A Dickensian Christmas Fair
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An OfftoLondon Christmas Shopping Feature:
A Dickensian Christmas Fair

shopping guide

s each year passes, the prospect of exhausted days trawling the crowded stores in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Knightsbridge and the shops of Sloane street and Bobd Street for Christmas presents grows ever more daunting. That is why the European Christmas Markets have such appeal. I am delighted to see the custom taking hold here in UK, with excellent annual Christmas markets now taking place each year in Bath, Lincoln and York.

You can visit the Bath Christmas Market which takes place in the shade of the ancient Abbey, (29 November-9 December, 2008), by booking with Britannia Travels, which runs a popular overnight tour to to this exquisite Regency town and its historic Roman Baths. You stay at the beautiful award-winning Royal Crescent Hotel, situated in one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in all of Britain, just a short walk from the Fair in the city centre. Expect to see over 120 festively lit traditional wooden chalet stalls showcasing original handcrafted gifts, decorations, toys, cards, festive food and drink.

As an added bonus you get to see Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and some of England's most beautiful countryside on the way.

There are a growing number of Charles Dickens themed Christmas Fairs where you can shop in an appropriate Victorian Christmas atmosphere. Notable among these is the famed Dickensian Christmas Fair at Rochester, just a short 30 minute drive out of London on the A2, or an hour's rail journey from London Victoria or Charing Cross. In the golden age of coaching, before the advent of steam and combustion engine caused the demise of such famous stage coaches as the Tally Ho, and attendant coaching inns like the Tabard Inn, (described by Chaucer in Canterbury Tales and by Dickens in Pickwick Papers), in Southwark, Rochester was an important staging post on the historic old Dover Road which ran from London Bridge through Southwark, Greenwich, New Cross, Depford and Blackheath; all now parts of south-east London.

Dickens, who might be described as the veritable genius of the Dover Road, (see the second chapter of The Tale of Two Cities for his magical description of 18th century coaching there in the time of George III), lived and wrote many of his novels at Rochester from his house on Gad's Hill. The town is as much associated with his memory as is Stratford-upon-Avon with Shakespeare, or Chaucer with Canterbury further down the Dover Road. In that great cycle of Dickensian imaginative prose beginning with Pickwick Papers and ending with Edwin Drood, Rochester is written from almost the first page to the last.

Rochester's Dickensian Christmas Fair takes place on 1-2 December. In addition to magical stalls offering a huge range of Christmas fare, there is lively street entertainment, musicians and costumed characters performing around the festival area in the Victorian High Street, town centre and grounds of the old Norman castle. There are colourful costumed parades and processions and each day is completed with a Carol Concert outside Rochester's magnificent Norman Cathedral with its fine Romanesque facade. This annual event is always worth visiting. Lovers of Dickens novels should set aside 2 1/2 hours to follow the Dickens Walk and see such details as the Restoration House, the ancient city mansion where the author located Miss Faversham, (see my related links for details).

Closer to home in central London, the Country Living Christmas Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington, North London from 14-18 November, gives us an opportunity to do all our Christmas shopping under one roof. Some 400 exhibitors are offering a colourful range of gifts and gastronomic fare to put us in the mood for the festive season.

Related Links

Britannia Travels Bath Tour. Description and Online booking.
A Dickens Walk in Rochester Follow in the steps of Charles Dickens with the help of Richard Jones's superbly researched downloadable London Walks directions.
The Victorian Strollers Victorian Reenactment Society. Events calendar.
Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair Exhibitor list, online booking.

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