2 Jan 2020
A free festive trail of over 100 glittering trees and illuminations along Bournemouth’s seafront, taking in the Alpine Market and the always-appealing opportunity to make a eejit of yourself skating in the Victorian Lower Gardens. Plus live music, entertainment and magical illuminations across the town.
ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS, Westonbirt Arboretum, Glos, until 22 Dec
Voted Britain’s fave Christmas light display, Westonbirt’s annual light extravaganza is a mile-long trail through the light-festooned trees, with a chance to see Santa in his grotto, scoff chestnuts and knock back a mulled wine. And if that’s not Xmassy I don’t know what is. Adults £15, children £7.50, under 5s free. No dogs except assistance dogs.