Triffid size flowers, flamingos at the water’s edge, giant squirrels, giraffes, pandas in a bamboo forest and a vast Chinese dragon – the display of illuminated lanterns at Chiswick House in West London is seemingly never-ending. This is the first Magical Lantern festival to be held in the UK and coincides with the celebration of Chinese New Year.
It takes around one and a half to two hours to wind your way through the grounds gazing at the rows of kangaroos, antelope, zebra and giraffes – a reminder that Chiswick house was once home to exotic wild animals – or admiring the outsized native woodland creatures such as squirrels and swans
The link to China is never far away with huge Ming vases, a life size pagoda and a small terracotta army glowing in the dark. In the Year of the Monkey, the story of the Monkey King is told and there are statues representing all the animals from the Chinese Zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
There are also some rather outlandish cartoon characters – multi coloured toadstools, huge crickets on see-saws and a Cinderella coach and horses. But in some ways the whole event is slightly surreal set in the grounds of of an 18th Century stately home.
As well as the free-standing lanterns, hedges and trees are adorned with coloured lights, many changing hue as you walk past. And there is an arch of lights as you walk away from the dragon and the main house. A little garish for me, but the number of lights allow the selfie takers some self illumination!
Half way round there are a few stalls selling hot drinks and an inspired marshmallow stand where you can toast your own massive marshmallow over charcoal burners after choosing from flavours such as raspberry and champagne or mango and orange. OK so they are £1.50 each but it was an unusual treat and let’s face it cheaper than a Costa coffee that we all buy without even thinking!
For the children the highlights were undoubtedly the pandas , the huge squirrels and the 60 metre dragon. I loved the host of flamingos reflected in the water, the terracotta army and the pagoda. But the whole event is full of wonder – and a really great evening out for everyone – the younger children clearly excited by being outside in the dark and enough characters and animals for everyone to find something they love.
Tips on how to enjoy the festival even more than we did
Entry is form 5pm until 8.30pm. The grounds close at 10pm.
It’s a photographer’s paradise and if it’s a serious passion it’s worth bringing a small SLR if you have one. At the very least make sure you have full battery on your phone. It is also a selfie’s paradise!!
Wrap up warm – hats and gloves – you are outside and it is night time!
If you book online it’s cheaper during the week than at weekends
There’s no parking on site and quite a walk from the tube at Gunnersbury – check out nearby roads for parking but bear in mind the Festival Entrance is next to Rustic House Gate, situated just off the westbound A4. The other gates are shut!
There is food and drink available at the start and finish of the tour – as well as half way round. If you don’t have gloves having a warm coffee in your hands at the start could help!