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Christmas in the peak - festive treats in store in the county's town & villages

PUBLISHED: 00:16 24 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:19 20 February 2013

Christmas in the peak - festive treats in store in the county's town & villages

Christmas in the peak - festive treats in store in the county's town & villages

Mike Smith finds out what's on offer for festive revellers in the Peak District

With its glorious scenery, spectacular show caves, great country houses, picturesque towns and villages and numerous visitor attractions, the Peak District is a magical place at all times of the year, but it becomes especially enchanting during the Christmas season. Almost as if a magic wand has been waved over the whole area, great houses are transformed into glittering fairytale palaces, show caves are converted into candlelit concert halls echoing to the sound of carols, shops are made into treasure chests packed with festive gifts, and the streets of towns and villages are festooned with bright ribbons of electric lights studded with illuminated Christmas trees.



A COUNTRY HOUSE CHRISTMAS


In 1848, people were captivated by a picture in the Illustrated London News of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their five children gathered around a Christmas tree which had been erected in Windsor Castle and brightly decorated according to a tradition that the Prince had brought from Germany. From the time when that illustration appeared, people throughout the land have been celebrating Christmas by erecting decorated trees in their own homes, and ever since the stately homes of England were thrown open to the public, they have also been able to experience the special magic of Christmas decorations on display in a grand country house, which was first captured in that famous picture.


The Peak District offers unrivalled opportunities for visiting stately homes at Christmas. This year, the lower floors of Chatsworth House will be decked with displays that take their inspiration from Christmas carols. In addition to daily opportunities for viewing the decorations, there will be three gourmet evenings, comprising a champagne reception in the fabulous Painted Hall followed by a tour of the decorated rooms and a four-course dinner with wine to suit each course. Five other opportunities for twilight viewings will include an optional dinner in the Cavendish Rooms. Chatsworth is also hosting its popular Christmas markets and putting on two floral workshops when visitors will be shown how to design a festive table-centre and a very special spiced topiary tree.


Lord Edward Manners will be opening the doors of his stately home
for viewings of traditional decorations and Christmas lights at Haddon Hall.


Open fires will add their own glow to the medieval rooms, and carols and Tudor music performed by local choirs and musicians will set a festive tone.


Christmas at Eyam Hall will include the ringing of hand bells and the singing of carols in the hall, together with a wide choice of seasonal gifts in the shop and the craft workshops in the historic farmyard.


Lyme Hall is staging a Beatrix Potter exhibition, which includes manuscripts of A Christmas Tale and The Tailor of Gloucester, plus a selection of paintings from the authors home in the Lake District. There will be lots of activities for children, including dressing-up and story-telling, and Father Christmas will be paying several visits.



FATHER CHRISTMAS IN HIS GROTTO


As well as paying three visits to Lyme Hall, Father Christmas will be spending time in his grotto in Pooles Cavern, the spectacular show cave on the outskirts of Buxton, and at his grotto in the Chestnut Centre, near Chapel-en-le-Frith, where he will be assisted by animal helpers from the wildlife park, which will be open for visitors to see 16 different species of owls and one of Europes biggest collection of otters, including the UKs only giant otter cubs.


Many children will have met Father Christmas during ceremonies held in late November to coincide with the switching-on of the Christmas lights in their town or village. There are extensive illuminations in Ashbourne, Bakewell, Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Eyam, Glossop, Great Hucklow, Matlock, New Mills, Whaley Bridge and, most famously, in Castleton, which has a spectacular display of more than 40 illuminated Christmas trees along streets flanked by gift shops with late-night openings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in December. Of course, all the towns and villages of the Peak which are decorated with Christmas lights and trees draw people to the wide range of gifts and festive foods in their shops.


Some discerning shoppers will be attracted to the antique and collectors fairs held in Bakewell throughout December, while others will take out-of-town trips to great venues such as
the Peak District Craft Centre at Calver, Eyam Craft Centre, the
various garden centres in the Peak,
the Bookstore at Brierlow Bar and the Riding School, Farm Shop and Garden Centre at Chatsworth. With a list like this, no one who visits the Peak need
be short of inspiration for that special
Christmas gift.



A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS


The tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas was popularized in the novels of Charles Dickens and many other Christmas customs have their origin in the Victorian period. It was the Victorians who revived the singing of Christmas carols by unearthing many long-forgotten carols and by composing new ones. They also started the practice of singing carols in the caves of Castleton, a tradition that continues to this day with Carols by Candlelight at Treak Cliff Cavern on seven separate occasions in December and carol singing accompanied by a brass band in Peak Cavern on five dates over the Christmas period.


Matlock is staging a Victorian Christmas during the first weekend in December, when there will be a Victorian Christmas Market, live entertainment, craft stalls, fireworks, Santas grotto and the switching-on of the lights.


Another nice Victorian touch will be provided in Ashbourne, where there will be ice-skating on an improvised ice rink in the Civic Square on 9th, 10th and 11th December. The shops in Ashbourne will be open for Sunday shopping in the weeks leading up to Christmas and for late-night shopping on the 9th December, when there will be a nativity procession through the town and a Festive Fun Night. On Christmas Eve, carols will be sung around the Christmas tree on the Market Place.


Thanks to the conversion of the Paxton Suite into the Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxtons Victorian pavilion will be the venue for a great deal of festive entertainment, including The Night Before Christmas by the Big Wooden Horse Theatre Company, The Twelve Days of Christmas performed by Distraction, The Magic Piper by the Pavilions own Junior Theatre Company, A Christmas Carol narrated by magical story-teller Mike Moran, and a rendition of the Christmas hits of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra by the West End Singers.



PANTO IN THE PEAK AND MUCH MORE


While the Pavilion Arts Centre stages its succession of Christmas offerings, the nearby Opera House will be presenting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with Kate Anthony from Coronation Street as Wicked Queen Belladonna, Ben Faulks from CBeebies as Muddles and Olivia Sloyan from Blood Brothers as Snow White. The Buxton Pantomime runs from 10th December until 1st January, but most other pantomimes in the Peak are staged in January. These include Cinderella at the Partington Theatre in Glossop and Aladdin, which is being presented at both Chapel-en-le-Frith Playhouse and New Mills Arts Theatre.


Wurlitzer organs are no longer a feature in any of these theatres, but their distinctive sound can be heard at the Dovedale Car Showroom on 4th and 18th December, when Christian Cartwright will be playing popular Christmas tunes and other music on the mighty Compton cinema organ. The long tradition of choral singing
has certainly not died out in the Peak, as proved by performances this Christmas by the Derbyshire Singers, the Kinder Childrens Choirs and choirs from Baslow, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Tideswell. All in all, Christmas in the Peak promises to be as magical as ever.

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