I never gave much thought to winter before moving to the UK. After all, I grew up in Florida and if there’s one thing it’s known for besides Disney World, it’s sunshine, palm trees, and a tropical climate. Okay, that’s three things but you get the idea. Temperatures in Florida range from warm to scorching, with a side helping of humidity. The state’s relative proximity to the equator likewise means that daylight sticks around a little bit longer during winter months, and I never particularly noticed an extreme fluctuation as we approached the end of the year.
This all changed when I settled in Britain. Temperatures are definitely colder but, with the right coat and a lot of layers, it’s completely manageable. Yet the earliest sunset of the year is at 3:58 pm. In no way can that be considered “evening”. During the darkest period, which is about 10 days on either side of the Solstice, we get slightly less than 8 hours of daylight each day. You would think this is something I would get used to, but no: each year I find it a little bit harder to deal with the dark and have started to feel a strong urge to hibernate.
So it’s probably no surprise that I have found myself seeking out mid-winter light. Not in a SAD lamp type of way (although, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get one), but in regards to the lantern displays and illuminations that have started to proliferate at attractions across the country.
First it was Longleat Safari Park. Their 2016 Festival of Light event, coinciding with park’s 50th anniversary and the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter, was an incredible introduction to this stunning display of Chinese lanterns. These are wire-framed sculptures embedded with light bulbs and covered in fabric; although they have their origin in China (and are still made there), Longleat does a new theme each year and really makes it their own. Indeed, this year’s is a completely original story that takes visitors through time and space with children Harry and Bea and their dog Monty. The Festival has become a household tradition that MrElaineous and I look forward to every year, but we have started to incorporate even more events into our routine.
Like Christmas at Kew, with its flaming Christmas trees and stunning laser show; I’m still trying to figure out the former, but I could have watched the latter all evening. This year we visited Sudeley Castle’s Spectacle of Light, whose fun Alice in Wonderland theme was great to see during the day as well as at night.
I admit the cynic in me sees this as a way for such venues to increase their winter profits: after all, what better way to lure visitors to a garden in the middle of winter than with a brightly coloured seasonal attraction? And since it’s dark so early, there’s no need to greatly extend the opening hours.
But the part of me that craves the light? Sign me up.
If you’re interested in going yourself, a few words of advice:
- Dress warm: The longer you spend outside at one of these attractions, the colder you’ll get (especially if you’re waiting for it to get full dark; see below). Thermals, multiple layers of clothing, heavy jacket, double socks, gloves and glove liners, hat, and scarf are all good investments, although you will feel like the Michelin Man.
- Test your camera: If you’re planning to photograph a light display, check that you know the best settings for low light and can operate your camera while wearing gloves. If you’re using your phone for photos, make sure you have conductive gloves so you can operate the touchscreen.
- Wait until full dark: This is especially true of Longleat’s Festival of Light. Although the sun may set early, wait until the last traces of light are gone to get the full effect of the displays. Or go around twice for before and after shots!
As for me, I am basking in the knowledge that there are only 84 days until spring.