Country Life rounds up the best things to see, do and book over the next few weeks.


Fairs and festivals   – Food and drink  
Family fun – Architecture
Books and literature 
Music, Theatre and DanceArt and exhibitions


Christmas fun and shopping

Until December 30 – Spectacle of Light, Sudeley Castle & Gardens, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Follow the White Rabbit along the beautifully illuminated trail through the castle grounds, meeting other characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland along the way. Entry from 5pm, adult tickets from £15.75.

Until December 31 – Christmas at Harewood: Dreams of the 1920s, Harewood House, Leeds

The Christmas dreamscape runs throughout the house and grounds, with music, events and demonstrations plus Father Christmas himself. Adult tickets £16.50.

Until December 23 – The Greatest Snowman, Pedley Street Station, London

Board a luxury train carriage for an evening of espionage, make-believe and Christmas adventure. The immersive experience includes a delicious four-course meal. Tickets from £56.

December 14 – Bauble-decorating workshop, Sudeley Castle & Gardens, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Decorate a set of six baubles with the help of Cheltenham-based experts Rose and Willow, then take them home to decorate your own tree or give as a thoughtful gift. 10am–11.30am, £45pp including entry to the castle and gardens plus festive refreshments.

November 10–January 2, 2019 – Christmas Carnival, Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Christmas at Waddesdon is 18 months in the making and, this year, it’s on the theme of Carnival. The East Gallery will take visitors to Venice, the Breakfast Room to the 1930s and 1940s and the White Drawing Room to a masked ball of the French Court. Outside, animations and light installations create an enchanted journey through the grounds. Adult tickets £12.

December 1–January 6, 2019 – Christmas at Windsor Castle, Berkshire

See the State Apartments festooned with twinkling lights plus a 20ft-high Nordmann fir from Windsor Great Park, dressed entirely in gold decorations and gracing St George’s Hall. The special exhibition ‘A Royal Wedding: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’ will also be on display. The decorations at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, will be on display from December 7 to January 6, 2019.

December 19 and 21 – Private tour of The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh

‘Behind the ropes’ tour with unprecedented access to the Engine Room, followed by Champagne, mulled wine and mince pies in the State Drawing Room, plus a Britannia Christmas pudding, made on board, to take home. 5.30pm–7pm, £50pp.


Until January 5, 2019 – Rosemoor Glow, RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon

See the gardens in a new light with trees, shrubs and sculptures lit with colour-changing illuminations. The lake will also be lit for the first time, as will the Unknown Soldier and ceramic poppy Armistice display. Normal garden admission applies.

November 22–January 5, 2019 – Christmas at Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Greater London

The spectacular after-dark explosion of festive colour and lights is different every year. This incarnation features a Cathedral of Light, 300 glowing origami boats bobbing on the lake and 80 golden dragons adorning the Great Pagoda. Timed entry between 5pm and 10pm, adult tickets from £16.50.


Freezing the Thames

Until January 6, 2019 – The Museum of London Frost Fair, London Wall, EC2

Two hundred years after the capital’s river last froze, the Museum of London will be transformed into an immense re-creation of the frost fairs once run on the Thames, with a series of special events and workshops.

Books and literature

Until January 5, 2019 – ‘Once Upon a Time’, The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Oxford

A journey through the history of fairytales and magical stories—including Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Peter Pan and The Emperor’s New Clothes—through the works of artists and illustrators from the 19th century to the present day (such as They Came to the Warm Countries by Michael Foreman, from Thumbelina). There will also be 50 rare books on display.

They Came to the Warm Countries by Michael Foreman, from Thumbelina

Until December 21 – ‘Su Blackwell: Folk Tales, Forests and the Sea’, Long & Ryle, John Islip Street, London

Using her scalpel and collection of books, the artist cuts and glues the pages to create enchanting miniature dioramas, lit and encased in glass and wood boxes, ‘like Victorian relics found in a museum of intrigue’.

October 19–March 3, 2019 –  ‘Quentin Blake and John Yeoman: 50 Years of Children’s Books’, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight Village, Merseyside

Illustrator Quentin Blake’s longest working relationship has been with author John Yeoman. This exhibition features the original drawings for collaborations including The Boy Who Sprouted Antlers, Mouse Trouble and their first project, A Drink of Water.

Quentin Blake - image from exhibition at Liverpool Museums

Sporting fun

December 22 – Christmas Family Raceday, Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire

World-class racing combined with plenty of seasonal cheer in the form of a festive parade, candlelit carol singing and and appearance from Father and Mrs Christmas. Gates open 10.45am, adult tickets from £19, free for under 18s. There are pony rides for under-10s and dodgems and rollercoasters to keep older children entertained.

horse at Ascot's Christmas raceday

November 14–January 13, 2019 – Skate at Somerset House, The Strand, London

Glide across the ice beneath a 40ft Christmas tree, dine in the Alpine-inspired Fortnum’s Lodge and pick up some festive goodies in Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade. Adult tickets from £11.

October 13–January 5, 2019 – ‘Hoards: A Hidden History of Ancient Britain’, Salisbury Museum, Wiltshire

The story of hoarding, from weapons and coins to Roman collections and recent discoveries, with a programme of expert talks and events. Standard admission applies.

Food and drink

December 21 and 22 – Medieval Banquets at Beaulieu, New Forest, Hampshire

Dine like a king or queen in the 13th-century Beaulieu Abbey Domus, which will once again echo with the sounds of feasting and frivolity. Within the ancient stone walls, you will enjoy mead served alongside great platters of meat, vegetables and potatoes. After dining, wander along the spectacular Tunnel of Light. £39.50pp.

From November 20 – The Afternoon Tea Express at The Grosvenor Hotel, London

A railway-themed afternoon tea in the hotel’s recently-refurbished Tea Lounge seems somehow appropriate a stone’s throw from Victoria Station, as does the choice of ingredients from across Kent and Sussex, including a Brighton pier doughnut and what the chef describes as a ‘White Cliffs of Dover pistachio meringue’. £26.50, or £32 with a glass of English bubbly from Greyfriars vineyard.

Grosvenor Hotel afternoon tea express

From November 19 – Zoom Rockman at Simpson’s in the Strand, London

Is it art? Is it food and drink? Simpson’s in the Strand have unveiled their new artist-in-residence, Zoom Rockman, the 18-year-old who recently became Private Eye’s youngest-ever cartoonist. The artist has produced a series of six new artworks celebrating the restaurant’s most eminent patron, Sir Winston Churchill, which are now displayed throughout the historic building.

Simpson's in the Strange cartoon of Disraeli, Churchill, Gladstone with Carver, Charlie Brown Copyright © 2018 Zoom Rockman

Disraeli, Churchill, Gladstone with Carver, Charlie Brown Copyright © 2018 Zoom Rockman

Cinema, Theatre, Music and Dance

Until January 6, 2019 – Stick Man, The Lowry, Salford, Greater Manchester

Scamp Theatre brings to life the bestselling children’s book by former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, with puppetry and live music. Tickets from £14.

December 21 – Giancarlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors, St Mary’s Church, Bampton, Oxfordshire

Bampton Classical Opera performs the much-loved, family friendly Christmas opera, composed for TV and first broadcast in 1951. From 7.30pm, adult tickets £15, children under 16 £5.

December 21 – The Unthanks Sing Emily Brontë, Leeds Town Hall, West Yorkshire

The only planned live performance of The Emily Brontë Song Cycle, a new work written and recorded using the author’s piano in her home and based on her poems. From 7.30pm, tickets £21.20. A recording of the music will also be available to visitors to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

The parsonage at Haworth

The parsonage at Haworth ©Just Paget / Country Life Picture Library

Until December 22 – A Christmas Carol, various venues

This touring adaptation is a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the publication of Dickens’s classic festive tale, in aid of the children’s charity Barnado’s. See website for dates, venues and prices.

December 12 – Christmas Carol Service, St Barnabas Church, Pimlico, London

The evening, hosted by Strutt & Parker and BNP Paribas Real Estate, will feature the company’s in-house choir, The S&Pranos, and is in aid of Shelter From The Storm, a London charity supporting the homeless. From 7pm, followed by wine and mince pies. Free entry with donations on the night.

RSVP via

Until January 6, 2019 – Royal Opera House Cinema Festival, Bow Street, London

Screenings of 21 ballets and operas in the newly refurbished Linbury Theatre, including Sylvia, The Magic Flute, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Cendrillon, The Flying Dutchman, The Winter’s Tale and Swan Lake. Adult tickets from £10, free child tickets available for Saturday and Sunday matinees.

December 22 – It’s a Wonderful Life at Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, London

The Palace’s Pavilion will be transformed with comfy seats, mulled wine and gently falling snowflakes for a screening of the 1946 festive film as part of The Luna Winter Cinema season. Other films, including Miracle on 34th Street and The Muppets Christmas Carol, will be shown every day from December 17 to 22. General adult admission £18.50.

November 24–January 6, 2019 – Aladdin, Hackney Empire, London

Enjoy Christmas pantomime at the old music hall, with the Olivier award-winning Clive Row as Widow Twankey. Tickets from £10.

November 23–December 13 and 28-31 – The Nutcracker, Birmingham Hippodrome and Royal Albert Hall

Get into the spirit of Christmas with the Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers, huge sets, lavish costumes and instantly recognisable music. The production will move to London’s Royal Albert Hall from December 28 to 31. Tickets from £20 in Birmingham, £35 in London. /

Until December 30 – The Wider Earth, Jerwood Gallery at the Natural History Museum, London

Thirty handmade puppets are used to bring to life the tropical wildlife encountered by a young Darwin on his five-year voyage aboard HMS Beagle in a new play by David Morton.

Art and Exhibitions

Until January 6, 2019 – The Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City, V&A, South Kensington, London

For the third year running, architects, designers and engineers have crafted an entire city from gingerbread, icing and sweets, complete with lighting, inhabitants (gingerbread men) and wildlife (sugar mice). Tickets £6, free for V&A members and children under 12.

Gingerbread City at the Museum of Architecture in London

Until December 22 – Annabel Pope solo show, The Osborne Studio Gallery, London

The wildlife of Africa is brought to life in the artist’s charming drawings and paintings, inspired by her travels.

December 12-14 –  Paul Hiles in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, Victoria Station, London

Artist Paul Hiles is putting on show four of his works in a charity exhibition on the concourse of Victoria Station, one of the busiest in London, in memory of his late cousin Richard Lee, who died from cancer in 2017. Commuters and art lovers will be able to enjoy the works (including ‘Nelson’s Perspective’ at the top of the page) and buy signed A2 prints of Clapham Junction (where Richard worked) and make a donation in order to enter a draw with the first prize being the framed, signed A1 print of the picture. All the money raised in the sale will go to Macmillan.

Clapham Junction ©Paul Hiles

Clapham Junction ©Paul Hiles

November 29–December 21 – ‘Hugh Buchanan: Fragments of a Classical Twilight’, John Martin Gallery, Albemarle Street, London W1

Watercolours telling ‘the story of an encounter with a building at a particular moment in time’, evoking the last great age of Classical architecture, from London Livery Companies to the Gilded Age mansions of Rhode Island.

Image from ‘Hugh Buchanan: Fragments of a Classical Twilight’, John Martin Gallery, Albemarle Street, London

Until February 24, 2019 – ‘The Furthest Lands’, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, West Yorkshire

Exhibition of work by Norman Ackroyd, one of Britain’s most celebrated landscape artists and print-makers. ‘The Furthest Lands’ covers 950 miles from the Shetland Islands to the south-west of Ireland through aquatint etchings and watercolours.

November 12–December 14 – ‘Journey Through Landscape’, Tessa Packard Showroom, Ives Street, London SW3

New landscapes, both urban and pastoral, by Phoebe Dickinson. Presented in a salon-style hang, some 100 plein air paintings depict Iceland, California, Florence and other contrasting scenes from the British artist’s year of global travel.

Until August 24, 2019 – ‘Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity’, Museum of Freemasonry, Great Queen Street, London WC2

The first major exhibition of masonic jewels in the UK, showcasing pieces from around the world, including the gold-and-green Authors’ Lodge jewel and the Prince of Wales Lodge jewel, crafted by Second World War prisoners of war.

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Sir Claud William Jacob (1863–1948) was an officer in the British Army who served in India and modern day Pakistan for 30 years before serving in the First World War and rising to the rank of Field Marshal. He was also an active freemason, and in 1928 served as Senior Grand Warden, a senior position in the @unitedgrandlodgeofengland, the governing body of freemasonry in England and Wales. In this portrait he is wearing the regalia of that office, whose emblem is a level, along with various masonic badges or jewels.⠀ ⠀ BEJEWELLED: BADGES, BROTHERHOOD AND IDENTITY ⠀⠀ The new exhibition is open to all, admission is free.⠀⠀ See link in bio ⬆️⠀⠀ #MuseumFreemasonry #FreemasonJewels⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ #Freemasons #Freemasonry #MasonicJewels #MasonicHistory #VisitLondon #MuseumMileLDN #MuseumMile #thingstodoinlondon #jewellery #museums⠀ #BritishArmy #military

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