Belvoir Castle’s Twelve Days of Christmas installation by Charlotte Lloyd-Webber was a festive treat
While the classic cliche that the spirit of Christmas is about love and your nearest and dearest is true, there is nothing like seeing festive lights twinkle and shine to get you in the yuletide mood.
Upon a hill in the Vale of Belvoir sits a regency castle - complete with turrets and towers and could easily be from a festive fairytale book - which this year is hosting an enchanting event inspired by the classic carol the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Whether you love or hate the catchy tune, the glitzy display is certainly an ideal way to kick off the festive season, away from crowds of barging shoppers or freezing outdoor events.
The magic began straight away with dozens of trees lining the corridor to the entrance room, filling the air with the nostalgic smell of pine and lighting the room with a soft glow.
As the group of ‘the press’ - which consisted of fellow journalists, business representatives and social media influencers - gathered inside the grand entrance hall for the first look at the exhibition there was a buzz of excitement in the air. For most of us this was the event to kick off our Christmas season and expectations were high.
A fir tree towered over us decorated aptly in the style of the Twelve Days of Christmas. If, like me, you find it tough to remember how many pipers were piping and the number of calling birds there are in the song, it saved a bit of embarrassment by acting as a reminder.
The Duchess of Rutland welcomed us to the castle, which despite being a thing of fairy tales for most of us it is a home very much lived in.
With imposter syndrome working overdrive, we followed in the footsteps of former royals clinging to the bannisters decked out with richly coloured baubles and marched up the stairs to the start of the exhibition.
Contrary to the order of the song the first room was a whimsical tableau of twelve drummers drumming and eleven pipers piping. Although working backwards may sound illogical it is because the first day of Christmas, December 25, is the most celebrated in 21st Century life.
The drummers are made from upcycled vintage sheet music with the pipers inspired by puppets with hinged limbs.
A table in the centre of the room is engulfed by presents fitting the musical theme of the room - including lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas song.
Throughout the castle there are more than 100 Christmas trees – all in very different styles - and at least 20,000 decorations. While one tree and a handful of baubles is enough for most households, the abundance is key to creating the mesmerising displays.
Young and old alike are bound to be captivated and bemused by the extravagantly decorated tea room depicting eight maids a-milking.
The playful pastel scene is a juxtaposition of chaos neatly coming together in a colourful heap.
The muddle of mess makes it the only room that bears any resemblance to what the majority of our Christmas days look like.
Walking amongst the rooms it is clear how Belvoir got its name - it is translated to 'beautiful view' in French - as on a clear and sunny day a view of miles of green countryside greets your eyes.
The State Dining Room has been opulently furnished, with a dazzling centre piece likely to put anyone else's table to shame.
Swans swim up and down amongst the silver and gold foliage while geese nestle in pairs around the room keeping warm Fabergé-style eggs in festive colours.
The picture gallery holds the five gold rings - the only part of the song I really remember - which feels more simple and gives the eyes a break from the feast of colours.
Walking into the King's Room your ears could mistake it for a farm or bird centre with an array of chirping.
First the calling birds, then the hens and finally the turtle doves - each individually represented in three consecutive rooms.
The story ends of course with a partridge in a pear tree, which in this case was boasting plump, yet sparkling fruit, and glowing leaves.
A man and a woman stand next to the tree, decorated in greenery from the grounds of Belvoir Castle, rounding off the display in a more natural way.
The installation is the work of renowned designer Charlotte Lloyd-Webber, who has been busy for months - almost a whole year in fact - bringing the song to life.
While the ideas may seem wacky and unimaginable on paper, for Charlotte, who previously owned a theatre company, they come naturally.
Charlotte, who has been decorating Belvoir for three years, said: “I think about the displays all the time - it is an ongoing stream of consciousness.
“If I am given a theme or story I will tell it in my head and visualise how it works. It then unfurls.
“When you have been working somewhere for a number of years you get to know it more and it reveals its secrets.”
There is no better way to follow a feast for the eyes than with a feast for the belly which we did with an afternoon tea.
Smoked cheddar and spiced pear chutney and roast beef and Stilton were among the flavours of the finger sandwiches, which were rounded off with cinnamon and orange candy cane topped eggnog and a spiced scone with lemon curd.
Tickets for the Twelve Days of Christmas event can be booked on the Belvoir Castle website.