Tis the Season
There is a veritable feast of Christmas festivities taking place across Berkshire and Buckinghamshire this season, so it’s time to make merry
From tinsel-strewn family fun to more sophisticated grown-up affairs; across Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, there are theatres, farms, museums, historic buildings, royal parks and much more with calendars brimming with festive events and attractions throughout December. So, wrap up warm, gather family and friends, and get set for a season of good cheer.
Fresh air fun
Pull on those woollies and embrace the crisp winter air with an activity that’s bound to get the blood pumping. The region has several outdoor ice rinks for a seasonal skate, including Chiltern View ice rink in Aylesbury and Windsor on Ice at Alexandra Gardens. Skating is also on offer at Winter Wonderland at Hills Meadow in Reading alongside all sorts of other festive delights, including an après ski bar, Santa’s grotto, bumper cars and a giant observation wheel.
Odds Farm in Wooburn Common always goes all out at this time of year and their Christmas Spectacular returns with crafts, an elves’ workshop, a sparkling woodland and the opportunity to meet the main man himself, Father Christmas (oddsfarm.co.uk). For more fun on the farm, Santa will also visit Bucklebury Farm near Reading throughout December to preside over their family-friendly festive activities. Hogshaw Farm & Wildlife Park near Aylesbury is also brimming with cheer with a festive forest trail featuring real reindeer, craft sessions, snow pits and the opportunity to meet Father Christmas aboard his big red tractor.
For after-dark fun, Windsor Great Park Illuminated at The Savill Garden returns this month with its woodland trail lit with dazzling light installations, featuring mythical creatures, dancing fairies, flood-lit fountains and incredible projections. Wellington Country Park is also hosting a magical immersive illuminated night trail – theatrically named Neverland Illuminova – throughout December.
A new light trail also comes to the Aviary gardens at Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury this year as part of their bumper Christmas celebrations. The manor’s grandest rooms will be decorated with scenes from classic childhood stories, the incredible Rothschild façade will be lit up with magical animated projections and the ever-popular Christmas Fair and Food Village returns to the grounds.
Monarchs have been spending Christmas at Windsor Castle for centuries and Queen Victoria always celebrated the season with her family within its walls. It continues to be a magical place at Christmas for all to enjoy, with beautiful decorations including a huge Christmas tree in St George’s Hall, which is the backdrop to a number of choir performances throughout December. Children can also step into the shoes of the Victorians with crafting and dressing up activities throughout the holidays in the Castle Learning Centre (rct.uk/event).
Experience a vintage Christmas 1940s-style at Bletchley Park, the famous home of the World War II codebreakers. Get into the spirit of the wartime ‘make do and mend’ efforts by making your own decorations and gifts, and test your brainpower with their puzzle-filled Christmas Challenge. Visitors can also step inside their festive grotto and spot Father Christmas’ reindeer around the park.
While Shaw House just outside Newbury has all sorts of festivities planned; from a Gingerbread Trail through the rooms of this Elizabethan mansion, a children’s magic show and a Christmas movie screening, to wreath making workshops and a carol concert.
If a sit-down affair is more your style, the 12th century Missenden Abbey is adding a festive twist to the most British of traditions with their Festive Afternoon Teas, which are on offer throughout the month. If you can’t over indulge at Christmas, when can you?
Seasonal stage shows
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a sugar-fuelled, hilarity-ensuing trip to the theatre and, as ever, all the classic pantomimes are on offer this season. There’s Beauty and the Beast starring Joe McFadden and Suzanne Shaw at Wycombe Swan; Sleeping Beauty starring Mr Tumble himself, Justin Fletcher, at The Hexagon in Reading; and Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Windsor, starring Anita Harris and everyone’s favourite mischievous fox, Basil Brush.
Head to Milton Keynes Theatre for Cinderella, starring Brian Conley; and Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, where EastEnders actor James Bye will take centre stage (atgtickets.com).
Everyone loves a panto. Oh no they don’t! If it’s not your thing, the Reading Rep Theatre is hosting a stage adaptation of the classic 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life. While the Mill at Sonning is staging the ‘swellegant’ musical High Society throughout the month, with special Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve performances.
Jolly old St Nick is always a draw and the kids can meet him in his grotto and workshop on the charming Santa Steam Specials at the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway, held on selected dates throughout December. Passengers will be welcomed on board at Princes Risborough by Santa’s elves, before taking a return journey by steam train to the North Pole station to receive a very special gift from the big man himself.
He’s a busy fella at this time of year, but Father Christmas will also be making time to return to the popular family-friendly Howden Christmas Racing Weekend at Ascot Racecourse. With plenty to keep all the family amused, both on and off the track, cheer on the horses and riders from the iconic grandstand, join in the candle-lit carol singing alongside the Ascot Brass Band and indulge in plenty of festive food and drink.
Any Lego fans in the house? Legoland in Windsor will also be entering into the spirit of Christmas with all sorts of festive activities across the park, including a DUPLO puppet pantomime, Santa’s grotto and live entertainment. Of course, at the centre of proceedings is their giant Christmas tree constructed entirely from, you guessed it, millions of Lego bricks.