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What’s happening in Whalley at Christmas?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 November 2017

Landscape view over the rooftops of Whalley

Landscape view over the rooftops of Whalley

Archant

The town comes into its own in the festive period, as Mairead Mahon discovers.

Chris Day of the British Christmas Tree Company Chris Day of the British Christmas Tree Company

Whalley is never going to forget the ghost of Christmas Past – after all, the Boxing Day floods of 2015 that affected homes and businesses had an enormous impact. Nonetheless, there’s nothing Scrooge-like about a village that enjoys Christmas so much it even grows its own Christmas trees!

The British Christmas Tree Company is run by Chris Day. Most trees are grown on the plantation but, for Chris, Christmas starts in August when he journeys up to Scotland to choose others to supplement his stock.

‘People think it must be difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it’s baking hot but not so. I just love Christmas trees, which is why I began growing them 25 years ago. Whalley soil seems to suit them!

‘Anyway, there is a market for them all year round because my Christmas trees are the ones that are chosen for prestigious televised show jumping events at venues such as Chatsworth and Blenheim,’ says Chris whose Christmas trees are popular not only with equestrians but with the public and organisations such as the BBC as well.

Whalley Parish Church bell ringers; John Pilkington; Sarah West; Jeff Duckworth; Neil Graham, Catherine Duckworth and Shirley Pilkington Whalley Parish Church bell ringers; John Pilkington; Sarah West; Jeff Duckworth; Neil Graham, Catherine Duckworth and Shirley Pilkington

So, it has to be asked, who decorates the Christmas tree in the Day household? ‘Me of course! Every October I select one by tying a white ribbon around it. Then, on Christmas Eve, I decorate it. This year, I’m going for clear baubles because there’s no harm in being on trend – this is Whalley after all,’ laughs Chris.

Hundreds of visitors descend on St Mary and All Saints Church for the annual Christmas Tree Festival to gain inspiration for their tree dressing. It happens in December and dozens of trees are decorated by villagers for charity. The ancient church lends itself perfectly as a backdrop and one day, its bellringers hope to take the festival by storm by entering their own appealing tree. Not yet though, as Christmas is one of their busiest times.

‘People come from miles away to hear our bells ring for the Christmas midnight service,’ says tower captain John Pilkington, who has been ringing for 64 years and who has also become a dab hand at co-ordinating events using a very different type of ringing.

‘As soon as the annual village Christmas Pickwick Night is declared officially open, a message is sent to my mobile phone in the bell tower, where we’re poised ready to begin ringing immediately. We haven’t missed a beat yet,’ says John who, with his troupe of campanologists, entertains visitors with ringing throughout the evening.

Sue Hind and Cllr Ged Mirfin celebrating the planned reopening of Whalley Library Sue Hind and Cllr Ged Mirfin celebrating the planned reopening of Whalley Library

Father Christmas is a popular visitor to the church, although it’s unlikely that he will be pulling a grandfather clock out of his sack but that’s exactly what local antique furniture and clock specialist, Philip Davies has been asked to do in the past. Philip’s international reputation as a clock expert has seen some clients ask him to deliver a grandfather clock, in secret, on Christmas Eve. It’s not easy tip-toeing down a gravel drive while carrying a grandfather clock but it’s a skill that Philip has now honed.

‘My father wrote a book about antique clocks and, although it’s still in demand today, he didn’t include a chapter on how to do that,’ smiles Philip whose premises are a magnet for those who want to buy an extra special Christmas gift from one of the most respected experts around.

One Christmas present which would be jolly difficult to carry, let alone drop down a chimney, is one that the villagers of Whalley are really looking forward to; the re-opening of Whalley Library, which will hopefully take place during the Christmas period.

‘That’s what we’re aiming for, although there is a lot to do,’ says Councillor Ged Mirfin, one of the leading lights in the campaign – a campaign which was so successful that other villages and towns whose libraries were also closed, are looking to learn lessons from it.

The Three Fishes sculpture in Whalley The Three Fishes sculpture in Whalley

‘Almost everything, including shelving, has gone. Maybe some passing elves could help! It is going to be a fantastic Christmas gift for the people of Whalley, who fought so hard for it to be re-opened. Books, which were kept in storage, will be going back to where they belong. Then, we’ll have a fabulous re-opening ceremony, complete with a mystery celebrity.’

It’s not the only trail blazer in Whalley. Tucked away in the Abbey grounds and preparing a traditional Christmas menu, is Café Autisan, the only café officially run by autistic people and probably one of the most glamorous cafes, complete with chaise longues, to be found in any English village: some of it would be right at home on a 1930s Hollywood film set!

‘People are amazed when they first come along but it all has a practical purpose too. Sensual materials, clever lighting, interior trees and water features are not only glamorous, they are also sensory objects which are helpful to autistic people,’ explains team leader Lauren Kenneford, who sources most ingredients locally and who has built up a strong following amongthe stylish folk of Whalley.

Of course, Whalley is known for its choice of eateries but many people were saddened when one of its landmark pubs, The Whalley Arms closed.

‘Several villagers had concerns about what might happen to the building. The over-riding feeling was that it should still be an amenity for the village and so it is going to have a new lease of life as a Co-op.

‘After all, the sense of community is strong here in Whalley and sympathetically restoring it and making it a part of the community seemed the right thing to do,’ explains Ken Hind, the leader of Ribble Valley Council who, with his dog Jasper, is often to be found strolling around Whalley. Along with his colleagues, Joyce Holgate and Terry Hill, he shares the determination that Whalley should retain its village feel.

Of course at this time of year, the collective memory of the Boxing Day floods is never far away but this Christmas, there are plans to make sure that, if the worst should happen, they are prepared.

Members of the local Flood Action Group (FLAG), working with others, have taken measures such as ensuring flood gates and doors are fitted on individual properties and there may even be plans afoot to build a Great Wall of Whalley to run alongside the Calder.

Members of the community, including local business woman Kellie Hughes, have been given the task of continually checking water levels and sending text alerts to other villagers if it looks as if they are rising. Kellie knows what she’s about – she was dubbed a heroine of the 2015 floods and was invited to a reception with the then Prime Minister, David Cameron.

One thing is for sure: the Ghost of Christmas Past won’t be the Grinch who Stole Christmas from Whalley, a community that’s ready to celebrate its favourite time of year.

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