Belsay Hall is an English Heritage Property not too far away from us in Ponteland. Like most English Heritage properties the Hall is a shell of a building and often used as a gallery to house art installations. The last time we went to the property was in 2009 when Stella McCartney had her glass horse chandelier installed as a tribute to her late mother Linda. We keep meaning to take the girls but I’ve never been sure if there would be enough there to occupy them. When we saw Enchanted Belsay advertised back in August we thought this would be a great addition to our festive December adventures.
Enchanted Belsay really captured our imagination and we were looking forward to seeing it in the dark. The cost of the event was £26.00 for the family which was comparable to the £22.00 we had paid at the Enchanted Parks night in Saltwell Park. Enchanted must be the buzz word of 2017! The event description certainly sounded right up our street.
Follow an enchanting garden trail, stumbling upon bookcases, old armchairs, dolls houses and a croquet lawn tea party as you go. Step inside the quarry garden to find an Aladdin’s cave as the long lost furniture from the Hall has reappeared, reclaimed by nature.
Over the weekend we heard some negative feedback reference to the bus shuttle service. As Belsay is a rural property a decision was made to shuttle people via bus from Ponteland Middle school a 10-minute drive away. On the first night, there were unhappy reports of people waiting up to an hour in the cold, however, this seemed to have been rectified the following evening. Still, it had me a little nervous as the girls (well mainly Imogen) can be a pain if she is bored in the cold. Our experience of the coach shuttle was pretty good and it seemed any issues with the service had been sorted. From parking up, at the Middle School at 6pm the service was slick making it in plenty of time for our 6.30 slot. The coach was toasty warm and didn’t take long at all.
Food at Enchanted Belsay
Tickets were checked in the gift shop and we were guided out to the food area. As we had rushed from work and school we were all pretty famished and needed a bite to eat. The food stall had a limited selection of food Burgers (£4.50) Soup (£4.50) and Steak Pasties (£4.50) which is on a par with what you would pay at a festival. The stalls were run by the English Heritage themselves, and all seemed very uninspiring compared with some of the amazing hipster street food vendors (Scream For Pizza, Papa Ganoush, fat hippo and others!) which we are used to seeing at other outdoor events in the city. Unfortunately, our burgers weren’t great-they were BBQ’d to the texture of cardboard and the grated cheese and Heinz ketchup at the ‘toppings station’ was more than a little drab.
This was also where we got our first experience of the Belsay Mud. The paths have a nice thin layer of mud. I would fully recommend bringing your wellies or walking boots.
Illuminating Enchanted Belsay
As we left the “food village” we walked around to the front of Belsay Hall to see it lit up with white and amber lights. It did look impressive and as I tried to chomp down my burger while carrying two cameras we stood for a while.
Around the corner, we followed a rope lit path that led down a long ramp into a garden. An ornamental garden was edged in more rope lights. Further around the garden was a string of white bulbs. I started to feel like this wasn’t going to be as enchanting as I hoped it would be.
Dotted throughout the enchanted pathway were furniture based art installations. An armchair covered in branches of pine needles with a scattering of books was our first enlightenment.
The furniture installations reminded me of music video sets. I sort of imagined that a 90’s grunge band had just finished their set and were editing the photo shoot for their album cover.
Some of teh installations were slightly hidden and needed to be searched for. Now I love this idea that not everything is obvious. So these mirrors in the trees were’nt that obvious. Our kids sailed on by as I stopped to take a photo.
One of our favourite surreal moments at Enchanted Belsay was these “Twilight Zone” Lamps and benches. As you approached the area you could see the lamps flickering. As you got closer there was a space invasion style noise. It took a little while to realise the sound was coming from the lights. These were a great interactive, kinetic installation that inpired us to enjoy the moment.
Enchanting atmosphere at Belsay
The lighting around the grounds of Belsay Hall added an enchanting atmophere. Walking around the muddy path, weaving through the gardens was fun.
A bubble machine sucked the kids into the shrubbery. Not through malfunction, but my kids being kids. I overheard someone say that there are fairies in the woods. I had no idea what they were on about, but I think this photo of the kids playing with the bubbles is the concept.
The buildings were lit up well and highlighted all the levels of the stonework.
These enchanted amber water buts, look more impressive in the photo than they did in real life. Which is where I start to have my critical gripe… sorry!
Enchanted Belsay has potential to be amazing and I realise this is their first year of the installation. Hopefully, they will learn from this year and be able to improve for next year. My big issue I had was there was a lack of a theme. The installation seemed very disjointed. What has a discarded bedroom suite, got to do with multi coloured light sabers or these water butts? If there was a connection we missed it and there didn’t appear to be anyone trying to explain the exhibits.
There were sections that were set up really well. For example, you walked through an archway into an outdoor disco ball. The ball spun at varying speeds which went from slowing to a stop up to warp speed. The addition of audio to the flicking standing lamps was amazing. A projection of water ripples on a wall married up with a dripping sound (no idea if that was intentional).
I shouldn’t compare Enchanted Parks Gateshead to this, but there is potential for them to be very similar. Saltwell Park had a progressive story and pulled everything together, where Enchanted Belsay seemed to be a random collection.
Even though I’ve griped we enjoyed the night out and the atmosphere that the lighting evoked. We spent an hour and a quarter walking the route, stopping at several locations. The crowd control was good, as we never felt swamped on any of the paths. At most, there would be about 2 families in the same area. As the event is sold out until the 23rd of December. If you have tickets, make sure you bring your wellies, wrap up warm and enjoy the atmosphere and unique experience of Belsay at night time.