Caroline MillsSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Caroline Mills
A couple of years ago I found a cheeky robin nesting under the skirting of our family motorhome.
Lovely as it was to be the proud ‘parents’ of five baby chicks, the nursery nest scuppered our plans for a winter trip away.
This year, there will be no excuses. Why?
Because there are too many exciting events taking place throughout December, January and February, all with somewhere to pitch close by – we don’t want to miss out!
1 – Angels on High at Castle Howard and Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland
Let’s kick off pre-Christmas proceedings in Yorkshire where beautiful Castle Howard is, until 23 December, putting on a mesmeric display to get you in the festive mood.
In the Great Hall of the stately home is a 25-foot Christmas tree, decorated with 3500 baubles while hundreds of angels, seraphim and cherubs can be found ‘floating’ around the property. Look out, too, for a gingerbread model of Castle Howard.
Where to pitch? You could stop at one of our Practical Motorhome Nightstops, the Antique Centre in the lovely town of Pickering, 15 miles from Castle Howard – located in the town centre, it will provide a chance for some last-minute shopping.
But while you’re in the area you may as well pay a visit to Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland at York Designer Outlet and take to the ice.
Until 7 January, you’ll find the largest outdoor ice rink in the north of England here! And for those who prefer to watch others gracefully fall over, there’s a picturesque rink-side Alpine-themed café.
2 – The UK’s biggest ice bar
Keeping things large, visit Nottingham some time in December for a trip to the UK’s largest mobile ice bar.
Enjoy a drink from a glass made of ice but, first, take a wander among 60 themed market and festive food stalls, and skate around the city’s 60-foot Christmas tree.
Afterwards, warm up in the French ski-lodge-style Sur la Piste bar, or why not slide down the Helter Skelter Bar for a glass of mulled wine or a winter cocktail.
Nominate a driver and stay at Eye Kettleby Lakes Touring Park, which features in our Top 100 Sites Guide, near Melton Mowbray.
The site is open all year, with special offers for stays during December. It’s an easy drive from Nottingham to the campsite, along the A6.
3 – See the reindeer
Head west from Nottingham and you can visit England’s largest working reindeer herd.
Roaming freely across 30 acres of Staffordshire countryside are 150 reindeer at Blithbury Reindeer Lodge, which opens to the public in the run up to Christmas.
There are opportunities to feed and fuss over the reindeer. The little ones can enjoy story time by the fire, attend Elf School or take a sleigh ride in a traditional Scandinavian sleigh. And, for adults only, there’s a Reindeer by Night experience.
You can stay close to the reindeer lodge at Forest View Camping Site, a small campsite within Cannock Chase Country Park.
4 – Christmas royalty
For a royal Christmas, take a trip to the Royal Yacht Britannia, berthed in Edinburgh.
A visit really is an unforgettable experience (the yacht has received the status of Scotland’s Best Visitor Attraction for 12 years in a row).
Throughout Britannia’s five decks, the ship is adorned with beautiful decorations, from the Grand Staircase in the State Apartments to the Crew’s Quarters below decks and including, for the first time ever, a large Christmas tree, kindly gifted to the Royal Yacht by Her Majesty The Queen’s private estate, Balmoral.
Complementing the Queen’s Balmoral Estate tree is a 30-foot Christmas tree on the quayside at Britannia and another on the bridge of the ship, a longstanding naval tradition. Make a point of having afternoon tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room during your visit.
Motorhomes under seven metres should be able to park in the free outdoor parking area designated for visitors to Britannia, but you could leave your ’van at the Caravan & Motorhome Club’s Edinburgh site, which is open all year, and take a taxi for the three-mile journey.
5 – From tea on board one boat to another
Belfast really knows how to ‘dress up’ for the festive period with many reasons for visiting the city during the winter months.
And just one of those reasons this year is to take a five-star festive afternoon tea ‘on board’ Titanic at the multi-award-winning Titanic Belfast.
Are you called Jack or a Rose? In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Titanic, the film, all guests named Jack and Rose can visit the Titanic Experience free of charge during December.
Make time, though, to get some seasonal fresh air on the Divis and the Black Mountain summit trail, a way-marked path to the highest peak in the Belfast Hills, Divis Mountain.
Overlooking the city of Belfast below and with magnificent views of Lough Neagh, the Mourne Mountains and Strangford Lough, this is a fantastic vantage point from which to take in the magnificent scenery that Northern Ireland has to offer.
Your ‘bed’ for the night is at Dundonald Touring Caravan Park, a friendly, secure site two miles from the city centre that remains open all year, but from November to March offers an Aire de Service style facility.
6 – A dazzling finale for the UK City of Culture 2017
As Hull’s tenure as the 2017 UK City of Culture comes to an end, the city is showcasing a dazzling finale this December.
‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ – the UK City of Culture’s last major commission for 2017 – will see 25 former industrial robots raised on plinths above people’s heads, interacting with each other and throwing light onto buildings and unnoticed corners.
Using a specially choreographed interplay of light, shadow and sound it will guide people through Hull’s medieval Old Town as dormant robots awaken, respond to the city’s architecture and notable landmarks, and interact with one another and passers-by.
Free to attend, the event runs until 7 January 2018.
To make the most of the last days of Hull’s cultural status, you can stay less than 15 miles from the city, at the adults-only Blue Rose Caravan & Country Park. Open all year, it is listed in Practical Motorhome’s Top 100 Sites Guide 2017.
7 – Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival
From light to dark, move on a month or so and you can be a part of the Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival, a multi-location fortnight that makes the most of both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.
Among more than 50 events taking place between 9 and 25 February, activities in the North York Moors will include a rare opportunity to feel what it’s like to fly through the night sky.
Strapped safely to a zip wire, adrenaline-seekers will be able to plunge more than 200 metres into the darkness of Dalby Forest, courtesy of Go Ape!
Meanwhile, visitors to the Dales will be able to indulge in an evening’s stargazing against the backdrop of some of North Yorkshire’s most historical landmarks including, for example, a celestial safari in the grounds of Bolton Castle near Leyburn while being treated to mulled cider and canapés.
There will also be more opportunities for activity seekers to experience caving, cycling, walking or running under the night sky including a new gravel biking event.
During the festival, there’s free overnight parking (6.30pm-9am) for up to six motorhomes in the Cleveland Way overflow long stay car park in Helmsley.
Or you could try out one of Practical Motorhome’s Nightstops: The George Carvery near Harrogate is convenient for events in the Yorkshire Dales, while South Moor Farm is ideal for those visiting Dalby Forest.
8 – See in the New Year, twice!
You don’t need to move time zones to get a double New Year. Once you’ve welcomed in 2018 on 1 January, head to Pembrokeshire where you can witness Hen Galan, a very traditional Welsh custom.
In a small wooded valley near Fishguard, the inhabitants of Cwm Gwaun celebrate New Year on the 13 January. Here they still run (for this particular day at least) to the old Julian Calendar, which was abolished in 1752. The people of the Gwaun Valley resisted the change.
In the front room of The Dyffryn Arms at Pontfaen, which has been in the same family since 1840, revellers gather to share a tipple while locals cook a large family meal to celebrate the New Year. And, traditionally, children go from door to door singing in return for treats.
Heading into the Gwaun Valley is like stepping back in time and is really worth exploring, a great addition to spending a couple of days in Fishguard.
And, indeed, you can stopover at one of our Nightstops, The Seaview Hotel, right on the seafront in Fishguard. Your overnight stay is free of charge if you dine at the hotel.
9 – Winter Open Days on England’s canals
Why not follow in the footsteps of Georgian and Victorian engineers, craftsmen and navvies at the Canal & River Trust’s winter open days?
Until March 2018, you can catch a behind-the-scenes glance at how modern-day engineers and conservationists care for 2000 miles of historic waterways.
Open days are free and will take place across England throughout the winter with each event a special opportunity for visitors to learn about the history and heritage of their area from the charity’s skilled apprentices, heritage team, ecologists and engineers.
Where best to stay will, of course, depend on which event you plan to attend or alongside which canal you fancy a lovely winter stroll.
However, two locations in our Top 100 Sites Guide 2017, The Trotting Mare Caravan Park and Plassey Holiday Park are near one of Britain’s prettiest canals, the Llangollen Canal, where an open day is taking place.
Or, I can personally recommend Barford Top Campsite, a small, picturesque site within four miles of the famous Foxton Locks in Leicestershire, where you can experience another open day this winter.
10 – The world’s biggest bouncy castle
Finally, how young do you feel? If your ’van is packed and you’re ready to go on some winter adventures right now, until 17 December, the NEC in Birmingham hosts The Beast, reputedly the world’s largest inflatable obstacle course.
It’s considered the ‘ultimate bouncy castle experience for adults’ where you can run, dance and bounce your way around.
There’s street food, cocktails and craft beers, plus a sound and lighting show. Participants must be 16 years or over (this is a great event if you’ve got teens on tour) and there are morning sessions from 10am for 11- to 15-year olds.
If you’d like to keep the fun firmly to yourselves, the adults-only Somers Wood Caravan Park, in our Top 100 Sites Guide 2017, is within a 10-minute drive of the NEC.