Blenheim Palace grounds – in a whole new light

Blenheim Palace grounds – in a whole new light

WITH so many exciting events competing for our space on our crowded social calendars at this time of the year, it helps to highlight those most worthy of our time – and money.

And ‘highlight’ is most appropriate here, for what’s being hailed the biggest Christmas celebration yet at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

Blenheim Palace, Christmas

The return of Blenheim’s popular Illuminated Trail has transformed the stately 18th-century palace – and UNESCO World Heritage site – into a veritable festive wonderland. Even for those familiar with the Capability Brown landscaped parkland, this spectacular trail shows it off in a while new light. (Pun intended!)

Stand-outs of the one-mile trail include a new multi-coloured aerial light show filling the sky with dancing bands of colour, a dynamic waterfall, and the softly-glowing flowers of the Snowdrop Walk.

In another installation inspired by nature, Australian studio Mandylights returns to Christmas at Blenheim Palace with Vines. A 30-metre long promenade of LED vines that you can walk through, touch and interact with, each vine houses up to 8,000 individual colour-changing pixels, making for an otherworldly immersive experience.

Blenheim Palace, Illuminated Trail

There’s over a million pea-lights, lasers and projections and the most atmospheric tree canopies drenched in seasonal colour and dripping with silvery shards of light, frosty snowflakes, stars and baubles.

And just when you think you’ve seen everything, you’ll also encounter the Sledge Tree, an 11-metre design structure made from 365 illuminated wooden sledges – apparently representing each day of the year. This fascinating piece of art, light and architecture reinterprets the classic Christmas Tree in Blenheim Palace’s ancient Parkland.

But, as with all good shows, there has to be a fitting finale and this is, again, where the Illuminated Trail does not disappoint with a wonderful light show projected onto the walls of the grand palace.

Persistent drizzle did its best to dampen the occasion of the evening, but to no avail. A truly mesmerising stroll through the Palace grounds that I would heartily recommend.

Blenheim Palace, Alice in the Palace

The festive experience doesn’t start and end with the trail however. There’s a new indoor Alice in the Palace experience taking over the ornate State Rooms during the day as well as an immersive Christmas Market in the Great Court – all adding to this incredible festive experience, running until January 5th.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, visitors are invited to step between the pages of a larger-than-life story book and into their very own festive family adventure. While initially nervous about being unaccompanied by children for this particular visitor experience, my husband and I need not have worried. The spectacular displays and attention to detail proved a must for all ages – and something I’m glad I joined in with. And those with little ones will also appreciate the vintage Carousel and Helter Skelter in the courtyard.

Blenheim Palace, Illuminated Trail

A Christmas market added the perfect festive finale to our visit with some well-earned coffee and artisan cake following our (pleasant) hike along the Illuminated Trail.

A couple of notes though. . . if you arrive after 12pm there is a £10 parking tariff and on booking you will be allotted a time slot for the trail. This is done to quality control the experience, but you will need to plan your trip around it.

Prices, booking and further details available at:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . . at Warwick Castle

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . . at Warwick Castle

THE frosts of winter are often a sure sign that Christmas is around the corner – and never more so than in the form of an ice rink.

Set against the spectacular backdrop of Warwick Castle, visitors are being invited to soak up the seasonal fun by donning some skates and taking to the ice.

Warwick Castle, ice rink

We were among the first to be let loose on the rink which can also be enjoyed after the castle closes. Skating by night in one of the country’s most historic settings is truly a magical family experience.

And all ages and abilities are welcomed – and supervised from a distance, as nervous parents (including this one) cheer on from the sidelines with cautious encouragement. Novices soon find help is at hand should they need it and, despite the inevitable slips and spills, there were beaming smiles all round.

Warwick Castle, ice rink

Plus there’s some supportive plastic penguins to help the littlest skaters stay safe and confident on their blades.

To keep warm, seasonal snacks and drinks are available from a selection of festive vendors and the atmosphere in the bedecked castle grounds is wonderfully festive. It’s certainly jolted me into the Christmas spirit.

Warwick Castle, ice rink

During the winter period, guests to the 64-acre Castle grounds can also enjoy a Winter Birds of Prey show, Horrible Histories® Scavenger Hunt, Winter Wedding Princess Tower experience and more.

Nothing heralds Christmas more than the wide eyes and smiles of the children on a traditional ice rink in the historic night time setting such as this.

Skating is available until Sunday, January 5th. Ice rink and Castle tickets cost from £25 per person. Tickets for the ice rink only are from £13 per person with the option of special late-night skating experiences as the rink stays open into the evening on selected dates.

Further details at:

All aboard for magical Christmas experience

All aboard for magical Christmas experience

As we gather up a head of steam to embrace the Christmas season, Clare Brennan took her family along to review the Polar Express, returning to Birmingham courtesy of Vintage Trains based in Tyseley.

CHRISTMAS has well and truly arrived in Birmingham with the launch of The Polar Express Experience at the city’s Moor Street Station.

And you can feel the magic long before you reach the station. Birmingham is breathtaking at this time of year – the city is glowing with magical fairy lights and all the sights and sounds of the Christmas Market.

Catching our train from Moor Street Station – a building which wouldn’t look out of place in the film – this is the perfect setting for our festive adventure.

Polar Express

As soon as you walk through the doors you’re transported into another world, far from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Steam billows across the platform and suddenly you’re swept up into the train – and into the whole experience.

And it’s exactly how you would imagine. . . opulent velvet upholstery, warm tones of brown wood and bright, homely Christmas decorations all around as we immerse ourselves in this full theatrical recreation of the classic children’s tale.

We were entertained by the characters Chef Rhubarb and Chef Chocolat who took plenty of time to chat to our little ones and bring the popular story of The Polar Express to life through music and song.

Polar Express, Vintage Trains

Just like that, the city was far behind us as we enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies and plenty of festive fun.

In the distance we were greeted by the sound of sleigh bells and suddenly he was there – Father Christmas and the elf Twinkletoes – by this time my girls, aged nearly three and eight, were spellbound and the magic of Christmas had truly begun.

Running for just over an hour, The Polar Express operates four times a day on Thursdays to Sundays until December 22nd. Seat prices start at £29 with children aged three and under free. (If not occupying a seat and per accompanying adult.)

Polar Express, Vintage Trains

It would be hard not to get swept up by the joy of it all – it’s brilliantly done and a real festive family treat which you will all remember for many years to come – especially as we took away our special mementoes of the day – a collectible Polar Express ceramic mug, tote bag and, most special of all – a silver bell from Santa himself.

Tickets and information available at:

Win a Harrods hamper and two-night luxury glamping stay

Win a Harrods hamper and two-night luxury glamping stay

A WARWICKSHIRE-based luxury boutique glamping retreat has signed up to take part in the Karcher Accumulator Challenge to raise much needed funds for the Banbury-based Katharine House Hospice.

Owners Jo Carroll and Steve Taylor, of Winchcombe Farm Holidays in Upper Tysoe, have signed up to the seed fund project. Jo explained: “The challenge is simple – Karcher give us £50 and 5 months to see how we can make it grow. We’re aiming to raise £500. Every penny raised is donated to the Hospice, which this year is facing a huge funding shortfall.

Steve Taylor

“Each day it costs £11,000 to provide the hospice’s services and they rely on the local community and businesses for three-quarters of that funding,” said Jo.

She added: “We’ve asked our guests, followers on social media and local people to join us by donating £2 to be entered into a draw to win a luxury Harrods hamper. But there’s a twist; you have to come and collect your Harrods hamper and stay for a couple of complimentary weekday nights in one of our lodges of your choice – or the tree house – between now and the end of March 2020.

“It is a bit of a risky strategy to blow our entire £50 seed fund on the hamper, but then we thought it was worth the gamble. We’ve already had donations of over £200 and we’re going flat out to get some more.”

Steve added: “The winner can choose to enjoy their Harrods hamper in our lovely Tree House, the unique Bob’s Lodge, the luxury Chicken Shed Lodge or our brand new lodge for 2019, George’s Getaway. All have private hot tubs and the lodges all have stargazing domes, equipped with super king-sized circular beds and telescopes.”

Entries into the prize draw cost £2 each and people may enter as many times as they like (each £2 donation will be classed as a single entry) by visiting:

The winner will be picked at random on Sunday, 1st December 2019 and announced on Winchcombe Farm’s social media pages, along with the total of how much they’ve raised.

Jo said: “Then watch this space for our next accumulator challenge initiative. We’ve got a great idea up our sleeves to make sure we hit our target.”

For further details about the Karcher Accumulator Challenge visit

For more information about Katharine House Hospice, visit


Spring into action and help trampoline park spread some Christmas cheer

Spring into action and help trampoline park spread some Christmas cheer

TRAMPOLINE park visitors in Warwick are being invited to spring into action and help spread extra Christmas cheer by supporting a new charity toys appeal.

Jump In Trampoline Park is collecting gifts for Molly Olly’s Wishes who will in turn distribute them to children in hospitals across the area.

Molly Olly's Wishes, Jump In, Christmas
Rachel Ollerenshaw and manager Sam Dunn

Between now and Christmas Eve the popular family attraction will accept new toys for children and young people aged up to 18 when handed in over the counter.

Plus there’s the chance to take part in the Name our Reindeer Competition. The winner, which will be announced on Boxing Day, will get to take home the ride-on toy.

Molly Olly’s Wishes was established in 2011 following the death of Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw’s eight-year-old daughter Molly from a rare kidney cancer.

It works to support children with terminal or life-limiting illnesses and their families and help with their emotional wellbeing as well as grant wishes and donate therapeutic toys and books to both children directly and to hospitals throughout the UK.

The charity’s mascot is a therapeutic toy lion called Olly The Brave who has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane which helps to explain and normalise the effects of chemotherapy. These form part of an Olly The Brave pack that has now been handed out to more than 40 hospitals, along with a book from the charity’s exclusive Olly The Brave series.

Part of more than £2m raised to date, has also been used to fund the first Molly Olly consultant in paediatric medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Molly Olly's Wishes, Molly Ollerenshaw
Molly Ollerenshaw just a few weeks before she passed away, aged eight.

Rachel Ollerenshaw said: “We are extremely grateful to Jump In once again for their support. Donating toys is a great idea and will undoubtedly bring a smile to children and their families who are facing very challenging circumstances at what should be a fun, carefree time. These gestures whether big or small can help to make those dark days brighter. Thank you to everyone involved.”

Manager at Jump In Warwick Sam Dunn, said: “Christmas is a time for giving and here at Jump In we want to embrace that. As a family venue, we are delighted and proud to be partnering with this wonderful charity that works so tirelessly to help children and their families through such a difficult time.

“Please donate a small gift next time you visit us in the knowledge that it is bringing some joy to those most in need of it, especially at this time of year.”

There is plenty of fun to be had at Jump In’s new Christmas Parties, designed especially for groups of families and friends of all ages to enjoy.

Molly Olly’s Wishes also needs the support of companies and individuals to enable it to help more children. Please contact Rachel on 07747 854914. Further information or how to donate can be found at:

Available seven days a week, partygoers can choose from two unique packages Blitzen and Dasher, both of which have all the yuletide entertainment and refreshments laid on. To book call 01926 356290, contact or book online at Choose Christmas Party from the drop down menu.