Before I begin this post, I MUST apologise for my pictures. We went at 5pm and it was dark dark – and I only take pictures for this blog on my iPhone as I cannot be fiddling around with a digital SLR with two children in tow (I know you get me). The pictures are blurred, but I think you get the idea. And I think (THINK) they’re generic enough hopefully not spoil it for you. But let’s be fair, a blog post is never going to be the same as an immersive, sensory experience, so let it do its work but don’t take it as a reflection of the actual thing.
I also want to say that because I know a LOT of people from Lewes and nearby are going to be going to Enchanted, I don’t want to give too much away in this post and go and spoil it for you, so in terms of detail I will be brief. I think what people want to know (from conversations I’ve had in the school playground yesterday) is: A) Was it good and B) Is it worth the money. So that’s what I’ll address.
There has been quite a bit of anticipation about this among children who go to Western Road Community Primary School and Southover School in Lewes, which are right by Southover Grange Gardens. We’ve heard sound checks and seen peeps of coloured lights through the railings since the start of the week.
At every moment of the year apart from this cold, muddy one, the kids from those two schools tumble out into the Grange post-school to play among its trimmed flowerbeds, hidden corners and gnarly trees. When it comes to Enchanted Lewes, this is both a blessing and curse for those kids: it’s the former because they know this place so well, and it’s magical to see it transformed into another world; it’s the latter because they know this place so well, so they have a feeling, I think, of it being ‘theirs’. My older son (the other one isn’t school age yet) definitely felt frustrated that he couldn’t get to certain parts he’s used to having access to because they were cordoned off to keep visitors to the set path around the experience.
The main event I would say is in the main part of the Grange, where the mulberry tree is (now lit up like a Christmas tree and resplendent in red and pink hues). The statues and trees are all lit up in bright colours, and there are moving image projections, the main event of which (and I’m not giving anything away here because it’s all over the fliers and posters) is the main house where the registry office is. This acts as a backdrop for a beautiful film that moves gently along to clothe it in Christmassy icicles, plunge it underwater (“look at Nemo, Mummy!”) and host a giant burping frog across its façade. There’s much more to this projection, but that’s all I’ll give away as two of those things are on the marketing literature.
This is the point at which I’ll say that Enchanted slightly scared my older child and really scared my younger (though both recovered). The older boy was not at all keen on some hunched (real) figures walking very very slowly across the lawn to your left when you walk down the sloped path from the main corner entrance. And I think the fact he said “those people are really scary” set the younger one off, who completely lost it when we got to the large projection section. He couldn’t deal with the frog or several of the other moving images – probably because they were accompanied by slightly creepy warbling music. Having said that, my seven-year-old sometimes-daugther didn’t bat an eyelid – nor did her two-year-old sister. So it could be that my two were slightly egging each other on.
But this also takes me to my next point: Enchanted is not an ‘attraction’ and nor is it aimed squarely at kids. This is to me a Positive Thing. I think they (we, really) all have quite enough of the sugary, *quote-unquote* magical experiences that come with this season. Generally they’re not really that magical, they’re actually quite gross – they involve massive queues, woeful FCs, or blatant branded marketing whose sole purpose is to get them to want-want-want and us to buy-buy-buy. This experience is for everyone – not just for kids. It’s a light installation, it’s performance art, it makes a point (to the right of the large building-projection is another one that makes big statements in large text, such as ‘Time is precious’). There were plenty of older people there and I loved that. It’s good for kids to visit and to interpret stuff that isn’t aimed ‘at kids’.
I would say, though, that my children expected more interaction – probably because we couldn’t spend as long as we might have at the main projection. There is another one right when you go through the arched stone gateway to the connecting part of the Grange. I won’t describe it or where it is as it is a lovely surprise and the kids (and we) adored its irony. There were more of the creepy crawling men on the lawn here too, and there was a ‘Wishing Well’ at the old disused well – this was not, however, working. I think let’s put that down to first night jitters – I fed back this and a few other comments to Enchanted yesterday and they came straight back with a list of put-rights that I was seriously impressed with. They’re on it.
On through to the Knot Garden, which I again won’t reveal much about. The kids again expected to be able to ‘do’ more with what they found here, so left the main attraction in this area to go and stand in the coloured lights in the corners, and see how their bodies looked.
Back over the little bridge and through the stone archway to the mulberry tree once again, we were faced with some gorgeous bird heads on stands. You speak into these and your voice morphs to that of a Borrower – we knew this only from witnessing some older folk doing it. When we approached the first and tried it, however, it failed us. I again fed this back to Enchanted and again it has been rectified. We had a nice time with the other bird heads anyway.
Finally we came to a tree with a poem on it, on which children stick pennies and tuppences (the coins have to be copper so make sure you pack some) and make a wish. They all liked this and it was lovely. Nearby stood a member of staff who I asked: “Is this the end?” to which he replied that yes it was, except there was some performance art at that location that happened ‘intermittently’. Yet he couldn’t tell me when the next one would be. Apparently it involved sort of operatic singing. Our children were cold and tired by this point (it was 6pm), so we didn’t hang about, but again I fed this back to Enchanted who stated that an event guide will now be stationed at that point with a performance schedule so that he/she can answer this question more effectively. See what I mean? They’re on it.
And so to those questions. A) was it any good? Answer: Yes it was. Perhaps I expected it to be more interactive, perhaps I expected it to be more explained. But perhaps that says a lot about me as a parent – that I’m perhaps ‘fed’ too much that I can then feed on to my kids. It’s a light show, and it’s pretty and yes it’s a bit spooky in places. It is not explained or obvious. But ‘spellbinding’ (as Enchanted call it), it most definitely is.
So to B) is it worth the money? Answer: Well, if you’re doing a mass of other things for Christmas or are looking for something overtly SUPER Christmassy, then possibly not. But bear in mind that under fours are free and family tickets cost £32. So weigh it up. And bear in mind the 20% DISCOUNT CODE (see below) that comes with this post. This was given to me on a flyer at the end as part of a ‘tell your friends’ initiative. I asked Enchanted if I could publish this for you to use, and they said yes.
All in all, I think it’s pretty special that this already-magical place in our really quite magical town can become something transformed in what appeared to be the blink of an eye. And I’m impressed that Enchanted were so willing to act on my suggested improvements – and seemingly overnight.
So, the result? I think you should go (with a caveat that those with sensitive, easily-scared children should yes book, but that I hope that now you know a little of what it’s like, it’s a case of forewarned is forearmed. Also, these are children who see darker things on Bonfire Night, ya get me?).
- This is not a 15-minute experience. The times offered through the website are just to stagger entry so that people can move through it comfortably rather than in crowds. It takes between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on how cold your children are and whether they’re scared of any element and want to rush through it.
- The Grange tea hatch is open and there’s mulled wine being served from it, so grab one to keep yourself warm (and sane) during the experience. We didn’t know about this. I would have liked to.
- When we were there there was just a hot dog and burger stand at the very very end. I fed back to Enchanted that they might consider providing something for vegetarians as there were several in our party – all hungry and all cold. They came right back and said they’re arranging a fresh pizza vendor to join in the food offering, which will be offering veggie options. If your kids (and you) are hungry, note that you can get some tea here.
THE ESSENTIALS – Enchanted Park Lewes
Runs until the December 13 2015. All details regarding pricing, times and dates are here: enchantedparklewes.co.uk/your-visit/ (it is quite complicated, so I think it’s better you visit this link than I write it all out)
DISCOUNT: Use code RETURN20 at the checkout
Disclosure: A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer for Enchanted Lewes and contacted the company to brazenly ask them for tickets in return for a post. They agreed and gave me four tickets for my sons and I and my sometimes-daughters and their mum (under fours are free; and because I wanted to make sure I got a good idea – from boys and girls – of how kids react to it). I offered to pen a post about it in return, knowing that people in Lewes would probably want to know what it’s like.
Enchanted Lewes has kindly agreed to donate the sum total of ALL the money thrown into the Wishing Well and stuck to the Wishing Tree to The UN Refugee Agency as a thank-you for this post. If you want to know more about why I asked them to do this, you can read here. The company will let me know when the experience ends on December 13 how much it raised and will be donating.
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