Light Up Lancaster

A weekend at Lancaster’s bonfire-night celebrations.

The fourth year of the city’s two day festival ‘Light Up Lancaster’ was set to be the biggest yet, with last year’s event apparently having attracted a huge 21,000 visitors!

In typical Lancaster fashion, the weather looked set to crush any hopes of enjoyment. Yet, just as me and my girlfriend dragged ourselves through the front door, we were delighted to see that the rain, amazingly, had halted. Joy.

Our first visit was to the Castle, which played host to a number of bohemian performances.

Through the foreboding black gates, animated shadows cast from flaming leaf-like metal sculptures danced on the walls of the main courtyard to an ominous oriental soundtrack played by a cross legged percussion orchestra- featuring Lancaster University’s own Sam Kirkham (who certainly seemed to be enjoying himself).

The flames contrast with black metal and words like ‘H.M.P Lancaster Castle’ emblazoned on grates gave everything a weird, but admittedly atmospheric, Mad Max feel. 

Onwards into some of the narrow passages that the castle has to offer, shadow puppets told stories and even the cold interior of the now infamous A-wing was adorned with pretty fairy lights and other illuminations.

Ahead, a tower of scaffolding adorned with different pieces of scrap was tucked away in the bowels of the castle and was surrounded by an arrangement of flamethrowers, which gave the occasional impressive roar. Men in high-vis jackets and hard hats banged out a rhythm in a Stomp-like fashion to a live backing track played by guitars and a sax. 

The Judges Lodges played its part too. A surreal game (which, as far as I could tell, was linked to one of those steady-hand buzzer games) was projected onto the face of the building as if it had been split open like a giant dolls house. This involved a furious judge launching lightning bolts at a terrified defendant as he did his best to evade getting shocked. A little macabre for a family event perhaps?

Lancaster’s best kept secret, Sun Square (look it up), contained a giant neon bird cage filled with mechanical ornithological specimens which apparently responded to your inputs. Not knowing this however, we were a little bemused and moved on to Market Street.

By now it was almost 9 and the crowd had started to dwindle a little (I imagine the impending downpour which was constantly threatening had something to do with this), but it was still atmospheric enough to be pleasant- more of a Christmassy feeling than Bonfire night, but no matter.

Stalls were set up on either side of the pavement, each with a different display, children brandishing flashing swords as they pottered between them.

The vintage ice cream truck was of particular prominence and immediately caught our eye. There was no ice cream. There was, however, two ice cream ladies in period costume- one of whom instructed us to take a lap of the vans exterior and watch their story unfold via more shadow puppetry. At the end we were handed a tea-light in a paper cone with ‘sprinkles’ (glitter). Cute.


The following night was all about the fireworks. Which were amazing. Really. And no one paid a thing to see them!

Launched dramatically from the castle for twenty whole minutes, the display was set in time to various pieces of music including “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (the famous Alton Towers theme music).

 A genuinely impressive spectacle, and one that you should try not to miss next time around if you’re still in Lancaster.