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January 28, 2017

Dunster by Candlelight on a winter’s eve in Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight - medieval village in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor

The giant stag, carried aloft on strong shoulders, glows an unearthly white. Cowled figures carrying candles walk silently past. Lords and ladies dressed in rich flowing garb stride proudly past. Children carrying lanterns are shepherded down along the road. A musician plays a tin whistle as the procession wends its way past hundreds of people lining the streets of the medieval Dunster. Every shop is brightly lit and there’s a carnival atmosphere, mixed with a sense of awe.  It’s the 30th anniversary of Dunster by Candlelight, a weekend of festivities and general merry-making that attracts visitors from around the UK and overseas.

Dunster at night Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Dunster at night

Dunster is in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor National Park in south west England. The village developed over the centuries around Dunster Castle which dates back to the 11th c. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the castle was in the Luttrell family for hundreds of years; it’s now owned by the National Trust. The wool and cloth trade brought wealth to the area and the octagonal 17th c Yarn Market still stands in the heart of the village. Nowadays, Dunster is famous for being one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England. I’d never been before, so to see it during the Dunster by Candlelight festival was a real treat.

Dunster by Candlelight town and Castle Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight

Buses shuttle visitors from nearby towns; I got on at seaside resort Minehead overlooking the Bristol Channel. I follow the procession from its starting point at Dunster Steep near the car park.  Villagers dress up as nobility and peasants, carrying racks of candles in jars or playing instruments. Two stilt walkers tower over us, one dressed as the devil with very realistic horns. We wend our way along the High Street past the Yarn Market towards the castle, lording it over us on a hill above the village. Turning off along Church Street we pass St George’s Church, where a choir sings Christmas carols. In a walled garden a man wielding a chain-saw is carving an eagle out of a tree trunk.

Dunster Wood Cutter

Along West Street we are entertained by a band of energetic drummers and candlelit Fire Spinners twirling and swirling. Collecting boxes are shaken and filled by generous onlookers. ‘The heart of Candlelight focuses on raising funds for St Margaret’s Hospice, which provides so much comfort for those who so need it’, writes Chairman Andy Fay in the excellent Dunster by Candlelight programme leaflet. Father Christmas waves as we walk by.

Dunster Father Christmas

The procession ends at the 17th c Water Mill, where the miller is milling by candlelight. The mill still produces flour and has a popular Tea Room. The stag is gently removed from its plinth and the racks of candles are laid down. There’s a general air of merriment and relief. The following eve, Saturday, the villagers will be doing it all again, but for now they can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening’s events.

Dunster Castle

I make my way up to Dunster Castle, focal point for the village, brightly lit and enticing with the smell of BBQ sausages and burgers. The Stables have been converted into a Christmas Market, selling local food and drink and handmade gifts. People jostle each other to get a better look at the tasty treats on sale. I’m tempted by tiny Christmas Cakes, some very moreish-looking frosted baeks and jars of home-made preserves. I finally choose chocolate dogs and a bottle of Spiced Somerset Chaider.

Dunster Castle Christmas Market products

Inside the castle the Quantock Musical Theatre Choir is entertaining an appreciative audience in the Drawing Room. In each of the ground floor rooms an enormous Christmas Tree, beautifully decorated, adds a festive note to its historic contents. It feels as if the Luttrell family have invited us in to help them celebrate a very special Victorian Christmas.

Dunster Castle Christmas Exmoor

Back in the town I head off to the old Tithe Barn, where a man with a python round his neck is scaring and enthralling the audience in equal measure. Beside the path I find Ian Mabbutt and Seb Jay with a large telescope pointed up into the winter sky. Ian runs West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages, where I am staying whilst in Exmoor. Seb, a noted astronomer, runs Dark Sky Telescope Hire. “Exmoor is a great place for stargazing; it’s Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Once you get out of the populated areas, the stars take your breath away.”  Later that evening, back at West Withy Farm, Seb gives a master class in the skies above us.

Dunster Christmas Bauble

Dunster Christmas Shop lures me in with its charming display. Among the Santas, bells, elves and snowmen I see a pretty bauble with a hand-painted scene of Dunster; perfect souvenir of my visit. (More on the Dunster Christmas Bauble here.) In the street outside a man with a marked resemblance to Harpo Marx is playing a piano whilst another man juggles fire and plays a harmonica on top of it. The audience are laughing delightedly at their antics; it sums up the joyful spirit you find at Dunster by Candlelight. One day I will return to see Dunster by Daylight …

Dunster by Candlelight street artists - Exmoor - photo zoe dawes

Many thanks to Visit Exmoor for hosting my weekend, and to Ian and Lorena of West Withy Farm for their warm welcome, hospitality and invaluable advice on what to see in this beautiful area in south west England.

Read more: A winter weekend in Exmoor

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Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - Pinterest

November 11, 2016

See Lancaster in a brilliant new light

“I really like being a part of the #LightupLancaster Festival because of its accessible scale, its friendly atmosphere and the way Lancaster lends itself to a variety of settings for the events and installations. The whole city comes out to enjoy it.” Renowned artist Steve Messam was explaining what he enjoyed about exhibiting his unique artwork, ‘When the Red Rose – in Lancaster’. We were standing beneath a collection of bright red balloons of various sizes, some of which had lights bobbing around inside them. Rain gently pattered onto the brilliant globes, “It’s a lovely sound, isn’t it? Working with balloons is about colour and size. It’s visual and about the sound too. They make people happy.”

when-the-red-rose-lancaster-steve-messam

Steve Messam

For the past three years, Light Up Lancaster Festival, part of the Light up the North Consortium, has been brightening up the city over the November 5th Bonfire Night weekend. Local and international artists put on lively street performances and virtually every corner of the city has some quirky artwork or show to illuminate the evening. This year’s was bigger and, of course, better than ever.

Light up Lancaster 2016 programme

Light up Lancaster 2016 programme

A couple of weeks’ earlier, I’d been to the LightPool Festival in Blackpool, where Steve had created a very different version of When the Red Rose, this time encasing one of the Victorian shelters on the promenade in one huge balloon. I live just 10 minutes away from Lancaster but had never been to Light up Lancaster so I was really excited to see what it was all about. It was fascinating to watch Steve and his team putting up the balloons in the ‘Secret Garden’ at the back of the Storey Institute. They inflated them indoors then brought them outside and attached them to a large metal frame. It took a long time to get it all in place but by the time the festival officially started as dusk fell, When the Red Rose – in Lancaster’ was ready for its audience.

Assembling 'When the Red Rose' Lancaster - collage zoedawes

Assembling ‘When the Red Rose’

Meeting up with a couple of friends, we then spent about four hours wandering round the city, finding laughter, light and colour everywhere we went. My favourite was Lock and Key at Lancaster Castle. It was a magical Son et Lumiere show projected onto the imposing crenelated walls of what used to be one of HM’s prisons, with pumped up music and audience participation. The castle is Lancaster’s biggest visitor attraction and the ideal place for such a dynamic show.

Lock and Key - Light up Lancaster Castle - photo zoedawes

Lock and Key at Lancaster Castle

Other highlights included the Illumaphonium, an interactive musical instrument like a giant upright xylophone in front of the Priory and Light Boat in Market Square, a giant wooden structure under a light canopy, promoted as the slowest boat on earth. At Electric Fireworks in the Storey Institute, we shone coloured torches onto a screen and created our own firework display. Cosmic Paranoia was a rather unnerving film of big eyes drifting across the cosmos. One of the most popular interactive installations was LightWeight, where people had their photos taken which were then projected onto a giant revolving globe behind the Museum. Local dancers put on a lively performance called Light Rain in Sun Square; very appropriate as we had intermittent light showers all evening.

Light up Lancaster 2016 - collage zoedawes

Light up Lancaster 2016

French artists Scenocosme lit up the Judges Lodgings where people joined together to bring the building alive, though something may have been lost in translation as it seemed to be unlit for quite a time! We were entertained by  the Vox Boys Choir in the Priory; an impressive setting for Children’s Voices. The final event of the Friday night was also the most affecting. Recommisioned, by the Dukes Theatre at Lancaster Museum, explored the journey of young soldiers from Lancaster King’s Own Regiment in WWI through light, sound, text and movement. On entering we were each given an envelope representing one of the soldiers, some who lived and many who died. After the very moving performance we opened our envelopes; my young man was a corporal from Millom who’d died in battle.

recommissioned-light-up-lancaster

Recommissioned

The following night I returned for the Lancaster Firework Display but had time to visit If Boats Could Talk, a charming sculpture floating beside the Lancaster Canal towpath, illustrating the story of migration to the city by a Victorian paver and a Syrian refugee. In Aldcliffe Triangle I met artist Shane Johnstone, who explained its creation and how the children of Dallas Road Primary School designed much of this artwork, as well as the brightly lit lanterns.

If Boats Could Talk - Aldcliffe Triangle Lancaster

If Boats Could Talk – Aldcliffe Triangle

For the grand finale I joined hundreds of spectators on Quay Meadow, where we were entertained by BBC Radio Lancashire and a very talented musician called Joni Fuller. Bang on 8pm, a rocket soared over Lancaster Castle, music boomed out from the radio tent and we were treated to 20 minutes of spectacular fireworks, a fitting end to a splendid weekend.

Fireworks over Lancaster Castle - photo c/o Light up Lancaster

Fireworks over Lancaster Castle – photo c/o Light up Lancaster

Light up Lancaster Video


I went along as a guest of Visit Lancashire and Light up Lancaster. It’s really encouraging to see the capital city of Lancashire putting such a vibrant cultural display of light and magic. I’ll definitely be going along next year; hope to see you there!

When the Red Rose - in Lancaster by Steve Messam - photo zoedawes

October 30, 2016

Brilliant #LightPool illuminates Blackpool in artistic style

When the Red Rose by Steve Messam Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

‘When the Red Rose’ by Steve Messam

The large red balloon glows like a radioactive tomato, enticing visitors with its voluptuous beauty. Children run up to it and gaze in amazement. Photographers try to capture its scarlet vibrancy, cyclists glance at it as they whiz past – and an unobtrusive guard ensures no-one damages its fragile form. Artist Steve Messsam created ‘When the Red Rose’ one of a series of beautiful artworks he’s making for Lancashire. It’s all the more impressive as it’s only here until November 2nd 2016.

When the Red Rose Steve Messam - Lightpool - Blackpool - photo zoedawes

‘When the Red Rose’ in daytime

I’m in Blackpool for the launch of LightPool, a festival of light and joyfulness running from October 29th to November 2nd. Barry McCann, Visitor Ambassador, explains what #Lightpool is all about. Lightpool is a wonderful celebration that ties in with Blackpool Illuminations. It was decided to expand what we offer at this time of year to include art installations along the promenade, live performances and also a special exhibition of Neon at the Grundy Art Gallery. We’ve also got brilliant 3D videos projected onto Blackpool Tower including Chasing Stars: our adventures in Space from British astronaut Tim Peake and a very quirky one called, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole‘, loosely based on ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Yoko Ono has a couple of installations including ‘Imagine’ at the head of the North Pier.

Imagine by Yoko Ono - Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

Imagine – by Yoko Ono

“At Lightpool Village, you get a drink and watch the live performances that go on every evening on the Comedy Carpet in front of the Tower. You can even have your photo taken and projected onto the Tower!  The festival is FREE, as of course are the illuminations and it’s bringing loads more visitors who are spending more time here. We’ve got so much to offer, and it’s great to have a bigger cultural offering for the town, but still linked to our seaside heritage.” Barry offers to show me round; our first stop is Neon; The Charged Line at the Grundy Art Gallery.

Neon Exhibition - Grundy Art Gallery - Lightpool Blackpool

Neon Exhibition – Grundy Art Gallery

Bringing together one of the biggest collection of Neon artworks ever seen, it’s a feast for the eyes. There’s a ballerina wearing a tutu of neon tubes, a trio of art-deco style moving panels, a bright red triangular installation that gives a dramatic 3D effect and much more. Upstairs in the Rotunda Gallery are ‘images of original designs for 1930s neon Illuminations, taken from Blackpool’s unique and historic archive of working drawings,’ including some by Georges Claude, inventor of Neon. Education Officer Taneesha Ahmed says the exhibitions appeal to all ages, especially younger children.  One of the big draws is  ‘I Know, I Know, I Know’ created by Tracey Emin in 2002, but every exhibit is a delight.

tracey-emin-i-know-neon-exhibition-lightpool

‘I Know, I Know, I Know’ by Tracey Emin

We leave the Grundy and walked down towards the Promenade. It starts to drizzle but nothing serious. I’ve not been to Blackpool for a couple of years and the town is looking a lot smarter than it used to. It’s mid-afternoon on a half-term Friday and there a loads of people, mainly on the prom but also in the shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. As we near the North Pier I can see ‘When the Red Rose’, its redness brightening up the grey day. Steve Messam has taken one of the Victorian shelters that line the Golden Mile and enveloped it in a red ‘balloon’ of material. No idea how he has done it but the effect is delightful.

When the Red Rose by North Pier Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

When the Red Rose by North Pier

We walk along the shore to Blackpool Tower, that icon of British seaside exuberance, visible from all over North West England. We go upstairs to the Tower Ballroom where we watch couples of all ages dancing and enjoying afternoon tea, and I dream of appearing on Strictly Come Dancing

Afternoon Tea Dance at The Tower Ballroom Blackpool - photo zoedawes

The Tower Ballroom

From the window we get a great view of the beach and people starting to mill about for the start of the main #LightPool events this evening. I’m getting peckish so we queue for ages at Harry Ramsden’s, but it’s worth it as the fish and chips really are very good. It’s going dark and soon the Illuminations will be turned on and #LightPool will come alive. Barry takes me over to SnapCast, where Manager Tom Westcott explains how visitors can get their photo taken, as if turning on the Blackpool Illuminations and other poses. If they buy a photo souvenir they can then get their photo projected onto the Tower. Barry and I have our picture taken – what do you think?!

Lightpool Snapcast - Blackpool Tower

Lightpool Snapcast – Blackpool Tower

The Illuminations come on and Blackpool is doing what it does best; giving its visitors the best light show in the country. The Tower suddenly bursts into a rainbow of light announcing LIGHTPOOL in glowing neon. A band starts to play lively music. People jig about in time to the music. A brightly-lit heritage tram trundles past, looking like a gaudy old American steam-train and LightPool Village does a roaring trade in light sabres and fluorescent wands. Barry’s colleague Annette clears a space through the audience to make way for the first performance: Captain Kronos: Return to Planet Earth. There’s a carnival atmosphere that is enhanced by the dramatically innovative attractions that Lightpool brings to Blackpool.

LightPool Blackpool - collage by zoedawes

LightPool

All too soon I have to leave to get a train back to Carnforth. As we walk back along the Promenade, we pass a memorial for Remembrance Day. The face of a young sailor gazes out at us from a huge poppy. In the distance, When the Red Rose, glows in the dark beside the sea. Only in Blackpool, only at LightPool …

We Will Never Forget - Blackpool Remembrance Day Memorial

We Will Never Forget

More about the LightPool Festival, on until Wednesday, November 2nd. Blackpool Illuminations are on until November 6th 2016. Thanks so much to Visit Lancashire for inviting me to experience this unique festival and to Barry McCann for showing me round and sharing his knowledge and love for his home town.

Another Steve Messam incarnation of ‘When the Red Rose was at #LightUpLancaster Festival over the weekend of Nov 4th and 5th in Lancaster.

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#LightPool Festival of Light Blackpool - image zoedawes

February 29, 2016

5 places in Britain for a very special Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day tulips

In the UK the day we now call Mother’s Day, was originally known as Mothering Sundayis a holiday celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Christians in some parts of Europe. It falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter. Wikipedia.  In the UK and Republic of Ireland, Mothering Sunday is celebrated in the same way as Mother’s Day is celebrated in the USA and elsewhere.

Afternoon tea at Betty’s Cafe Tea Tooms in Harrogate

Betty's Tea Rooms Harrogate

Harrogate, a place my Mum loved very much, is an elegant spa town in the heart of Yorkshire. Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms is a magnet for all lovers of a good cuppa and slice of cake in charming surroundings reminiscent of a bygone age when ladies wore delicate tea dresses and their hair in a chignon. Betty’s opened in 1919 and has flourished ever since, with 5 other tearooms now open around Yorkshire. Try a Fat Rascal (a giant fruity scone topped with almonds and glace cherries), a fondant fancy or go the whole nine yards with their Lady Betty Afternoon Tea in the Imperial Room. Whatever you do, make sure you BOOK a table as Betty’s is VERY popular. Afterwards browse the designer  shops or indulge in the Harrogate Turkish Baths and Spa.

Castell Coch near Cardiff

Castell Coch Wales - photo zoe dawes

Castell Coch

Charming Castell Coch (Red Castle) floats above the hills near Cardiff like a Disney Princess’s dream home. Built in the late 19thC for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute on the site of a much older ruin, it was created by architect William Burges, who also designed Bute’s main residence, Cardiff Castle. His brief appears to have been to fulfil his patron’s romantic fantasies about Gothic, so popular in the Victoria era. Wandering through its beautiful, ornate and colourful interior is to step back in time and any Mum with a love of romance and history will love it.

Lavenham village in Suffolk

Lavenham village //www.discoverlavenham.co.uk/

Lavenham village www.discoverlavenham.co.uk

Said by some to be the most perfect English Village, the black and white timbered buildings of Lavenham evoke a time long gone, though its popularity means that on Mother’s Day it will probably more crowded than its heyday between the 14th C and 16th C. It was the centre of the wool trade and the enormous St Peter and St Paul Church is testimony to the area’s wealth.  With over 300 wonderfully preserved medieval buildings, it’s fascinating to look round and the quaint shops are crammed full of quirkilicious delights. There are lots of pubs, restaurants and cafes; I’ve very happy memories of a Mother’s Day lunch at the 15th C Swan Inn, but everywhere will be busy so if you want to eat out, you may prefer to find a quieter Suffolk village (there are plenty in this area) after you’ve explored Lavenham.

Appleby-in-Westmorland

Appleby in Westmorland Church and square

Appleby in Westmorland

My Mum loved the Lake District but it gets very busy on Mother’s Day so we used to find places around Cumbria, away from the main ‘honeypots’ of Bowness, Grasmere, Hawkshead etc. The ancient market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland is a charming town in the Eden Valley on edge of the Pennines. Historic buildings line the main street and Appleby Castle keeps watch over the town. There are plenty of pubs and tea rooms plus an excellent bakery, though probably closed on a Sunday. Take time to visit St Lawrence’s Church which dates back to the 12th century; in 1655 Lady Anne Clifford restored the church, and rebuilt the north chapel and the chancel.

The Eden Project in Cornwall

The Eden Project Cornwall zoedawes

The Eden Project – Cornwall

If your Mum likes pottering round gardens and admiring the planting, then take her to The Eden Project, an ambitious and description-defying visitor attraction in the depths of Cornish countryside. With its two Biomes and extensive grounds you can spend all day here. The Tropical Biome is used for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana plants, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level. The Mediterranean Biome houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various sculptures. The Outdoor Gardens represent the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops, hemp and sunflowers, as well as local plant species. Wikipedia The Eden Project has a large performance arena; I saw Paloma Faith in concert at the Eden Project last year. There are various restaurants and cafes, gift shops and for more adventurous mums, a Zipwire to add adrenalin to her Mother’s Day treat!

February 16, 2016

Tasty fun at Kendal Festival of Food

Kendal Food and Drink Festival 16

“We’re so excited. This year’s food and drink festival is jam-packed with sensational and varied food producers, chefs, street entertainment, master classes, cookery demos and unusual events. There really is something for everyone, whatever age and whatever foodie preference.” Cath Dutton, founder of Kendal Festival of Food is speaking in her office, surrounded by boxes of brochures, flyers and wrist-bands. She’s been working 24/7 with Stacy Hurley to get this annual feast organized. “The awful floods of late 2015 devastated Cumbria, but we have a resilient spirit and Kendal Food Festival 2016 celebrates that, as well as the phenomenal food and drink that the North of England is famous for.”

Lovingly Artisan sourdough baking demo at Kendal Food festival

Lovingly Artisan sourdough bread demo

Kendal Food Festival 2016 is in its 7th year; I’ve been coming for 5 years and it just gets better and better, whilst still retaining its original ethos of showcasing local food and drink producers and talent. Some of the highlights I’ve especially enjoyed from previous years include The Fabulous Baker Brothers, who did a hilarious cookery demo double act, Smoky Jo’s introduction to smoking food at home and Aiden Monks’ Lovingly Artisan sourdough bread masterclass. Smoky Jo’s are back this year in the Best Of Cumbria Theatre in Kendal Town Hall.

Andy Swinscoe cheese demo Kendal Food Festival - photo zoedawes

Andy Swinscoe cheese demo

Throughout the weekend of March 12th and 13th 2016, there will a veritable cornucopia of events. Looking through the Kendal Food Festival brochure I’m hoping to attend The Best in Northern Cheese with Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy and Cooking with Duck with Chris O’Callaghan of Linthwaite House. He’s going to be using a famous local speciality, Grasmere gingerbread in his demo. Mike Bevans, owner of the hotel said, “I’m delighted we can support the festival. It’s a great opportunity for Chris to showcase his talents and it will also hopefully inspire budding chefs and create positive publicity for this area.”

Wild boar stall - Kendal Food Festival

Wild Boar stall

As a blogger with a strong interest in cuisine in the UK and around the world, I often take photographs of food and drink in markets, during meals and at cookery lessons. I’m sure to pick up some useful tips at the Food Photography workshop with Jenny Heyworth from Aspire Photography. Catherine Connor, MD of Aspire told me how thrilled she is to be attending this year’s festival. “It’s a fabulous foodie event and brilliant that it’s in our own backyard. It attracts hundreds of photographers, bloggers, journalists, families, celebrities and food lovers, not just from Cumbria and the North West, but around the country. We’re proud to be a part of this increasingly popular festival.”

Kendal Food Festival stall - zoedawes

Local honey

NEW for this year is the Edible Garden at Wainwright’s Yard, where we can learn more about growing our own fruit and vegetables as well as food for health and well-being. The Family Festival Village returns with some fun events for children, including Sculpting with Ice Cream, Create a Cress Head and the Kidz Kitchen. Join the battle of the bakers at the Bring a Bake competition in the AGA showroom and watch out for the Strolling Gardeners, the Farm to Fork Roadshow (there will be lambs!) and the Festival Jester demonstrating his circus skills out and about.

Cumbrian lamb

Hold at lamb at Kendal Food Festival

Of course, the festival is renowned for the many stalls that line the streets of Kendal town centre, selling everything from scrumptious bakes and chocolate treats to artisan breads, organic meat and poultry, regional cheeses, craft beers and spirits, tasty preserves and oh, loads more. Marian Graveson, of Blue Moose Kitchen, says, “This will be my third year at Kendal Food Festival and it really is one of the best festivals in the country. There are lots of reasons why I love this weekend: we always have fun, even if the wind is blustering the stall down the street!

Blue Moose Kitchen Brownies

“It’s very well-organised and there is so much to see and do. I’ll be selling everything from Gingerbread Men kits, cookie mixes and 5 varieties of brownie mixes, including local favourite Kendal Mintcake.  Then there’s the Hot Chocolate. I’ll be giving out samples of my handmade mix during the festival; perfect if the weather is a bit chilly.”

Blue Moose Kitchen baking kits

Blue Moose Kitchen baking kits

The other BIG attraction is Northern Spirit on Saturday night. The brochure invites visitors to, ‘Join us for a celebration of some of the region’s very best spirits; sample a selection of regionally crafted vodkas and gins as well as some of Scotland’s best whiskies.’ Looks like a great way to celebrate a weekend of superb food, drink and much, much more.

The Lakes Vodka - Kendal Food Festival - zoedawes

The Lakes Vodka

Whatever the weather there’s always something to see, do, eat and drink at Kendal Food Festival.

Kendal Food Festival

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December 24, 2015

The simple joy of a REAL Christmas Tree

Decorated Christmas Tree - zoedawes

It’s the smell of pine that greets us every morning. It’s the irregular branches and chunky needles. It’s choosing the right Christmas Tree; about 6ft tall, chubby shape, dense boughs and a pointy top on which Father Christmas perches. It’s bundling it into the car and having to put down the seats to fit it in, getting them covered in needles. It’s leaving it outside in a bucket of (usually) freezing water overnight in the vain hope it might stop those needles dropping. It’s bringing its festive treeness into the house and setting it into its stand, wiggling it round to get the ‘right’ side facing out. (Because all Christmas Trees have a front and a back – didn’t you know?)

Christmas Tree bare branches - zoedawes

It’s testing the fairy lights from last year, discovering one set doesn’t work and the box with the spares has gone missing. It’s draping them around the Christmas Tree, finding they won’t quite reach all the way but another set is too much. And then deciding you can never have too many fairy lights. It’s opening up the old shoe boxes of decorations and immediately being taken back to Christmasses of childhood, when life was simple and oh so very exciting. It’s cherishing each decoration which tells a story of the person or place of which it’s a reminder.

Christmas knitted snowman

It’s placing the decorations just so, balancing them on branches at just the right height. It’s deciding that at this time of the year, more is more. It’s stepping back and seeing if the overall effect looks good, then tweaking things a bit to make it just perfect.

Gold Elvis Christmas decoration from Graceland - zoedawes

It’s turning on the lights and going ‘Ahhh yes’ as the doughty little tree comes to life for the next few weeks. It’s putting the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. It’s playing Christmas songs and sharing the charming spectacle with friends and family. A real Christmas Tree brings childish pleasure at its simplest and most beautiful. I love it …

Christmas Tree angel - zoedawes

Merry Christmas, whether you have a real tree or not, whether you are at home or far away, with family, friends or on your own. May all your festive days be merry and bright ….

Christmas Tree fairy - zoedawes

December 15, 2015

Get into the festive spirit at Liverpool Christmas Market

Phoenix Christmas snowman

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … With only a few days to go, there are festive decorations in every city, town and village throughout the country. Christmas cards keep landing on the mat; last night I spent a few happy hours writing cards to old friends and sticking stamps on envelopes. (Yes, I know e-cards are more environmentally friendly but I like the personal touch of a ‘real’ card, though I do send some e-cards to friends far away or if they send them to me.) A recent visit to Liverpool Christmas Market got us properly into the festive spirit.

Festive knitted figures - image zoedawes

John and I had gone to see our son, who started at Liverpool John Moores University in September. He seemed to be throwing himself into student life with serious dedication, managing to fit in lectures around hangovers and the gym, We had lunch at Almost Famous American-style burger joint, which serves great burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings and other cholesterol-raising delights in quirky surroundings.

Almost Famous buger bar mural Liverpool - photo zoedawes

Almost Famous mural

It’s over-priced IMO, charging extra for fries, serve what look like fairly insipid cocktails and they make a feature of cheap cutlery and kitchen roll. It was packed and Alex loved it, which is all that mattered.

Liverpool One Christmas - image John Bradley

Liverpool One Christmas – image John Bradley

Then it was shopping time. I’d visions of us wandering round Liverpool One, the flagship Shopping Mall, gazing in envy at the designer clothes and trying on potential Christmas Day frocks. But that was not to be; we spent most of the time in and out of charity shops and ‘Vintage’ outlets where Alex rifled through racks of clothes looking for bargain brand-names. He’s become very consumerist in a studenty kind of way!

Liverpool Christmas Market - image itsliverpool.com

Liverpool Christmas Market – image itsliverpool.com

Liverpool Christmas Market

Eventually John and I left him and had a look round Liverpool Christmas Market. It’s mainly along  Lord Street, Church Street, Paradise Street with some stalls centred around Williamson Square. There were the usual stalls selling Christmas decorations including quaint knitted figures, crystal baubles and every imaginable wooden item on which personal messages or names could be inscribed.

Christmas decorations - zoedawes

Christmas decorations

It was a very blustery, wet afternoon (precursor to devastating Storm Desmond as it turned out) and there weren’t too many people braving the weather. Those that were, made the most of the gluhwein, bratworst, gingerbread and other tasty treats on sale. Must admit, I am not a big fan of German sausage but they seemed very popular.

Bratwurst stall Liverpool Christmas Market - zoedawes

Bratwurst stall Liverpool

One of the more unusual things this Christmas is the Liverpool Snowflake Trail, where, according to Visit Liverpool, Jack Frost is transforming Liverpool city centre into a wintry wonderland of festive fun for young and old. Explore the city along his Snowflake Trail, and see Liverpool transformed by sparkling winterscapes, with familiar streets becoming swirling snowstorms of sound and light. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the giant painted snowflakes scattered around and about! 

Liverpool Snowflake Trail

Snowflake Trail

There’s a map of the Trail and you can’t miss these colourful snowflakes, especially the enormous one in Williamson Square.

Liverpool SnowflakeTrail Map

Liverpool SnowflakeTrail Map

 

Festive Beer Hut Liverpool

Liverpool Beer Hut

 

Another quirky sight is the large cone decorated with pink and purple hearts. It’s actually a Beer Hut; inside there is a bar and all around are cosy little nooks which seat about six people. Not sure about the colour scheme but it’s definitely eye-catching! Not far away, there’s also an open-air Ice Rink which attracts wannabe Torvill and Deans through til January.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Liverpool without music and there were street performers on every corner. One guy, who looked remarkably like John Lennon, was playing a guitar and singing Beatles hits, but the one getting the most attention was a guy who turned himself into a ‘Human Transformer’ and danced around to hiphop. From almost every shop came the sound of Christmas songs and the whole atmosphere was festive and fun, in spite of the weather.

Liverpool Christmas Market - Rudolph's Rest - photo zoedawes

Rudolph’s Rest

I bought a couple of festive novelties, John debated having some Mulled Wine but gave it a miss as we had to meet Alex and get home. (If you’re going to make it yourself, then I can highly recommend Blue Moose Kitchen Mulled Wine Sachets. Add one to some decent wine – it knocks spots off the bottled versions!)

Mulled wine stall Liverpool Christmas Market - zoedawes

Mulled wine stall

It was lovely to spend some time wandering round Liverpool Christmas Market; hope you get to visit one over the festive season. If you like Christmas Markets then you’ll also enjoy The festive sparkle of Manchester Christmas Market 🙂