We’re revisiting our former Sunday Snapshots feature this weekend to jivvy up some festive cheer in the countdown to Christmas. From the Scottish Highlands to the Cornish seaboard, we’re blessed with some of the world’s most magical landscapes, towns and villages, and we want to share some of those with you in the hope that’ll raise some festive cheer this Christmas. So without further ado: stoke the fire, reach for the hot chocolate, pull on your slippers and take a look at this selection of wonderful Christmas scenes.
At Sykes, we appreciate that not everyone is a big fan of Christmas and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming when festive activities are thrust in your face everywhere you turn. It can feel like you can’t go anywhere without being reminded of the festive season. That’s where we can help; we’ve scoured the internet and made a shortlist of some of the best non-festive days out that you can enjoy this December:
RSPB Wild Families
From 20th December- 4th January, the RSPB is running a free family adventure trail at their Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve in Essex. The Wild Families: Family Winter Trail is open every day from 9.30am until 4.30pm- just head along to the nature reserve, pick up an adventure trail activity sheet and hunt around to find the hidden clues. Families will need to find all the clues to reveal the mystery! This winter trail is a fantastic day out for all the family and a nice alternative to the plethora of very festive events that take place throughout December. For more information on Wild Families, please visit the RSPB website.
Biking at Dalby Forest
If you fancy an active day out then head to Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire, where you can experience over 70 miles of one of the UK’s best cycling trails. Dalby has something for everyone, with ramps and jumps for thrill-seekers, gentle trails for families, and World Cup standard tracks for serious mountain bikers. You can even hire bikes here if you don’t have your own. There are plenty of pretty picnic spots and scenic views along the way, as well as a tasty café where you can indulge in a well-deserved treat after your day out! For more information, please visit the Forestry Commission website.
Day Out With Thomas
For families with children of the train-loving variety, try a Day Out With Thomas! This wonderful event brings Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends to heritage railways across the UK and on 21st December, Day Out With Thomas is coming to the East Anglian Railway Museum in Essex. This event does need to be booked in advance and gives visitors the chance to meet Thomas and friends, take a ride on a real steam train, and take part in fun-filled themed activities. For more information, please see the Day Out With Thomas website.
Burning the Clocks
Burning the Clocks is an annual free event that takes place in Brighton on 21st December. Organised by community arts charity, Same Sky, Burning the Clocks is a celebration of the shortest day of the year and consists of people gathering together to make paper and willow lanterns to parade through the centre of Brighton, before making them into a bonfire on the beach as a token of the year’s end. There’s also live music and fireworks! For more information, please visit the Same Sky website.
Believe it or not Christmas is just around the corner, in fact it’s less than a week away – where did all that time go? But get the festivities out of the way and the time will start to fly by yet again; before you know it it will be February and the schools will have broken up once more. The February half term always seemed like a bit of an anti-climax for me when I was growing up, with it being wedged in between Christmas and Easter it always seemed to be a bit overshadowed, but book yourself holiday cottage for the break and you’ll never find this to be the case!
Why book in December?
It may seem strange to be talking about booking yourself a February break during the Christmas holidays, but there’s no better time. It tends to get a touch hectic here at Sykes HQ just before the schools break up with people trying to snap something up at the last minute, and sadly a lot of our properties have already been booked by that point. So why don’t you beat the crowds and get in there early? Also, if you book in December you can take advantage of the time off from work and get the family together to make sure that you pick the right cottage for everybody!
Where to go?
Well it’s entirely up to you! We’ve got cottages throughout Britain and Ireland, from the Scottish Highlands right the way down to the Cornish Coast, so it all depends on what you’re after. Lovers of the great outdoors will be right at home in places like the Lake District with stunning scenery and bracing walks. Or alternatively you might fancy a city break where the culture vultures will be able to get their fill, not to mention the option to sneak in a touch of retail therapy!
What to get up to on your cottage break
You’ll never be short of something to do when you go away to your holiday cottage. From rustling up warming winter meals in the kitchen to settling down in front of the fire to watch a film. And then there’s all of the fantastic days out and activities that you can try out whilst you’re away! Websites like the National Trust and Day Out With the Kids are usually very good for finding out what’s on in the area, and many of our owners will leave various leaflets and information packs in the cottage listing some of the local attractions.
So there we have it, just a few of the reasons that you should book yourself a cottage break for the February Half Term this Christmas time. It’ll be less hassle, you’ll have a wider choice and there’ll be no mad rush come February; what more could you want?
We’re probably all a little biased but when it comes to Christmas trees, I think everyone is inclined to think that their own is by far the best. We all spend hours choosing our decorations, decorating our trees and of course, uploading the obligatory pictures to social media. However, there are some trees in the UK that are slightly more distinguished than others. Read on to find out about some of Britain’s best Christmas trees!
Europe’s Largest Walk in Tree – Cheshire Oaks, Cheshire
Cheshire Oaks is a favourite haunt of many of us here at Sykes Cottages as it’s just a short drive from our offices. However, the McArthur Glen designer outlet is also home to the Europe’s largest walk-in tree, which stands at over 90 foot high and 32 foot wide. The tree itself has over 5 miles of fairy lights, weighs 18 tons and boasts 100,000 baubles. Visitors to Cheshire Oaks this Christmas can pay an optional donation to step inside this one-of-a-kind twinkling tree for a look around and a fantastic photo opportunity!
UK’s Oldest Christmas Tree – Wrest Park, Bedfordshire
This year, for the first time in a century, the UK’s oldest Christmas tree will be decorated for the festive season. The Wellingtonia stands at around 98 foot and dates back to 1856, when it was planted by Thomas de Grey in Wrest Park, which is now an English Heritage country estate and gardens. When it was first planted, the tree was brought into the property every year, decorated for Christmas, and then re-planted once the festivities were over. During this period, Christmas trees were all the rage as the Royal Family had recently embraced them as part of their own Christmas celebrations – the tree at Wrest Park is believed to be ones of the earliest examples of a Christmas tree grown in the UK.
UK’s Tallest Christmas Tree- Ballatar, Aberdeenshire
The title of the UK’s tallest Christmas tree is believed to be held by a 125 foot tall tree in Ballatar, Aberdeenshire. The tree is located at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club in the Victorian village of Ballatar, and has been decorated with 2,100 lights and a 5 foot star at the top. Previously, the claim for the UK’s tallest Christmas tree lay with a redwood tree at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, which stood at 118 foot.
Throughout the festive period you will find tasty goodies everywhere you look, but if you can’t indulge over the holidays then when can you? Here at Sykes Cottages, we have an extremely sweet tooth so the holidays are the perfect time to satisfy our cravings for baked goods. If like us you like to treat yourself over the holidays then keep reading as we share our favourite Christmas baking recipes.
I make a lot of biscuits for the team here at Sykes and judging on how fast they disappear they must be pretty good! I’ve included my own recipe for butter biscuits below which makes 25 biscuits and takes around 50 minutes from start to finish.
- 250g butter (softened)
- 300g plain flour
- 140g caster sugar
- 3tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg yolk
- Cream together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl using a wooden spoon.
- Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract before beating the mixture together.
- Sift in the flour and stir until the mixture is combined – if you are struggling to do this with the spoon get your hands in and press everything together.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes, this will make it easier to work with.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a floured surface and pre-heat your oven to 180c.
- Roll the dough out to around 5mm thick before cutting out shapes using festive cookie cutters.
- Place your biscuits on to backing paper on top of an oven try and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.
- Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to firm up for 2-3 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Wait until the biscuits are cool before decorating.
Mince pies are a true Christmas classic and much easier to make then you would first think. The recipe we have suggested below is from the master baker himself Paul Hollywood, will make 16 mince pies and takes around an hour to complete.
For the filling;
- 600g mincemeat
- 1 apple (finely chopped)
- 2 satsumas (segmented)
- Zest 1 lemon
- Icing sugar for dusting
For the pastry:
- 125g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
- 260g unsalted butter (softened)
- 375g plain flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 beaten egg (for glazing)
- Rub the flour and butter together until it looks like crumbs then add the sugar and egg before mixing everything together.
- Tip the pastry mixture out onto a lightly floured service and fold until the mixture comes together – be careful not to over fold the pastry mixture. Wrap the mixture in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.
- Put your mincemeat into a bowl and add the satsumas, apple and lemon zest. Pre-heat the oven to 220c.
- Take out the pastry mix and roll out until 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round cutter cut out 16 bases and fit them into a muffin try. Fill each pastry with around 2 tbsp of mincemeat mixture and brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
- Re-roll the pasty this time cutting 16, 7cm lids and place them on top of the mince pies applying slight pressure to seal around the edges. Glaze the lids with the rest of the egg then sprinkle over a little caster sugar before making a small cut in the top and place them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven when golden brown and leave to cool. Once cooled take them out of the muffin tray and add a dusting of icing sugar before serving.
Who doesn’t love a chocolate cake, especially one with a creamy filling and a chocolate topping? Mary Berry certainly isn’t shy of chocolate and that’s why her yule log is the perfect centrepiece to any Christmas buffet. The following recipe from the Queen of baking takes around an hour to make and will serve up to ten people.
For the chocolate sponge
- 100g caster sugar
- 65g self-raising flour
- 40g cocoa powder
- 4 large eggs
For the cream filling
- 300ml double cream (whipped)
For the chocolate ganache topping
- 300g dark chocolate (broken into small pieces)
- 300ml double cream
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Pre-heat your oven to 200c and lightly grease a Swiss tool tin then line with non-stick paper or baking parchment making sure to push it in at the corners.
- In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture turns pale. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour then carefully fold together the mixture using a spatula until all the cocoa powder and flour are incorporated into the mixture – careful not to beat any of the air out!
- Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin making sure to evenly cover the surface and corners. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch (the sides should be shrinking away from the edge of the tin.
- On your work surface place a large sheet of backing parchment (bigger than the Swiss roll tin) dust this with icing sugar before carefully tipping out the Swiss roll and removing the bottom piece of paper.
- Cut a score mark 1in in along one of the longer edges and begin to tightly roll up the sponge using the paper. Keep the paper inside and sit the Swiss roll on top of its outside edge to fully cool.
- Whilst the Swiss roll is cooling you can make your ganache topping. Heat the cream in a pan (it shouldn’t be too hot that you can’t place your figure in it). Remove from the heat and add the dark chocolate, stirring the mixture until it has dissolved. Cool until it reaches room temperature and then place in the fridge to firm up – remember you’re icing the ganache onto the Swiss roll so it needs to be thick enough to pipe.
- Once the Swiss roll has cooled uncurl it and remove the paper. Evenly spread the whipped cream on top then re-roll tightly.
- When the ganache has firmed up put it into a piping bag which has been fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe long thick lines across the cake covering it completely. Cover the ends with chocolate ganache before dusting the icing sugar over the top and serving.
And there you have it our three favourite recipes for Christmas baking. If this post has left you feeling inspired to try out these seasonal recipes then please share your tasty results with us on Facebook and Twitter.