Bri­tain in win­ter

Großbri­tan­nien verza­ubert auch mit­ten im Win­ter. LOR­RAINE MALLINDER und LOIS HOYAL stellen Ih­nen einige – nicht nur – frostige High­lights vor.

Spotlight - - SOCIETY - Texts by Lois Hoyal

here are many things to en­joy in Bri­tain in win­ter — whether you’d like to visit a grand house dec­o­rated for the fes­tive sea­son, to walk round a Vic­to­rian Christ­mas fair, to go ski­ing or snow­board­ing in the Scot­tish Cairn­gorms or to re­lax with a chilly story set in the English Peak District. We have cho­sen seven things for you to try that we think evoke the cold sea­son in Bri­tain. Make your­self com­fort­able, wrapped up warmly on the sofa, and en­joy!

Visit: the Worces­ter Vic­to­rian Christ­mas Fayre

Kick-start the fes­tive sea­son with a trip to this Vic­to­rian ex­trav­a­ganza. If you’ve ever wished that Christ­mas could be just as it was in the olden days, then this is the mar­ket for you. En­joy some roasted chest­nuts and mulled wine, and soak up the 19th-cen­tury fes­tive spirit in nar­row streets filled with buskers, tra­di­tional carol-singers and walk­a­bout en­ter­tain­ers on stilts, ex­chang­ing jokes and jug­gling balls. There are more than 200 stalls here, with ladies in corset dresses and gen­tle­men in flat caps and capes sell­ing arts and crafts; and there’s aro­matic street food (roast hog, any­one?), much of it pro­duced lo­cally. On Gin Lane, a small Vic­to­rian street known for its de­bauched lo­cals, you will be trans­ported back in time to a world of street urchins, flower sell­ers, chim­ney sweeps, ladies of the night and plenty of du­bi­ous char­ac­ters. This im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion in­cludes lo­cal artists and per­form­ers who bring the place to life and make sure the pub­lic can also play a role. Don’t say we didn’t warn you to watch your pock­ets. And of course, no fayre would be com­plete with­out a carousel, its shiny horses turn­ing round to the sound of an old-fash­ioned bar­rel or­gan. There’s plenty here to amuse big kids and chil­dren alike. Fans of Charles Dick­ens’s A Christ­mas Carol will love it. While you’re in town, take the op­por­tu­nity to visit Worces­ter Cathe­dral, too, which fea­tures mag­nif­i­cent Vic­to­rian stained glass, royal tombs and an an­cient crypt.

Visit: the Som­er­set Lev­els

One of Eng­land’s most mag­i­cal land­scapes, the Som­er­set Lev­els are among the largest wet­lands in the coun­try, an enor­mous area of wa­ter­logged fields and or­chards bor­dered by ditches and dykes, which are known lo­cally as “rhynes” (pro­nounced “reens”). Glas­ton­bury Tor, a con­i­cal hill with the ru­ins of a church dat­ing back to the Mid­dle Ages at the top, is by far the best place from which to view the sur­round­ing land. This re­gion is home to pa­gan and early Chris­tian leg­ends. The so­called Isle of Avalon is said to be the last rest­ing place of the myth­i­cal King Arthur and has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of gen­er­a­tions of artists and writ­ers. To the west of Glas­ton­bury, the Avalon Marshes, a vi­brant area of pas­ture­land, is par­adise for bird­watch­ers. Come in mid­win­ter to see the ac­ro­bat­ics of sev­eral mil­lion star­lings that fly in from Scan­di­navia, swirling in large black clouds over the Lev­els, be­fore div­ing into the reed beds be­low. Con­ser­va­tion­ists have worked hard to re­store the area as a bird habi­tat, hand-rear­ing cranes that will live in the wet­lands. Wiped out by hunt­ing more than 400 years ago, these beau­ti­ful birds, known for their trum­pet­ing calls and courtship dances, are now liv­ing wild in the area. Make sure you try some smoked eel and cider, both lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties. Stay in Wells, the small­est city in Eng­land, nestling in the nearby Mendip Hills. Its Gothic cathe­dral is of­ten de­scribed as the most po­etic in Eng­land, and there is a farm­ers’ mar­ket on Wed­nes­days.

Visit: the Twelve Days of Christ­mas at Cas­tle Howard

A dream lo­ca­tion for Christ­mas, Cas­tle Howard is the grand­est of grand homes. Built at the end of the 17th cen­tury, it is a rich ex­am­ple of British baroque, com­plete with carved cor­nets and cherubs. Many Brits will rec­og­nize it from the 1980s TV adap­ta­tion of Brideshead Re­vis­ited, a novel by Eve­lyn Waugh that de­scribes the faded glory of the English aris­toc­racy be­tween the wars. A trip to Cas­tle Howard is a nos­tal­gic fes­ti­val of can­dles, open fires, sto­ries, twin­kling lights and tin­kling pi­anos. Fol­low­ing a tour based on “The Twelve Days of Christ­mas”, vis­i­tors young and old jour­ney through a se­ries of in­stal­la­tions de­signed to cre­ate a feel­ing of happy nos­tal­gia. It all starts in the Great Hall, home to a gi­gan­tic Christ­mas tree that is dec­o­rated with thou­sands of baubles. Here, a wizard per­forms magic tricks be­fore in­tro­duc­ing merry St Nick him­self, who ap­pears on the scene to the

un­mis­tak­able ac­com­pa­ni­ment of “Jin­gle Bells”. The site in­cludes a Santa’s grotto, gift shops, a mar­ket and a gar­den cen­tre. You can also wan­der around some of the build­ing’s 145 rooms. Do not leave with­out sam­pling the fes­tive af­ter­noon tea by a roar­ing fire in the el­e­gant Gre­cian Hall. And take some time out for a walk in the gar­dens, where you can in­dulge your fan­tasies of aris­to­cratic liv­ing be­tween the foun­tains, lakes and tem­ples. Stay in York, just 15 min­utes away by car, where 2,000 years of English his­tory are on dis­play, in­clud­ing the an­cient Ro­man walls, the JORVIK Vik­ing Cen­tre and the fa­mous me­dieval cathe­dral, York Min­ster.

The Twelve Days of Christ­mas is held from 17 Novem­ber to 31 De­cem­ber.

Visit: the Cairn­gorms for ski­ing

Ski­ing in Scot­land has been en­joy­ing a bit of a re­nais­sance in re­cent years. The Cairn­gorms, close to the re­sort town of Aviemore, is by far the most pop­u­lar spot for win­ter sports, with great snow con­di­tions and 18 ½ miles of pistes for ev­ery level of abil­ity. Whether you’re a skier or not, the ride on board the fu­nic­u­lar to the top of Cairn Gorm, the moun­tain that lent its name to the com­plete range, is an ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self. There you’ll find Bri­tain’s high­est restau­rant, The Ptarmi­gan — no bet­ter place for a warm­ing hot choco­late, tak­ing in a breath­tak­ing vista of lochs, glens, forests and hills. The weather can be change­able, but there are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties for non-ski­ing days, in­clud­ing moun­tain bik­ing, hik­ing, spa treat­ment and, yes, whisky tours. With six dis­til­leries in the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park, in­clud­ing Glen­livet and Tom­intoul, you’ll be rolling down the hill­sides with­out any need for skis. Take a trip on the Strath­spey Steam Rail­way, in which you can sur­vey the ma­jes­tic Cairn­gorms from the com­fort of a smart car­riage, while en­joy­ing af­ter­noon tea or a three-course lunch. And make sure you pay a visit to Bri­tain’s only rein­deer herd, lo­cated near the bot­tom of Cairn Gorm. From early Novem­ber on­wards, a Christ­mas mar­ket runs dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son. Aviemore, less than three hours by train from Ed­in­burgh, is an ex­cel­lent base camp from which to ex­plore the sur­round­ing area, with plenty of gift shops, cafes and restau­rants.

Watch: Jane Eyre

A lone fig­ure stum­bles des­per­ately across the empty moors, through heavy rain, emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally at break­ing point. It’s a dra­matic start to the film adap­ta­tion of Char­lotte Brontë’s won­der­ful Gothic clas­sic, Jane Eyre.

I made my­self com­fort­able on the sofa to en­joy the at­mo­spheric cine­matog­ra­phy of the iso­lated, windy heaths of the Peak District and the cold, dark weather. Even chill­ier are the re­la­tion­ships that young Jane ex­pe­ri­ences. Af­ter her par­ents have died, she goes to live with her nasty and heart­less aunt, who sends her off to school, where an equally hard-hearted pas­tor tries to keep her friend­less.

Jane’s life, told in ret­ro­spect, now flashes back to her role as a gov­erness at Thorn­field Hall in the Peak District, where she teaches a young French girl, Adele, the ward of Ed­ward Rochester, the mas­ter of the house.

British vet­eran Dame Judi Dench plays the house­keeper of Thorn­field Hall, Mrs Fair­fax. Mia Wasikowska is the mod­est, yet clever Jane. Her gen­tle­ness and good­ness con­trast sharply with the pas­sion­ate, in­tensely brood­ing ro­man­tic hero, Mr Rochester, played by Michael Fass­ben­der.

It is no sur­prise that gen­tle Jane soon falls for the moody hero and agrees to marry him, de­spite the class dif­fer­ence. Then, on their wed­ding day, a scan­dalous se­cret comes to light: Rochester is al­ready mar­ried. His wife, Bertha, is a psy­chotic wo­man, who is locked away in an­other part of the build­ing. Jane runs away, un­able to give up her moral in­tegrity. We are now back in the film’s first scene.

St John Rivers, a re­li­gious man, gives Jane refuge and pro­poses to her. But she re­al­izes that she can­not live a love­less mar­riage, and in her mind, she hears Rochester’s voice call­ing to her.

Jane re­turns to Ed­ward, only to find him blinded and maimed by a fire started by Bertha, who has killed her­self. “It’s a dream?” asks Rochester. “Awaken then,” Jane softly replies.

“Awaken” is just one of the tracks from the film’s sound­track. The soar­ing strings trans­port the re­strained pas­sion that runs as an un­der­cur­rent through­out the film. All in all, this is a must-see.

Watch: The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas

This bio­graph­i­cal film deals with the life of 31-year-old Charles Dick­ens and his writ­ing of A Christ­mas Carol, the most fa­mous Christ­mas story of all time. Af­ter suc­cess with his ear­lier nov­els, Dick­ens has fallen on “hard(ish) times”. (His tenth novel was Hard Times — ex­cuse the de­lib­er­ate pun.) He has been spend­ing far too much money, his fifth child is on the way and his last three books have been flops. Dick­ens is un­der pres­sure to write a new work — and fast — to im­prove his fi­nances. De­spite be­ing re­jected by his pub­lish­ers, he prom­ises to have a new book writ­ten, printed and pub­lished by Christ­mas — only six weeks away.

Af­ter ini­tial writer’s block, the char­ac­ters from A Christ­mas Carol start to come to life and in­ter­act with Dick­ens. The writer over­comes his in­ner Scrooge and re­vis­its the ghosts of his Christ­mas past, be­fore for­giv­ing his father and de­liv­er­ing a best­seller on time.

The film pro­vides in­ter­est­ing in­sights into the au­thor’s life. Many peo­ple, for in­stance, don’t know that, as a boy, he was aban­doned by his fam­ily and forced to work in a “black­ing” (shoe pol­ish) fac­tory. His father was sent to a debtors’ prison.

Dan Stevens pro­vides a lovely por­trayal of Dick­ens. With his sparkling blue eyes and quirky en­ergy, he is much like a young Gene Wilder. The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas is a charm­ing film to warm the chill­i­est of hearts on a cold win­ter’s evening.

Read: Win­ter King: The Dawn of Tu­dor Eng­land by Thomas Penn

This tale is also ideal read­ing in the mid­dle of win­ter. It tells the story of a dark king who lived through dark times. Henry Tu­dor, born in Pem­broke, Wales, in 1457,

be­came the founder of the fa­mous Tu­dor dy­nasty, hav­ing de­feated Richard III at the Bat­tle of Bos­worth Field in Au­gust 1485. His vic­tory ended the Wars of the Roses be­tween the House of York and the House of Lan­caster, which had di­vided Bri­tain for 30 years.

Henry VII’S rule re­mained ex­posed to dan­ger, how­ever. It was un­der­mined by plots, and there were en­e­mies and pre­tenders hid­ing round ev­ery cor­ner. Henry was forced to use cruel tac­tics and spies to stay in power.

One source of sta­bil­ity was his mar­riage to El­iz­a­beth of York. The mar­riage also al­lowed Henry to unite the white rose of the House of York and the red rose of the House of Lan­caster.

Henry’s reign is re­mem­bered for the king’s strong for­eign pol­icy. His first­born son and heir, Arthur, was mar­ried to Cather­ine of Aragon, al­ly­ing Bri­tain with Spain. Henry’s daugh­ter Mar­garet mar­ried James IV of Scot­land, thereby guar­an­tee­ing peace with Scot­land. And Henry man­aged to form an al­liance with Max­i­m­il­ian I, the Holy Ro­man Em­peror.

The king’s life, how­ever, was full of tragedy. His son Arthur died of the “sweat­ing sick­ness” at the age of 15, and soon af­ter­wards, Henry’s wife, El­iz­a­beth, died in child­birth. The child died a day later.

What also comes to light through this book is Henry’s con­trol­ling and par­si­mo­nious na­ture. He was al­ways try­ing to gain more money through heavy taxes.

Some read­ers might find it ir­ri­tat­ing not to know what is the prod­uct of Penn’s imag­i­na­tion and what is his­tor­i­cal fact. Nev­er­the­less, the de­tailed and colour­ful anec­dotes suc­ceed in bring­ing the fig­ure of the king to life.

Not just star­lings: a flock of young cranes about to take flight on the Som­er­set Lev­els on a win­ter’s day

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