It did not start auspiciously. Arriving at Yuletide, the new festive lanterns offering at Tatton Park, pretty much the first thing we were greeted with was a queue. Not just any queue – a queue for marshmallows.
The first part of this ‘glittering winter adventure’ will feel familiar to aficionados of Just So, the fabulous August festival by the same producers, Wild Rumpus. Rather than a summer village green, here we have a ‘Yuletide Gathering’ with live music, storytelling and fire-juggling. Should have been delightful. Except that the first thing that our self-respectingly sugar-loving children saw, inevitably, were the two small braziers (rather than Just So’s roaring campfire) around which one was supposed to toast marshmallows.
The marshmallows themselves were to be acquired only from a nearby drinks van which primarily sells artisan hot chocolate, thus we dutifully joined the tailback of frustrated parents and irate children waiting in the cold while the nice barista foamed up another Peruvian mocha latte-whatever for the person in front. Someone needs to think through the logistics of both this and the logic of then toasting said marshmallow in a deep and narrow brazier without burning one’s hand off, as 40 minutes into our visit, we’d progressed no further than lightly smoked marshmallows and cold feet. It did not start auspiciously.
Fortunately, things picked up from there. The trail itself, which loops around the sprawling Tatton gardens and features 10 installations representing winter folklore from around the world, was delightful. Highlights included Ursa Major and Minor – a mother and cub pair of illuminated bear puppets that roam part of Tatton’s woods – and the Kallinkantzaroi; an army of mischievous models made from colanders, candlesticks and other metallic household instruments based on south east European folklore. Unfortunately, we didn’t know this is what the funny metal men were at the time we toured the trail as there is no interpretation at all on Yuletide’s signs other than the names of the exhibits. A book featuring the various characters and myths from the installations can be bought for £10 extra, and might be a nice thing to take home with you, but it would be hard to read while walking around, and given the chunky ticket prices (£20 plus booking fee for adults; £12 for children), a little bit of explanatory info thrown in for free would have been warranted. Nevertheless, our children enjoyed it enough to demand a second loop round, and would be cross with a paltry three-star rating.
The gardens themselves looked magical, with the Japanese garden illuminated in reds and pinks and a main walkway transformed into a rainbow of light, and all the performers were entirely Wild Rumpus in their warmth, humour and friendliness to younger visitors in particular. For those who love Christmas lanterns, don’t mind the cost and have already covered off stalwarts like Dunham Massey and Chester Zoo, this is a solid new option. Just come braced for the marshmallow queue.
Main image: Yuletide, Darren Cresswell for Wild Rumpus
Yuletide is at Tatton Park Gardens, Cheshire until December 23, 2023. For more information, click here.