“ Come see the brightest night out in the midlands at the Walsall Arboretum. The Illuminations have up to sixty thousand bulbs. This event is now entering it's 58th year. „
As a former Walsall boy I can honestly say that as a kid, we used to look forward to a night out with the family to Walsall Illuminations. I think the fact that you had to wait each year for the five weeks that they were on built up the anticipation and made you believe that they were going to be even better than last year! Generally speaking, they just used to change a few of the displays around to make it look different!
Walsall Illuminations takes place every October in Walsall Arboretum just outside the town centre on the main ring road. In more recent years, I've found that parking is a bit of a nightmare as many of the surrounding roads are coned off, possibly to encourage you to use the pay only ones! The price has tended to be around the £6 mark for adults although there are various discounts available and family tickets provide savings.
The highlight as a child was always to see the "state-of-the-art" laser show over the lake. I should mention that it was "state-of-the-art" back in the late 80's when it was first introduced and now looks a little dated! In fact, in all fairness, the whole thing looks a little dated now and I don't really think that the council have re-invested enough back in to the event. Each year offers a new attraction, but the vast majority of the displays hark back to when I was a lad (I'm starting to feel old saying that!)
The council have improved things such as fairground rides although as you'd perhaps expect, they are generally designed for children and younger teenagers. There's always a good selection of food stalls at the site and plenty of opportunities to buy flashing light devices throughout. Rather annoyingly, you do get besieged by street vendors trying to sell you such things as you queue to get in.
Overall, Walsall Illuminations is a good night out for families IF you've never been before. I fail to see what the council have done with all the cash they make from the events though, as they certainly don't put it back in to the following year's.
I lived in Walsall for most of my life until I moved here to Llandudno in 2002 and have visited the illuminations many times both as an observer and as a worker so I thought I would tell you about the spectacle.
The Walsall Arboretum Illuminations
Where is it?
Walsall is in the West Midlands and the Arboretum is on the A461 out of Walsall travelling towards Lichfield.
What is it?
For those of you who don't know an arboretum is basically a collection of trees and Walsall Arboretum originally stood on the southern boundary of the Cannock Forest! It is very hard to visualise that now with all the building that has taken place since that was the case!
On looking at the Walsall MBC website I have found out that The Walsall Arboretum first came into being 1871 and is was officially opened in 1874. The first Walsall Illuminations were held in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain and even though the event only lasted a week it had over 200,000 visitors. They were even staged in 1975 despite the energy crisis!
In fact only two nights have ever been lost during the whole life of the illuminations; one was in 1998 when the lake flooded and burst its banks and the other was in 2002 when storm force winds damaged some of the trees making some of the pathways impassable.
The Illuminations are staged each year during the month of October. The 2008 Illuminations will run from 26th September until 2nd November. Incidentally there are so many lights and features that the Parks Department begin work on the setting up during August!
Further details are available at http://www.walsall-lights.com/
The route of the illuminations is around the lake and central green in the arboretum and then up the walk to the extension where the swings are, although this area will be closed as it always is when it is dark. It takes about an hour to walk all the way round and if the weather is nice it is well worth the effort!
The displays are quite varied and consist of the following:
There are lights both in the trees, on the tree trunks and illuminating the trees.
There are a lot of large static tableaux and ones with moving lights in them, such as circus trapeze artists jumping from swing to swing.
The lakes provide a backdrop to various pictures made from lights and of course there is the illuminated raft fountain which changes colour.
There is also music playing across the lake which adds to the general atmosphere.
There is a laser display across the main lake which has been a regular feature since its introduction in 1989.
They did try large fountains in the smaller lake one year but it caused so much turmoil in the mud at the bottom of the lake they had to knock that idea on the head!
The features are updated each year to include new attractions, some of which actually come from Blackpool and some of which are made on site. They keep up with the children's favourites of the time such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Pingu, Scooby Doo and the Teletubbies.
There are plenty of outlets selling food, drink and souvenirs and toilets are available on site. There are also a few small fairground rides for the children.
Prices and Times
The illuminations are usually open from 6.45pm until 9.45 with slightly extended opening times on Saturday nights.
The admission charges in 2007 were £6 for adults and £4.50 for children over 3 years old and senior citizens.
There are various saving to be made by buying tickets in advance or by buying family tickets. There is also a park and ride service which is signposted from the town to save you having to try and park in town which as you might imagine is a nightmare on illumination nights!
Full details of the opening times and admission prices are available on the web site. It is worth avoiding the weekends if you can as it gets very crowded!
I would certainly recommend Walsall Illuminations as a great night out whether you have children or not! I went most years from the age of about 6 until we left the Midlands when I was 47! In fact I remember when there was no admission fee and the visitors were asked to make donations in big wooden collecting boxes set around the route.
I also did a few stints working on the gate taking the admission money and laughing at each person who said' Do you light up and go round and round?' - I wish I had £1 for everyone who asked that one! It was good fun though and a bit of extra pocket money coming up to Christmas. One thing I do remember vividly about the job was the fact that by the time we had cashed up the lights had all gone out and the Arboretum is very spooky at night in the dark!
One final bit of information coaches come from all over the country to see the illuminations - even from Blackpool!
I must just say that the Illuminations are not showing in 2009 or 2010 as the park is being refurbished so check the website for details.
This review has also been posted on Ciao.