on February 10, 2013
One of the things we had arranged for our New Year trip to the North East of England were tickets to Alnwick Garden’s Festival of Fools at £12.50 a person. The Festival of Fools is open for a few weeks up until New Year, and I presume will be on again at the end of 2013. I'm guessing it is a good way for the trustees of Alnwick Gardens (founded by the wife of the Duke of Northumberland) to keep the garden as a paying attraction in the winter months. The tickets were provided in half hour time slots so as to ensure the Festival of Fools did not get too busy. I seem to remember that the festival runs from about 6pm to 9pm or so. I advise you book for the event ahead as it is a pound or so cheaper if you do, and you might find you have quite a wait if you simply turn up expecting entrance. Alnwick Gardens are adjacent to Alnwick Castle and were originally developed for the first Duke in 1750 by Capability Brown, but in recent years they have been extensively enhanced and re-landscaped by the current Duke’s wife. You can often see her sitting in a dumper truck shifting soil and rocks around. OK OK, she actually pays other people to develop the gardens although I understand she is hands on with the plans and development and is one of the trustees of the charity. I’ve been to Alnwick Gardens in summer and the other main attraction are the Poison Gardens which are kept under lock and key with escorted viewing only, and where you can see poison plants and opium poppies and a cannabis plant (although I confess I have in the past mingled in circles where they are not that uncommon to spot).Our tour of the gardens after dark took us through the gloriously lit main focal point of the gardens, the cascades, and up to the walled garden where most of the activity took place. The shop and cafe were open if you wanted a warm up either before you walked through the Festival of Fools or afterwards. At the entrance we were greeted by a marked man who spoke in riddles; he explained we needed to speak to each of the characters dotted around the garden to collect clues to a saying. We were not to leave the garden until the words had been collected and were handed a card and a pen with which to collect the various letters that would obtain our prize. Around us the garden had also been decked in pretty lights. Although it was cold in the night air, we spent a happy hour talking to the various characters in the garden to try and find out which letter they represented. There were also some groovy lights to explore. Once the letters had been obtained (we got them all bar one), it was time to rearrange them from an anagram into two words. Thankfully we saved embarrassment by getting the wording right rather than having to beg someone to give us a clue or two. However, I do have to say it wasn't simple, but not too hard either. I'm sure kids from the age of 8 up would certainly enjoy the quiz, although perhaps younger ones might both be scared by the freaky characters and frustrated by some of the clues. I’m also pleased to say we were not the only party sans enfants.On exit we were all quite proud to wear a badge affirming that we had broken the code; even to the point of wearing them in the Indian Restaurant that evening. How old are we?We didn't quite know what to expect with the Festival of Fools and completely enjoyed our exploration of the characters and the lights in the garden. The acting was superb and none of the characters seemed bored or looked like they wanted to be anywhere else. If you are in the area at the end of 2013 then look out for this attraction; I don't think you will be disappointed.
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