Putting the ‘festive’ back into Christmas shopping!

In my opinion, Christmas shopping – whether you are battling a busy high street, overwhelmed in a mall or sitting hunched over your keyboard shopping online at 3 in the morning – none of it is as festive and fun as it should be! So why not take the stress out of your festive shopping with a visit to a Christmas market?

I’m going to start with a fairly local one in the very pretty town of Tavistock on the far side of Dartmoor.

Tavistock Dickensian Christmas – 25th November 2016

The Dickensian evening includes the switching on of the Christmas lights, and an opportunity to start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Be transported back to the ‘olde world’ with shop owners and staff wearing Dickensian dress, stalls selling roasted chestnuts and even steam engines adding to the atmosphere. You can find out more here.

Blenheim Palace Living Crafts for Christmas fair 17th – 20th November

On a rather grander scale… stock up on stocking fillers at the Living Crafts for Christmas fair in this stunning Oxfordshire stately home, where you’ll find more than 150 selected designer-makers, including artists, milliners and jewellers. Indulge in some hot chestnuts or a hot chocolate, then choose handcrafted decorations to adorn your home. Magical! Click here for more information.

Bath Christmas Market – 24th – 11th December

I love Bath any time of year, but this magical Christmas market makes it extra special. There will be more than 170 traditional wooden chalets lining the streets of the centre of beautiful Bath, transforming Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths into a wintry wonderland. Along with stalls from craftspeople from all over the South West, there is also the chance to go ice skating, ride on a carousel or enjoy a glass of mulled wine in the Après Ski Bar.

Find out more here.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets 19th November – 7th January 2017

If you really, really enjoy Christmas markets, then Edinburgh is the place to go as this lovely city has TWO markets, one Scottish and one European and they run through into January! The Scottish Market in St Andrew Square showcases food and drink from the country, including seafood and sausages, chocolate and cakes, plus handcrafted items. The popular European Market has been running for 20 years and is held in East Princes Street Gardens, offering traditional toys and gifts.

Click here for more information.

And finally… another Dickensian market. The trouble is the Victorians and Mr Dickens, did Christmas so well that, for many of us, it has become the ideal Christmas!

Ulverston, Cumbria Dickensian Christmas Festival – 26th & 27th November

Ulverston puts on a tremendous show every year marking the start of the Christmas season and bringing a little Christmas magic to both young and old. The historic market town is full of fantastic shops, great pubs, cafes and cobbled streets. The Dickensian Festival boasts a huge variety of free entertainment, free events for children, fabulous Christmas market stalls with lots of unique gifts and festive food, costume competitions, horse-drawn carriages, music and dancing. If you really want to get into the spirit of the festival, why not come in costume and take part in the grand parade around the town?

Find out more here.

Photo credits, top to bottom:
tavistockbid.co.uk, nmctours.co.uk, www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk, Visit Scotland, OxfamBirdsEye.

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I love hydrangeas!

 

hydraniasI have to give a huge shout out for my hydrangea bushes – they give such amazing service all summer long with their flowers. Then they start changing with the coming of autumn and the colours are amazing and jewel-like. Now is the time to harvest some to bring into the house.

So having served us all summer on the bushes, you can then get months (or years) more service from their beautiful blooms indoors. Cut them off the bushes either on a long stem or just the heads depending on how you plan to use them.

I personally cut longish stems making sure I cut near a new pair of buds. This cutting, or pruning, alters the size and shape of the hydrangea bush but, to be honest, mine are so huge I am grateful to prune a bit in any direction! I am sure this is not the correct way to re-shape your hydrangeas (So sorry Monty Don) but it has always worked for me and never caused any harm to my bushes.

So, I cut longish stems and then arrange them loose in a vase or in a basket with dry Oasis. No need for water – just leave them to it and they will dry out.

You can enjoy them for months and, if you any of the hydrangea heads that go too brownish or mottled, there’s nothing like a can of gold spray paint for a glorious display at Christmas!

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Time for tea?

There are times when I just love playing with the pretty decorations that I have in my house – well I think they’re lovely anyway! Dating back to the times when I was helping style all the non fiction flower arranging and cookery books that I wrote in the 80s and 90s, I have always liked arranging pretty things.

Some might call my house cluttered (Richard does for one) but I just can’t resist lovely bits of vintage lace, shells, pretty flowers, semi precious rocks, old china – you name it and I squirrel it away pretending it might come in for a photo shoot sometime, somewhere!

Well these lovely flowers arrived today and I thought they were too nice not to share with the world. The blue hydrangea is high on my list of favourite flowers as Richard knows and the fabulous bouquet of tulips and herbs was part of my Christmas present also from Richard – a bouquet of flowers every month for six months – how lucky am I?

So I got playing and before you accuse me of eating way too many cakes, these are fake cakes intended for use in photography or window displays and I just think they look lovely sitting on the dresser base I have in that room. I have had to explain to little Grace several times now that they are Granny’s toy cakes like the bits in her toy kitchen and not for eating – you can see her narrowing her eyes and deciding whether to believe me or not!

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Happy memories…

Guest blog from Julia Wherrell

We have all been feeling immensely sad for the past couple of weeks after the loss of both Joanna’s Mother, Diana, and step-father, John, in such quick succession.

I was fortunate enough to know both Diana and John for about 45 years and have shared many Christmasses and birthday celebrations with them after we all ended up living near each other in Devon. They were very kind and inclusive, there was always a wonderful sense of warmth and the comfortable feeling of things being done ‘just so’.

As a child, I was always awe-struck by Diana as I thought she looked like a film star – always elegantly dressed and coiffured. John had the most beautiful speaking voice and what people call ‘a military bearing’, and they made a fine couple.

I always associate Diana with two things –­ flower arranging and baking. She excelled at both and always had flowers in her house and delicious smells coming from the oven. Up until a couple of years ago, she was still entering flower arrangements in the local flower show and I can remember helping to carry them to the car in readiness for John to deliver them to the judging tent in good time. She invariably won!

About three years ago, when my own Father was visiting me, we were invited to tea with Diana and John. I had assumed with would be a cup of tea and a biscuit… but no! Diana wheeled in a tea trolley laden with freshly-baked scones, home made jam, fresh strawberries and clotted cream! It was a magnificent feast and my Father, well known for his healthy appetite, tucked in very happily.

Diana’s favourite flowers were violets and I know these were foremost in Joanna’s mind when we wrote our second novel ‘A Violet Death’. I was hunting round for violets to photograph for the front cover when I received a call from Diana telling me that she had plenty in bloom in her garden if I wanted to drive over and snap them… so I did.

They will be hugely missed by their family and friends.

 

 

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Happy Christmas!

Joanna, right, with her sister Kate, left with Father Christmas.Can I wish each and every one of you the happiest of Christmas Days – happy times around the festive period and just plain happy times!

Memories are precious jewels to be collected and treasured. Then they can be brought out to look at and remember fondly when you need them most. I have had a tough year with all my family, and I’ve no doubt they would agree that the family has been tested in 2015. However the upside of this is that my brothers and sister and I are closer than we were a year ago, and that is something to celebrate.

It’s hard when sad times overwrite the happy memories of the past, and I think it’s really important to try and get past the sad memories and hang on to all the happiness that has been around you over the years.

I am planning a super happy day today with my much loved daughters and little two year old Grace who has a collection of Play-doh coming her way and a cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh so maybe we can make some Play-doh food for the bear – who knows. That’s the fun of being two – anything can happen and her innocence and naiveté sum up what matters about the Christmas message. Love, happiness and trust in the future.

Happy Christmas everyone!