Grassington - a village ready for festive fun Dickensian style
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 November 2018
It's no understatement to say Grassington village has got it made, as Martin Pilkington discovers
Spot the village of Grassington on a map and the phrase ‘out of the way’ may spring to mind. It’s a picture perfect place for visitors to the Yorkshire Dales in the warmer months, but in the winter perhaps it is less than ideal…especially for the village traders working to survive the quieter months. But many moons ago, two of them had a very bright idea and now every December the place is abuzz for two hectic – and colourful – weekends.
‘It began as something to tide us over the winter, a jolly with entertainment and some of the locals dressing up in Victorian costumes to attract more visitors, and it worked, it brought in the crowds,’ explains Angela Jackson, one of the committee of six that organises what is now the Grassington Dickensian Festival and Christmas Market.
‘A few years on they (the organisers) approached coach companies, and at the peak there were about 100 coaches a day arriving, which was a bit much, we now limit it to 80. In all we have around 6,000 people here for every day of the festival – it’s massive,’ she says, ‘and a huge economic boost to the town.’
This year’s event takes place on December 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th and there is a great deal more to it nowadays than a few locals dressing up. ‘You could do all your Christmas shopping in one day here, take in the entertainment, and enjoy the traditional food and drink,’ adds Angela. There are 25 outdoor market stalls, an indoor craft market with 40 more, all the shops around the square take part and the four pubs do a roaring trade, setting up additional facilities outside to provide food for the hungry masses. ‘There are roasting chestnuts, a hog-roast, mulled wine, hot chocolate… everything done with a Dickensian twist,’ adds Angela, ‘and the setting in the square lends itself to that, it’s very atmospheric with the lovely old buildings surrounding the market and so many people in costume.’
Much more recently, but with a similar can-do attitude, Grassington’s cultural life has been given a boost. As Geraldine Norman, secretary of UWALS – the Upper Wharfedale Arts and Literature Society – explains. ‘It was born out of a group of us getting together a couple of years ago, because we found that travelling to events elsewhere with the lack of public transport could be a nightmare, especially for people on their own with no car. We put on a few events, and it has grown from there to 76 members and a full calendar of activities open to all for 2019.’ UWALS’ choir will be involved in a Christmas sing-along in December, and to end this year’s professional performances early music group York Waits will be performing at Grassington’s Octagon Theatre on December 5th.
The group has just won a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to build on work done this year documenting and exhibiting an archive of Wharfedale photographs from 1918, the plan now being to continue that work and repeat the exhibition, but also to involve local people in art, literature and research projects about the area today for future generations to enjoy.
Surrounded by beautiful countryside, and with that local spirit of enquiry and activity, it’s no surprise that another group centred on the town exists to make the most of what nature and history have to offer. ‘It’s a bit like Maureen Lipman, if it ends in an -ology we’ll look at it – we have groups exploring local archaeology, geology, and ornithology, along with botany, plus we have a walks section, and groups studying local history and vernacular buildings,’ says Pete Wright, president of the Upper Wharfedale Field Society. ‘We do both the scientific and study side of things and simply get out into the lovely countryside here.’
The 100-strong group, celebrating its 70th anniversary next year, is another to make good use of the Octagon Theatre, with a talk on Antarctica arranged there on December 10th, and of course it arranges walks to local beauty spots like Grimwith Reservoir.
Walking in organised groups is not just a sociable thing, but a sensible approach in a landscape that while undoubtedly stunning scenically can also be a challenge, and on occasion can trip up – sometimes literally - the unwary. Another local institution based in Grassington exists to help those who get into trouble in the surrounding countryside – The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association. ‘At this time of year people can get caught out,’ says Phill Nelson, one of its three team controllers, ‘so we say take a compass and know how to use it, take a torch with you, and do make sure you have spare batteries – being on top of the fell and finding it’s suddenly too dark to see is not a good idea.’
Like the Field Society the volunteer rescue group has been going for 70 years. The technology available today makes what remains a very demanding role a little bit easier than was the case when it was founded. If there is an alert Phill and his colleagues contact the 60 members via a text-based system and mobiles can be a lifeline in an emergency. ‘If they have a signal, and high up in the fells that can sometimes be the case - people in trouble can alert the emergency services on their mobile and if they have 3G or better we can text them a link to follow that gives us an exact location to work on,’ he explains. But best not to get in trouble in the first place of course!
Tempting though the fells are, the lure of a glass of mulled wine, some Christmas fudge and a big slab or roast pork in quaint surroundings may be even greater still. Either way, Grassington’s got it made this December.