Christmas at Cowdray: What you can expect at the light up trail

A tunnel of light, star drop woods and a enchanted forest are just some of the things you can expect from Christmas at Cowdray.

A spellbinding ‘flight’ in light, Christmas At Cowdray opens on November 24 and is a mile-long festive promenade showcasing a series of beautiful large-scale light art installations inspired by the theme of ‘Joy’ that capture the magic of this most wonderful time of the year.

“Christmas At Cowdray is completely original,” said lighting designer James Smith who has been working on the artworks for nine months with Light Up Trails, the company behind the attraction. “Nearly everything has been designed and specially made for the site. I think it’s going to blow people away, families will love it!”

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    Star drop woods

    James explains what visitors can expect at the event: “The wow-factor starts before you even get to the site – from the Midhurst road you will see the magnificent Cowdray Ruins bathed in light from 20 LED flood fixtures projecting the words ‘Christmas At Cowdray’. Some of Britain’s most important Tudor ruins and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the historic site will be announcing Christmas At Cowdray is most definitely on!”

    From the car park a 600-metre path of light towards the entrance conducts visitors to the Winter Revels. Designed by The Projection Studio artists Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, this is a three-minute animated narrative story with music projection mapped to the rear of Cowdray Ruins, and leads to the Garden of Wishes.

    “It is a beautifully calm and tranquil oasis of light created with fibre-optic netting that I’ve developed to look like colour-changing ribbon woven into flower beds. Then there are ground level fairy lights, light up balls and 2.5-metre high dandelions. The trees will be outlined in electro fluorescent wire and there’s a gentle soundscape creating an immersive, meditative walk-through experience.”

    The awe-inspiring Tree of Joy features up to 5,000 LED lights pixel mapped to spell out the word ‘JOY’ on the ground from which ‘roots’ span outwards and into the tree to illuminate the entire tree with Joy – a perfect moment for a photo or selfie – before heading into the Star Drop Woods, a series of walk-through arches made of light with shooting stars overhead and fairy lights hung from branches to conjure the perfect Christmas ambience.

    “That brings us to the joyful Enchanted Forest,” he said. “The trees are illuminated by LED strips as visitors continue to follow the light on their journey before they meet the stunning Bird of Prey, artist Michael Condron’s light sculpture of an Osprey that stands at the edge of the forest – another wonderful photo opportunity.”

    Just over the bridge is Let It Snow, the interactive heart of Christmas At Cowdray with a fully immersive winter wonderland for visitors including a blizzard generated by movie set snow machines and a 3-metre high Santa’s Reindeer all lit by programmed lights.

    There will also be a tunnel of light, Dimensions, offers a short walk under ten frosted perspex archways embedded with LED programmed to change colour that leads to the Joy Village where visitors can enjoy a glass of something that cheers from luxurious hot chocolate to heartening mulled wine, as well as sweet treats and spicy winter warmers.

    Celebrations is a uniquely poignant installation of 100 giant balloons lit from the neck on electro fluorescent wire ‘strings’ that appear to float and glow in the darkness. The piece came out of an idea generated right at the start of the Christmas At Cowdray project when James met with Light Up Trails’ directors Lucinda Croft and Libby Battaglia.

    “Celebrations is a really special piece,” said James. “We wanted to do something to acknowledge all the birthdays and special events that people had been forced to forego during the pandemic. The idea of the installation is that visitors can step inside and take a photo to share with those they wish were here with them.”

    Moving on we meet Moment of Flight, an monumental installation in which a single person can control the movement of 4-metre high angel wings in light simply by standing in front of the wings and moving their arms. The wings copy the motion and ‘reflect’ it back in moving lights – it’s a wonderful moment to capture some mesmerising footage to share on social media.

    “That brings us to the final work of art, Written in the Stars, and in many ways we’ve saved the breath-taking best until last. Laid out in lights on the ground in front of you is a full solar starscape, complete with shooting stars and planets that are lit from within. Using two computer keypads visitors write messages that are recreated before their very eyes across the digital night sky we’ve made on the floor before them, staying there just long enough to take advantage of another stellar photo opportunity.”

    After dark, it opens on Wednesday, November 24 until Saturday, January 1.

    Tickets are £12 for a child, £20 for an adult or a family ticket is £60.

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