“ Perthshire, Scotland. An outdoor sound and light show that will take you on a journey through space. „
The Enchanted Forest is a yearly event in Faskally woods near to Pitlochry which combines a light and sound show with the natural elements. The show is on for several autumn evenings each year. I have wanted to visit for a couple of years and finally managed to get hold of some tickets for 2010 when the theme for the show was a force of nature.
Tickets need to be booked in advance and the event is always sold out so you need to book in plenty of time, we booked several weeks in advance yet the only weekend tickets we could get were for the last show of the evening which started at 9:15pm. We spent some time in Pitlochry wandering around the Halloween festival before heading to the Fisher Hotel to book in for the event where we had to join a huge queue before being handed a glowing necklace which had to be worn for safety reasons and being allocated to a coach for the journey to the woods. The journey only takes around 5 minutes, no cars except those with disabled passengers are allowed to go to the woods.
Once we got to the wood, all three coaches dropped down their passengers at once meaning there were around 200 people arriving at the same time. These 200 or so people snaked in a line down to the loch in an almost orderly fashion to see the show.
The light and sound exhibits are set up in the trees around the loch, the walk is circular taking you back to your starting point. The first sight is pretty amazing as you see all the big trees lit up in greens, reds, blues and yellows with the boat house looking like something from a fairytale.
As you walk around the path, which is all lit up with rope lights to make navigation safer, you come across several installations set up to bring fire, earth, wind and water to life. The fire installation was particularly rousing with African themed drums providing a strong musical beat while the lights produced spectacular effects in the trees and fire came shooting out from the ground.
The water installations were beautiful, there are differently coloured fountains which erupt in time to the gentler music of a glockenspiel while classical music play to bring the other elements to life. The shadows created in the water from the reflections of the trees are also beautiful and magical to see. As well as the installations just seeing the big trees lit up and seeing the different textures of the bark and leaves in beautiful colours is lovely and it is nice to take some time just to take in the sights and sounds. It took us around an hour to walk round the loch and see all of the shows, visitors are free to spend as much time as they want at the Enchanted Forest but because the last bus of the night departs back to Pitlochry at 10.45 we only had time to walk round once but it would have been nice to spend more time there.
While the installations are undoubtedly magical to see the fact that the woods are so crowded with people spoils the experience somewhat. The path around Loch Dunmore is narrow and people were crowding around the installations meaning it could be hard to get a space to see things clearly and it felt like there were simply too many people in a small space to feel truly comfortable. I also didn't like the feeling of being herded along from bus to the woods and back to the bus again and it felt like they had just crammed as many people onto the walks as possible to maximise profits.
We were lucky that we had good weather the night we visited but the fact you have to book the tickets far in advance with no idea what the weather will be like when you arrive is a real disadvantage. The Enchanted Forest will cancel tours in the event of extreme weather conditions but I can imagine that wandering round in the cold and rain would not be much fun. Even if you have a clear night you need to remember that this is Highland Perthshire in autumn and wrap up well and take a hat and gloves and wear some sturdy walking shoes.
There is some limited catering on site with a tent at the entrance to the walk selling burgers, hot drinks and snacks at inflated prices. The only toilets on the site are portaloos so best to make sure you use the toilets at the hotel before you leave.
Highland Perthshire is known as Big Tree Country and it has some of the most beautiful ancient woodlands in the UK and seeing the trees all lit up with music playing to complement the lights was really nice and the show is well executed and imaginative. The whole Enchanted Forest experience was however spoiled a bit for me by the production line feeling of the event and the fact that it was so busy and crowded, I love visiting the great outdoors to get away from town life and did not appreciate having to navigate through crowds of people to try and see the sights.
The Enchanted Forest - A Journey Through Space. Sounds good, doesn't it? Look at the piccie above, looks spectacular! In fact, have a gander at the gallery of pics on their website, http://www.enchantedforest.org.uk/ , bypassing the drawings and looking at the actual pics. I will admit, all of this had me absolutely spellbound, and I happily bought two tickets for me and the other half to go for a wander through the forest of an evening.
The tickets cost £10.75 each for adults, and according to the website, it's £6 for children aged 3-16, and £1.75 for children under 3. There's a booking fee on top of all this, and a delivery charge. I can't for the life of me find my receipt, but I think I paid about £28 in total for two adults. I've also got a sneak suspicion that weekends cost more, because looking at my ticket stub it says £11.50 per ticket. Hmmm....
The tickets were easily bought through the website which is connected to TicketLine, and the tickets arrived 2-3 days after I bought them. The tickets also give you details of exactly when to check in for the shuttle, more on this later.
We went on Friday night, 24th October to be precise. The night of the gale force wind and the pouring rain. I drove from Glasgow to Pitlochry, where the event takes place, with white knuckles as I tried to keep the car on the A9. Pitlochry is a lovely wee sleepy town in Perth and Kinross, but it had definately been attacked by abandoned cars when we arrived. After driving around for a while, we eventually found a parking space, then set of for some dinner before our trip.
Now, I'm not sure if it's just my paranoia, but I think some establishments may be hiking up the prices for all the tourists coming to the Enchanted Forest, as I saw hastily written blackboards advertising high tea for up to £10 a person? Eh? Eventually we nipped into a chippy and got a fish supper for the more reasonable £5 each.
And so to the Enchanted Forest. The theme is 'a journey into space', and this meant that you were to become astronauts visiting a new land by means of your space shuttle. For space shuttle read coach. We went to the pick up point, handed over our tickets, were assigned to a specific coach and were given a bendable glow stick which was to be worn at all times. This easily fitted round your neck, or wherever you wanted to put it, but it had to be visible at all times, for safety reasons in case you got lost in the woods!
We boarded the bus and took off! Well, the bus driver started the coach, switched off the internal lights and started the sounds which was instructions for the new astronauts to keep them safe on their voyage. We arrived at the woods (Faskally Woods) within 5 minutes and got off the coach. There was three coach loads for each showing, so there was about 200 of us trudging off the buses. We were shown to a viewing space in front of the loch, and after a countdown of the 'T minus 3 minutes until departure' variety, the show began.
The trees around the loch were lit up different colours, and various lasers bounced off the trees and merged in the sky, while giant lightbulbs in the trees followed along. The lights followed the music which was playing, from various sci-fi films including ET, but disappointingly no Close Encounters. Some of the sights were mindblowingly beautiful, but I will admit after ten minutes of this, in the pouring rain, I thought to myself there is only so much you can do with some lightbulbs and music. The finale seemed to be the arrival of the alien spaceship, which was a pyramid with strip lighting down the edges slowly rising out of the water. After a couple of minutes, the lights went out and they lowered it back into the water so that it had disappeared when the lights went back on.
After the light show, you got to wander round the forests, sticking to the paths. There were plenty of luminous vested stewards, so at no point did you feel like you would get lost. The forest was lit up alongside the walkways, and again, parts of it were stunning. The weather was not though, and if you paused for any length of time, you could feel yourself sinking into the mud made by the thousands of other feet who had trudged through before you.
Eventually you came to a section which was named the 'Alien Crime Scene'. X-Files music accompanied this part, and inflatable aliens were to be seen strewn through the forest. The little girl behind me got me to chuckle when she exclaimed sarcastically to her dad on seeing a parked car in this area 'oooh, that must be the spaceship, never seen one of them before'.
You were free to wander through the forest, obviously within the specified paths, but our coachloads seemed to make a giant conga line, probably because of the weather and at this point we just wanted to get through the evening. We got back to the coaches, where there were toilets and an ice-cream seller (not doing much business this night!), and got back on the buses. Five minutes later we were back in Pitlochry and heading back to the car. The entire experience took just over an hour, but I would say this is the shortest time it would be as no-one was up for slowly wandering through the forest this night.
So, what did I think of it all. Well, I will say the entire evening was very professionally organised. I was impressed by how well everything slotted together, and the timing of the coaches arriving and departing was like clockwork. The theme of the show was very cheesy, with all of the aliens and the space shuttle, but I think it appealed to the children, and it wasn't too annoying. I think they change the theme each year. The event only runs for about a month each year, and it has been selling very fast this year, so it was packed. No romantic wander through the forest with the other half would have been possible if the weather had allowed.
I left the event feeling ultimately disappointed, but I think this was almost completely down to the weather. Some of the effects such as the mist over the water to reflect the lights just didn't work because the rain just didn't let the mist happen. Also, no matter how enthusiastic for the show, the weather just dampened my spirits too much, and after a while I just wanted to be warm and dry. I could see that it would have been impressive if I could have seen much of it, but wearing specs which were dripping with rain, and not being able to see without them didn't help! Yes, I'm Scottish and I'm used to the rain, but this really depended on it being a good night, and I think I went on one of the worst nights of the year so far.
I've not decided if I'll return next year. I might just satisfy myself with the gorgeous pictures on the website and pretend they were an accurate representation of my evening. They could have been, if not for the weather.
If you do decide to go, wear suitable clothing. I mean wellies or hiking boots, as you just don't know what the weather will be like. Wrap up warm, and bring a torch. Oh, and don't let my experience put you off, it would have been great if not for the rain!