Suburban Safari: Out of the darkness…    

Suburban Safari: Out of the darkness…    

by Katie Isham.

Here we are in the darkest months of the year, and this year, for one reason or another, feels particularly dark. So, it might be the perfect time to take a wander through the light. 

Beyond the Romsey borders, is an enclave of botanical beauty: Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. Right now, there’s a chance to visit after dark to see some of the brightest bulbs. No, we’re not talking about those underground. 

Throughout December, Light Up Trails have taken up residency along a mile long stretch of garden to showcase the grounds as never before. 

The path is planned out for many visitors. Usually, such organised fun can be tiresome for free-spirited wanderers, but there’s enough here to capture the imagination beyond the roped off routes, if you can stand the company of crowds watching the beautiful lights through their phones. 

Try to keep the snapping (both ways) to a minimum and partake in the experience. From the first step on the gravel, glowing bulbs lead you towards trees aglow with HOPE and LOVE. This is just the beginning, but it’s a theme that permeates the whole trail. 

Light festivals have been a part of human life in the dark winter months for millennia and it’s not a lightbulb moment when you realise why. Light gives us hope. Hope that at some point, the dark will leave, it will seep away into the corners, and our world will once again flood with light and warmth. 

Light and sound is what you get along this adventure path. Wrap up warmly and visit the breathtakingly brilliant art installations. There are fields of translucent crops underlighting grand trees; mystical creatures appearing within the branches of ancient firs; delicate butterflies dancing in the canopies; dazzling light shows and storytelling played out against the canvas of Jermyn’s House; intricate neon lasers crisscrossing a fairy tale woodland; all accompanied by different soundscapes. Adults echoed the childlike gasps of their smaller companions, all under the illumination spell. 

And onto another important stop. The refreshment stands. Now, usually, I’m all for bringing my own snacks. But amongst the usual troop of crepes and chips, there is something golden lurking here. The hog roast truck is serving the greatest food of all time: roast potatoes. This is a walk where you can stop halfway along and enjoy some golden, crispy, fluffy, steaming roast potatoes. Roast potatoes on a walk; this is the best walk ever. Sorry cake, go home. Roast potatoes are what you want on a cold winter’s evening in the woods. 

You may wonder how this walk could get any better. With a belly full of roasties, continue along the path winding around the pond. 

The most striking features are when the garden landscape is intertwined with the installation to bring a festive shine to the wonder of nature. The simple uplighting of some of the grand grasses and gunnera leaves by the pond are truly enchanting. Then prepare yourself for the sound and light show over the water where the ducks must be accustomed to the rave vibe. You’d never expect to be enjoying some techno beats in a duffle coat by a pond alongside the Romsey massive as the lasers turn the willow trees into extra-terrestrial beings, but there we are. 

And then onto the interactive stepping stones. The path back up the slope invites you to hop across lit up discs as discordant music threatens to topple you down the side of the hill. It’s more fun than it sounds. 

An obligatory stop at some sparkling photos frames to record the memories and it’s soon time to return to the trees of HOPE and LOVE. This trail brings everyone both. 

Hope emerges from the dark shadows of the bleakest winter and is ablaze with beautiful colours in every shining step through this magical wonderland. Love is present everywhere: children swaddled so that only their eyes peek out in wonder at the stories unfolding in the woodland; the smell of warmth and sugar beckoning you towards the food stalls; laughter rumbling down the Himalayan Valley; and the warm glow of excitement when taking a hand to find the next moment of light in your own adventure. Grab a hand and find some hope shining in the darkness. 


Cost: There is a cost for this Safari. Entry to the trail costs around £20 for an adult, but it’s a rare occurrence so may be worth treating yourself if that’s an option. Refreshments there also incur a charge but alternatively, bring a flask and a pocketful of your own snacks. 

Accessibility: The paths are accessible for all wheels but does cover about a mile which includes slopes and gradients. Hillier Gardens is about two miles from Romsey. 

Facilities: Free parking is included. There are toilets at the start and halfway round alongside a selection of refreshment outlets, including the mighty roast potatoes. 


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