Inside Irelands Pub Of The Year For 2021 And What Makes It So Special

As the nights draw in, we all need a bit of light. Joyfully, numerous attractions are stepping up their illuminated offerings a notch or two, putting on magical light shows and phantasmagoric experiences to lift the spirits.

Some are even extending schedules: Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, for example, is putting on a Winter Light trail running from early November up until the end of January 2022, adding sparkle to a customarily dreary month. Given that so many venues and heritage sites have lost out on footfall of late, it’s hoped this year’s dazzling displays will lure visitors in the bleaker months.

“Not only do light trails provide much-needed cheer, but every event also provides valuable income, helping to keep gardens and parks special for generations to come,” according to Katherine Hamlett, the National Trust’s project manager for winter illuminations.

At Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanical gardens in Sussex, there will even be feasting to accompany this year’s hand-crafted lantern and light projection trail, Glow Wild. The Elizabethan Mansion is set to be transformed into a “winter lodge”, with four delicious courses followed by nightcaps to round off the adventures of a cold winter’s night. Royal residences, including Sandringham in Norfolk and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland, will also host illuminated trails this year.

Of course, illuminations have long been a celebrated tradition. Artists have been fascinated by the magical, visceral power of projected light and shadow, wondering at the marvel of human perception since before the time of Leonardo da Vinci’s interest in the camera obscura (light art, or luminism, is a visual art form in which light itself is the medium of expression). But there is perhaps no town more synonymous with light shows as we know them today than Blackpool, where the streets were first lit up 142 years ago. It’s well worth a visit this year to see it in all its gaudy glory.

As the legend goes, in 1879, Blackpool Council spent £5,000 on an electric street lighting experiment, with eight lamps on 60ft poles along the seafront. The “artificial sunshine” was met with wonder and visitors flocked to the resort in awe. In 1912, Blackpool went bigger, decorating the promenade with 10,000 lights to mark a visit from Princess Louise, and were displayed again the following year.

The illuminations were put on hold when the First World War broke out, but started up again properly in the 1950s and have continued to light up the town ever since. Now the Blackpool Illuminations attract more than three million visitors each year, usually between the end of August to the beginning of November.

In 2020, for the first time in history, they shone throughout the festive season, until January. This year, once again, “the greatest free light show on Earth” is to be extended by two months in the hope of providing a boost to the resort’s tourism season. “Blackpool’s back,” declares Mark Smith of Number One South Beach, the boutique hotel I stayed at in order to admire the illuminations.

If Lancashire is too far then, happily, illuminated events abound across the UK. If you’ve not already booked tickets (do hurry!), here’s our guide to the most bewitching light shows this winter...

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