When we moved four years ago, it was October. We didn’t get much time to prepare for the long dark nights that were soon to descend upon us. Discovering on a dreich day it can be almost dark at 15:30 and I can close the curtains without any guilt. I was expecting them to drag but actually there are still plenty of events and festivals to enjoy. Over the last few years we have loved so many winter light nights in Scotland.
Here’s the thing though, I HATE fireworks with a passion.
Let me take you back to the eighties, big perms and all that hairspray. As a child I was taken to the local pub bonfire and firework display. I was stood behind a lady with rather large hair and a firework went up and then landed in her hair! All these years later I am still traumatised by what I witnessed. As an adult I also hate the environmental impact too . Don’t even get me started on what they do to the health and well being of wildlife and pets.
I know there are many others who share my aversion or who have a Sensory Processing Disorder or may be auditory hyper sensitive. These conditions (and many others) are not suitable for events with fireworks. They can cause so much distress and upset, so I decided that I would share some of the immersive shows that we have been to that light up the cold, dark nights of winter in Scotland.
1st October – 1st November
This rather magical experience has been taking over Faskally Woods near Pitlochry for 18 years now. The Enchanted Forest attracts around 80,000 visitors in just four weeks and the fact the tickets sell like hot cakes should tell you all you need to know.
There is never going to be a time when I would get bored of this event. Each year has a different theme and allows visitors to see the woods in a totally different way. An excellent mix of interactive installations with moving and static lights set to music. But the show stopper is always the animated display over the loch set to an original piece of music.
A family friendly event, suitable for all ages. The loudest thing here are all the “ooo’s and ahh’s” from each person as they discover the next part of the trail.
You can take as much time as you like going around the trail and go around more than once if your heart desires. There are places to get hot drinks and food along the way too.
Transport is provided from the centre of Pitlochry to Faskally Woods and coaches leave about every 15 minutes. You choose your time slot when booking your tickets. Parking onsite is only available for Blue Badge holders (spaces have to be booked in advance).
15th November – 26th January
I remember my first visit to the Giant Lanterns and it blew me away. I think because of the craftsmanship in the lanterns and the grand scale of some of them. With over 600 lanterns taking six months to make by 300 people, it’s rather special.
It’s located in the grounds of the zoo and so by it’s nature is meant to be quiet as you are never far from the enclosures. There have been different themes each year and as you follow the trail around you learn about conservation work and the environment. So although themes of dinosaurs and mythical creatures may seem like a million miles away from the animals we know and love today, there is always a link to be found.
I was also pleased to learn that there are specific “Quiet Nights” where the music will be turned down even lower and a smaller of number people will be allowed in. For these specific nights mobile Changing Places toilets will also be available.
There are time slots, so entry to the Giant Lanterns is staggered and means visitors are not clumped together. I know this can be quite overwhelming and could mean you skip certain displays because of the queues. It’s all very well thought out.
Just when you think you have seen the biggest lantern you get blown away by the next installation. Each year I wonder how on earth this event could get any better, but it does. Perfect for escaping Christmas or beating the new year blues, it really will make you smile.
You can read all about my first visit here.
Christmas at the Botanics
22nd November – 29th December
Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
If heading in to the Christmas markets fills you with dread but you still want to get in the festive spirit, this event is perfect. Christmas at the Botanics is exactly what you need.
I’ve used the Botanic Gardens as respite from the summer crowds and it’s stunning. I was curious to see how it looked at night, in winter. The answer? Magical.
Walking around the 70 acre site, some of the beautiful old trees are lit up, as well as using the pond and the Victorian Glasshouse. Music allows the lights to come alive with projections, lasers and atmosphere. The Cathedral of Light is mesmerising with it’s thousands of twinkling lights. A good place for a selfie or just to gaze in awe at it’s beauty.
You can toast marshmallows, sip mulled wine or munch on pizza too if all the excitement has made you hungry. Various food vendors are dotted around the site.
As with the previous two events, this one also has time slots and staggered entry.
This made me feel really festive and it was nice to see children enjoying an early visit from the big man himself too.
Perth Riverside Light Nights
Dates TBC 2020
For a wee city, Perth really does put on a good show. The Riverside Light Nights have to be one of my favourites.
A fantastic display of lights and themed nights, with something for everyone. In previous years there have been many themes, including: Alice in Wonderland, Valentines Day, Burns Night, Dinosaurs and Chinese New Year. But I think, by far, the most popular was the Comic Con night when THE Bat Mobile was in town and Captain America was available for selfies. There are storytellers, entertainment, food vendors and actors who make the characters and theme come alive.
Although this event is probably louder than the other events mentioned in this blog post it doesn’t have fireworks. The noise is more likely to come from live music or sound effects. Quiet spots to enjoy the lights can still be found though if you find it a complete sensory overload. There are also evenings without all the hustle and bustle and you can enjoy the lights (without any themed distractions).
It’s just what the doctor ordered after the new year and to make things even better, it’s free entry. People travel in from Dundee and Fife to enjoy these themed nights and I think this just goes to show it’s worth the effort.
Of course, my three suggestions are not the only options available, just the ones I have actually been to.
Another one on my list is the Fire and Light event at The Helix near Falkirk. This looks like a brilliant way to kick off the new year as it’s held on the 1st and 2nd January. The Kelpies always look magnificent lit up and would certainly be worth seeing. I don’t think it’s quite as quiet as the ones above but I’m sure the organisers can answer any questions you might have if you fancied going. There is a small entry fee for this event.
The next one I’ve had on my list for a while now is SPECTRA up in Aberdeen. From what I’ve seen online it looks like brilliant family fun with lots of interactive elements. Dotted around various locations in the city centre it would be a good way to explore too. The themes change each year and to make it even more difficult to make excuses not to go, it’s free.
With all these (and more) wonderful winter light nights in Scotland there is no reason to hibernate. We love getting wrapped up in our down jackets, hats and gloves and setting off into the cold, damp nights.
These attractions prove that fireworks aren’t the star of the night and that there are many other alternatives.
Let me know what your favourite light event is to help brighten up winter.
** I attended these three events on Press nights this year and therefore my tickets were gifted. All views on the weather and fireworks are my own.