Enchanted Westonbirt

Enchanted Westonbirt

In which intrepid travellers Sarah Horton of this blog and friend Gemma Jerome, last seen on here in a Lido early in September set of from Stroud in search of an enchanted forest, our National Arboretum at Westonbirt.


This weekend I stayed with my friend Gemma in Stroud where she lives, and we’d booked to visit the enchanted forest at Westonbirt Arboretum. More on that in a bit.

I arrive in Stroud while Gemma is still at work, and explore the neighbourhood in the company of Gemma’s small black dog, Sampson.

Sampson being not bothered by a carved crocodile

We happily spend a few hours trotting around Stroud, through Stratford Park, along the canal, Queen Elizabeth playing fields and along the cycle path home. Only spotting one monkey puzzle tree, this one already in the Monkey Map catalogue, in Stratford Park – any opportunity in a new place being of course an opportunity to spot monkey puzzle trees.


On Saturday morning the excellent Stroud farmers market is in full splendid cheese swing, after which we take a break to visit an exhibition of paintings by Kate Loveday, at her home studio in Stroud, which has a lovely garden. (One of Kate’s paintings on the gate below, and see more at the link.)

Here’s the secret entrance…

… into Kate Loveday’s garden..
… where the last bits of autumn flowers are still clinging on, Agapanthus…
… and winter flowers are here, Hellebores.

Then on Sunday we arrive at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, on a rainy, windy and frankly, wintry afternoon.

An unusual growth of horse chestnut tree here
Monkey puzzle trees are found
Monkey puzzle trees are found, well done Gemma!
The acer leaves are well fallen
The acer leaves are well fallen
A structure from coppiced lime
A structure from coppiced lime
Gemma in the coppiced lime structure – the coppice here is reputed to be over 2,000 years old
Colours of autumn, Liquidambar
Colours of autumn, Liquidambar styraciflua

Then as the light fades, the enchanted forest begins to come to life:






Yes, there are fairies too, dancing.






Not just lights… but smoke, mirrors, music and mystery.

‘Ghosts,’ I said, ‘A dragon’, said Gemma…


A voice-activated light sculpture in action! You had to sing to get it to light up… Here’s the shape we made, being made.



Plenty of rainbows and moving lights…



Yes, enchanting.

After gorging on all this light and colour though, we both declared that we really liked the simple lighting and could have done without the dancing faries and the more blatantly festive stuff. But maybe that’s just us?

Westonbirt is a great place for any and all days of the year. It’s sense of space, history and slow time is beyond precious and even that noted curmudgeon Ronnie has been here many times and loves the place. But it’s a slow and gentle place to get to know, so maybe family events like this help to bring in people who might not otherwise come? Help thousands of children to develop their natural fascination with trees into a lifelong love?

So a good thing overall then? Yes, on balance. And a big yes to the place itself. Just no to the relentless selling of mostly expensive tat that so many events feel the need to go in for and that I didn’t even waste my time photographing. Being too busy looking at the lights on the beautiful, beautiful trees.

Light, dark, lit up or shady I love a good tree. And there’s nowhere better for looking at such a vast collection of trees than Westonbirt. A national treasure. Our national arboretum.

‘Enchanted Westonbirt’ is on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until 20th December. Check on the link before you go, some dates might be full.
Westonbirt itself is open for trees and walking 9 to 5 every day. Dogs are permitted in the Silk Wood, but the Old Arboretum is dog-free. 

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