Monday, 12 December 2011

Winter Wonderland

A corner of Hyde Park is transformed, for the second year, into the Winter Wonderland Christmas fair. I'd heard about this but not visited before, and expected something along the lines of the modest South Bank stalls, only with a funfair and more trees - a wrong guess, because this is on a completely different scale. There are seriously large structures here, and what must be the biggest, loudest and scariest rides anywhere.

Visiting on a Sunday afternoon at dusk, the trees were still silhouetted against a deep blue sky, but the strings of lights everywhere grab your attention. The whole site is laid out as streets, which does cause a bit of overcrowding, but better that than an empty fairground. Along the main thoroughfare the scale of the temporary wooden buildings increases, from simple shop stands to complex multiple-storey structures. There are several beer halls, including an antique travelling ballroom (apparently) and huge brightly lit fun palaces on the house-of-horrors model, all transported to Hyde Park rather than built from scratch. Good taste doesn't come into it of course, but the attention to detail is impressive - with antique relics, rustic fencing, old cars and even a tree-sized talking tree to add atmosphere (suitably located among a group of real trees on the lakeside). In the middle of all this the ice skating rink is arranged around the bandstand, and it's an unexpected oasis of calm, with static lighting and rather quiet music.

I've seen complaints about the place being crowded and expensive, but don't be put off. Like a lot of things in London, there is no entry fee, no time limit and no obligation to spend money. It's way more impressive than the typical English funfair and just looking is plenty of fun.

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