Wow, we are truly into autumn: looking out of my window I can see a mist of russet reds, golds and browns swirling in the air, with leaves like snowflakes blowing in the wind. Half term is nearly here, Halloween preparations are under way, and I have already been asked to man the mulled wine stall at my son’s school firework display. So my thoughts are now turning to Christmas: I would love a relaxed holiday with friends and family, so I have been looking at properties in some of my favourite counties in the UK. I don’t particularly want to travel a huge distance, and being based in Hampshire, I have a wealth of beautiful counties surrounding me.
And so, I’d love to share a moment of inspiration I’ve had with you. Perhaps you want to enjoy a chilled-out Christmas with family and friends too, or maybe you’re one of two families who want to celebrate with your children together? I always think that after the hectic work schedule of another jam-packed year, sharing the load and escaping is the best way to enjoy the happiest of Christmases.
So where did I end up with my research and thoughts? Oxfordshire, and specifically Henley; a beautiful, cosmopolitan 12th-century market town which is celebrated for its Royal Regatta and Music and Arts Festival. That said, Henley has so much more to offer as a Christmas retreat.
November brings the Love Local Christmas Market, taking place at Henley Town Hall, which kicks off the Christmas festivities quite nicely. On the 21st of November, from 10.00am until 2.00pm, local retailers, artists and enterprises come together under one roof to create a treasure trove of unique Christmas goodies and treats.
Yet it’s in December that Henley really comes alive with festivities, with regular sightings of Santa; in fact, if you’re in Henley on the 2nd of December you will see a troop of Santas racing down the streets, resplendent in bright-red suits and hats. Aptly named The Santa on the Run, the two-mile course is suitable for families and all age groups, and money raised goes to local charities: see www.santaontherun.co.uk for more information.
Also unique to Henley is the Living Advent Calendar. A charming idea originating from Stockholm, it starts at the beginning of Advent on the 1st of December and – on each day until Christmas Eve – a door or window will open at various venues throughout the town and a 15-minute performance will take place. Enjoy songs, carols, local folk stories, dance and more – each performance will have a Christmas or winter theme. For a full list of venues see www.livingadventcalendar.co.uk/venue-partners-84.html.
The Kenton Theatre also has traditional Christmas pantomimes and ballet performances taking place, including Cinderella, Aladdin and The Nutcracker.
So where to stay?
Traditional manor house with quirky charm
Reddish Manor is a handsome manor house that dates back to the 16th century, situated within walking distance of the rural village of Sonning Common, just eight miles from Henley and near to many excellent facilities. This is a real holiday haven: the location provides peace and tranquillity surrounded by the Oxfordshire countryside.
The house is spacious and full of character, with features such as an open fire place in the entrance hall which instantly creates a cosy ambience. The owners have retained many of the original features, and there are interesting antique furnishings and memorabilia throughout the property.
There is a large kitchen complete with fridge freezer, dishwasher and range oven; perfect to cook your Christmas Turkey in whilst chatting around the farmhouse-style table. Thankfully it seats 16, so everyone can participate in creating a magnificent Christmas feast. For more formal dining, the dining room will comfortably accommodate up to 12 people.
The sitting room has a number of focal points such as a high, vaulted ceiling, piano and fireplace, which all result in a really cosy space to enjoy family games or an evening drink. There is a second sitting room, however, equipped with a flat screen TV and a beautiful fireplace, so it’s also perfect for snuggling up and watching a Christmas film or two.
There are seven bedrooms which will sleep up to 16 people, and two bathrooms both with traditional cast iron baths. Outside, Reddish Manor has a large garden so the kids can wrap up warm and burn off some energy (while parents work off those Christmas chocolates!).
Within walking distance is The Greyhound, a delightful country pub boasting Antony Worrall Thompson as head chef, and a menu based around classic pub dishes created using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Hotel Du Vin is also only a short distance away, and has a great Christmas menu available – if you don’t fancy cooking but would like a meal with all the trimmings, you don’t have to look far.
Stunning Oxfordshire countryside, a warm inviting manor house and your family and friends all together under one roof: I couldn’t envisage a better way to spend this Christmas.