Over recent years, the popularity of outdoor light installations has soared (we especially enjoyed them across the two lockdown winters where we weren’t allowed inside- we are a family of winter babies and we all know how problematic an outdoor winter birthday is!). It is unsurprising given how brilliant they are: suitable for all ages, bewitchingly magical as well as being festive: we love them and have been to both the Rufford Abbey and Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s in recent years.
Considering that these events are relatively new, the grandfather of illuminations is that of Matlock Bath’s- held for the first time remarkably for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Having grown up not far from Matlock myself, I have fond memories of being brought year after year by my parents and standing entranced as the displays magically glided across the water (try to catch sight of the rowers if you can). This year, I again visited with my mum and dad and now they are grandparents, we can introduce a new generation to the wonder of the illuminations on the boats.
Continuing the family tradition, we arrived in Matlock Bath early- it was always chips on an illuminations evening and this was to be no exception. Head for where the bikers park up- what a biker doesn’t know about fish and chips isn’t worth knowing. Promenade Fish Bar is the established location but there are plenty to choose from (I completely disagree with my husband about fish and chips so am wary of recommending something so personal – I just want tartare). Gates over the bridge and next to the museum open at 6pm and there was no queuing. We wandered along the Derwent to spot a good vantage point to settle ready for the lights to begin at 7.15. Unlike the illuminations listed below, this isn’t a walk around installations but instead a parade along the river- wrap up warm if it is a cool evening: you’ll be standing around rather than moving.
The range of displays were fantastic and there was something for everyone: children’s favourite Peppa Pig as well as various different transport (planes, trucks and cars) and recognisable images such as the award-winning Disney castle. My parents especially enjoyed explaining who Fred Flintstone was to my 5 year old. The parade continues for around an hour but once we’d seen them all we moved on- there is a count-down to switching on but I thought to ease the congestion it was worth booking slots- the bulk of the visitors were there for the switch on then the boats continued to dwindling crowds.
Leaving was quite stressful- there were a lot of people, it was exceptionally busy and there were plenty of pushchairs. I’d avoid leaving with everyone else if you don’t like the throngs and perhaps instead head for the booked and timed entrances of the illuminated walks listed below. It was good value (4 adults and 1 child for less than £30) but we spent more on a fairground ride and then donuts from one of the many sweet shops open late on illuminations evening. My daughter doesn’t like fireworks so we must have been the only ones walking back to the car as they were going off!
Matlock Bath Illuminations – Good to know:
Parking is exceptionally busy and car-parks will most likely be full by 5pm on event night (Boats begin at 7.15 on a Saturday and 6pm on a Sunday). We used the park-and-ride (buses every 10-15 minutes until 22.30) at Cromford Meadows although we actually walked in (as young children we thought it was normal to walk miles from where we had parking- back in the day we left the car at Artist Corner [DE4 3PS]). If you walk in then there is no cost. It’s about a mile and the entrance to the illuminations is Cromford side.
Matlock Bath has a convenient train station which you can get from the end of the line at Matlock or from Derby in around half an hour.
Tickets for the event are available online and are exceptionally well-priced. There are some on-the-gate tickets available each sold-out night but these aren’t released until about 8pm after some of the advanced holders have left.
Winter Light Entertainment
Matlock Bath Illuminations had sold out its 2022 run and is now finished but if you fancy some winter light entertainment then check these events on our patch and further afield.
Hardwick Hall Luminate
New this year and Charlotte will be going early December.
Illuminate the Gardens
Sheffield Botanical Gardens, 4-5th November
Yorkshire Wildlife Park, 18th November- 14th January (not on every night)
We upgraded to have a park ticket as well, taking advantage of the 4pm winter darkness so we weren’t up too late with our daughter.
Spectacle of Light
Rufford Abbey, 3rd-20th November
We went in 2020 and really enjoyed the different installations and the way the walk was laid out.
Also see our guide to What’s On Derbyshire and Christmas Events
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