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Travel Great Britain for a Medieval Christmas

by Bob Barton

Flakes of snow float past an old English medieval castle or cathedral...Christmas trees and colourful lights everywhere; roast chestnuts and mulled wine being enjoyed...

Each year there seems to be another historic location added to the annual roll-call of places celebrating in Christmas marketstyle: Lincoln, York, Edinburgh, Durham, Bath, Portsmouth and Swansea to name a few. They all offer opportunities for Christmas shopping in historic settings, with plenty of merry-making into the bargain!

These are not only good opportunities to buy gifts but also a chance to enjoy British Yuletide festivities and traditions. Cathedrals, abbeys, castles – even renowned battleships – are the backdrops, and many people dress in period costume.

One of the best-known events is in Lincoln, this year holding its 22nd Christmas Market (December 4-7) which claims to be Europe’s biggest (Dec. 4 is evening only). Held in a cobbled square overlooked by its floodlit 12th century cathedral, more than 300 stalls offer a variety of gifts and produce.

Durham in north-east England, whose Norman castle and cathedral, perched high on their rocky crags, are a World Heritage Site, will hold its Christmas Festival from Dec. 6-7. The market and entertainment take place in a cobbled square; there will also be a craft and gift marquee and roving musicians. Also in the north, medieval York has its St. Nicholas Fayre (Nov. 27-30) which has a magical atmosphere. An array of markets selling local produce within walking distance of the city’s many museums, theatres, cafes, pubs and shops.

In the elegant Georgian city of Bath, the Christmas Market has an increased number of stall-holders this year and runs for ten days from Nov. 27 – Dec. 30. More than 80 wooden chalet stalls will offer their wares and the market site, bordered by Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, will be festooned with lights: carol singers and strolling players will add to the atmosphere.

In the Scottish capital Edinburgh, Princes Street Gardens – with its magnificent castle backdrop – is setting for a German-style Christmas market, ice-rink, big wheel and carousel. It’s part of a month of events called Edinburgh’s Capital Christmas (Nov. 27 – Jan. 4) which also includes a “Santa Extravaganza” (Dec. 7) in Festival Square. The city also spreads its New Year celebrations over four days and nights, with at least one big free event daily: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay runs from Dec. 29 – Jan. 4.

There's also a chance to soak up the flavour of the country’s maritime past at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on the South Coast, staging its Festival of Christmas from Nov. 27-30. There is an admission charge (£7.20 adults, £3.60 children) which includes entry to historic vessels such as Mary Rose and HMS Victory; the Royal Naval Museum and Action Stations, the modern navy interactive showcase -- as well as a large indoor market, historical re-enactments and entertainment from musicians and entertainers.

Or you can sample rural delights amid the bustle of the capital city when London’s Kew Gardens is transformed into a magical world of lights, music and family entertainment. The event (Nov.29 - Jan.4) includes late-night opening, shopping, live music, guided walks and more.

The South Wales city of Swansea (best known as birthplace of actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and poet Dylan Thomas) has its Victorian Christmas street market in December. It’s one element of a month of seasonal celebrations which also includes a Welsh food fair and concerts.

For more events and city information during the holidays - or througout the year - check out VisitBritain.


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