AT this time of year a bit of sparkle and enchantment goes a long way to lift the gloom and I found an abundance of both at Dean Castle in Kilmarnock where a magic wand has been waved over the country park, transforming it into a wonderland of light and music.

Starry Nights at Dean Castle is an interactive installation that is guaranteed to dispel the mid- winter blues. 

A circular  pathway that usually serves as a nature trail has been changed beyond all recognition by hundreds and thousands of twinkling lights, heavenly music and some familiar Christmas favourites. 

The experience begins at the entrance gates from where a path lined in fairy lights leads the way towards the restored castle, which is bathed in projections of starbursts and Santa scaling the historic walls with a sack on his back.

The Herald:

To one side a funfair twinkles cheerily, enticing visitors to climb aboard a big wheel and merry-go-rounds, while once you pass through the thick stone walls of the castle you find welcoming carols and cocktails in a cosy courtyard bar where there’s a stage with foot-tapping live music.

Out the other side there are fire pits for toasting marshmallows, food vans selling warming treats and Santa’s beautiful sleigh, loaded high with parcels and ready to take to the night skies.

It’s all a dazzling display of Christmas cheer, but this is only the start of the fun because it’s here that the Starry Nights enchantment really begins.

Pass the sign post that points the way to Santa Land and Candy Cane Lane and you enter the longest star tunnel in Scotland. Stepping into this magical space, with its polar blue lights, is a bit like being swept up into the tail of a passing comet, restoring in an instant that sense of wonder that’s too often lost when we leave childhood behind.

Next you come to the Singing Trees and beyond them the Fenwick Fairies, each of them a tiny point of light amongst what appears to be a whole galaxy of stars caught within the branches of Dean Castle’s most majestic trees.

The Herald:

Watch in wonderment as the lights ripple and dance through the branches, accompanied by celestial choirs of angelic music. You can linger as long as you like to take in the magic of this scene and in fact you can continue going round the Starry Nights Trail all evening, revisiting favourite spots, such as

Whoville, where a suitably grumpy Grinch, with puffs of smoke emerging from the chimney pot on his wonky-shaped house, spends his time rebutting cheery cries of ‘Merry Christmas’ with an endless stream of Bah Humbug retorts.

From snow machines stirring up mini blizzards to giant snowflakes projected onto the paths, there’s plenty for visitors of all ages and even if you don’t have a four-year-old in tow, then just watching the sheer delight on the faces of young visitors as they search for Tinsel the elf or burst into Santa’s Grotto, is enough to rid anyone of their own inner Grinch.

The Herald:

All the way along the trail places of brilliant illumination are surrounded by areas of complete darkness, helping to make it an other-worldly experience, while the sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy theme that’s played in some places is as sweet as icing sugar and just a little bit mysterious.

“Look at the snowflakes,” squealed an enthralled toddler beside me as he bounced on his little wellies in pools of shifting light. I was just as delighted as him and I especially loved the Snow Blizzard stand where you get to pelt a good-natured snowman with as many snowballs as you like.

Next door to this is the Elf Disco, where anyone who is knee-high to a Husky can bop the night away to Christmas tunes and then after that it’s a stroll down Candy Cane Lane, festooned with more red and white striped lights that you can shake a stick at, and you are back at the entrance of the trail..

There’s always the option to go round again, or you might want to head for the marshmallow pits before opting for a warming refreshment and a Christmas carol singalong before climbing aboard the Big Wheel for a final thrill before heading home.

It’s the perfect festive treat for kids both big and small.