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Christmas Crackers

Castle Howard opens its doors at Christmas for the first time in 2006. The palatial stately home near the North Yorkshire Moors will be resplendent with traditional family decorations and roaring log fires in the Great Hall.

Castle Howard opens its doors at Christmas for the first time in 2006. The palatial stately home near the North Yorkshire Moors will be resplendent with traditional family decorations and roaring log fires in the Great Hall. High-quality estate produce will be on sale at the award-winning farm shop.
Other grand houses open during the run-up to Christmas include Blenheim Palace (Wed-Sun November 12-December 11), where the staterooms will be decorated with garlands, ribbons and baubles. Leeds Castle (December 10-24) will be decked with hundreds of candles for group Turkey and Tinsel lunches and candlelit tours. Chatsworth House celebrates the Twelve Days of Christmas in each of the dozen rooms open to the public from November 4 to December 23. Children can meet some live nativity animals and make decorations in the Craft Cottage. Crafts, gifts and seasonal produce will be on sale in its shops.
Hampton Court Palace, by the Thames near Richmond, makes a suitably lavish backdrop for Christmas entertainment. Expect traditional Tudor music and poetry every weekend from October until December 26th, and cookery demonstrations in the huge Tudor kitchens. From December 2nd until mid-January the Hampton Court ice rink offers skaters a memorable time by the great West Front.
Another of London’s historic royal palaces, the Tower of London, also provides an ice rink this winter (November 25-January 14). Alternatively, visitors can experience a taste of royal pageantry as knights and ladies re-enact typical courtly entertainments enjoyed by medieval kings and queens (October 1-December 26). Between 27 and 31 December, you can step back in time to 1284 and the court of Edward I. On a more grisly note, don’t miss the new memorial to the execution site at Tower Green, due to be unveiled on September 4th.
The city of Bath plans its sixth Christmas Market in characteristically festive style this year. Scheduled to run from November 30th until December 10th, it will be held in the heart of the World Heritage city next to the medieval abbey and the Roman Baths. Over 100 German-style wooden chalet stalls festooned with seasonal greenery promise hand-crafted toys, decorations, gifts and no shortage of mulled wine, mince pies and roast chestnuts. Street entertainers, carol singers and strolling players will add to the atmosphere.
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market has been a regular fixture of the festive season for the last four years. The tradition continues in 2006 with more than 50 stalls in Victoria Square and the upper section of New Street. This is the largest Christmas market outside Germany or Austria. Handmade gifts (candles, clocks, toys, decorations, jewellery etc) accompany traditional German specialities such as mulled wine, sausages and gingerbread.
Meanwhile, the industrial heritage town of Ironbridge is spicing its festivities with a more home-grown Victorian theme. While Dickensian characters and town criers mingle with visitors, the shops of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums will be packed with ideas for filling stockings, many based on traditional local products.
Bury St Edmunds plans a Victorian-style Christmas Fayre in early December, a legacy of the traditional country fairs that have been held in this town since the Middle Ages. Typical Suffolk produce will be on sale at local stalls and shops.
The Drawing Room, a five-star, two-rosette restaurant-with-rooms near Builth Wells in mid-Wales, offers an exclusive gourmet three-day break for just six guests this Christmas, combining top-class cooking with sumptuous country-house accommodation. Guests arrive on Christmas Eve in time for a fireside afternoon tea of  bara brith  (Welsh fruit loaf). Christmas Day features a champagne reception and a splendid lunch, while Boxing Day includes brunch and a seafood evening meal. Guests will dine at the Chef’s Table in house-party style. Scenic surroundings include the Cambrian and Black Mountains and the secluded Elan Valley, where red kites soar overhead. The historic towns of Brecon, Rhayader, Llandrindod Wells and Hay-on-Wye are all within easy reach.
The gardens of Muncaster Castle in Cumbria take on an unexpected new dimension on December weekends and throughout Christmas week in 2006. Lighting, music and exotic special effects will transform these world-renowned gardens into a winter wonderland. The café will be open throughout every ‘Darkest Muncaster’ experience. Visitors are recommended to wrap up well and bring a torch.

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