Last night was a bit of a momentous one for us. Eighteen years ago, my then boyfriend and I joined a modest group to take part in the first ever Enchanted Forest experience. Back then it was at the Hermitage in Dunkeld and our group were certainly enchanted by the beautiful but simply lit up trees, water features and monuments.
Fast forward almost two decades and that boyfriend - now my husband - and I hold the cold, wee hands of our two daughters, as we begin meandering the trail of Cosmos, the Enchanted Forest’s latest offering.
Just shy of Pitlochry, Faskally Woods is now the annual October home to the Enchanted Forest, an award-winning sound and light experience which last year attracted over 80,000 visitors to the area. So as we soon learn – and as we had indeed heard - it’s not just the venue which has changed in the years since the days of our, um, youth.
With this year’s theme being Cosmos, visitors are encouraged to look upwards to sense the awe and wonderment of the skies above the tree canopy. But the dramatic vistas created by the lights on the ground are equally as stunning.
The lighting is colourful, dynamic and powerfully dramatic
Stark white lights create a lunar-like landscape in some places, with tree trunks taking on otherworldly appearances and there’s definitely a touch of the extra-terrestrial – without any cheap gimmicks. In other areas the lighting is colourful, dynamic and powerfully dramatic – more Northern Lights than moonscape. It’s the contrast of both of these elements which deliver such an impactful impression.
Much is said about this being an immersive, interactive experience but it’s only being there, inhaling that musky ancient pine, witnessing the often jaw-dropping displays of spectacular light and hearing the beautifully haunting soundtracks expertly choreographed alongside the lights, that you appreciate the Enchanted Forest isn’t just something to look at but rather something to absorb and for all the senses to jump in on.
That said, you can still expect your eight-year-old to tug your coat multiple times saying, “really, you’re still looking at that?!” or “hurry up”.
Where I could’ve contentedly snailed along all night, fully absorbed in the experience, for my kids, the Enchanted Forest was definitely about the thrills lying in wait around the next corner – and there were plenty of surprises in store as we wove our way around the Cosmos map.
We started by skipping along the Star Trail enjoying the familiar and stunningly etched constellations laid out along the pathway in lights before entering the Geodome, a 7m inflatable projection dome where we journeyed to the centre of the Milky Way. Certainly, it was an experience but for me, the real excitement was to be found outside.
So we fuelled up on hot chocolate, essential for any space explorer worth their salt and moved on to the next part of our journey into the cosmos.
A giant round moon, complete with craters hangs suspended above the perfectly calm, black waters of the loch creating an awe-inspiring mirror image. Just beyond that hangs another massive globe – this time our Earth – stunningly lit from the inside and complemented by a blanket of tiny twinkling lights below on the forest floor which stretch onwards and onwards or as someone more famous than me might have said, to infinity and beyond!
We took in the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis before getting interactive and clunky with the Head in the Stars exhibit where we had fun with colourful lights inspired by the Milky Way.
Messages from Space was another hands (and ears!) on experience where visitors were encouraged to listen in to real space sounds collected from the depths of the universe. There was the creepy, quirky, funny and then, as my ten year old Eliza so accurately put it, “the one that sounded like an alien having a wee.”
Conveniently situated close to the fire pits where you can purchase marshmallows to toast on sticks, we then witnessed Helios – the sun - as a mesmerising arch of fire straddling the loch.
A full-body, light up your insides experience which leaves a lasting impression.
But it was Constellations – one of the sound and light presentations within the Enchanted Forest experience itself – which was the real show stopper for us. Even Penny, the eight-year-old wasn’t willing to move on…
It can be viewed from various points around the loch but a viewing platform we were ushered to by a guide, really gave us the best position to take in the majesty of this spectacular show.
Cleverly weaving water, light and music to create stunning visual effects and soundscapes, Constellations propels us beyond the familiarity of our universe into the spellbinding beauty of the unknown. Utterly entrancing to watch as images take shape before your eyes only to disappear in a shower of light and then evolve as something else entirely, we found ourselves rooted to the spot, mouths agape. Look out for the astronaut in particular! She (or he!) is quite literally, out of this world!
There was much more of course before home time – notably the Cosmic Connection – a favourite of the itchy-footed eight year old who got to grab and squeeze strobes of lights to her heart’s content as she created music and colour while tripping the light fantastic.
All in all, it was quite the night. Eighteen years on and the Enchanted Forest has indeed matured into a true thing of wonder – a thing not to just awe at for a few moments but a full-body, light up your insides experience which leaves a lasting impression you’ll carry with you forever.
As we travelled home in the car under a blanket of stars last night, sleep got the better of Penny after all the cold, fresh air but Eliza was abuzz with questions and commentary, mind clearly still ringing from all she’d seen earlier that night.
“That had everything I loved in it,” she mused, “Nature, lights and hot chocolate.”
Enchanted? We all were.
Sally was invited to the press launch night of the Enchanted Forest, in return for her honest review of the show. The Enchanted Forest is on until the 3rd of November.
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