Saltwell Enchanted Parks, Gateshead

Dancing in the dark

Saltwell Enchanted Park, now in its eighth year, lights up the beautiful Victorian Park in Gateshead Tyne and Wear – just before Christmas Armageddon descends – with weird and wonderful light creations and the story of the Park Keeper – the Keeper of Saltwell’s secret. The concept this year was that Saltwell is an enchanted place, ordinary by day, but extraordinary at night when strange flowers bloom and glow, fantastical creatures emerge from their hiding places, unearthly sounds float on the wind and crackle through the undergrowth. Woodland pathways lead to other worlds, the air is scented, water turns to fire, the plants whisper secrets and the trees sing songs.

Leafy lighting

The Park Keeper is looking for a new generation to take on his role as he is about to retire and he has let us all in especially, after dark, to see who he can trust with the Park’s magical secret.
We thoroughly enjoyed all the wacky installations presented to us at every turn winding around the paths in the dark December park. Lights hung from trees in strange formations and each stage of the journey had something unexpected to discover. Creatures with furry hats and illuminated tails (a Narnia vibe)  guided us around the park with varying degrees of animation. Some really got into the part and sprang about staying in fantastical creature character. Some just stood there looking a bit cold and embarrassed – maybe they had been enchanted? Well that’s what you get when you use volunteers..
We loved the musical clockwork forest and the pyraphones combining flashes of light and fire with strange musical ticking and clonking.
We loved Davy and Kristen McGuire’s captured fairies who appeared upset, trapped in jam jars tapping and knocking trying to escape. I happened to say ‘OOh look it’s REAL fairies’ and one small girl took this as concrete evidence of their existence and repeated ‘OOh look mummy it’s REAL fairies’ with great emphasis, as if there had been some previous dispute about this fact.

A REAL fairy

There were a team of mad scientist apothecaries mixing up various potions which they used to connect to the magic tree and light it up in different colours with each different concoction. The bronze Echo Funnel growing out of one of the enchanted trees was very popular, with a large queue waiting to ask it questions and wait for its whispered observations and advice in return.

Ask it the lottery numbers..

Towards the end of the trail we encountered the light aviary which was home to the Keeper’s impressive collection of beautiful caged birds. Their mysterious attendant watched them carefully – he looked like he was having a bit of a bad day to me.They were all coloured perspex mechanical birds and if you fed them little metal bolts they started to sing.

Are you looking at my bird?

Our favourite thing however was the fire garden and the tall, mysterious, side burned character of the Keeper himself. A pattern of fire flowers stretched out across the lawn and the Park Keeper was carefully wafting scent across them to keep them sweet smelling throughout the winter. As he wafted his brazier which smelt very much like Frankincense to me, he called me over for a bit of extra wafting of incense right in my face. He told me it should induce a mild euphoria. ‘Or it might just make you happy which is the same as mild euphoria isn’t it?’ he said in a thick west country accent. It certainly seemed to do the trick, that’s all I’m saying..

The fire garden

Enchanted Parks at Saltwell certainly enchanted us. It was clever, original, extremely imaginative and definitely created a magical atmosphere.. Gateshead Council are known for their strong Public Arts programme (think the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley) and this winter festival event is no exception. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!

Feed the birds