Christmas things to do in Oxfordshire

Round & About

Oxfordshire

All sorts of events are taking place across Oxfordshire this festive season. We highlight some below.

You’ll find lots more local events in your copy of Round & About Magazine this month – check out our Ramblings listings in the magazine to see what’s on near you coming up to Christmas.

Green Belt: film focus on Culham

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Caroline Baird explains more about a new short film showing the impact of major development on the rural community of Culham.

Save Culham Green Belt, in conjunction with the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE Oxon), have produced a four-minute film highlighting why it is essential to protect the Green Belt for future generations.

Culham is an historic village, of just 450 inhabitants. The local authority’s plan to remove 315 hectares from the Oxford Green Belt and build 3,500 houses, would result in a population increase of 8,750 –10,500 – a new town larger than Wallingford (7,542 at 2011 census). Such a development would be to the detriment of pristine Green Belt land while engulfing the homes of the Culham community.

The film endeavours to show that the “exceptional circumstances” required by Central Government for changing Green Belt boundaries do not exist; that the area lacks the capacity to provide roads and services for such a huge development, and that Culham railway station, cited as a chief reason for strategic development, is subject to huge physical restrictions and is no more than a rural halt. Local employment opportunities have also been exaggerated and are uncertain at this time.

Council officers are currently reassessing 15 potential development sites and will announce an updated Local Plan this month, with public consultation on this final phase taking place in January.  Save Culham Green Belt continue to campaign against erosion of the Green Belt and unsustainable development.

Santa by train!

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Why not enjoy a magical journey on the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway through the south Oxfordshire countryside and visit Santa in his grotto?

A dedicated group of steam-powered volunteers are ready and waiting to take you on a heritage train ride on this rural branch line, first opened in 1866.

Known locally as “The Bunk”, its passenger services ceased in 1959. Having secured the line in 1981, the CWR Preservation Society now aims to enhance the facilities that the railway offers and to improve the Wallingford site.

Running through the beautiful countryside, the line links the historic riverside town of Wallingford with GWR trains at Cholsey. You can travel on the 1950s coaches, hauled by one of the diesel locomotives or by a visiting steam engine.

On your journey, look out for Cholsey Church, where Agatha Christie is buried, and perhaps spot the magnificent red kites soaring above. If you want to make a day of it as a family, a 10-minute walk away you will find castle ruins, the museum and shops, restaurants and pubs. Trains run on selected weekends and bank holidays throughout the year and, where available, are steam hauled.

Enjoy Santa specials on the train on 8th & 9th, 15th & 16th and 22nd & 23rd December.

Pre-booked tickets cost £10 for adults and £7 for children (aged between two and 15), under-twos £5. Every child gets a gift from Santa and there’s a mince pie and hot fruit drink for all adults.

Winters tale: folk music in Oxford

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Make a date to see contemporary folk singer-songwriter Emily Mae Winters perform on Saturday, 8th December, with Holywell Music & Folk.

Hailed as having a voice that will stop you in your tracks, Emily Mae’s songs are quickly permeating the folk and song writing scene.

A poetic singer songwriter, influenced by the likes of Gillian Welch, Carole King, Alison Krauss, Sarah Jarosz and Kate Rusby, her music splits the difference between the gentle seas of folk and country. In 2016, Emily teamed up with BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Ben Walker to produce her first commercial EP release Foreign Waters.

Her self-penned track Anchor from the release won the folk category in the Guardian Songwriting Competition. The tracks have received extensive national and international folk and Americana radio play including support from the BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding and the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe.

After spending last year touring doing supports, she has just released her debut album Siren Serenade, co-produced by Ben Walker and Lauren Deakin Davies (Laura Marling). Emily Mae tells us: “I’m so excited for my first ever headline show in Oxford. Hopefully it will be the beginning of the festive season so we must make this show particularly special!”

www.emilymaewinters.com

Doors open @at 7pm for the show at 7.20pm and support comes from Three Pressed Men. Tickets £12.50 from WeGotTickets + £1.25 booking fee or£15 on the door and also in person from Truck Store including £1 handling fee (cash only please). A Winter Union will perform on Friday, 14th December, with support from Steph West. Visit www.holywellmusicandfolk.co.uk

Singing for Syrians: Bibury Christmas concert

Round & About

Oxfordshire

On Friday, 14th December, support The Hands Up foundation, established by the locally born artist and illustrator, George Butler and three friends.

Kate Hicks Beach, Natanya Phillips and Jackie Colburn will present what has become an annual Christmas concert of music and words featuring the Coln Choir, solo singers and seasonal readings read by actors.

This year they are once again supporting the amazing charity Hands Up Foundation and will be “Singing for Syrians”.

The charity seeks to aid those people caught up in the Syrian crisis, left without homes, education, access to hospitals and in many cases hope. They work very closely with Syrians in Syria and this year have funded the salaries of 22 medical staff in Aleppo £150,000; supported the Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs with a contribution of £80,000 – (there are an estimated 50,000 amputees in Syria, the average cost for a prosthetic limb above the knee is £500) and in partnership with Syria Relief, are funding medical training in Idleb City £105,000 with a view to lessening the imbalance in demand and supply for medical care. This imbalance is due to the fact that most specialised personnel have fled the country over the past 5 years and a large number of medical students have not been able to complete their studies and receive a degree.

• So enjoy a glass of wine and canapés, from 6.30pm St Mary’s Church, Bibury. Tickets £12 from the Bibury Trout Farm, Coln Village Stores or email jackiecolburn@me.com

Clowning around: Cheltenham panto star

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Peter Anderson chats to Alan Digweed, AKA Tweedy The Clown, ahead of his star turn in Aladdin at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre.

Q: How did you get into circus and clowning?

A: “I grew up in Aberdeen and had always had an interest in youth theatre. Career-wise I had wanted to be an animator, but then realised that perhaps what I wanted more was to be the character I was animating. I did a lot of research, writing around as this was in the days before computers and the internet and found a clown school in Bristol. I was saving up hard to go there and worked as a Butlins Redcoat which gave me lots of opportunities to try things, but sadly before I got the all the money.

There is a quote from Joseph Grimaldi the best way to learn how to be a clown, is to be one. So, I then wrote to a lot of circuses and got a job with Zippo’s Circus as a publicity clown basically doing the occasional children’s show and standing on street corners handing out leaflets. Then one day one of the main clowns got stuck in traffic and I had to step in they liked my work and I never looked back. I met Nell Gifford when she was a groom in another circus and when she started her own circus I asked her if I could have a job.”

Q: What was your first panto role?

A. “I have done panto alongside clowning nearly all my life. When I was younger, panto casts were bigger, and I played one of two broker’s men. I think I was down in Truro doing pantomime when I met the general manager from the Everyman Theatre [in Cheltenham] and he liked what I did, but it was a number of years before I made it on stage for the pantomime and in between times did a couple of years at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon in 2000-01 and 2003-04.”

Q: Do you find your slapstick skills honed from clowning help?

A. “Undoubtedly, though I have always been a fan of both Laurel and Hardy and Norman Wisdom.

Q: Do you enjoy the interaction with children, is it similar?

A: “Oh yes, I think in both cases the children are almost like an extra member of the cast and it is great to get that level of engagement.”

Q: What memories of Christmas do you have growing up in Cirencester?

A: “My best memories are sledging in the amphitheatre, loads of people who don’t know each other drawn together for a single enjoyable experience.”

  • Aladdin, written and directed by legendary Blue Peter presenter and actor Peter Duncan, is on at Everyman Theatre from Friday, 30th November until Sunday, 13th January.

Dick Whittington star: Oxford Playhouse panto

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Oxfordshire

Ricky Oakley, who stars as Dick Whittington in this year’s Oxford Playhouse pantomime, chats to Peter Anderson.

Q. How did you get into acting and who were your inspirations?

A: “I remember I was told I should be an actor by my Nan because each week while I was growing up I decided I wanted to do a different job; these included vet, prime minster, a doctor, a builder and a vicar… She told me I should be an actor then I could play at all those professions instead. I don’t think she actually expected me to become one. My inspirations are quite old school – Norman Wisdom and Laurel and Hardy; psychical comedians who are universally hilarious.”

Q. What was the first pantomime you remember seeing, and where?

A: “I remember it was back in Birmingham I was only a kid so I can’t remember exactly where. It was Peter Pan and it was brill.”

Q. What was your first panto role?

A: “My first role was here at the Oxford Playhouse playing Jack in last year’s Jack & the Beanstalk.”

Q. What do you enjoy about playing panto?

“It’s genuinely the most fun I’ve had in rehearsals and on stage. It’s also the hardest work I’ve done as an actor. You’re up dead early and warming up for the 10am show then a bit of a break before you’re on to the second of the day.”

Q. Is there a role on your wish list you would love to play one Christmas?

“Oh there’s loads but I’d love to have a go at Scrooge one day… But I’m a more like to be Tiny Tim right now.”

Q. Which places in Oxford are you looking forward to visiting in when you are not on stage?

A: “Last year I felt like I only explored around the theatre because I didn’t make much use of my time off but this year I think I’m going to do some walking tours and venture a bit further than Tesco’s.”

•     Dick Whittington and His Cat is on at Oxford Playhouse from Friday, 23rd November until Sunday, 6th January. Tickets start at £10; call the box office on 01865 305305 or visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com.

Let there be light! Dorchester Abbey

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Oxfordshire

Margaret Craig tells us more about LIGHT: A Spiritual Journey, the multi-media art installation worth visiting at Dorchester Abbey

Why not wander through a stunning display of globally inspired shrine-like artworks by local artist Adrian Brooks? In the context of projected images from outer space, you can also listen to the awe-inspiring music of local composer Tim Cook. This unique event is a first for Dorchester.

The art installation consists of a series of six internally lit shrines of differing heights and colours located at intervals in the Cloister Gallery. As you enter the gallery Tim’s music will begin to play and as you proceed down the space and each shrine will light up so you can study it more closely. You can see how Adrian’s iconography has been inspired by a wide range of artistic and cultural sources, from the Abbey’s own shrine history to different types of religious shrines across the world and even more contemporary commemorative “shrines” signifying where people have lost their lives. At the end of your journey you will see projected images from the Hubble Space Telescope, so you can consider your place in the universe and the journey of life.

The exhibition is open Mondays to Saturdays 9am-4.30pm and 12-4.30pm on Sundays (subject to Abbey special events). You are welcome to visit at these times, but we are also offering specially guided tours for groups and schools, enabling the detailed imagery of each of the shrines to be explained. Schools can explore themes such as Pilgrimages and Shrines Through History, Creation Stories in Science and Faiths, Shadow Puppets and Stories of Light, among others.

Furthermore, on Thursday, 29th November, 7-8.30pm, we also have an evening event linked to this exhibition, entitled The Science and Spirituality of Light. We’ll have a number of important speakers in science, art and faith who will explore some of the “big ideas” this exhibition touches upon, including a Q&A session chaired by the Bishop of Dorchester.

As Carl Sagan says: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness of the Universe is bearable only through Love.” Adrian responds to such a concept in the visual richness he has created in his artworks, come and explore this while being moved by Tim’s cosmically inspired score echoing the images of the cosmos beyond. This unique installation is only available for a brief time, making it an event definitely not to be missed!

l The event runs in the Abbey’s Cloister Gallery until 6th January. For further details or to make a booking please email the Abbey’s education officer, Margaret Craig on education@dorchester-abbey.org.uk or call 01865 343164. Visit www.dorchester-abbey.org.uk/light-spiritual-journey

Gift of giving: Oxfordshire charity champion

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Oxfordshire

We chat to Didcot heroine Courtney Hughes who has set up a new befriending service for her local community and needs your help!

Love is the vital ingredient that helps community projects take off and gain momentum and Courtney Hughes BCAv has felt a lot of love this year.

The Didcot teenager, who works at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital acute admissions unit, has had a phenomenally busy year by anyone’s standards, including accepting an invitation to a certain wedding in Windsor. “The Royal Wedding was this year’s the highlight for me,” says Courtney. “It was a day I was so glad to share with Mum as she supports me so much all year. We were humbled to be surrounded by so many inspirational people who do good in their community. It does drive you to carry on when you meet like-minded people.”

Courtney, who also suffers from acute ME and was regional runner-up in the Pride of Britain Awards., founded the Secret Santa charity in 2014 inspired by her great grandmother. She wanted to brighten up the lives of those who find themselves on a hospital ward, especially at Christmas, and set about collecting gifts for poorly, elderly and vulnerable people. She has been bowled over by the response to her project and now the charity operates all year round.

Courtney subsequently launched The Secret Santa Hands of Friendship last month. “This is a new befriending service which will be carried out by my team of volunteers,” she says. “They can offer a friendly chat, a cup of tea and a social meet-and-greet. Anyone who is vulnerable, whether elderly or in need, or knows someone who is, can email us.”

This year, Courtney has furnished another two properties for women moving out of local emergency refuge accommodation and is hoping to extend this to neighbouring counties.

Volunteers are urged to get in touch and donations of new toys, toiletries, books, knitted items, non-perishable food, crafts, vouchers, DVDs, games and more are urgently needed. Drop these at Didcot Street Fair on 29th November, SOHA Housing Didcot, Element Six Harwell, K&K Printing and Embroidery Didcot, Innovation Centre Milton Park, Cornerstone, Boundary Park GWP Didcot, Sainsbury Didcot (1st December), Morrisons Carterton (from December) and the Christmas Gift Fayre in the Civic Hall on 17th November or get in touch to arrange collection.

Courtney is also planning her homeless outreach, charity shopping afternoon on 25th November at the Marlborough Club, 12-5pm raising money for AAU and Didcot Hospital and the wrapping party on Sunday, 2nd December.

If you’re a local business, Courtney would love to hear from you about sponsorship to help her continue. Please follow @charitysecretsanta on Instagram and Facebook and @SantaCharity on Twitter.

A cut above: best Christmas roasts

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Turkey is a traditional favourite but there are so many choices of meat when it comes to the festive table, and many excellent local producers

What scene depicts Christmas more traditionally than a large cooked bird being brought out to the table and carved by the head of the household?

Turkey is, of course, the popular festive choice. Tom Copas Jnr says: “Turkey is what you’re meant to have! We’ve been rearing the best turkeys in Britain for over 60 years and nothing tastes better on Christmas Day, especially knowing all the care and attention that’s gone into their welfare.” Visit www.copasturkeys.co.uk.

Walters Turkeys is a family business running since 1911 on the Yattendon Estate in the Berkshire Downs. The team are passionate about animal welfare and expert in the best way to cook and store your bird for the perfect feast; call 01635 578 251 or visit www.waltersturkeys.co.uk. Tell your butcher how many guests you have (and how greedy!) to select a bird or joint of the perfect size.

Excellent traditional alternatives to turkey include goose and duck, which are more expensive and do not give as much meat per size as a turkey. Cockerels (male chickens) clock in at about the 10lb in weight and are becoming a popular alternative to turkey. For more adventurous of home cooks there is also the three-bird roast, with a wide variety of bird breasts one inside another (such as turkey, pheasant and partridge). These have plenty of meat but need to be carefully cooked.

Hungerford butcher Christian Alba says: “In all the places I’ve worked, Christmas meat is usually turkey. But I grew up on a turkey farm, so I have beef fore rib.” Phil Currie, head chef at The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis says: “I like to use beef shin as the bone provides so much flavour which leaves you with a great sauce. For Christmas we serve it with classic bourguignon garnish and a twist with a blue cheese dumpling. It’s a great alternative to turkey.” Visit www.thegreyhoundletcombe.co.uk or call 01235 771969.

Jesse Smith Butcher & W.J Castle in Cirencester has a unique dry-aging process for its beef featuring a room lined with Himalayan salt bricks. The company, which goes back for several generations, are passionate about animal husbandry and welfare and also offer the very finest poultry, game, pork and lamb for the well-stocked Christmas larder; visit www.jessesmith.co.uk or call 01285 653352.

Recipe queen Lyn Deveson says: “I’ve always cooked turkey and a gammon; cold turkey, ham, turkey curried, stir fried, in sandwiches is a big part of the appeal. But I cooked a cockerel last Christmas and won’t go back to turkey – it has more flavour. I remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat but the French way is best; higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Good gravy makes all the difference, too!

“I also remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat, but the French way is best – higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Traditionally we cook turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon etc. with the head male at the top of the table, carving! That’s the  picture we all have in our heads and everyone wearing paper hats and pulling crackers! Because turkey meat can be quite bland, you can go to town with the other flavours. A good gravy makes the difference and thanks to chefs such as Jamie Oliver, we are learning that Bisto is not the essential ingredient but I am shocked by the number of English who still use it! The trouble is we are so spoilt nowadays and can eat anything any time of the year, so Christmas lunch or dinner isn’t such a treat as it used to be.”

Enter our competition for a Christmas In A Box foodie hamper – including a 6kg turkey!