The festival of trees in Castleton, Great Hucklow and Chapel-en-le-Frith
PUBLISHED: 09:50 27 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:00 27 November 2018
During the Christmas season many towns and villages throughout the Peak District mount inviting displays of Christmas lights. They include Castleton, Great Hucklow and Chapel-en-le-Frith, which feature spectacular displays of brightly-illuminated Christmas trees, creating a fabulous three-centre ‘festival of trees’ that seems particularly fitting for an area that once was at the heart of the Royal Forest of the Peak.
One of the most dazzling displays takes place in Castleton, where the main street runs along a chicane, with every bend revealing a new vista of a road squeezed between rows of brightly-lit Christmas trees. Shop windows carry stunning displays of Christmas gifts and the windows of public houses and cafés reveal enticing glimpses of warming fires and cosy snugs.
The magical village-wide display of illuminated trees is organised by the Castleton Chamber of Trade, with the lead being taken this year by Claire Roberts of the Ramblers Rest guest house and coffee shop. Explaining why she took on the considerable task of organising an event that lures over 20,000 visitors to the village during the Christmas season, Claire said, ‘Because the coordination of the display and the events associated with it are so time-consuming, there was a danger that the festivities might not take place this year. Having such fond memories from my childhood of Christmastime in the village, I was determined that this should not be allowed to happen.’
Thanks to that determination, 75 illuminated Christmas trees are scheduled to take up position in the streets this year. Revealing some of the details of the switching-on ceremony on 17th November, Claire said, ‘Members of High Peak Radio will open the event, which will include a procession led by the Castleton Silver Band and Father Christmas, who will be carried on a sleigh towed by a vintage tractor. There will also be dancing by pupils from Hope Valley College.’
On a number of days during the Christmas period, children visiting the village will be able to visit Santa’s Grotto and visitors will have opportunities for late-night shopping. During the three weekends leading up to Christmas, underground carol concerts, accompanied by bands from various Derbyshire villages, will be held in the vast chamber of Peak Cavern and ‘Carols by Candlelight’, a series of underground singalong events, will take place on the same three weekends in Treak Cliff Cavern.
And the stunning displays of illuminated Christmas trees will not be limited to the streets of the village. Between 17th November and 16th December, the end of every pew in St Edmund’s Church will contain a brightly-lit Christmas tree. Thanks to the efforts of Linda Wilson and her team of helpers from the Friends of St Edmund’s Church, the display will consist of at least 55 trees decorated in imaginative ways by local organisations, businesses, voluntary groups and schools. One of the highlights of last year’s display was a tree decorated with pieces of Blue John, the mineral uniquely found below hills immediately west of the village. The tree was called Peter’s Tree in recognition of Peter Harrison’s 40 years as a churchwarden and his family’s connection with the cavern.
Not to be outdone by the larger village of Castleton, the residents of the little settlement of Great Hucklow have been staging their own ambitious annual festival of illuminated Christmas trees ever since 1987. Organised by a voluntary organisation with the apt name of ‘Community Spirit’, the display entails virtually every building in the village being fronted by a large, brightly illuminated Christmas tree, with the addition of further trees on the village green.
According to tradition, the top of each tree in the village is marked by a red light.
Not content with turning the picturesque main street of Great Hucklow into a dazzling ribbon of light, the group also arranges for two illuminated trees to be placed in each of the neighbouring villages of Grindlow, Windmill and Little Hucklow. The bright lights of the trees contrast with the dazzle that often emanates from stellar displays in the dark skies above the plateau where the villages are located.
Explaining how the Christmas display is funded, John Hilton, the Chair of Community Spirit, said: ‘We use proceeds from a 100 Club and from an August Gala Day. We even manage to make donations each year to various charities, which have included Derbyshire Air Ambulance, Edale Mountain Rescue and ‘Send a Child to Hucklow’, a charity that provides holidays in the Peak District for inner city children.
When the villagers gather on the village green alongside Father Christmas for the switching on of the lights on the first Saturday in December, they can enjoy their mulled wine and mince pies and feel proud that their community effort not only raises the profile of their village but also supports worthwhile charities.
Chapel-en-le-Frith’s version of a Christmas festival of trees differs from those in Castleton and Great Hucklow. Rather than being mounted on pavements, the illuminated Christmas trees on display throughout the town during the festive season are mounted on brackets which are permanent fixtures on the walls of Chapel’s shops, restaurants, cafés and other businesses.
Joyce Hall, who heads the town’s Business Organisation, says: ‘We will have 80 illuminated Christmas trees on show in the town and, as usual, we will give the display a sense of unity by ensuring that all the bulbs are white. Our organisation is also responsible for the large Christmas tree on the forecourt of the Methodist Church at Town End, where the ceremony for the launch of the Christmas lights (on 23rd November this year) begins.’
After the Carnival Queen has switched on the lights of the tree and Revd Kerry Tankard of Town End Methodist Church and Revd Colin Pearson of St Thomas Becket Church have led a short outdoor carol service, a procession sets off along Market Street towards the Market Place, where the Parish Council has erected another large tree. Residents who have gathered for the ceremony at Town End join the procession, which is headed by the Carnival Queen and her retinue of attendants, the Town Band and members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades.
A second carol service takes place in front of the Christmas tree on the Market Place, whose lights are switched on by the Carnival Queen at the invitation of the Chair of the Parish Council. After the ceremony, the large crowd that is certain to have gathered, whatever the weather, will be served punch and mince pies, whilst youngsters will be able to enjoy the fairground rides provided for the occasion.
In recent years, there has also been a display of Christmas trees in St Thomas Becket’s Church similar to that in Castleton’s church, but this year the church is being decorated throughout the first week in December with Christmas Angels made by local craftspeople to promote local enterprises, organisations and groups. The church will also host a Craft Fayre on the first Saturday of December.
Yet another festive display in the town is the fantastic annual display of Christmas lights in the rooms of the Hanging Gate pub and restaurant. Last year, an incredible 1,700 lengths of garland, 7,000 baubles and 35,000 lights were used to make up the display – a further illustration that there are no half measures when Christmas displays are mounted in the High Peak towns of Castleton, Great Hucklow and Chapel-en-le-Frith.