Magical Lantern Festival Leeds – Review 2016

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magic lantern festival review roundhay park leeds 2016

Magical Lantern Festival

Review – 2016

Leeds, Roundhay Park

by Matt Callard

Maybe you’re like me and you need something to really kick-start your festive spirit?

Battling through Storm Angus and the first disruptive Yorkshire snow of the season recently, you’d be forgiven for not exactly overflowing with the joys of the Christmas period. But the inaugural Magical Lantern Festival in Leeds’s famous Roundhay Park might just be the festive fillip you need.

Fresh from attracting a mind-blowing 110,000 visitors at its launch event in Chiswick Park, London, the festival is expanding and reaching out to new Birmingham and Leeds locations this winter.

magical lantern festival leeds roundhay park review

Roundhay Park and the attached Canal Gardens in Tropical World are an ideal setting. The gardens’ gently meandering pathways allowing visitors to amble in, out and between the intense light sculptures.

So, how does the festival work and what is the experience like for a family? I take a babe-in-arms, a ferociously excitable two-year-old and a whippet-like nine-year-old to test it out (with additional adult support, obviously – I’m not totally crazy).

“Here, for sure, is another world”

Well, first, in great British style, you queue. You swap your ticket for a wristband (the box office is just a little down from The Roundhay Fox pub through the main gates of Roundhay Park). There are food options here and a Grotto if you fancy it. Then, you’ll filter back towards the main road and across it towards the lower entrance of Canal Gardens. There are a few steps to negotiate here, so groups with prams take note.

It’s once inside the gates here that the fun really begins.

At first, you’re slightly dazzled. Everywhere is light. It leaps out from the deep black surroundings and the shapes and sculptures take some time to sink in. And then you start to see them – the group of pandas in a forest of bamboo. The six-foot high mushrooms and an Alice In Wonderland-type caterpillar. Reindeer. Grottos. Swans.

Magical Lanterns Festival, Roundhay Park, Leeds.

Here, for sure, is another world.

You follow one pathway in and around the lights. Some sculptures are cordoned off, some you can stand adjacent to and have your picture taken. The pace is slow, with plenty of ooh-and-aahs from adults and children alike.

There are light sculptures on the water, on the walls, in the trees. The highlight of the Canal Gardens section is an extraordinary chariot with leaping horses and swans. You’ll swoon.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t really a Christmas-themed experience. There are a couple of Santa lights, the occasional reindeer – but most of the sculptures are more familiar from Chinese New Year. It’s really all about the lights and their sensory impact, the thrill of colour and brightness in contrast to the black surroundings.

“A worthy finale – double water dragons”

Magical Lanterns Festival, Roundhay Park, LeedsThe path then leads back across the main road and in to Roundhay Park. Here you enter the second section (more wristband checking) underneath a fabulous tunnel of lights with moving flowers above you. You’ll pass lights of animals, an aquarium, a pagoda – even a stall selling marshmallows, which you can toast on an open fire – until you meet a worthy finale: double water dragons.

They stretch from head to tail over what must be 60, 70 metres, shining red and gold with an animation of lights spouting water from their mouths.

It’s a fitting send-off.

If you’re looking for something different from the bombardment of Christmas options, The Magical Lantern Festival is ideal. If you eschew the sling and prepare for a bit of rough pram riding then this truly is a magical experience for all the family.

My kids loved it. The adults loved it. I’m feeling festive.

It’s time to light up for Christmas.

Times: The Magical Lantern Festival runs until January 2, 2017.
Prices: online from £12.50 adults, £8.50 kids plus booking fee
Where: Roundhay Park, near Tropical World, Leeds

photos: Richard Walker

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