Wonder Nights is a spectacle for the people of Plymouth and beyond to immerse themselves in throughout December and January whilst enjoying the beautiful mansion and landscape of Mount Edgcumbe Country Park. Here at OM, we caught up with its creator, Richard Toy, and we were blown away by his passion and innovative imagination that has brought to life an amazing and carefully choreographed night of immersive illumination, spectacular sound, and even performing arts!
When visiting Mount Edgcumbe it was clear that the success of Wonder Nights has been driven by company owner Richard, who has a passion for “people enjoying themselves.”
Before moving to Plymouth and delving into entrepreneurship, Richard was very much locked into the corporate world with a career in retail management for a stationery company. “As much as I enjoyed my position, I had already progressed to the stage where I wanted to be and my passion was to ultimately always do what I intended to do, which was to run my own company,” Richard explains.
Richard finished his job in Winchester and moved to Plymouth, a city he was familiar with due to its proximity to Cornwall where he grew up. In 2011, he left his career where he took a leap of faith and launched his first attraction in the heart of Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.
“I love it down here, I wouldn’t necessarily want to live or work anywhere else. Down here is home now.” Richard also reveals how Mount Edgcumbe was the only park he was interested in within the South West.
Before Wonder Nights was born, Richard started with Adventure Segway at Mount Edgcumbe. His business venture was sparked up around eight years ago when Plymouth Council were looking for a commercial partner to reinvigorate the park and introduce activities that a younger audience could enjoy. It was at this point Richard started to get involved in outdoor adventure activities and Adventure Segway has since become a permanent staple at the park after much success.
Believe it or not, Wonder Nights stemmed from the popularity of night riding offered by Adventure Segway which is something that has become successful over the years especially at Halloween. Adventure Segway eventually transitioned from riding in the dark to becoming more of a “real experience” says Richard. “We did it for a couple of Christmases too and even put lights into the formal gardens and people were wowed by it all, they loved it.”
“I thought to myself would I ever get to a stage where potentially for the first time in this famous estates history, we illuminate the entire Earl’s Garden. That was a big leap to take” Richard tells us.
Initially, Wonder Nights was the sub-brand for the after-dark Christmas riding experience at Adventure Segway. Richard explains “in the end Wonder Nights was such a strong name, that we reinvigorated the whole look of the brand to what it is today.”
Richard gives firm credit to his staff and creative team for Wonder Nights becoming a reality.
After taking a huge step with Wonder Nights, Richard couldn’t be happier with the success it has achieved year after year. He praises his family and friends for their positivity and for believing in his vision by giving him “wonderful support” whilst he established the experience.
Almost 100 people will come together to create ‘Wonder Nights’, including a staff team of about 40 people who will be working throughout the evenings whilst visitors will flood the park.
Richard is also quick to give credit to his staff and creative team. “I can’t achieve it by myself,” Richard says, “but I can make it happen through having a team that I work very closely with to pull this all together.”
Richard is very much the creative lead that Wonder Nights stems from. His passion for creativity and providing a fun, evening experience for all of the family to enjoy is made into a reality by his team of technical experts.
“In terms of the creative team, there is about ten of us who will work closely together to make the magic happen”
Wonder Nights is very much designed from the outset to provide you with that wow factor.
Richard explains how there are many illuminated gardens around the country, but those that see Wonder Nights can immediately see that this is much more than just lights in trees: “What we’ve done is take it one step further, we’ve created choreographed, and story-based shows within the natural context of the gardens that ensures this is an evening experience that all generations can come together to enjoy.”
Wonder Nights offers a sense of escapism that everyone can relate to, with adults enjoying it just as much as the children.
“It’s certainly bigger this year in terms of lights and the cost to produce; in order to make it bigger and better than before.”
“This year we have changed it so we have show times where people can stand and watch the show together,” Richard tells us. “You can explore the entirety of the gardens your own way as you are given a guide map at the entrance.”
“The power of the evening is in your hands.”
“We have a new show this year called ‘Finding Wonderland’ which is a twenty-five minute light and music spectacle within the natural context of the grade-one listed gardens. For our visitors, it’s the carefully crafted music that really defines Wonder Nights.”
Another new feature this year is called ‘The Vulnerable Edge’, which takes people “away from the niceties of the formal gardens into a valley where the most sinister creatures of the night live, and throws you into the middle of a thunderstorm” Richard explains. “It offers something that is wonderfully unpleasant.”
As part of the Wonder Nights evening experience, there is also a fire garden with around a hundred real fire elements. With the backdrop of the city and the River Tamar behind, the fire elements create a “mirage of flames” that illuminates the face of the mansion. There’s even the opportunity for marshmallow toasting!
The experience is designed to be a full evening out and Richard recommends heading to the park early, as it could take between two and three hours to see everything once.
If you are worried about getting peckish during your evening out exploring Wonder Nights, then worry not as every detail has been considered. A feasting tent and bar will be open, jam-packed with a wealth of festive treats for you to delve into from Bratwurst sausages from Germany, Yorkshire pudding wraps, mulled wine, spiced cider, hot chocolate and other seasonal specialities to make your evening completely satisfying.
This year, Wonder Nights is open from 4:00 pm, Thursday to Sunday, from December 12th until January 5th, plus the two Monday’s before Christmas and New Year.
Booking in advance is advised to guarantee entry to Wonder Nights; however, it is possible to turn up on the night. There is a perk for booking online, as it is cheaper, and it will fast track you through admissions.
There is also a charitable element to Wonder Nights.
“The whole experience is in aid of St Luke’s Hospice and if you do book a ticket online, a portion of your ticket cost will go directly to St Luke’s to support all of the work that they have done and continue to do”
What are those floating trees in the void of the sky?
Have you seen the mysterious hovering trees yet? One of the expenditures Richard has organised this year is the illumination of trees that are situated on top of the mount. They can be seen right across the city of Plymouth!
Speaking of the ferry, ditch the car and come by water!
“The most amazing way to get here is by water” Richard reveals, “then you really do get that sense of escapism by leaving the city behind. It’s as if you are going to this island, wherein the distance you can see these beams of lights going into the sky, and the approach to the park gives that sense of journey.”
The ferry will run on an extended timetable right through until 9:30 pm during Wonder Nights.
For more information on Wonder Nights at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, the attractions of the night, and to book your place, visit the Wonder Nights website and enjoy a family evening of spectacular sound, music, and more!
Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park
Cremyll, Torpoint PL10 1HZ