Centuries ago celebrating Christmas in England was banned (nice one Oliver Cromwell!) and as a consequence Christmas Markets selling festive food and drink instantly died out. Fast forward 400 years or so and living and working in Europe meant that my family were lucky to experience the joys of Christmas Markets in France, Germany and Switzerland. Imagine our happiness when our return to living in the UK coincided with the long awaited resurgence of the British Christmas market and we were able to continue our family tradition.
Each year, from mid-November, certain cities in the UK now erect entire villages of little open fronted sheds (oops, slapped wrist! I mean chalets!) complete with fake snowy roofs and sparkly lights they are filled with Christmassy items for sale and consumption. Thankfully many European influences have been introduced, giving visitors plenty of opportunity to try Vin Chaud or Glu Wein (mulled wine to you and me) or German Bratwurst sausages and Swiss Fondue alongside traditional British Christmas pies and puddings.
This year our family (consisting of yours truly, husband, daughter and her husband – son was otherwise unavailable and I’m sure working really hard skippering a boat in the Caribbean!) decided to give Bath a visit (no not the tub – the gorgeous Georgian town in the South West of the UK).
With our daughter recently having moved to The Cotswolds (setting for film, The Holiday – Cameron Diaz) getting to Bath was a simple drive of 38miles through stunning English countryside and gorgeous villages. We took advantage of the cheap and cheerful (read crowded!) park and ride facility into the City Centre. We were particularly excited about visiting this market where over 75% of the 170 chalets are occupied by local artisans and producers. No mass produced plastic rubbish allowed here! (well, very little anyway!)
It was a long time since I last visited Bath and before launching ourselves with gusto into the market, we strolled along the famous and stunning Royal Crescent (backdrop to many period dramas and much real life in the past 250 years or so) a curve of 30 beautiful Georgian Town Houses. A short walk past the outdoor ice-rink (constructed for the duration of the market) and we entered into the main shopping area of Bath.
The unmistakable aroma of Christmas spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and (of course) alcohol led us into the market and our first encounter with mulled wine and warmed spiced apple juice. We were off to a good start! This blended perfectly with the award winning Gingerbread sample handed to us by Julie the owner of Bickie-Boo who has developed a fail-safe gingerbread recipe and a “Build your own Gingerbread House Kit” complete with ribbons to make the construction both easy and professional looking. Based in Bath she even supplies Blenheim Palace with Gingerbread.
With gifts in mind we all split up for a while, which (although I can’t prove it) gave the boys the perfect excuse to at least nip into The Crystal Palace Pub, next to a famous 400 year old tree, whilst my daughter and myself got to look around for some more unusual gift items. We found curved candles hand made by Josh of Maiden Dorset. Funky ties and bowties made of wood, truly the gift for the person who has everything! We got to chat with Simon, complete with whacky fork enhanced top hat, from Simon Says Fork It Out, who creates stunning jewelry from vintage cutlery.
Re-joined by the men-folk and re-fuelled after a belly filling bratwurst lunch, we stumbled upon a chalet selling Rubis, a red wine and chocolate drink. Now I love both chocolate and red wine, but together! Would that work? The jury was divided, the girls definitely more impressed than the boys.
Something that floated all of our boats, however, was the British Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) produced by White Heron since 1876. Much sharper and zingier than the more syrupy French versions it will definitely be making its way into my glass of Christmas Fizz!
As darkness fell, we wandered through the last few exquisitely decorated and lit chalets. We listened to carol singers whilst admiring some award winning chocolates from Lick the Spoon and sampling the best organic smoked Cheddar cheese I’ve ever tasted from Godminster (sorry folks, not available in the USA, you’ll just have to come here to try it!). Our final mulled wine was consumed listening to a children’s choir in front of the beautifully illuminated Abbey and Christmas Tree, only a sprinkling of snow could have made it any more magical.