8 ways to add some Hygge to your Christmas celebrations
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 December 2017
Staying at home? Helen Moat suggests how to bring some Nordic 'hygge' into our lives and enjoy the simple pleasures of the season in Derbyshire and the Peak District
Most of us think of hygge as Christmas and winter cosiness, but the season’s commercialised rush is far removed from the Danish emphasis on wellbeing, old-fashioned values, slowing down and reconnecting with family and friends and the outside world.
When the days grow shorter and the temperatures plummet, we don’t need to head to Denmark for hygge, however: It’s here for the taking in Derbyshire and the Peak District.
Go for a brisk winter walk in beautiful surroundings, book a meal in a cosy Derbyshire pub and hole up in a countryside cottage with family and friends.
Christmas shopping doesn’t need to be stressful either with small town high streets lined with old-fashioned shops, while craft centres and markets offer individually designed gifts.
Wrap Up Warm and Head Out
It’s natural to want to hibernate in the bleakness of winter, but stepping out into the crisp cold of a frosted or snowy day, swathed in hat, gloves and scarves with thick socks and a winter coat will sharpen your senses and shake you awake.
At this time of year, when autumn russets give way to winter silvers, there’s a good chance of finding snow or at least a layer of crunchy frost up on the moors.
And along the edges, you can experience the strange phenomena of temperature inversions with valley towns and villages hidden under a low-lying bank of cloud.
Waterfalls and Winter Mists
Winter is the best time to seek out walks along tumbling rivers. In the Goyt Valley, at Kinder Downfall or Lumsdale on the edge of Matlock, rapids and waterfalls are a rush of water after the winter rains. Lumsdale, hidden on the outskirts of the spa town, sees few people beyond the local dog walkers, yet this deep-cut ravine, the site of several ruined mills, has drops of tens of feet that gush with water in the depths of winter. In hard winters, the waterfall at Kinder Downfall freezes, a rare and wonderful sight in temperate Britain.
In the Peak District dales, the fog sometimes seems to cling to the valley floor for days. From above, on to the edges and moorlands, the inversion fogs stretch out along the valley floor like a roll of cotton wool. Walking the Peak District edges, your feet above the clouds, is a great way to stave off any winter blues and enjoy true hygge with family and friends. Down in the thick of the fog, where the world is muffled and blurry, is also atmospheric. Those icy fogs give the Peak District an otherworldly feel, when blackened tree-skeletons emerge from pale light like winter ghosts and the Derwent Valley woodlands take on silver coats. The strange and contorted shapes of the rocks on Stanage Edge or Higger Tor take on a life of their own too as they loom out of the fog.
Even more ephemeral are the river mists that smoke from waterways along the Trent, Derwent and Wye and Derbyshire canals, when cold air passes over the warmer water to create rising wisps of mist. As temperatures drop towards freezing, the landscape may appear to be devoid of life, but look more carefully and you’ll find there’s still life among the yellowed grasses and bare heather.
Finding Winter’s Wildlife – Snow Hares and Deer
Snow hares are actually mountain hares, but I like the name coined by nature writer Robert Macfarlane. These ephemeral creatures are fawny-white in winter, only blending into the uplands on rare snowy days – a case of ineffectual camouflage for most of the snowless winter season, as they stand out pale against the black peat. To be in with a chance of seeing these elusive creatures, head for the higher reaches of the Dark Peak in the northern parts of the National Park. The mountain hare is only found in this one small area of our island outside of Scotland.
Nature is harder to find in winter – only the hardiest creatures leave their holes and crevices to head out on to open land, but when you spot a mountain hare bounding through a grough (a peat channel), a raptor soaring overhead on an air current or a red grouse comically flapping its stubby wings like a clockwork bird above the bogs, the pleasure is all the more intense for it. On the uplands, the heather appears twiggy and lifeless, but look more closely and you will see some little gems like the match head (or British soldier) lichen with its fiery red tips, and the delicate pointed star moss.
Down in the valleys, stately homes provide wonderful winter walks when the ground is covered in hoarfrost and naked trees shimmer silver in the icy conditions. Stags stand proud on hillsides and herds of fallow gather under clumps of trees like a scene from a Bruegel painting. Chatsworth House, Calke Abbey and Lyme Hall all have magnificent herds of red and fallow deer.
Decking the Halls
Stately homes come into their own in the season, all vying to create the best nostalgia-filled Christmas experience. The grand rooms and drafty hallways are softened with pine trees and fairy lights and hearths are lit with roaring fires. Chatsworth House is in a league of its own when it comes to decking the halls, with its story-book, fairy-tale or Christmas carol themes, brought to life with a forest of Christmas trees, a mountain of baubles and yards of ribbons.
Its hallways, galleries and stately rooms are decked out with the most opulent of Christmas decorations, and no expense is spared. Haddon Hall creates a more understated Christmas house with simple but tastefully decorated fir trees. In this beautifully preserved mediaeval manor house, garlands and wreaths drape from walls and mantelpieces, while tables spill oranges among the silver and gold.
Along with Chatsworth and Haddon, there’s a wealth of halls decorated for Christmas across Derbyshire and the Peak District including Hardwick, Kedleston, Eyam, Lyme and Renishaw Halls – offering everything from seasonal story-telling, carol-singing, craft-making and Christmas markets to masquerade balls and fine dining (see page 102).
Winter Warmers and Comfort Food
In the depths of winter, there’s nothing better than ending a bracing walk in the humble Derbyshire pub and ordering a warming lamb stew, beef casserole, vegetable one-pot or steaming pie, all washed down with a spicy dark ale. Almost every Derbyshire village has a little pub next to the village green or down a muddy side lane, serving up good ales and decent pub grub usually by a wood burner or open fire. It’s the essence of English winter warmth.
Ye Old Gate Inne in Brassington, dating back to 1616, serves great comfort food in its cave-like, dark oak-beamed rooms, warmed by flaming hearths that are hung with brass pans and pewter jugs. It’s the perfect British hygge experience after a brisk walk or cycle around Carsington Water.
The Old Dog in Thorpe, just off the Tissington Trail (beloved of cyclists, ramblers and horseriders) must have been taking lessons in hygge from the Danes because it echoes the Scandanavian love of candles, throws, sheepskin rugs and tasty, no-nonsense comfort food. Meanwhile, The George in Alstonefield is the quintessential Derbyshire pub in the quintessential Peak village, recreating a very English version of Danish hygge with its beer garden opposite the charming village green with its spreading tree. The 400-year-old stone building of lime-washed walls and log fire serves fine cuisine that contrasts the rustic tables set with chunky candles. Further north, on the edge of Edale, The Cheshire Cheese serves good ales and hearty portions of food – warming soups, hunger-busting roasts and filling crumbles – perfect for ramblers who have been blown off the hills and seek shelter by the log burner. Gone are the days when you could pay for your meal with a wedge of cheese, although the cheese hooks are still in lace.
There is little pleasure in pushing through crowds in a city centre pre-Christmas, one shopping mall looking very much like another. The Peak District and surrounds offer an alternative with small towns regarded for their individual shops: Belper, Leek, Glossop and Marsden, for example. Leek is not only known for its High Street of individual shops, but for its variety of old-fashioned markets: Butter; Charter and Trestle markets as well as the monthly Festival of Fine Foods. And when you’ve finished shopping, you can view some of the finest William Morris and Arts & Crafts architecture in the Midlands.
Glossop, with its magnificent moorland backdrop (where you’ll find Bleaklow’s mountain hares) has more than its fair share of specialist shops selling everything from clocks and antiques to crafts, art and jewellery. Further north again, Marsden is attracting artists among the gritty mills and terraces. Check out Peel Street for its locally produced arts and crafts. Look out as well for Christmas markets in Derby, Chesterfield, Bakewell, Buxton and Matlock.
And in the Peak District’s excellent craft shops, you can do your Christmas shopping under one roof. The Derbyshire Craft Centre at Calver Bridge is an Aladdin’s Cave of goodies, and with a café on the premises offering free coffee refills and newspapers, partners who hate shopping will be happy, too. Combine a shopping trip with a walk along the River Derwent or on the edges for a truly relaxing shopping experience. Likewise, the craft centre at Caudwell’s Mill in Rowsley is stacked high with gorgeous gifts alongside the little cobbled alleyway lined with craft workshops. Combine a visit to the shops with a tour of the mill and finish with a bite to eat at the streamside mill café.
Churches, Carols and Christmas Trees
When the wind’s howling and the weather closes in, there’s something womb-like about taking refuge between the thick walls of an ancient church, singing carols by smoky candlelight or sitting in quiet solitude. The tiny church of St Edmund King and Martyr in Fenny Bentley, just north of Ashbourne, has stained-glass windows and Gothic ceiling panels bursting with colour, the panels filled with saints and winged angels in rich hues of greens and reds along with golden sunbeams. And bears – bere referencing the Beresford family along with their coat of arms.
Further north, St John the Baptist Church in the village of Tideswell has been christened the ‘Cathedral in the Peak’. Its elevated name is perhaps something of a misnomer, but the exquisite detail in the carved pews is truly awe-inspiring, depicting scenes of church life alongside mythical creatures and a nest of fledglings being fed by their mother.
In Bakewell, where tribal lands converged in the Middle Ages, you’ll find the entrance of All Saints’ Church stacked with carved masonry: sculpted creatures typical of the Mercians; vine scrolls from the Anglian Northumbrians; Celtic interlay from the Norse Vikings and weave patterns from the Danish Vikings – enough treasure to fill a small museum rather than a church porch. But go inside in the month of December and find a more recent cultural reference: the Victorian-inspired Christmas tree. Not just one but around a hundred, all twinkling with fairy-lights and imaginatively decorated. Join the Opening of the Trees on the 7th December or the closing carol service on the 17th – or call in anytime in between. Other Christmas Tree festivals are taking place at the Crooked Spire and St Thomas parishes in Chesterfield, Whaley Bridge and New Mills.
Hunkering Down in a Converted Barn or Cosy Cottage
When the pre-Christmas rush becomes too much, escape to the Peak District countryside for a weekend break (even if it’s only a handful of miles away) and take advantage of the cheaper rates. While baby Jesus had to go without comforts in a stable manger, Derbyshire’s converted barns are furnished with soft beds and log burners. Blakelow Farm Cottages, between Bonsall and Winster, offer luxurious but cosy barn conversions with names that ooze winter hygge: Chestnut, Candle, Cranberry and Christmas cottages. The owners even dress the cottages with Christmas decorations and tree from the beginning of December and provide their guests with mulled wine and mince pies on arrival. And while the wise men had to use the naked eye to search out the Star of Bethlehem, guests at Blakelow are helpfully provided with a telescope and star maps.
For the ultimate in fairy-tale hygge, you can rent the Tudor hunting tower at Chatsworth, or the picture-book Russian and Swiss cottages, set in meadow and woodland deep within the estate, the latter with its very own lake.