On Saturday, a group of friends and I spent the evening at the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House (London). The Magical Lantern Festival had only just launched on the Wednesday (February 3), so last weekend was the first weekend for it. This is the first time that the festival has been in the UK, and such festivals are ultimately a Chinese tradition. The Magical Lantern Festival celebrates Chinese New Year, which falls on February 8 this year.
The festival contains approximately fifty lanterns and include monkeys, antelope, elephants, peacock, flowers, tigers, zebras, kangaroos, fishes, flamingos, mushrooms, pandas, a dragon, and various Chinese symbols and scenes. All of these were created in China and sent over to the UK. The main lantern is a large Chinese dragon, but a special Monkey King sculpture was also made for the "Year of the Monkey" this year. According to the website, some of the lanterns are interactive and accompanied by music and theatre.
Our access to enter the trail was at 5:30pm. When we arrived at 4:30, we were greeted with a long queue to enter the grounds. I thought that it may be a good idea to arrive early and to get some street food first. I didn't realise that the grounds only opened at 5:00, so we were waiting for a little while to get in. Originally and at the time of booking, Chinese food and gifts were meant to be on offer, but this was changed. I think they missed a trick as I am certain a small market of food and gift stalls selling Chinese items would have been popular. Instead, we had a choice of crepes or game burgers. I gave it a miss and we planned to visit Westfield for our food later.
That Saturday was very windy, and we did have sprinkling of rain, which made it annoying to take photographs but which luckily was not bad enough to prevent a nice time. However, due to the foul weather, none of the lanterns were playing music or moving. I have seen in the promotional video that some of them do move, but we were unlucky to see them in their full glory due to the weather conditions.
One of my friends is from China, so she told us about the sculptures. In the sculpture above, the symbols represent wealth and happiness. The red bag is a money bag, and the little boys on the left are carrying a large peach, which represents good health and happiness. Many of the sculptures around the festival had the peach symbols in them.
After having a warm tea to warm us up, we started the trail. The trail bushed were covered with light netting with smiling stars on them.
Beyond this, the trail was covered with beautiful and colourful lotus flower lanterns overhead, which led us into the next part of the trail.
I think that these beautiful flowers are meant to move with music being played, but they were stationary due to the wind. The backdrop of the obelisk, pond, and little building at the back was a perfect and magical composition.
We passed by some beautiful flowers and illuminated peach trees before we came to perhaps the highlight of the evening: the Monkey King. The Monkey King sits on the mountain, and the bottom symbol in Chinese is 'mountain'. Other monkeys climb over a giant peach. This is the Mount Huaguo monkey, which was created for this year. This is a real place in China that is a popular tourist place and has connections with the monkey and has a waterfall.
A little further along, we came across these beautiful swans.
Next to the swans was a rainbow bridge, which we had to be careful walking on because the covering was slippery. From the top of the bridge, I saw a beautiful view of lanterns along the river. They reflected on the water - flamingos, ducks, flowers, and fish.
On the other side of the bridge, a beautiful and colourful mushroom kingdom with squirrels emerged.
Then, I saw the pandas amongst bamboo lanterns. These pandas probably stole the hearts of so many people.
Behind them, I saw a safari of lantern animals. They included the kangaroo, monkeys, zebras, deer, antelope, giraffes, and other animals.
The peacocks were further along the trail and looked beautiful.
After the peacocks, we came to the half-way point in the trail. In this area, we could stop for a hot drink and marshmallow. The weather was cold with light rain, so we welcomed a hot chcoolate from Beltane & Pop, which was essentially liquid chocolate. Flavours, such as orange or mint, could be added to the chocolate. There was also the choice between milk, dark, and white. I had dark chocolate with cream on top. They also serve eclairs, but they were out of them sadly. After the hot chocolate, we went next door to The Marshmallowist. Here, we could buy marshmallows in different flavours (champagne & strawberry, raspberry & gin, toasted coconut, etc) and toast them on the fire pits nearby. I had the toasted coconut marshmallow, which was tasty. However, it did take an age to melt and it was a little difficult leaving the fire.
But, we did have to leave the fire in order to see the rest of the trail. Back on the trail again, we met up with giant peaches and a lot of beautiful flowers and plants.
These peacocks were pretty.
We also managed to look onto the opposite side of the trail that we had just come from to see the other side of the animals. I got some better monkey photographs.
This trail then led us along the river, where I captured a photograph of the pink flamingos, fish, frogs, and other plants.
A little further along on the river, I captured these ants/bees. We actually were not sure what they were - ants or bees - but they looked friendly enough. I think that they are also intended to move on their playground toy, and I imagine that there may be music as some of them are carrying horns.
The elephants looked stunning as well.
I also loved the green swan on the opposite side of the bank.
Finally, we started to see some of the finale lanterns on the other side of the bank. This gave us a taste of what was to come. One is the pagoda, and the other is the massive lantern dragon.
We headed around the river to get to the bridge. The below shimmery mushrooms (or jellyfish) looked pretty.
On the other side, we saw a spinx, Cinderella carriage, and more colourful animals and mushrooms.
This lantern was also beautiful, and it was one of my favourites. I think I read that it was made using real porcelain.
We continued to walk around to the main area where the dragon was, but they had shut this due to the winds. So, we gazed longingly down to the far side where we could see what looked like a terracotta army of lanterns and some bright colourful flowers and the pagoda.
The trail looped around underneath the archways, but it was closed off and no one could enter to see the beautiful display on the other side.
Through the other archway that we could not access, we saw a range of Chinese New Year zodiac animals. This was the best photograph that I could take.
I was able to zoom in to get a photograph of the dragon's head.
And I absolutely loved the flower pot lantern.
Everyone was directed to go down a different part of the trail, off to the side, which meant that we could not see the other lanterns. They were switched on, and the closest I could see is through zooming in on my camera at a side angel through a barrier. I also took a photograph of some flowers I saw in the distance, and there were a couple of Chinese fans.
I also managed to zoom in to get some details of the beautiful floral archways.
The pagoda was well in the distance, and this was the best I could do using my zoom. It's a pity that we were not allowed along this finale of the trail in order to see these amazing pieces. Surely they could have had a queue so a few of us could go in and then a few more could enter after they had gone.
After this diversion, the trail came to an end.
Last, but not least, we entered another area where a cafe was set up and a small courtyard contained a "Love" heart lantern. As the Chinese New Year festivities happen on Valentine's Day in London this year, I think it was appropriate to have a heart for photo opportunities. The Magical Lantern Festival is also celebrating a special day for people who visit at the weekend.
And that draws our time at Chiswick House Magical Lantern Festival to a close. We left in just the right time too as the rain started to get harder and pour down even more.
In total, we spent two hours walking around the trail. I will mention this because the website mentions 75 minutes is the recommended time. Of course, we stopped for photo opportunities and probably spend thirty minutes having the hot chocolate and marshmallows as we had to wait in queue for the hot chocolate. We could have easily spent another thirty minutes in the cafe at the end or if the other part of the trail had been accessible.
The Magic Lantern Festival is available to view at Chiswick House each day until March 3. Tickets can be bought from 5:00pm until 8:45pm, and it is better to book in advance to avoid disappointment. There is not enough available parking at the venue, and Chiswick House is not the easiest place in London to get to, but you can get there using public transport. For those who are a little more inconvenienced by the location of Chiswick House, there are parking areas near the venue or you can use a website to book a private space from an individual. (I used JustPark and was able to park at a school less than five minutes' walk from the main gate, but do make sure that you give yourself enough time as it took us longer than the 75 recommended minutes to get around the trail.) For more information or to book your place, visit: http://www.magicallantern.uk