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Christmas on the Coast?

Stay in a castle, sip mulled wine or spiced cider while present shopping at one of the many Christmas markets, nothing beats a festive break beside the sea.

Atmospheric Christmas markets

Mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, twinkling lights in the harbour, illuminations on a promenade…there is nothing quite like a Christmas market by the coast.  With many towns and cities sprinkling December with festive spirit, you can be sure of a rewarding Christmas break.

For a truly atmospheric and ancient experience, head to Alnwick in Northumberland, which runs two Christmas markets, one in the cobbled town square, the other in the nearby Alnwick Castle Gardens 

‘Alnwick has an international appeal,’ says Robert Lundgren Jones, who runs Lundgren Tours around the town. ‘Alnwick Castle was used as the location for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two film adaptations of the books. But walk through the town and you pass a “Welcome to Alnwick” sign and you are entering 1,000 years of history.’

Activity centres on the market square, where a twice-weekly market takes place, boosted at Christmas by seasonal items and stalls selling everything from local cheeses to outstanding pieces of worked wood (why not take home a distinctive Northumbrian chessboard?). 

Close by, you can pop into A Taste of Northumbria on the Market Place and enjoy Alnwick rum and gin and Lindisfarne mead. At Christmas they serve free glasses of mulled wine. 

Alnwick Castle is still home to the Pearcy family and a visit will allow you to peer into the dark deeds that have happened over the centuries. ‘There was quite a lot of action,’ says Robert with a hint of understatement, ‘as it was so close to the border with Scotland.

Santa is positioned on top of Bond Gate, one of the medieval entry points to the town; white and blue illuminations are everywhere; and the gargoyles of the castle look down on the festivities. ‘Every single building is decorated,’ says Robert.

The Christmas celebrations involve a procession of drummers from the castle gardens to the town centre. The gardens, meanwhile, have their own Christmas market, with a 3-D light show, talking snowmen, carol singing, a gingerbread house and an exquisitely illuminated cherry garden.

Options to stay in Alnwick include the Cookie Jar, a recently renovated Georgian building that was a former convent of mercy, with individually designed rooms and a wonderful snug bar. 

Further south, Burnham Deepdale, off the A419 coast road, expands its regular market at Christmas to include giant marquees and the interior of St Mary’s Church.

Amble around and you will find unique gifts ranging from handcrafted stained-glass ornaments, hand-printed textiles and decorative recycled glass inspired by the coast. If you get peckish while shopping, head to, Pie Central, a pop-up Norfolk gourmet pie company.

Christmas on the Coast? Christmas on the Coast?
Christmas on the Coast?

Stay in a tower!

Other major towns and cities to host a Christmas market include Brighton which takes place on the Palace Pier and Bournemouth. At the latter you can don your skates on the ice rink, or explore the illuminated Christmas tree trail as well as mingle with the crowds as you nose around the stalls and perhaps buy some Dorset fudge or chilli jam as a stocking filler. 

If you don’t want to centre a Christmas break on markets, there are some unusual places to stay by the coast that come into their own at this time of year. 

The Landmark Trust charity is a good source of options to fulfil this dream. 

In Suffolk, by the sea at Aldeburgh, you could stay at their Martello tower. This was the largest and most northerly of a chain of towers put up to counter the threat of Napoleon. The vaulted interior of this startling quatrefoil building has a floor of teak.

The Landmark Trust has another excellent coastal property, in the form of Kingswear Castle, near Dartmouth in South Devon. A mixture of Tudor and Victorian work, it still boasts the shutes of the machicolations, down which water could be poured on fires lit by attackers against the door. From the roof, you can look across to Dartmouth or down the rocky coast out to sea.

What better way to take a festive break?

By Mark Rowe