Beyond London – The Lights Lighting Up the UK

The nights may be dark but an annual festival of lights is due to brighten up the nights as Diwali returns to Trafalgar Square (28 October). Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities come together to celebrate the event, which marks the victory of good over evil and the promise of new beginnings. Dancers dressed in saris, decorated with bangles, nose rings and henna roam the square, while drummers and musicians play traditional instruments on a stage beside Nelson’s Column. Elsewhere, Light up the North – a network of seven light festivals – is giving the north of England a chance to shine. So why not head out of the city to discover something different.

The queen of light displays, Blackpool Illuminations (to 4 November) attracts close to three million visitors each year. In 1879, the town’s coastal promenade displayed eight arc lights, but its 1912 show is credited as the first official Blackpool Illuminations, when 10,000 lights marked the opening of the Princess Parade by Princess Louise. The event became a permanent fixture, and now the festival traditionally shines for 66 days, from Starr Gate in the south of the city to Bispham in the north.

Partly powered by wind turbines, the illuminations are made up of one million light bulbs, lasers and fibre optics; searchlights, floodlights and neon lights which light up a 10km stretch of promenade. You can also see around 40 structures, which might take the form of monsters, pirates, Alice in Wonderland or an Egyptian sarcophagus – some of which appear to move with flashing lights. Landmarks shine and hotels glow while open-top trams are lit to resemble rockets, steam trains and trawlers. 

The opening ceremony in August included a great switch-on by British tenor Alfie Boe, followed by a Britney Spears concert. Highlights include an illuminated surfboard you can surf, a circus-themed roundabout and free 3D projection shows projected every night on to the front of the famous Blackpool Tower building. This year, there are two brand-new shows and you can also have your face projected on to the Tower building. Meanwhile, LightPool Festival returns, commencing with Light Odysseya sound and light collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic which will be staged in the Empress Ballroom on 18 Oct. The following week (25-27 Oct) there are three nights of free entertainment including light-based art installations, live performances and the return of last year’s successful illuminated tram parade. 
Getting there: Trains from London Euston to Blackpool North (approx 3 hours).

More than 80,000 people flocked to Leeds last year for Light Night (4-5 October), a free festival which began in 2005. Previous years have seen crowds applaud aerial hula hoopers, fire spinners and a glowing marching band. Visitors also saw a waterfall projected onto the Queens Hotel, a mythical bird fly in front of Leeds Civic Hall, a shark projected above water and illuminated papier-mâché sculptures. Some of the installations are interactive, too – previously people have danced with neon umbrellas, there was a night parade of dancers dressed in illuminated bikinis and a promenade of giant desk lamps. This year’s theme is still to be decided, but you can expect exhibitions, music and street performances. The event has well and truly put Leeds in the limelight. 
Getting there: Trains from King’s Cross to Leeds (approx 2 hours 15 mins).  

The town of Matlock Bath on the edge of the Peak District has been hosting light shows since 1897, when it presented one to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The annual Matlock Bath Illuminations (every Sat & Sun to 28 Oct) sees locals parade illuminated rowing boats along the River Derwent as they compete for cash prizes. Previous years have seen boats lit up to resemble toy trains, pirate ships or a mermaid in a shell, while recent winners have been a LEGO quad bike and a VW camper van. Flashing lights make some of the structures look like they are moving. Bag a spot by the bandstand in Derwent Gardens for the perfect view of the parade and fireworks every Saturday night. 
Getting there: Trains from King’s Cross to Matlock Bath (approx 2 hours 30 mins, via Derby). 


More than 300,000 people are expected to attend Sunderland Illuminations and Festival of Light (18 Oct-18 Nov), lighting up St Peter’s Church and the waterfront along the seaside promenade. The festival transforms Roker Park by the beach, while Cliffe Park by the lighthouse is home to a fairground with food stalls, an illuminated observation wheel and a helter skelter. Last year’s theme was Disney. 
Getting there: Trains from King’s Cross to Sunderland (approx 3 hours 30 mins, direct or via Newcastle).

While Illuminating York isn’t taking place this year, York Mediale is (to 6 October) – a new international festival celebrating art and technology through exhibitions, installations and performances. One highlight is the world premiere of Strange Stranger in York Guildhall, a contemporary dance with four performers about the right to be forgotten in the digital age. The audience is invited to move through a maze oflight towers, while motion-capture technology collects data on your movements to create a unique light and sound show. Commissioned by the festival and Sadler’s Wells in London, the dance is brought to York by the Alexander Whitley Dance Company; Whitley has created work for The Royal Ballet and Rambert. 
Getting there: Direct trains from King’s Cross to York (approx 2 hours). 

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