Yuletide - A Glittering Winter Adventure

"Like sitting by a toasty fire with a cup of spiced apple juice while a choir sings"
Alice Murphy-Pyle
November 27, 2023

My 2023 bucket list definitely didn’t have ‘welling up with emotion watching my daughter pretend to feed a goat puppet’ on it. But the way my daughter’s eyes shine as she stirs a bowl of imaginary porridge, while a life-size goat puppet shivers with anticipation, is just magical.

Tatton Park Garden’s Yuletide is a festive gem, sparkling up the nighttime for visitors.

If some Christmas activities feel like a swan-dive straight into a shining pit of glitter, Yuletide is more like sitting by a toasty fire with a cup of spiced apple juice while a choir sings.

The path up to the gardens themselves has been renamed the Glittering Trail Entrance and are tastefully lit with strings of white bulbs. The sounds of folk music drift over the high walls, teasing visitors with the activities inside the trail itself.

Joey Kicks Off Christmas With Mum And Dad

Once inside, there is music and high-energy fire juggling, and my six-year-old daughter Joey hopped from foot to foot, eager to see what lay in store for us further along.

Once on the trail itself, the trees and topiary were lit with fantastical colours, ultraviolet up-lights, multicoloured lights and candles on stone plinths.

Jolbock Yule Goat was the puppet, an exquisite wicker-and-rice-paper creation with both a handler and an elf assistant who talked Joey through making a wish. Joey was completely mesmerised by the puppet and its lifelike movement. I could hardly bear to tear her away, but further down the trail could see a masked dancer swaying in a sparkling sequinned gown with one side of their head a sun, the other a moon.

Some of the exhibits drew our attention longer than others – the ultraviolet wooden Oak King and Holly King were more engaging for older visitors, while the kallikantzaroi, cleverly made metal sprites hiding in the bushes while a mirror-ball scattered light through the trees, were utterly captivating.

The delightfully creepy Mari-Lwyd, a horse skull puppet with lollipop-swirl eyes and a deep voice, requested a festive song from a slightly overawed Joey. The Welsh folk custom dates back to the 1800s, where puppeteers would engage in back-and-forth to be given food and drink after entertaining households (and scaring children a bit). Joey was a bit overawed by the gnashing teeth towering over her, while her Dad delivered a passable duet of Jingle Bells with the eerie horse.

Throughout the whole trail, the exhibits with live performance were stunning, bringing to life the festive folklore.

The entire installation is the work of the team at Wild Rumpus, the not-for-profit organisation behind The Lanterns at Chester Zoo and last summer’s Just So Festival, who aim to create immersive experiences for all ages while being close to nature.

The trail looped around Tatton’s vast pond, which was lit gorgeously with candles and coloured lights which were all reflected in the glassy water.

Tatton Park's Yuletide Reflections
Tatton Park's Yuletide Reflections

The final performances were the magnificent Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, an enormous bear and its playful cub, whose puppeteers brought them gambolling over so visitors could stroke their noses. They were decorated with stars, with star lanterns strung from the enormous trees creating an ethereal feel. The winter nip in the air was getting to us, so it was with great reluctance that we pulled ourselves away with a last wave to the bears, who retreated back into the woods.

Back at the performance space, there is a rotating schedule of storytelling, fire juggling and live music to keep visitors entertained.

The only part that didn’t flow as well as it could have was the final food and drink area, where there are braziers for toasting giant marshmallows, but long queues for purchase. It felt as though a reorganisation of that area might make it flow better in the busy run-up to Christmas.

As we headed away, we felt fully immersed in festive cheer, and a lot more Christmassy as we drove back into the Cheshire darkness.

At Tatton Park until December 23.

Tickets for Yuletide cost £12 for children and £20 for adults. Free for children aged two and under.

For more, see Yuletide – A Glittering Winter Adventure. ‍