THE long dark nights offer an opportunity to see favourite places literally in a new light. Right through to the New Year, the National Trust has arranged spectacular light shows at some of its finest south western properties, alongside Christmas decorations, games and food in the houses.
This year for the first time, the gardens of Stourhead, Wiltshire, will be lit up, the tree-tops will glisten and the garden shimmer and sparkle. As you walk through a tunnel of light festooned by more than 100,000 pea-lights, the singing trees can be heard in the distance. Glowing blossom rises high into the night sky and twinkling hedgerows lead you towards thousands of illuminated lights on fibre optic lawn. There are hidden surprises too, with a laser garden and scented fire garden. Spiced cider, mulled wine and hot chocolate keep the cold at bay, as does toasting marshmallows at the Spreadeagle Inn near the entrance to the gardens. Stourhead will be lit up from Thursday to Sunday, 29th November to Sunday 8th December and daily, from 12th to 24th, and 26th to 30th. Booking essential at christmasatstourhead.co.uk and more information at nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead
The gardens at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, will be bathed in light with displays taking inspiration from the stories of members of the Bankes family, who previously owned the estate. From Wednesday to Sunday, 4th to 22nd December, and daily from 23rd December to 4th January (excluding Christmas and Boxing days). Music adds to the Christmas magic along parts of the trail, an animated display lights up the Fernery, and in the Rose Garden lights take inspiration from the many roses that bloom here in early summer. A walk around the illuminated trail takes about 30 minutes, and is suitable for little legs, pushchairs and wheelchairs. Edwardian Christmas traditions have inspired the decorations in the house. The Stables Café, stays open until 7pm on illumination nights. More information on nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy
The gardens at Saltram, Devon, will be sparkling with a rainbow of colours and installations, right through to Monday 30th December. Inside, some rooms in the house have been transformed with sparkling lights and carefully crafted decorations to tell some much-loved fairy tales. Afterwards you can warm up in the atmospheric outdoor café amongst sheepskin rugs and twinkling lights. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/saltram for more information.
The great Victorian Gothic Revival country house, Tyntesfield near Bristol, looks back to the heyday of the Gibbs family with stockings full of festive family fun, traditional decorations, storytelling and games. Outside a light sculpture subtly lights up the formal garden. The Christmas displays run from 1st to 22nd December. More information at nationaltrust.org.uk/tyntesfield
The Georgian mansion at Killerton in Devon is open until Sunday 5th January. Enjoy a winter wonderland, with the festive season brought to life through decorations inspired by the seasonal favourite poem, ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and pop into the dressing room to try on festive outfits. Continue the journey outside on the twinkling garden and parkland play trail, dotted with games and activities for all the family to enjoy. The Killerton Kitchen, Stables coffeeshop and the Dairy café will be open. For more information, nationaltrust.org.uk/killerton
Corfe Castle is probably one of the world’s most famous ruins, with its dramatic setting at the gateway to the Purbecks. On Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th, from Friday 20th to Monday 23rd and Friday 27th to Sunday 29th December, from 4.30-7pm, spectacular modern lighting effects will transform the ancient Norman keep with lanterns, braziers and beacons lighting the way into the heart of the castle. More information from nationaltrust.org.uk/corfe-castle
The gardens at Knightshayes in Devon are some of the finest in the South West. From Friday 1st September to Sunday 29th, they will be light up by twinkling fairy lights and dancing lasers, creating a world of colour. The sparkle continues inside, where you can see the house in all its festive traditional splendour. A 15ft Christmas tree welcomes you to the great hall and each room on the ground floor is lavishly decorated for a Victorian Christmas. For information visit nationaltrust.org.uk/knightshayes
Pictured: Corfe Castle dramatically lit up, photograph by Jon Bish; winter illuminations give a magical look to the beautiful Stourhead lake, with the grass bridge and the Pantheon in the background, photograph by Richard Haughton; a Victorian Christmas at Tyntesfield near Bristol, photograph by Bob Fowler.