Last week, a colleague suggested that we kick off our Christmas celebrations with a girls’ night out at the Kew Gardens Illuminated Trail. We didn’t really know what to expect, because to be honest we all stopped reading the info on the website when we saw the word ‘waffles’ and didn’t go any further. So it was a bit of a magical mystery tour, but a nice one (and in places completely baffling, but we’ll get to that).
We arrived a little bit early to give us time to check out the Christmas village, which basically consisted of food stalls and not a lot else, so it didn’t take long. Then we headed off to start the trail. As fate would have it, we’d chosen quite a foggy evening, which made the whole atmosphere a little bit spooky; in fact it felt more like Halloween than Christmas at times.
The idea of the trail is very simple; it’s a 1.5 mile path, using light and sound to show the famous gardens in a very different way, and it really is quite magical (and only slightly ruined by the planes flying over every two minutes). My photos were taken on a fairly ancient iPhone so they don’t even begin to do it justice, but hopefully you get the idea.
It took us about an hour and a half to walk all the way round, including a pause for waffles (obviously) and lots of playing about, making funny shadows under trees and getting in everyone’s way. And of course I had to stop at every tree to take a photo.
And now to the weirdness. In a bid, I think, to make it appeal to children as well as adults, they’d added a mystery element, featuring the Royal Society of Plant Whisperers, who needed some help to find some seeds or something. I have no idea what it was all about.
There were a couple of actors along the way, dressed as pirates (again, no idea) doing what appeared to be experiments on plants, and talking in cryptic clues (‘when you see Louis, tell him “later”‘). We did enjoy a funny moment when a couple of precocious children asked one of the characters – Louis, I think – if he was an actor, or if he was real.
Randomly there were also various triffid-like objects, which we think were supposed to be clues but we really didn’t understand what was happening, so we decided not to bother writing anything down on the clue trail map we were given at the start; in fact I think we lost it almost as soon as we were handed it. Some people obviously understood as they all dutifully put their maps in the box at the end. Maybe we just weren’t paying attention…
The big finale was a music and light show set against the Palm House. This was also a bit weird, if I’m honest, but looked very cool. It kind of looked like the plants inside were having a party.
It was certainly a different evening, and I don’t know if it got me feeling particularly Christmassy – but if you’re anywhere near west London I’d recommend it, especially if you’re into photography (although you might need to go early, as you’ll be there a while) – if I can get photos like this on my phone, imagine what you could get with a decent camera. And the waffles are really good.