Following on from our seasonal article last month, we recommend some more festive favourites for visiting, shopping and staying.


AMERICAN MUSEUM IN BRITAIN

Now over 50 years old, the American Museum in Britain aims to inform its visitors about the cultural history of the United States in order to strengthen relations between the two countries. It is celebrated for its magnificent decorative arts collection, comprising over 200 historic American quilts, exceptional pieces of Shaker furniture, exuberant folk art paintings and sculpture, Native American objects, and renaissance maps of the New World.

During the past five years, the museum has developed new programmes and facilities to keep its collections and mission as pertinent as ever. Its orangery café has been renovated and expanded, an interactive American Heritage Centre has been created in the basement, rooms at the top of the manor have been restored for entertaining and for corporate hire, and the grounds themselves – over 150 acres – have been lovingly tended, with the addition of an arboretum of native American trees and a Lewis and Clark Trail. Visitors can also enjoy the Mount Vernon Garden (which pays tribute to the garden George Washington would have known in Virginia) and the spectacular view down the Limpley Stoke Valley.

Every Christmas the museum is transformed for the festive season and this year it will be celebrating ingenious inventions through history. Each Period Room will be dedicated to a different innovation, from the crazy swim fins invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1717, to the swivel chair designed by Thomas Jefferson, who allegedly drafted the Declaration of Independence while sitting in his new creation.

The focal point of the seasonal displays will be the magnificent Nordman Fir Christmas tree, dominating the space in the Central Hall. At over 17 feet tall, this tree is smothered with hundreds of tiny Christmas lights and decorated to reflect the annual theme. Many of the decorations on the tree – and around the museum – have been lovingly handcrafted by the museum’s volunteers and give the displays a distinctive feel, offering inspiration to visitors year after year. There will be Christmas gifts for sale in the shops and the café will be serving refreshments.

The American Museum in Britain welcomes pre-booked groups and offers reduced admission for parties of 15 or more. Organisers receive friendly advice and assistance when booking, coach drivers have free parking, admission, and refreshments, and group members are warmly welcomed.

Info:  Group Visits Co-ordinator – 01225 823019   groupvisits@americanmuseum.org   www.americanmuseum.org

LEEDS CASTLE

Throughout 2013, Leeds Castle has a new programme of daily activities on offer for visitors. There is always something exciting going on for group visitors to enjoy, and Christmas will be no different. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ will run in December, when nature will creep into the castle rooms to create spectacular festive decorations. This year, Leeds Castle is also hosting its first Christmas market, with German market-style chalets offering handmade Christmas decorations, including beautifully-crafted wreaths and garlands. Lots of local suppliers will be selling home-made pies, meats, cheeses, fudge, chutneys, spirits and liquors, ideal for the Christmas dinner table. The market will stay open later on selected dates to allow for ‘late night shopping’.

Info:   Groups Department – 01622 767865   groupbookings@leeds-castle.co.uk www.leeds-castle.com


JUPITER HOTELS

Jupiter Hotels still have some availability remaining for their Christmas packages for 2013. Specifically tailored for the groups’ market, they ensure a fun and memorable stay in excellent leisure destinations with evening entertainment and other traditional festivities arranged. Locations include the Mercure Chester Abbots Well, only two miles from the historic city of Chester and the Mercure Leeds Parkway nestled in the award-winning, picturesque Golden Acre Park nature reserve in Leeds.  They also have the Mercure Bolton Georgian House overlooking the Pennine Moors and the Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel, a 19th-century manor house nestled in 12 acres of landscaped gardens and conveniently located to explore the many attractions this corner of England has to offer. Groups interested should contact Jupiter Hotels for details of the packages and group rates available.

Info: Groups Team – 0800 035 1488    leisuresales@jupiterhotels.co.uk


THE MILL OUTLET, BATLEY

The Mill Outlet in Batley is the UK’s biggest retail mill, with over 40 stores under one roof. It has four restaurants, free on-site coach parking and offers excellent group visitor benefits. A unique shopping destination, there is an unusual mix of independent shops and outlet shopping all set in a department store environment. The extensive range of furniture, homewares and gifts includes many designer and brand names at outlet prices. With sweets, stationery, luggage, a Hornby shop, outdoor and sportswear too, even the men find something of interest when visiting.

This is also the North’s biggest gift outlet, with over 8000 square feet of gift shopping plus a dedicated Christmas area of cards, wrap, garlands and wreaths. Paula Hammerton, Marketing Manager for The Mill, says: “Everybody here just loves Christmas! We pull out all the stops to provide the perfect environment for our customers. Festivities kick off when our 30 foot tree and traditional decorations are installed … from then on we have mulled wine, mince pies, Santa’s grotto, real reindeer, brass bands and roast chestnuts”.

Shopping at The Mill is enhanced by a choice of four restaurants. Group visitors enjoy 20% off all food purchased in any of the restaurants. The group benefits package also includes a very useful meet and greet service, plus other exclusive discounts for group visitors throughout the centre. Drivers get a £15 cash payment and a meal voucher. The group visitor’s pack also includes suggested itineraries in the local area, which is Brontë country and has a host of visitor attractions.

Info:      01924 423172    groups@themillbatley.com     www.themillbatley.com

ROMFORD MARKET

Romford’s historic street market is considered to be one of the biggest and best and is held three times a week in the heart of the town, near to Romford’s four main shopping centres. Romford Market welcomes groups and coaches, with a drop-off area right by the market.

The market has many Christmas events enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year, including live reindeer and carol singers. For those tired of traditional festive fare, the market also has a dedicated food court with Indian, Thai and Singaporean, Caribbean and Cuban delicacies on offer, all of which are extremely popular. The food court occupies a prime position of the clock tower end of the market. Romford Market is open every day in the run-up to Christmas.

Romford Market started life as a sheep market more than 750 years ago, after King Henry III gave instructions for the town to have a market every Wednesday. A 13th century rule that no other market can be set up within a day’s sheep drive (about six miles) from Romford still exists to this day. Romford Market is owned and operated by Havering Council, which in recent years has invested approximately £8 million on improvements to drainage, lighting, surfacing and electricity supplies, thus ensuring that the market is fully ready to welcome all visitors.

Info:     01708 434112    linda.handley@havering.gov.uk     www.romford-market.co.uk

ENGLISH HERITAGE

Yuletide entertainment with an historical twist can be enjoyed by groups at some of English Heritage’s most special properties around the country this winter. In Dover Castle’s Great Tower, for example, King Henry II will be settling in by the fire to entertain guests attending his Christmas court with traditional medieval entertainment, including period songs, stories and games full of courtly love and chivalry. Meanwhile, at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Christmas retreat on the Isle of Wight, the ever-popular festive guided tours will be available around the ground floor rooms, lovingly decorated as they would have been when she celebrated Christmas there. Osborne also hosts an annual Victorian Christmas weekend, with side-shows and traditional entertainment.

At Audley End House and Gardens, groups can step back in time to celebrate the spirit and magic of another traditional Victorian yuletide celebration below and above stairs. Groups can wander around the beautifully decorated rooms of the grand Jacobean house and through the Service Wing, as Victorian costumed characters prepare the house for the upcoming festivities. There will be a magnificent Christmas tree, traditional Victorian storytelling, festive music and carol singing.

There is a host of other festive events for groups to enjoy at many English Heritage sites, from a Cornish Christmas at Pendennis Castle to performances of A Christmas Carol at Belsay Hall in Northumberland and many more.

Pre-booking is highly recommended for group visits and group rates are available. A tour leader and coach driver are admitted free with each group. Free familiarisation visits can be arranged by calling the individual sites.

Info:    02079733529  traveltrade@english-heritage.org.uk  www.english-heritage.org.uk/traveltrade

DAVID URQUHART TRAVEL

All David Urquhart Christmas breaks include festive board at hotels, at least one excursion, entertainment and travel throughout. With a huge range of choices, including ‘Tinsel and Turkey’, Christmas market breaks in Europe, ‘Twixmas breaks’ and ‘Mystery Christmas’ holidays, any group who fancies getting away to celebrate the festive season will find something suitable.

Info: Margaret Shipton   08442 430043   groups@davidurquhart.com

WADDESDON MANOR

Christmas at Waddesdon Manor this year will have an Austrian theme, in keeping with the Austrian heritage of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, who built Waddesdon. Edelweiss and waltzes, crystals, red ribbons and Gustav Klimt’s’ ‘The Kiss’ are some of the treats in store for groups visiting the East Wing of the house. The Coach House at the stables will magically resemble a Tyrolean log cabin, where children will be able to write their letters to Father Christmas among delightful traditional decorations.

In addition, acclaimed British light artist Bruce Munro has created six spectacular large-scale light installations for the gardens, two of which are new and exclusive to Waddesdon Manor. The installations can be enjoyed both by day and by night, as during the day the materials and structures can be properly examined, but at dusk the lights themselves really come into their own. Waddesdon will be extending its evening opening hours on certain dates so that guests can really appreciate the installations. Munro has long been fascinated by the emotional impact of light and the responses it creates, particularly in relation to landscapes. He has exhibited at the Eden Project, the V&A and Kensington Palace among many more. The installations featured are Water Towers, Brass Monkeys, Parliament of Owls, Mynah Words, River of Light and Light Reservation.

Groups are always welcome at Waddesdon Manor, and group discounts as well as ‘early bird’ rates are available.

Info: www.brucemunro.co.uk

Group Bookings Team – 01296 653226  deborah.read@nationaltrust.org.uk   www.waddesdon.org.uk

SALISBURY CATHEDRAL

Groups visiting Salisbury Cathedral this Christmas can opt for special tower tours and festive carol concerts. The popular Group Carol Concerts will be taking place on Tuesday 10 and Thursday 12 December while the seasonal ‘Twilight Christmas Tower Tour and Tea’ is running from Thursday 28 November, the day Salisbury’s Christmas Market opens. Groups should book to enjoy the carolling of the renowned cathedral choir, join in singing traditional carols, and afterwards enjoy seasonal refreshments of hot mulled wine and delicious mince pies.

The special Twilight Christmas Tour and Tea package begins with visitors climbing 332 steps through the cathedral’s secret roof spaces to the base of the cathedral spire to see spectacular views of medieval Salisbury city’s Christmas illuminations at twilight, finishing with cream tea in the refectory restaurant. Those who want to complete their afternoon by attending Choral Evensong at 5.30pm can then move into the cathedral. Booking is essential. The cathedral’s giftshop will also have some great options for Christmas gifts and stocking fillers, including handmade exclusive products. For more Christmas shopping, the German-inspired Christmas Market is just a few minutes’ walk away in Guildhall Square.

Info:    01722 555175   groups@salcath.co.uk