From food to falconry and bells to re-enacted battles, there’s a wide range of events on offer to excite and entertain across the country
Despite the very best efforts over the years of Oliver Cromwell and our more politically correct local councils, all things Christmas continue to dominate the end of- year calendar in communities up and down the country. Food-wise, a smorgasbord of events takes place in the UK designed to appeal to all palates – from turkey and- Trimmings traditionalists to haute cuisine existentialists.
The main course is provided by the BBC’s Good Food Show Winter (NEC Birmingham, November 23 to 27) which has a strong Masterchef flavour this year. Presenters John Torode and Gregg Wallace will be inviting members of the public to cook their own favourites in a special version of the show which will also see former rugby player Phil Vickery, this year’s Celebrity Masterchef champion, take on last year’s winner Lisa Faulkner.
If the countryside is more your thing, visit Rufford Abbey Country Park in Nottinghamshire, where the must-see event is the Aurora Christmas Illuminations (December 2-4, 9-11) which transform the trees into spooky sculptures and the park into a colourful winter wonderland.
Talking of pleasing aesthetics, the sixth Folkestone Rendezvous Art Mart takes place in the Kent town on December 16 and 17. It provides an opportunity to browse and buy fine art and crafts items with more than two dozen specialists on hand to advise on that perfect present purchase.
Meanwhile, outdoor types who prefer to see their animals in the flesh as opposed to on the plate should head for the Royal Welsh Winter Fair Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, on November 28 and 29. There are 300 trade stands, as well as handicraft displays, a floral art show and antiques, while judging of cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and poultry takes place in the International Pavilion.
For days out with a difference, sample some of the traditions and historical events celebrated over the Christmas and New Year period.
There’s a chance to enjoy the winter sport of medieval millionaires when the roles of royal falconers and hawkers are recreated at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, on November 26 and 27. Visitors can find out how hawks were trained to catch specific birds and animals for the Christmas table.
Campanologists should head for Dewsbury Minster in West Yorkshire on Christmas Eve for Tolling the Devil’s Knell, a centuries old Tradition based on the tale of a medieval knight who, after committing a foul deed, donated a bell to be rung at his local church. Each Christmas it strikes the number of years since Christ’s birth.
The fishing village of Stonehaven in Grampian provides some very different thrills and spills on New Year’s Eve. As the clocks strike midnight, the High Street is lit up by 60 local fireball swingers Marching down to the harbour where the balls are thrown into the sea.
On the historical front, away-day revolutionaries have two important dates for their diaries. At Swarkestone Bridge in Derbyshire and in Derby city centre on December 3 and 4, there are re-enactments of the events leading to the about-turn of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite forces as their quest for the English throne ended in the East Midlands in 1745.
A hundred years earlier, another royal’s luck ran out when Charles I was executed in London. On January 29 2012, the King’s Army (the Royalist half of the English Civil War Society) retraces the route taken by the king from St James’s Palace to the Banqueting House where he lost his head in 1649.
The spirit of Christmas past is celebrated in a series of themed events around the country. The town and pit village at Beamish social history museum in County Durham go back to the Edwardian period for special nights of street entertainment, traditional food, gifts and carols on December 9 and 16.
Meanwhile, Caerphilly Castle goes the whole hog with its Medieval Christmas Fayre (December 10 and 11) with seasonal music of the period, a court jester, food, replica medieval goods and traditional crafts.
If men and women in uniform – rather than peasants’ garb and armour – is more your thing, head for the British Military Tournament at Earls Court, December 2 to 4. The update of the old Royal Tournament is now a theatrical tour de force and this year is being presented by ABF The Soldiers’ Charity in association with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. The 2011 show tells the story of “the special relationship” between the UK and US, recreating dramatic episodes in history, from the American War of Independence to operations in Afghanistan.
If you’re after something a little quieter but equally as invigorating on Christmas morning, go for a refreshing dip in icy waters. Or, at least, laugh and point at other people turning an unseasonal shade of blue.
As well as the famous seasonal swim in the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, hardy revellers – some in fancy dress, some in less – will be taking the plunge at Hunstanton in Norfolk at 11am), Lowestoft in Suffolk (at 10.30am from the Hatfield Hotel), Porthcawl beach (at 11.45am) and Weymouth.