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Things to do near Portsmouth: I went to Glow Marwell and saw the zoo's Christmas light show

Snow Queens in front of Marwell Hall at Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Snow Queens in front of Marwell Hall at Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)

It’s strange to go to a zoo, see no animals, and yet have a wonderful time.

Yet that’s what is happening every night now that Glow Marwell has returned - and I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to have a look round. Last year’s event was great - as Marwell kept its place among the regiment of light displays up and down the country - and this year takes it up a notch.

The number of lights on display is staggering. There are said to be more than 500,000 bulbs in total - twice as many as last year - fed by 6km of power cables and including 4km of lights in the light tunnel. The route through the site feels familiar - until you realise that you’ve been distracted by the shimmering displays so have missed the penguins, and have wandered across a grassy area (with all-weather covering laid down) so you’ve missed the giraffes, and actually you can’t get too close to the tigers…. So they are all probably having a lovely undisturbed sleep. The only animals you are near are the meerkats near the cafe, and despite a six-year-old’s excited babbling and screeching they were nowhere to be seen, so fingers crossed they weren’t fussed, either.

A light tunnel at Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
A light tunnel at Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)

Illuminated seesaws and swings are part of the trail, as are pads which change colour when you step on them - a big hit with my kids. And another of the highlights is seeing the show in front of Marwell Hall which sees the ‘Ghost Caribou’ perform to a pulsating rhythmic - and hypnotic - beat. It wasn’t just popular because there was a mulled wine stand by the path; even on a cold night it was worth standing still for.

The other big development from last year is the inclusion of snow machines… on a cold preview night it was perfectly possible to belief that flakes could fall and, certainly for the younger children, this added an extra touch of magic. With marshmallow toasting and illuminated trees it’s a further jump into fantasy, which is exactly what a light trail should provide. All power to the zoo’s elbow for a wonderful display.

Tickets are £21 for adults and £17 for children, with under-threes and carers going free. To book see https://www.marwell.org.uk/christmas/

The ghost caribou (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
The ghost caribou (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
An illuminated seesaw (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
An illuminated seesaw (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Some of the illuminated flowers (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Some of the illuminated flowers (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Marwell Hall (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Marwell Hall (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Glow Marwell (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Inside a glow box (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Inside a glow box (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Toasting marshmallows (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)
Toasting marshmallows (Photo: Paul Collins / Marwell Zoo)