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A look ahead to the Christmas period in Winchcombe

Christmas past in Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair Robinson
Christmas past in Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair Robinson

In recent years, the delightful Gloucestershire town of Winchcombe has become famous for the rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite which crashed onto a local driveway. It may be the newest addition to Winchcombe’s small but compact Museum, but it is by far the oldest. This rare item offers scientists an alluring glimpse back through time to the solar system’s original composition 4.6-billion-years-ago.

It is mind-boggling and almost beyond comprehension. But whilst it is no doubt a tantalising and unique treasure, so too is the town that it happened to land on. And this month, a warm festive invitation has been given by Winchcombe to the rest of the Cotswolds to taste and see what it has to offer.

Great British Life: Christmas shopping in Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair RobinsonChristmas shopping in Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair Robinson

For numerous years the town has hosted a late-night Christmas shopping event on a Tuesday evening, but a newly formed group, Winchcombe Tourism and Retail Association (WTRA) has taken on the popular social occasion and turned it into a two-day celebration.

Winchcombe Christmas Festival will now take place on Friday, December 8, from 5pm until 8pm, and will extend its Christmas Market to an-all day event on Saturday, December 9, from 10am until 5pm. This will include a wonderful array of festive singing, performances and street entertainment to ensure the atmosphere of Christmas continues.

‘The idea was to make the most of it and make it more of a Christmas event which the whole town could benefit from,’ says Claire Johnstone, who owns JUSTinCASE, an independent shop selling books and gifts for all occasions. Claire is part of the WTRA committee which set up last year to help increase the footfall in the High Street.

Great British Life: Claire Johnstone, owner of JUSTinCASE. Photo: Tracy SpiersClaire Johnstone, owner of JUSTinCASE. Photo: Tracy Spiers

‘Friday evening will be packed with atmosphere,’ she adds. ‘The town is lit up with over 70 sparkling real Christmas trees which are put up each year above the shops. We are hoping to have a big one this year outside Winchcombe Museum too. Shopkeepers, pubs, cafe-owners, stallholders, and local people really get into the festive spirit of Christmas. This is a festival for all the family. I love it, it is so exciting to see so many people and soak in the atmosphere.’.

North Street will be closed on Friday night and all-day Saturday to make way for 40 market stalls laden with gifts and festive food. On Friday evening, Abbey Terrace car park will also be taken over by food trucks and vans as well as live music and other entertainment.

Great British Life: Christmas shopping on North Street, Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair RobinsonChristmas shopping on North Street, Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair Robinson

In charge of organising the entertainment for the two-day Christmas event are Sally and Austin Poll, who opened The Old Bakery, a coffee and wine bar, in March. It’s a 17th-century building which provides a warm and relaxed vibe for everyone whether they want a great coffee and home-made cake or a glass of wine and grazing board. It’s been a step of faith for them as they moved out of the education sector, but Sally says they have been made to feel so welcome.

‘I have not experienced a Christmas Festival before, but what I have heard it is vibrant and busy, so I am really excited. It was a lovely way to get involved and as my husband is a musician, we felt we could help with the entertainment,’ explains Sally, who hosts a games night on a Wednesday where locals participate in strategic board games and have lots of fun.

Great British Life: Happenstance Border Morris at Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair RobinsonHappenstance Border Morris at Winchcombe. Photo: Alastair Robinson

Entertainment for Winchcombe’s two-day Christmas event includes Winchcombe Abbey Primary School and Isbourne Valley School choirs, Morris dancers, Winchcombe Community Choir, Winchcombe Cheer Leading Group, a stilt walker, Cheltenham Ukulele Group, and other choirs, bands and soloists. Winchcombe Rotary Club has also organised for Santa to make an appearance in a special grotto on the Friday evening.

‘It is lovely to be part of this community and to be known by name as I go into town. To be here for Christmas is magical,’ adds Sally.

The Christmas Market in North Street continues Saturday with festive singers and street performances throughout the day. Organisers are hoping locals and visitors will take the opportunity to shop for some unique Christmas gifts with many, locally produced and unusual items on display across the 40 market stalls as well as Winchcombe’s very own independent shops and stop for a bite to eat in one of the town’s eateries.

Great British Life: Guy Warner at Swift Studio, Winchcombe. Photo: Tracy SpiersGuy Warner at Swift Studio, Winchcombe. Photo: Tracy Spiers

It's a year since I last spoke with Guy Warner, who set up Swift Studio in Bull Lane, selling the work of 25 talented independent creators across the UK as well as fairtrade, sustainably produced goods from overseas. He has now extended his business and has moved to the High Street, into the former Archway Barn, under the name of Swift Art & Design.

‘I am keeping Swift Studio, but that will be my space,’ says Guy, who is also part of WTRA. ‘My back room was meant to be a painting room and it became the stock room, so now I will have the extra space to be able to do some local paintings. Taking the shop to the High Street will give opportunity for artists’ work to have more visibility.

‘The new Christmas event is quite exciting. This year we have had a lot more visitors come from all over the world. It does feel that there is a return to the freedom we had before the pandemic and that confidence is back now. That is what we are hoping to tap into with this event.’

‘To have it on a weekend and include the Saturday daytime means people coming here will be able to see more of Winchcombe and all it has to offer. They will be able to see the architecture and the views between the buildings which show the wonderful surrounding countryside,’ adds Guy.

Great British Life: Winchcombe Museum. Photo: Tracy SpiersWinchcombe Museum. Photo: Tracy Spiers

Winchcombe’s treasures

Winchcombe has so much to offer. On my recent trip, I took time to explore some of that countryside and embarked on the Riverside Path by following the Isbourne Way signs. It is only a mile circular route, but it is a suitable walk all year round and gives a different perspective of Winchcombe. There is also the delightful gem that is Winchcombe Museum, lovingly cared for and attended by curator Anne Crow and her team of volunteers. It has in recent years been given a new brighter look and visitors can learn about the town’s story in chronological order as they walk round. The Museum, which celebrates its centenary in 2028, is open every weekend, so it is worth a visit on the colder festive days. I am privileged to receive my own private tour and enjoy seeing the Winchcombe Meteorite, artefacts from Postlip Paper Mill, including a hand-made 19th-century dandy roll, designed to imprint the water mark on huge sheets of blotting paper; a pair of 15th-century maces, unusual in the fact Winchcombe is one of only three towns in the country to have more than one; and stones from the original Winchcombe Abbey site. In the past I have written about Christopher Merrett, who recorded how the fizz was put into sparkling wine, however I had not appreciated that he was also the first to write that fossils were not just funny shaped stones but were once alive.

Great British Life: Tracy with the Winchcombe Meteorite. Photo: Tracy SpiersTracy with the Winchcombe Meteorite. Photo: Tracy Spiers

But there is also Winchcombe Pottery in nearby Greet, which was established in 1926; the railway station where many primary school children get the chance to be WW2 evacuees for the day, and the quirky landmarks to look out for including the town’s stocks and grotesques which line St Peter’s Church.

Winchcombe Station of course becomes the North Pole at this time of year for the popular Santa Express, which runs until December 23. The steam train journey begins from Cheltenham Racecourse Station, and on arriving at the North Pole, travellers can walk through a wonderland of lights, trees, and decorations and on to where Santa will be waiting to talk to all the children.

Great British Life: The Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light. Photo: Paul NichollsThe Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light. Photo: Paul Nicholls

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

To add to Winchcombe’s Christmas, the grounds of the town’s famous attraction, Sudeley Castle will be illuminated with the ever-popular Spectacle of Light from November 24 until December 30.

This year’s theme is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which will take visitors on a magical moonlit journey following the characters Dorothy, Toto, the Lion, Scarecrow and Tinman, as they try to find the Emerald City without encountering the Wicked Witch. Armed with mulled wine or hot chocolate, visitors can weave their way around the impressive grounds guided by thousands of beautiful lights illuminating the majestic trees, historic ruins, and the magnificent castle.

‘This year’s illuminated light trail is inspired by the magic and memories of the classic tale The Wizard of Oz,’ says Nic Beeby, founder of Spectacle of Light. ‘Follow us into the illuminated world of Oz and down the yellow brick road, to meet well known characters along the trail, all set within the majestic grounds of one of the UK’s most atmospheric castles.’

With so much on offer to make Christmas an extra special event, the invitation is multi-layered. But most of all the wish from the amazing mix of independent traders here is simply this: come and experience Winchcombe in all its fullness.

Great British Life: Sarah Newsham and artist Georgia Pritchard from The Tipsy Egg. Photo: Tracy SpiersSarah Newsham and artist Georgia Pritchard from The Tipsy Egg. Photo: Tracy Spiers

Miranda Clark owns The Tipsy Egg, an independent café in Hailes Street, where everything is created using locally sourced produce.

‘Everyone is lovely and friendly, and it is the most beautiful place to live and work. We are looking forward to spending our first Christmas here and will be hosting a festive Sunday lunch on December 10.’

Sarah Newsham who works for Miranda grew up in Winchcombe.

‘It’s such a lovely place to come back to, there are so many lovely memories, and it hasn’t changed much. The Christmas markets are fabulous, and it is so great that it is now going to take place on two days instead of one,’ says Sarah.

Her colleague Georgia Pritchard, is also a local artist who creates stunning mixed media collage compositions of various Cotswold scenes, including Winchcombe, which can be seen displayed in the café.

Great British Life: Daniel Nixon of Cotswold Fine Rugs, Winchcombe. Photo: Tracy SpiersDaniel Nixon of Cotswold Fine Rugs, Winchcombe. Photo: Tracy Spiers

Daniel Nixon opened Cotswold Fine Rugs in Abbey House, in Winchcombe High Street two years ago, although the family-run business was started by his grandfather almost four decades ago.

‘Since then, we have gone from strength to strength buying from the same families out in Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey that he made friends with during his tours,’ explains Daniel. ‘We deal in hand-knotted carpets and rugs only, knotted with the finest wools and silks from around the world.’

Whilst his brother and mother run the family warehouse in Durham, Daniel, and his wife, who is local to Winchcombe, moved to the town to be near her parents.

‘What makes Winchcombe special is the people themselves. They are fantastic. What attracted me to the shop was the amount of different people who come through the town. They come from all over. The town is an all-rounder; it is fantastic,’ he adds.

‘My Christmas wish for Winchcombe would be that more people come to visit, because it is a little gem in the Cotswolds that not everybody seems to realise is here. There is a lot to see in Winchcombe, the shops are fantastic, the castle is amazing, and the walks are fabulous. We get a lot of traffic through, and people often park up and walk around, but it would be great if more take advantage of what is here.’

So, dear readers, if you have yet to experience Winchcombe or indeed a Winchcombe Christmas, now is the chance to either book a trip to the North Pole, wander along the yellow brick road at Sudeley Castle or join in all the fun on Friday, December 8 and Saturday, December 9, to really taste and see what this special Cotswold gem is all about.

facebook.com/winchcombechristmasfestival

To book Spectacle of Lights tickets: everymantheatre.org.uk/sudeley

gwsr.com/events/santa-express



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