Christmas in the Peak District

Church Brow, Chapel-en-le-Frith

Church Brow, Chapel-en-le-Frith - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith looks forward to a bright (and possibly white) Christmas in the Peak District

The White Peak at Christmas

The White Peak at Christmas - Credit: Archant

As if transformed by the waving of a magic wand, the Peak District becomes an enchanting land at Christmastime. Towns and villages throughout the area are festooned with ribbons of electric lights and illuminated Christmas trees; shops and craft centres become treasure chests packed with all manner of Christmas gifts and novelties; show caves become candlelit venues for carol concerts; theatres put on pantomimes that transport children into a land of make-believe; and imaginative displays convert the region’s great country houses into glittering fairytale palaces.

The landscape of the Peak also undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis at this time of year, particularly when there is a covering of snow. Colourful scenes composed of light-grey enclosure walls and pastel-green fields are suddenly changed into black-and-white ‘negatives’, with the walls becoming dark threads that weave a complex pattern on fields overlaid by a vast white quilt of snow. And the highest hills of the Dark Peak become Arctic wildernesses, beautiful to admire from the valleys below but prohibitive to trespassing for all but the foolhardy.

Heavy snowfalls have often caused disruption to transport and considerable hardship for the farming community, but photographers and artists working in the Peak District have always been keen to depict the dramatic changes that snowfalls often bring to the texture of the man-made and natural environment. When sturdy buildings fashioned in local stone are made soft in appearance after a heavy fall of snow, as if they have been wrapped in a layer of cotton-wool. Drystone enclosure walls become pock-marked by snow that has blown into the gaps between the stones and the natural contours of the landscape are re-shaped by drifting snow.

Richard Holland is a Peak District artist who passes on tips for depicting snow to the students who attend his private art classes and to those who participate in the oil painting and watercolour workshops he runs for beginners at the ‘In The Flow’ art shop in Matlock and at the Snelston Reading Room, Ashbourne. His own favourite venues for snowy scenes are the country lanes around Tansley and Bonsall.

Castleton at Christmas

Castleton at Christmas - Credit: Archant

Many of Richard’s winter scenes feature in the extensive portfolio of landscape pictures that he has built up since he gave up his job as a teacher of Information Technology at West Nottinghamshire College in order to become a full-time artist and teacher of art. Richard first began painting watercolours when he was in his early twenties, but developed his skills further under the guidance of Liz Wood at the Patchings Art Centre at Calverton in Nottinghamshire. He has recently obtained a degree in Art History and he has become one of the featured artists at the Ridgeway Gallery in Bakewell.

Even if Christmas in the Peak District fails to be ‘white’ this year, it will certainly be bright, because many of the towns and villages in the area will be decorated with extensive displays of Christmas illuminations. And children will have lots of chances to meet Father Christmas at the various ceremonies held throughout the Peak District to coincide with the switching-on of the Christmas lights.

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Illuminations are not simply confined to the larger towns. Illuminated trees in the little village of Great Hucklow always attract visitors during the Christmas period and the streets of Chapel-en-le-Frith become ribbons of light when all the owners of shops, restaurants, pubs and business premises in the town erect their wall-mounted Christmas trees decorated with white lights.

As always, the village of Castleton will be decorated along its full length by pavement-mounted illuminated Christmas trees, and the nave of St Edmund’s Church in Castleton will have its own dazzling display of Christmas trees, sponsored by many organisations.

'Tansley in the Snow' by Richard Holland

'Tansley in the Snow' by Richard Holland - Credit: Archant

The Castleton lights switch-on was carried out this year by Steve Nallon, who is playing Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk at Buxton Opera House (11th December to 3rd January). The theatre is maintaining a much-loved pantomime tradition that is also being kept alive at the other side of the Peak District by the Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield, which is staging Cinderella from 5th December to 4th January.

Not to be outshone by above-ground displays, Castleton’s show caves are putting on their own festive events. Treak Cliff Cavern is the atmospheric venue for the ever-popular Carols by Candlelight, which takes place at 2pm on three weekends in December from 7th to 22nd. And Peak Cavern will be hosting Christmas Carol Concerts on the 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th of December, featuring brass bands from Castleton, Hathersage, Dronfield and Tintwistle.

Brass Bands will also be playing Christmas carols at the Christmas Winter Wonderland weekend at Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens on 6th and 7th December. More than 70 stalls will be selling local food, arts, crafts and a range of unique Christmas gifts. Children will be able to enjoy Santa’s Grotto, donkey rides and train rides.

Lord Edward Manners will be opening the doors of his magical home at Haddon between 6th and 17th December. The rooms of the best preserved medieval manor house in England will glow with traditional decorations and lights. There will be open fires, Tudor music and the very best of festive hospitality. Lord Edward is promising that the ‘atmosphere will be enchanting’.

Enchantment will also be found at Chatsworth House between 8th November and 4th January, when the lower floors of the magnificent house are being transformed into a fairytale journey that follows Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Visitors will experience the illusion of tumbling down a rabbit hole in the North Entrance Hall and then move on from room to room, with classic scenes from Lewis Carroll’s story being brought to life through encounters with the peculiar creatures that Alice met on her journey. And the Painted Hall will be the most wonderful venue that could ever be imagined for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

With its imaginatively-decorated country houses, brightly-lit towns and villages, atmospheric caverns and festive events, the Peak District will become a magical winter wonderland throughout the Christmas period. And there might even be a covering of snow to add yet more magic!

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