Saltwell Enchanted Parks 2014

Saltwell stars
The first part of our magical mystery tour to the Enchanted Parks this year started when we decided to use the overflow car park which was some way away from the event itself. We then unwittingly embarked on a meandering tour of Gateshead back streets as we tried to find the right entrance  Now Saltwell Park is fairly large as parks go, but somehow, in the dark, it still seemed elusive – perhaps it had been enchanted away? Or were we just too busy chatting to watch where we were going?
We found it!

At last we found it! – and the evening’s adventures began. Set in this great park, loving restored  by Gateshead council along with Saltwell Towers the Victorian family folly of William Wailes,  the Enchanted Parks is a very  special winter treat. A series of art installations using light, sound, fire and stories surprise and delight you, using the wintry darkness to best advantage.

Welcome from Confucius Bob

The paths are lit by low, coloured lights and you are guided through the gloom by local volunteers disguised as space beings.  As usual some of the volunteers make for very convincing space beings and throw themselves into grand Brechtian characterisations. Others are a little more perfunctory, and they are revealed as people who are a bit cold wearing a large silver foil poncho with some lights on their head.  

Space dust madam?

The theme this year was the story of Estella, the stargazer of Saltwell Park. The gothic fairytale building of Saltwell Towers was built by William Wailes in 1862 and its dramatic turrets were intended as an unconventional schoolroom and playground for his favourite youngest daughter Estella. Estella had an obsession with stargazing and Wailes -the renowned Victorian glass artist -designed the roof so it could be her observatory. As she grew she became more and more passionate about the stars, astronomy and astrology, and the possibilities they represented for her to escape from her closeted world.

Inside Estella’s room

Estella’s starry obsession was ridiculed by some, but others say that this Victorian girl was ahead of her time, and that she even managed to launch a rocket from Saltwell Park. Apparently there are accounts of a stormy night over Gateshead when a ball of light was seen hurtling into the sky with a deafening roar. A bit like when Newcastle scores a goal at St James Park.

Fiery artwork

The spirit of Estella, her ideas and her imagination follow us through the park. We see her image along with galaxies of stars projected in a son et lumiere, onto the towers and hear her voice (although she does sound more like she’s from South London than Saltwell..) We see her image glimpsed on gossamer screens through the trees with strange starry creatures, and at the end of our journey, we encounter a magical alien creature who may or may be not Estella, free to be in the world she loved at last.

Is that you Estella?

In a field of fiery lamps, glowing planets are placed to represent the layout of the solar system and Estella’s bed in is in the centre of it all. We come across the rocket ship she wishes she could have escaped on, and we can peep through the window to see what she was taking with her on her planned journey into space.

Estella’s homecoming rocket


Taking it all a bit too seriously.

The External combustion installation explores how metal can be animated by fire and sound and the steel pipes belch flames and occasional flares into the night to an industrial audio track, which sounds like the machines all have a spot of grumbling indigestion. One of the space cadets said the sequence of the dancing flames mimicked the pattern of solar flares from the surface of the sun.

Messages from local children were apparently being relayed by NASA to our alien brethren. What did we really want to know from them?


Good question

I loved the Bob bothers, Confucius and Cornelius who were tall, rather handsome young men, wearing great coats with light discs in them and smart top hats. They were demonstrating an amazing giant kinetic swing with huge steel balls on cables of different lengths. It was like a super sized Newton’s cradle, one of those office toys from the seventies which were all the rage (apparently)

The Bob brothers prepare to demonstrate

The Bob brothers are part of the Travelling Light circus and created this fascinating piece. One of the Bobs coined the phrase of the night for me ‘Weird is where it’s at.’ And that certainly summed up the night.Weird and wonderful. Enchanted Parks was sold out again this year. Amid all the brash commercialism we are subjected to over the festive period, it’s lovely to have an experience that still elicits a sense of magic and wonder. In a park, in the dark! Well done again, Enchanted Parks!


Weird is the new normal


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