Autumn Spectaculars: Bright Lights and Carnival Spirit

by Katie Rowe

Category: Things to do
September 24 2015

From Northumberland’s starry skies in the North East to the fanciful costumes of Whitby Goth Weekend, here are Katie Rowe’s favourite events to light up the fast-approaching darker days of autumn…

A woman dressed up as a fairy sits underneath a giant glowing purple mushroom

1. Sunderland Illuminations

Step into the magical world of Alice in Wonderland filled with giant glowing mushrooms, hidden fairies and dancing fountains. This year’s events are the biggest yet, as the magic spreads across several new locations along the Roker and Seaburn seafronts. Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit will adorn the grassy verges and walkways of Roker Park and the newly spruced-up promenades will be lit up with a kaleidoscope of colour. (26 September – 1 November)

A colourful ride captured in slow motion at Goose Fair Goose Fair in Nottingham © David Fisher

2. Goose Fair

If you're in Central England, buckle up for one of Europe’s biggest travelling fairs as over 500 rides swing, spin, spiral and twirl on Nottingham’s Forest Recreation Ground. Brace yourself for white-knuckle thrills on super-fast rollercoasters before catching your breathe on a sparkling carousel or on a whirling tea cup ride with the little ones.  Best save the mushy peas with mint sauce – a fair speciality that’s as old as the fair itself – for when you’ve ticked off all the stomach-churning rides. (30 September - 4 October) 

The Berry Man, bedecked with foliage, and the Mayor of Southwark parade along the River Thames © Sasastro

3. October Plenty

Kicking off on London’s Bankside beside Shakespeare’s Globe, this eccentric carnival is everything you wished your School Harvest Festival could have been. A celebration of Southwark’s plentiful history and ancient seasonal customs, the Berry Man – festooned head-to-toe in wild fruits and foliage – is the star of the show, along with a Hobby Horse strung with bread and cakes and the annual Apple Day event over in Borough Market. A must see event if you're in South East England. (25 October)

Crowds gathered to look at the intricate light show projected onto York Minster © Kippa Matthews

4. Illuminating York

As the nights draw in, York’s historic architecture is transformed into modern works of art. Medieval landmarks become the canvas for striking installations, lighting up the dark autumn nights with swathes of colour. Drawing more than 50,000 visitors to the city, the event sees the majestic façade of York Minster drenched in a kaleidoscope of colour, The Shambles shimmer with mirror balls and the Museum Gardens are transformed by a barrage of light and sound. (28 – 31 October)

An elegant gothic lady with black hair, red lipstick and a trimmed feather cape at Whitby Goth Weekend © Bryan Ledgard

5. Whitby Goth Weekend

Backcomb your locks and smear on the eyeliner for one of the biggest and boldest celebrations of Goth culture in the world.  Steam punks, bikers, cyber goths, Dracula devotees and thousands more partial to all things macabre indulge in a weekend of live music, bazaar shopping and parading the winding streets of Whitby to show off their best gothic getups, which get more flamboyant each year. (30 October – 1 November)

Yellow-tinged lights on show at Diwali celebrations

6. Diwali Lights Switch On

Wander amid the vibrant sights, sounds and smells of one of the biggest Diwali celebrations outside of India as Leicester’s biggest and brightest cultural celebration comes to town. Around 35,000 people head to Belgrave Road to see the big switch-on and even more attend Diwali day itself. Food stalls, live entertainment, music, fireworks and, of course, a kaleidoscopic array of coloured lights all combine to create a vibrant party vibe. (Diwali Lights Switch on: 1 November, The Festival of Light: 1 – 15 November, Diwali Day: 11 November)


A close up of one of the ligh tbulb-covered floats Close up of a Bridgwater Carnival cart © Paul de Gregorio

7. Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival

What do you get if you deconstruct an entire fairground and parade it along the streets of an historical Somerset town? The Bridgwater Carnival Procession, an age-old event that sees Guy Fawkes celebrations taken to a whole new level. The workmanship put into the highly-decorative carts, many animatronic and some as long as 100ft, is astounding. See dancing toy soldiers and dragons spouting out fire at an eye-popping procession that takes over two hours to pass through the town. The carnival is brought to an explosive climax with squibbing – an ancient tradition where hundreds of fireworks are launched from hand-held sticks, giving the effect of light raining down. It's one of the most impressive spectacles in South West England. (7 November)

The Milkyway shimmers brightly above the trees of Kielder Observatory © Dave Thompson

8. Night Sky Safari at Kielder Observatory

Kielder Observatory sits under some of the darkest skies in Europe and puts on a wide range of events for budding astronomers, including Night Sky Safari an event designed to maximise your stargazing time. You’ll be joined by experts who will be on hand for short telescope tuitions and will give you a laser-guided tour of the constellations, giving tips on how to find all sorts of objects including planets, star clusters and even galaxies. Afterwards, warm up with a hot chocolate and lie back in a moon chair to admire the glittering Milky Way arching across the sky. (Various dates)

The green and purple hues of the northern lights illuminate the sky behind Dunstanburgh Castle © Kris Williams

9. The Northern Lights in England

Move over Iceland, there’s a cheaper way to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature’s psychedelic light show right here in England. Darker nights and sustained solar activity mean more opportunities to hunt down the ethereal pink streaks, rippling purple ribbons and hazy green swirls that illuminate the North East England in autumn and winter. Whitley Bay in Sunderland along with Housesteads, Kielder Observatory, Bamburgh Lighthouse and Dunstaburgh Castle (pictured above) all in Northumberland are some of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis in the UK, with the most recent sightings recorded in early September. For live updates, check out Aurora Watch.

A view of the famous mirror ball landmark upclose,  illuminations lining the promenade and fireworks in the distance

10. Blackpool Illuminations

Every autumn, Blackpool lights up the Lancashire skies with a sparkling spectacle that will leave you feeling dizzy. The flamboyant light show has been dazzling crowds for over 100 years. Nowadays, more than one million bulbs, lasers and animatronics flash, sparkle and twinkle along six miles of Blackpool’s iconic Promenade and they get more extravagant each year. Hop on a heritage tram and ride the six miles of luminous seafront or soak it all up on a stroll along the promenade while chomping on a hand-warming portion of fish and chips. And don’t miss Lightpool, a brand new addition to the festival which sees interactive 3D films projected on to the Blackpool Tower. (Until 8 November)

An art installation of illuminated matchstick men climbing a building in Durham

11. Durham Lumiere

The UK’s largest light festival diffuses a vibrant glow across Durham as LED, 3D and neon installations transform historical buildings, thoroughfares, parks and the sky above. See and hear a 3D whale breaching, stand in the middle of an ornate dome twinkling with thousands of tiny lights and crank your neck for a multi-coloured mesh of neon light dancing across the cavernous ceiling of Durham Cathedral. (12 – 15 November 

The Lord Mayor's ornate carriage passes the Royal Courts of Justice © Rachel Clarke

12. Lord Mayor Show

What started as an inconvenient journey for the Lord Mayor who would travel along the River Thames from the City of London to Westminster to swear his allegiance to the Crown, has evolved into a show-stopping pageant of pomp and circumstance, with the baroque-style State Coach as a dazzling centrepiece. Join half a million people to celebrate 800 years of this ancient knees-up as hundreds of floats, carriages, carts, vintage cars, steam buses, tanks, and even penny farthings and bathtubs parade the streets from Bank to Aldwych from 11am onwards. (14 November)


Discover even more reasons to love autumn...

Katie Rowe

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