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From Kew to Anglesey Abbey, from Wrest Park to Colchester Zoo: 10 spectacular Christmas lights trails within reasonable reach of Bishop’s Stortford





Brightening the darkest months with their twinkling tunnels, neon swirls and cheesy seasonal soundtracks, scores of son-et-lumière trails are lighting up across the UK this winter, writes Phoebe Taplin.

Book ahead for tickets and get ready to grab your woolly hat and explore these sparkly parks and glowing gardens. Here are 10 of the best that you can reach from Bishop’s Stortford…

Cambridge Botanic Garden Winter Lights
Cambridge Botanic Garden Winter Lights

Cambridge Botanic Lights

Home to more than 8,000 plant species, Cambridge University Botanic Garden is gearing up for its first ever light trail this winter. Cambridge Botanic Lights will illuminate the fountains, glasshouses and lake on selected nights from Friday December 1 and the popular Garden café will be open to serve hot drinks and snacks. This is an easy trail to reach without a car: the garden is close to Cambridge railway station with regular trains from Stortford.

For dates, times and prices, see www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/cambridge-botanic-lights/.

Christmas at Kew 2022. Picture: Raymond Gubbay
Christmas at Kew 2022. Picture: Raymond Gubbay

Christmas at Kew

One of the UK’s longest-running and most popular trails winds spectacularly through Kew Gardens in south-west London. With eight new installations and an emphasis on biodiversity, visitors can gawp at 3m (10ft) high incandescent flowers, cascading showers of light along the Camellia walk and a new installation connected to the Hive and its living bees. The final display around the famous Palm House is always jaw-droppingly spectacular as lights and lasers dance across the lake and fountains.

For dates, times and prices, see www.kew.org/christmas.

Wrest Park light trail
Wrest Park light trail

Christmas at Wrest Park

English Heritage has decided to shake things up a bit this year. There’s no trail at Audley End (there are other festive events there), but new and revamped interactive light shows are unfurling elsewhere. Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, a fascinating landscape incorporating centuries of varied garden design, welcomes the twinkly magic for the first time this December. Installations will showcase different historic parts of the garden and include a maze of 25 mirrored monoliths.

For dates, times and prices, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/wrest-park-christmas-at-wrest-park.

Floating Candles by Pitaya at Kew Gardens
Floating Candles by Pitaya at Kew Gardens

Christmas at Kenwood

There are also trails at Kenwood and at Eltham Palace in London. Kenwood’s trail, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, promises a seasonal spectacle of light and colour. Completely redesigned for 2023, there are 13 new features and an interactive walk, full of surprises, around the landscaped grounds. Plus seasonal snacks, warming cocktails and Kenwood House lit up in festive splendour.

For dates, times and prices, see https://christmasatkenwood.com.

Wimpole Mycelium Network created by Custom Fibre Optics
Wimpole Mycelium Network created by Custom Fibre Optics

Christmas at Wimpole

One of a growing list of National Trust properties with winter light trails, the Wimpole Estate, eight miles south-west of Cambridge, is stringing up more than a million bulbs for this extravaganza, sparkling nightly from November 24. Expect rainbow-coloured Christmas trees and giant floating feathers, a tunnel of light and a sea of bulbs around the elegant walls of the 18th-century mansion.

For dates, times and prices, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/cambridgeshire/wimpole-estate/christmas-at-wimpole.

The Palm House at Kew. Picture: Raymond Gubbay
The Palm House at Kew. Picture: Raymond Gubbay

Winter Lights at Anglesey Abbey

Known for its flour-producing mill and snowdrop-filled winter garden, Anglesey, in the village of Lode, 5.5 miles north-east of Cambridge, showcases these highlights in its trail. Focusing on the sensory qualities of the garden after dark, the display has subtly-lit wildlife sculptures, snowdrops crafted from upcycled milk bottles and a new film projected on the wall of the watermill.

For dates, times and prices, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/cambridgeshire/anglesey-abbey-gardens-and-lode-mill/winter-lights-at-anglesey-abbey.

Nutcracker Tree by Culture Creative at Kew Gardens
Nutcracker Tree by Culture Creative at Kew Gardens

RHS Glow at Hyde Hall

Mirror balls, lanterns and rainbows of coloured light transform the night-time gardens at Hyde Hall on the far side of Chelmsford. This year, for the first time, the trail has been extended up onto the Hilltop, passing a fountain on the top pond and the Thatched Barn, which is serving hot food and drinks.

For dates, times and prices, see www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/hyde-hall/whats-on/hyde-hall-glow.

Marylebone Village new Christmas lights
Marylebone Village new Christmas lights

Marylebone Village

If you’d rather avoid the hefty price tags attached to regular trails, several London streets are lined with legendary festive lighting. This year Marylebone Village has a new sustainable display with lights made entirely from recycled plastic bottles and run on an energy-saving system. There will be Santa in his grotto, market stalls, late-night openings, a big wheel, wreath-making workshops and more.

For dates, times and prices, see www.marylebonevillage.com/whats-on-and-features/item/1311-merry-marylebone-christmas-2023.

Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith

Enchanted Trail of Light at Colchester Zoo

Fountains dance and fairies fly after dark in Colchester Zoo. There are glowing walkways, a multi-coloured tunnel of lights and animal-related illuminations. You won’t see the actual animals, though. You’d need to book a regular ticket for earlier in the day as well if you want to combine the trail with a trip to the zoo.

For dates, times and prices, see www.colchester-zoo.com/christmas-at-the-zoo/enchanted-trail-of-light-2/.

Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith

Epping Ongar Lights Express

If this all sounds like too much walking, the Epping Ongar heritage railway has a lit-up train ride, complete with brand new stories, music and an onboard game as it passes revamped neon trackside displays and an immersive light show. On various dates until January 15, you can board the train and head off down the line from Ongar station and back on a 90-minute return journey. There’s a “festive DJ mix of music” and everyone gets an LED wristband synchronised to the beat so your glowing wrist becomes part of the show.

For dates, times and prices, see https://www.eorailway.co.uk/events/epping-ongar-lights-express/.

A family enjoy a close-up of Supernova at Wimpole
A family enjoy a close-up of Supernova at Wimpole
Moonlight Flowers at Kew Gardens
Moonlight Flowers at Kew Gardens
Christmas at the Wimpole Estate
Christmas at the Wimpole Estate
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith
Colchester Zoo light trail. Picture: Tom Smith


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