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Christmas Day began for my mother and me with a midnight church service at our parish church that dates from the 1100s, accompanied by an aunt and an uncle who is the senior warden.

Christmas tree in our church

There were relatively few people at this service but still, it’s lovely, with the Christmas carols, the readings, and the church bell tolling midnight into the darkness.

Then back to Gordon and Sue’s farm, where they’ve kindly turned over their bed-and-breakfast over to us for the week. We needed a place to stay and said that we’d take care of ourselves, which suited them, so it was a wonderful chance for us to spend Christmas in their magnificently appointed B&B.

Gordon and Sue’s farm abuts my father’s boyhood farm of Barn Close, so on a sodden morning two days before Christmas I walked to his farm over what’s called “the main pieces,” fields that were filled with gorse when my dad was young, but have been tamed by Gordon and his father and are now arable land.  There’s a holly wood right where Gordon’s farm and my dad’s boyhood farm adjoin.

View over Crich from the Holly Wood

View over Crich from the Holly Wood next to Barn Close Farm.

When my father was a boy, his mother would send him, as the oldest son, to the holly wood to cut down their Christmas tree.  He’d have to make his way through the prickly holly leaves, then climb up the branches of the holly tree, saw in hand.  The top of the holly tree would serve as their Christmas tree.  Any holly trees that have flattened tops are probably the result of my dad and other local boys following their mother’s command in the first half of the last century to bring back a holly tree to decorate for Christmas.

In the morning, we opened presents, then Kathy and I went on a Christmas morning walk.  Going on a walk on Christmas (and at many other times) is very common in England, as it was for me as a child growing up in America with English parents, but I have never had any success in getting my American children to come along with me.

In the afternoon we drove the several miles to my uncle’s farm, where he had just moved from the farmhouse where he’s lived for over forty years into a bungalow dating from the 1930s.  His son and family now live in the farmhouse, and they and Julie have “done up” the bungalow for Frank.  It’s got the only room large enough to fit all of us–Frank, Julie and her family, and me and my family–so it’s here that we have our Christmas dinner.

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Julie has prepared the turkey, stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, and veggies;  I’ve brought the crackers, wine, and desserts, and it’s quite a feast.  The only thing that’s missing is cranberry sauce–and even so, it’s possible to find it on shelves in English stores if you look hard enough. Note the two Christmas crackers in the foreground, a staple of English Christmases.  You “pop” it open, then put the paper hat that’s inside on your head for a festive appearance.Sunset over the hills

Just as dusk was coming, Julie led us out on a post-prandial Christmas Day walk.  Amazingly, my two oldest kids joined us, as did Julie’s son and daughter.

Our destination was the Malt Shovel pub, often frequented by Julie’s and my grandfather, as it was close to his farm.  For us it offers the possibility of further libations and food, and a chance to entice the kids out. The pub stands on a hill overlooking Wirksworth, an old market town that is ringed by limestone quarries and is about two miles away on our circuitous path.

We walked over the hills just south of the farm near Alderwasley, where my great-grandfather lived as a boy, and painted as a young man. There are stupendous views of Crich Stand and the countryside, the sky tinged red by the setting sun.

Cows on the horizon

Our Christmas walk was a great success–not that the Malt Shovel was open, because it wasn’t, which we should have realized in advance–because we managed to get the kids out for a walk.

And now I leave you this Christmas Day with a view of cows at sunset on a Derbyshire hillside and wishes for a Merry Christmas.

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