Within the second part of GTW’s extensive Christmas special, Helen Milbank provides a scrapbook of seasonal events and days out available for groups this festive season to help you plan your itinerary in 2015 and beyond
The Canterbury Tales boasts a range of special group packages and events tailored to the Christmas season, including the Artisan Christmas Gift Fair and Christmas Theatre Package.
From November 28-29, visitors can browse the attraction’s annual festive market with a medieval twist at the Artisan Christmas Gift Fair. Here, groups will be greeted from their designated coach drop-off point by a medieval pilgrim in full costume, escorted to The Canterbury Tales for a complimentary glass of mulled cider, before exploring the attraction via the Artisan Christmas Gift Fair, browsing gifts from a number of local crafters. Visitors can also enjoy a tasting of authentic mead. The Artisan Christmas Gift Fair is £3 per person.
Additionally, the Christmas Theatre Package sees groups escorted from their coach for a tour of The Canterbury Tales, complete with a sample of authentic mead. Meandering through the city’s Christmas Market and surrounding shops, visitors will embark to the Marlowe Theatre for a delicious two-course meal, before enjoying the traditional pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Christmas Theatre Package is available on December 15-16 and January 8, 2016 at £37.25 per person, including free coach parking. To book call 0845 070 6255 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.canterburytales.org.uk/groups/group-packages
If nostalgia is high on your group’s festive checklist, they’ll love the events at Beamish, hailed as the Living Museum of the North. Groups can discover the sights, sounds and delicious tastes of Christmases past at the County Durham attraction, organised in the run up to the New Year. Every weekend from mid-November (plus the December 21, 22, 23 and 24), your group can experience the magic of Christmas, as you join celebrations at the 1820s-style Pockerley Old Hall, the 1900s Town and Pit Village and the 1940s Farm.
Enjoy Christmas carols and festive entertainment, sample Christmas-themed cooking in homes around the museum and purchase some last minute quirky gifts in the shops. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the run up to Christmas, Beamish is offering a groups package, which includes admission and a Christmas lunch. Explore the Town and Pit Village, while youngsters (and the young at heart) can pay a visit to Father Christmas and meet his reindeer. Reconvene in a private room overlooking the town for a three-course Christmas lunch, with all the trimmings. For smaller appetites, there’s a Christmas Lighter Bites menu.
Christmas menus are available for groups of 15 or more from November 14 to December 17, 2015. Cost for the three-course Christmas lunch is £21 and includes admission, with £16 for the Christmas Lighter Bites lunch. Beamish boasts free coach parking, and coach drivers and group travel organisers are admitted free. For more information, contact the group bookings team on 0191 370 4026 or visit www.beamish.org.uk/group-visits
CHRISTMAS AT DURHAM CATHEDRAL
Groups visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham Cathedral this festive season can enjoy its exclusive Christmas offering – A Taste of Christmas.
A Taste of Christmas will see groups taken behind the scenes into the medieval Chapter House (usually closed to the public), where they can enjoy a private carol concert performed by the Durham Cathedral Choristers on December 4 at 1400hrs. The exclusive event will see mulled wine and mince pies served, with a chance to explore Durham Cathedral and the adjoining Local Producers’ Market held in the Cathedral’s historic Cloister. Additionally, Durham City Christmas Market stands mere feet away on Palace Green. A Taste of Christmas will be hosted solely for groups and therefore, booking is essential. For more information call 0191 374 4050, email email@example.com or visit www.durhamcathedral.co.uk
SPEND CHRISTMAS IN THE PAST AT BLACK COUNTRY LIVING MUSEUM
Black Country Living Museum’s Traditional Christmas Evenings are scheduled to take place on December 11-12 and December 18-19, with tickets on sale from September 1, 2015. During the course of the event, groups are invited to explore 26 acres of stunning period houses and shops, whilst experiencing the magic of an old-style living village.
Gas-lit cobbled streets set the scene for a series of Christmas pantomimes, alongside a host of traditional entertainment such as carol singing, bell ringing and brass bands. There will also be a mouth-watering menu of festive food and drink including smoked meat, real ales and roast chestnuts served amidst an authentic Christmas Market. Group rates are available. To book call 0121 520 8054 or visit www.bclm.com for more information.
A REAL WINTER WARMER
Escape the cold this festive season among the palm trees and tropical plants of the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome. On specific dates from November 28, 2015 to January 3, 2016, the Cornish attraction will be transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with ice rink and a unique after-dark experience. An additional 20% discount is available for pre-booked groups visiting the Eden Project. For further details contact Carol Barrett on 01726 811903, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website at www.edenproject.com
WHEN THERE ARE PRESENTS TO BUY…
Every year, more than 10,000 shoppers flood to The Alnwick Garden Christmas Market, keen to sample Northumberland’s finest handmade, artisan and luxury gifts – supporting local independent businesses in the process. Entry is free and choirs and brass bands serenade groups, with thousands of twinkly lights providing the perfect backdrop to a weekend spent Christmas shopping. This year, the market will be held on November 28-29, in addition to December 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20, 2015. For more information visit www.alnwickgarden.com
Further south, Gloucester Quays will be hosting its annual Victorian Christmas Market from November 19-22, with more than 150 stalls selling food, drinks and gifts. For more information visit www.gloucesterquays.co.uk. Presents aside, Christmas is largely about the eating, with many of the UK’s varied farmers markets bringing out the free-range turkey and trimmings in the run up to the festive season. There are hundreds of markets to choose from, but hungry groups often favour the much-loved Fleetwood Market in Lancashire.
This traditional market runs every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and offers free coach parking for groups. Visit www.wyremarkets.co.uk for more on Fleetwood and its neighbouring farmers’ markets at Thornton, Great Eccleston and Poulton.
FESTIVE DISTILLERY TOURS
There’s no avoiding the fact that the Christmas season tends to bring out the booze, so why not embrace the nation’s favourite tipples with a group tour at some of Britain’s best-known distilleries? From rural Hampshire’s Bombay Sapphire Distillery (distillery.bombaysapphire.com), to Surrey’s Denbies Wine Estate (www.denbies.co.uk), there’s a group tour tailored to every taste. New for 2015 is Denbies’ Christmas Winter Warmer tour. Indulge in a wine tasting session and a two-course Christmas lunch, followed by a visit to the Denbies’ farm shop and the Surrey Hills Brewery – with a 10% discount voucher for everyone on the trip. The tour costs £15.50 per person for groups of 20 or more and runs throughout November and December 2015. Visit the website for more information.
London’s Beefeater Distillery is another firm favourite with groups, offering a two-and-a-half hour tour of the historic, cathedral-like still house – complete with gin tasting. It’s a chance to experience nearly 200 years of gin making in the capital and group travel organisers are advised to book in advance. Plan your group visit at beefeaterdistillery.com
DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW
The UK’s network of vintage railways comes alive at this time of year, with steam-powered Christmas lunches and days out proving hugely popular with groups. West Somerset Railway is hailed as the longest heritage railway in England – stretching nearly 23 miles – and will be doling out the mince pies and sherry in late November and December a part of its Santa Specials. The railway is offering free familiarisation visits for group travel organisers. To book call John Simms on 01643 700382 or email at email@example.com
Keen to attract groups this festive season is Cambridgeshire’s Nene Valley Railway, which runs its popular Santa Specials from November – with a present for every child, the chance to meet Father Christmas and tea, coffee, mince pies and a boozy tipple for grown ups (www.nvr.org.uk). Trains leave from Wansford and run into the centre of Peterborough and back. Your group could also hitch a ride aboard one of Bure Valley Railway’s carriages (www.bvrw.co.uk), Kent’s popular Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (www.rhdr.org.uk) and the East Lancashire Railway (www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk).
TREAT FOR THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE FANS
Railway enthusiasts are guaranteed to enjoy a visit to Drayton Manor Theme Park’s festive-themed Thomas Land this winter. The only Thomas the Tank Engine-themed attraction of its kind in Europe, groups will be transported to a winter wonderland once they enter the park, with Thomas Land undergoing a Christmas makeover, including spectacular decorations, festive music, fairy lights and snow, thanks to a special machine that will ensure a flurry at least three times a day. Thomas Land is now bigger and better than ever following a £2.5million expansion earlier this year and is home to 25 rides and attractions, including its new additions, Captain’s Sea Adventure and Toby’s Tram Express.
Groups can also ride the Ben 10: Ultimate Mission Coaster, glide around the outdoor ice rink and visit the animals in the 15 acre zoo, which will be home to a herd of Santa’s reindeer. Festivities at Drayton Manor will run on Friday, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from November 21-December 14, 2015 (excluding November 23), and daily from December 17-23 and December 27-31, 2015. Group tickets must be pre-booked. To book call 0844 472 1960 or visit www.draytonmanor.co.uk
THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS AT THE REAL MARY KING’S CLOSE
Groups planning a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close this Christmas will have the opportunity to delve deeper into Edinburgh’s hidden history, where until recent times, Christmas in the city was banned. For a limited time, the attraction will be hosting Christmas-themed tours surrounding the once ordinary working day for Scots, with celebrations moved to Hogmanay instead. Groups can complement their Christmas tour with a visit to the attraction’s seasonally dressed café – The Royal Exchange Coffee House – where they can tuck into a warming hot chocolate and mince pie with a Scottish twist.
Tours are available upon request throughout December or groups can accompany public tours, which run daily from 1700hrs from December 19-23, 2015. Those booking in advance could complement their visit with seasonal food and drink packages. To book contact Lucy Simpson on 0131 225 0672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.