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The tranquil parkland of an historic estate,
deep in the Warwickshire countryside.
This picturesque house, with its sweeping grounds,
belongs to one of our oldest aristocratic families.
We're at Ragley Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Hertford,
to get a Christmas party started.
And what better way to experience a true country Christmas
than at a stately home?
I bet they know how to throw a good party here.
Yeah, but before we can start letting our hair down, Jules,
there's so many things to get sorted. So let's just keep focused.
Yeah, you're right. Will you get my dress out of the car
when we've done this? And then I need to do my hair.
# Joy to the world... #
I'll be at the party as well,
hoping that these tuneful gentlemen will let me join them
when they sing for their supper at the Hall later on.
But first of all, unlike them,
I'm going to have to learn how to sing in tune.
And what would Christmas be without garlands?
I'll be searching Ragley's gardens
for some suitable greenery
and learning how to deck the halls.
At Ragley Hall's festive shoot, Tom's following the guns.
100 years ago, there would have been shooting parties like this
right across Britain. But since then,
many of our country estates have gone into an almost terminal decline.
So, how are they succeeding in keeping things going
here on the Ragley estate?
And what will you be cooking up for Christmas?
These turkeys really fit the season.
Although I'm not eating these ones - these are for breeding.
And everyone associates turkeys with Christmas.
But they haven't always been the favourite dish
for Christmas lunch.
At one time, it was another bird.
And I'll be finding out why they've fallen out of favour.
JULIA: This is Ragley Hall, near Alcester in Warwickshire.
It's the home of the ninth Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford.
It's been in their family since the late 1600s.
But this is more than just a stately pile.
This is a family home.
And right now, the family are gearing up for Christmas,
in grand style, as you would expect.
Countryfile has been invited along to take a peek and lend a hand,
getting the place spruced up
for one of the biggest social events of the calendar,
the staff Christmas party.
Pride of place will be this whopper.
-Nice tree, Mr Craven!
-Big enough for you?
-Quite large, yes.
It's a round about 14 feet, we think,
which is what was requested for the library.
Decorating it's going to be fun!
It's going to be fun trying to get it in through the door!
Here we go. Wipe your feet, please! Thank you.
-Oh, careful! Steady!
-Oh, sorry, Julia. Sorry.
Which way to the library?
You've got to admit, this is quite an entrance hall.
Not up the stairs! Into the library!
-We're trying to turn it round the corner, Julia.
-It's not that big!
That's it. That's it.
Despite this... Are you OK?
Oh, don't lose it now!
I'm sorry about this cable here. Mind the cable. That's it.
-That's it, that's it.
-It's in! What a perfect fit.
-Look at that!
-Yes, perfect. Thank you.
Right, John, are you going to help us decorate it now?
I'm afraid not, Julia. I've got other things to do.
I've got a lot more trees to deliver round the estate.
Who are you, Father Christmas(?)
No, I've got an appointment with a choir.
Always busy. Always busy!
'It's all hands on decks,
'but Lady Hertford herself is in charge. Clearly.
'Lady Hertford isn't your typical lady of the manor.
'She hails from sunnier climes.'
Now, you're from Brazil,
and Christmas Eve is a very important part
of the celebration, isn't it?
It is. The main Christmas...day,
so to speak, when everybody stays with family and so on.
And our Christmas Day is still a church day,
if one doesn't do the midnight mass.
But, you know, you go from house to house to see friends.
And in my case, coming from Rio de Janeiro, we go to the beach.
Christmas on the beaches of Rio. Lovely!
What was your first Christmas like in this house?
It was absolutely amazing,
because I never had a real Christmas tree before.
And I remember being overwhelmed by the season.
Because we don't have, in Rio de Janeiro,
the different seasons, as such.
The green is not the same green.
The trees are completely different, and so on.
-No Christmas trees?
-No Christmas trees.
Which means it was my first real season,
Christmas in this country.
-It must have been incredible.
-It was. It was.
# In the bleak midwinter
# Frosty wind made moan... #
Decorating the Hall is a monumental task.
There are a sumptuous state rooms to be done.
Ornate dining rooms too.
And this, one of the most impressive spaces at the Hall -
the South staircase.
These murals took 14 years to paint.
They show generations of the current Lord Hertford's family.
Ragley Hall didn't always look this fine, though.
When was the house in its worst state?
When my great-grandfather died in 1912.
And he had virtually bankrupted the estate.
His children, although they were probably in their 50s by then,
they just scattered.
Just did not want to be handed this poisoned chalice.
I think that was a reason why the Ragley estate did so badly.
-So it was mostly empty?
Until my parents moved in here in 1956,
-when they got married.
-So they took up this great challenge?
They took an enormous challenge, yes.
My great aunts and great uncles
who stormed out of this room 100 years ago,
they would be amazed to see me and my wife
and our children living here now.
And yes, you know, a good fire
going there and dogs peacefully asleep!
Who makes most of the decisions in the house?
Because I've noticed that your wife knows exactly what she wants!
-She's a lady who's in charge, isn't she?
Oh, yes. Yes.
-You're definitely not in charge of tinsel and baubles, I know that!
'Back in the library,
'Lady Hertford has asked me and her son, William,
'for some help with some tricky decorating.
'This is famed author and 18th-century politician
'It's a portrait by Joshua Reynolds,
'one of the greatest English artists of all time,
'which makes it priceless.
'One slip here, and bang goes my party invite!'
I tell you what, Julia, can you pull gently the other end?
I think it will fall off if we do that.
Why don't we put it on and then drag it along the top of it?
I will do what I'm told for the first time in my life!
Hey, hey, how about that?
'Relax, Horace, you were never in any danger.'
Ragley Hall's in tip-top shape, but it wasn't always the case.
The current Lord Hertford's father put in a massive effort
to turn things around. Sadly, that hasn't been the case
for all of our stately homes, as Tom has been finding out.
TOM: Once upon a time,
homes like Ragley Hall were the bastions of our countryside.
The man-made jewels of our nation's landscape.
But over the last century, things have changed.
While Ragley prepares to welcome in another Christmas, sadly, there are
other stately homes that are only the ghosts of Christmas past.
Right across the nation,
beautiful historic buildings have been tumbling down.
And you only have to go 20 miles up the road to find one.
Guys Cliffe House,
proof of the turbulent history of the country estate.
A century ago, there were 8,000 stately homes
scattered across the English countryside.
Today, nearly 2,000 of these glorious buildings have become ruins
or simply vanished.
The cracks began showing in the late 1800s.
Estates made most of their money from land.
And farming just wasn't the money-spinner it had been.
So for many stately homes, their income just tumbled.
Add to that the social levelling surrounding the two world wars
and increases in inheritance tax,
the future of our country houses was looking bleak.
By 1948, we were losing one stately home nearly every week.
# One, two, three four...
# One, two, three four... #
In a sudden flurry, centuries of history and family homes were gone.
All these buildings lost forever.
But there were some that weathered the storm.
Croome Court in Worcestershire -
for 200 years, the seat of the Earl of Coventry.
In the 1940s, it was sold off.
But passing through various hands, it just hung on.
Today, it's in a mixed state of repair.
But there is a way to get a sense of its full glory.
It's been 70 years since any servants toiled here polishing and dusting
their way through these halls, but we've found someone
from that era, and she's going to drop in for a cup of tea.
'I'm making sure things are nice and cosy,
'because the lady I'm about to meet was personal maid
'to the Countess of Coventry in the 1930s.
'Her name is Hilda Newman, and that's her, just peeking out.'
Were you friends with the Countess?
You don't get friends with the Countess.
You're always the servant. I was a head servant.
And everyone respected me in the way I respected her.
Do you know what I mean?
-So that hierarchy was definitely in place?
-Did you make a few mistakes ever?
-I made a few mistakes.
Go on, tell me, what kind of thing? Did you put your foot in it?
Well, I remember one morning, I wanted to ask her something,
I can't remember what it was.
And, eh, I said, "Oh, Lady Coventry," over the banister.
She said, "It's m'lady. It's m'lady.
"And you come here when you want me."
'Hilda worked her last day here in 1939.
'In the 73 years since, a lot has changed.'
How does it feel coming back to the house today?
-I can't explain it. My stomach's going...
Is it, does it upset you cos they're fond memories in a way?
-It's just time passing and things changing?
I mean, I thought I'd got over it!
-But you don't.
No. You really make it come alive, it's great.
-I can sort of feel the...almost hear the people.
-I'm living it.
I still do.
After a rocky 70 years, Croome Court is now back in safe hands.
In 2007, the crumbling building was acquired by the National Trust.
Amy Forster manages the house.
So what kind of things are you up against here?
Well, this is one of the worst places in the whole house, really.
This is one of the beams that support the whole ceiling, and,
unfortunately, as I can show you, I can put my hand right inside it
-and grab sawdust.
-That's not going to support a big house, is it?
No! So this is one of the problems that we're facing all the way
through the house.
So, a mixture of that sawdust and that there
is actually what I'm kneeling on here.
-Doesn't give a huge feeling of security.
-How big a project is this for you?
It's one of the biggest in the National Trust at the moment,
so this project is going to cost just over £5 million,
and that's been funded from the Heritage Lottery Fund,
lots of charitable trusts, lots of donations from our visitors as well.
Why is it worth all that money?
Well, this house is one of the most amazing houses in the country.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it at the moment.
We'll be opening it up and sharing it's like never before,
so we're really excited about the project.
I think I better move on -
I can hear the deathwatch beetle clicking under my feet.
Croome Court might have been saved, but for years to come, it's going
to need injections of public cash to keep it running.
Croome will never again be a family home,
but thanks to public funding, it's open to all of us.
I'm heading back to the home of Countryfile's Christmas,
Ragley Hall, where they're managing to deliver all of that
with their own money. How do they do that?
First though, Matt's been finding out
more about the estate's home farm.
Traditionally, country houses relied on their farms to feed those
up at the big house, but now farming is a commercial enterprise.
Here at Ragley, with 6,500 acres,
they farm arable crops,
beef and run over 1,000 sheep.
Shepherd Barry Woods has worked here for over 30 years.
And he looks after all the sheep on the Ragley estate.
'At this time of year, he has a very important job to do,
'moving the sheep from the open parkland to their winter shelter.'
-Good to see you.
-Pleased to meet you.
-All right. What's happening?
What are you up to?
Well, this is early lambing flock. There's 350 ewes here.
-We're going to head up the farm.
About three quarters of a mile.
To new shelter.
Such a lovely sound, that.
Gently! Steady, steady, steady, steady.
You often find, when sheep go into a large open space,
they'll burst away.
'The dogs and the sheep have got a long trek to their winter quarters,
'and it's all uphill.
'Luckily for me, Barry's come prepared.'
-So, Barry, the dogs are going on foot, but...
We're going in the old... What a lovely job.
Too old to walk.
It's some view from up here, Barry.
Absolutely beautiful, isn't it?
'Before the sheep can get to their winter quarters,
'they've got one big hazard to negotiate.'
Things are going to get a little bit more exciting now.
So from the quiet, tranquil beauty,
we're going to try and cross this road.
Are we going right or left, Barry?
Left, left, left, left.
-I ain't ready yet.
Come on! Come on, come on.
This is where it's really handy to have a sound man with a big boom.
Just wave it around, Rob, that's great.
Come on, come on, come on!
Are we following you?
Come on, come on!
Come on, girls!
No time for nibbling.
Too easy, Barry.
-I like a big traffic jam, as a rule.
That'll do. Stand there, stand there.
-That's it, be polite.
-Thank you very much!
Oh, look. They know where they're going, look.
They only come once a year and they still know.
That's great, isn't it? A lovely sight.
Just seeing all their ears
and their heads just bobbing up, I love it.
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Nearly there, last few.
Stay. There's always one.
There's always one.
The last one.
# Da-da-da-da! #
There's always one.
-Tell me about it.
-Had to be done.
-Tell me about it.
I'm not as fit as I used to be.
So, 350 of them in.
-Yep. 500 more to come.
-But I tell you what -
-it's just nice to see them in, under a roof.
-It is, in the dry.
-Makes me happy, anyhow.
-Silage on tap.
Let those lambs grow nice.
Certainly will. I hope so.
So, this is what the girls will be nibbling on
over the next few months.
They've got a roof over their head and all the silage they could want.
And this is what I love, cos in the depths of winter,
if you take a big sniff...
you're just transported back to summertime.
'It's time to kick off the wellies
'and head back to the Hall, as the estate butcher has just arrived.'
Oh, look at that! Isn't that absolutely beautiful?
-Jason, how you doing?
-Hi, Matt, how are you?
'Let's face it, you can't have a party without food, and Jason Woods
'is in charge of feeding the masses at the staff Christmas do tonight.'
Well, tonight we're making canapes
and mince pies for the staff at Ragley.
We've got some fantastic Ragley sausages,
we're going to cut those up and pop them on a stick with a bit
of mustard dressing, cos they're so good,
-you don't need to do much with them.
What's the plan with the goose, then?
The goose, I'm just binding it with some strips of bacon,
which is, in effect, protecting the breast.
There's a lot of fat in there, and it's literally just to give
the breasts some protection and keep the moisture in during cooking.
Then we take the bacon off and nibble it. Lovely.
For anybody that is cooking turkey,
though, what is your top chef's tip, then, for Christmas turkey?
Certainly cook it the opposite way up to this,
to let the fat run through it.
I'd also probably say check the size of your oven
before you go and buy the turkey, because people get
very ambitious with turkeys, and then it doesn't fit.
Hello, hello, chefs! Hello. Hiya.
Look at you, slaving away. over a frying pan.
That's what I like to see you doing, Baker!
-Don't they look lovely?
-They smell amazing.
Are these the same, over here?
Yeah, they're just fresh out. A little bit of mustard.
I'm not a mustard fan, but I'll just finish this one like that.
Have you seen what's for dessert, as well?
-Mini mince pies!
I better taste these as well, yeah?
-Tell you what, I'm just going to stay in here.
-It's great, isn't it?
It's perfect. Who needs a party? It's great.
We could finish everything. No-one would know.
Go and put your dress on. Put your dress on and come back.
All right, then.
Bye. Very good work, guys.
There we are. Go and put your dress on.
I knew how to get rid of her!
-Now, back out on the estate in the winter chill,
everything looks peaceful.
But there's still plenty going on, as John's been discovering.
JOHN: 'There are over a thousand acres of woodland
'and half a million trees on the estate,
'but at this time of year, it's all about Ragley's Christmas trees.'
'I'm meeting up with sawmill manager Len Quiney.'
You must have sold quite a lot this year, so getting towards the end now.
How important is it to the estate, this kind of business?
It's a big business to the estate. As a cash flow, I think...
I mean, we plant the trees, they do whatever they want to do.
They don't take much looking after.
All we do is go down, harvest them, bring them down to the sawmill.
The general public come to us, go away happy.
In an average year, then,
how many Christmas trees would you expect to sell?
Anything between 200, 300 trees.
'Earlier, I took a huge Christmas tree up to the big house
'and now I've got some others to deliver.'
Oh, yeah, that is a lovely tree, isn't it? Beautiful proportions.
'As a festive gesture, Lord Hertford
'gives Christmas trees to the local schools.
'I'm off to one right now, and it looks as though we're expected.'
Happy Christmas! Happy Christmas!
It's not only local schools that get a tree.
So do the churches dotted in and around the estate.
These special deliveries are one of the highlights of the year
for Ragley's foresters.
This is one of the churches that gets a free Christmas tree.
It's the little Weethley church, quite beautiful.
And I can hear the sound of Christmas music from inside.
# ..Child of Bethlehem
# Descend to us, we pray
# Cast out our sin and enter in... #
'This is a small section of the Alcester Male Voice Choir.
'And maybe, just maybe, they'll grant me a Christmas wish.'
# ..The great glad tidings tell
# O, come to us, abide with us
# Our Lord Emmanuel. #
Choir, Judith, that was splendid.
Thank you very much.
And I hear that you're practising for the party at Ragley Hall.
Yes, we are, actually.
Lord and Lady Hertford are our presidents, our patrons,
and they've invited us to sing for them at the party.
Secretly, Judith, I've always wanted to sing in a choir like this one,
but the problem is, I don't think I'm any good at singing.
Well, would you like to sing with us and see how it goes?
MUSIC: "Deck The Halls" by Talhaiarn and Thomas Oliphant
# Deck the halls with boughs of holly
# Fa la la la la la la la la
# Tis the season... #
'Well, the others sound great.
'We'll just have to see how it goes tonight
'when I join the whole choir to sing in front of 100 guests.'
# ..Fa la la, la la la la la la... #
Although we're celebrating Christmas here at Ragley Hall,
that's not stopped Tom doing a spot of investigating.
-I've been exploring the downfall
of many of our historic country houses.
A staggering 1,845 have been lost
over the last 100 years,
many of the survivors depending on public funding. But not Ragley.
As well as being a family home,
Ragley Hall is a 21st-century country estate that pays for itself.
So, how has this place succeeded when so many others have failed?
'Like most stately homes,
'by the end of the Second World War, Ragley was on its knees.
'But the 60 years since, passionate members of
'the Hertford family have been fighting to bring it back.
'The eighth Marquess saved it from the brink in the 1950s,
'and today, his son, the current Lord Hertford,
'is determined to keep the place alive.'
What would you say to future generations?
What's the key to making sure it stays with you?
Just being there.
If you're here and you keep that fire going
and you keep the roof intact
and you keep the place open to the public,
if you've got the right people with you, you'll do it.
And you'll carry on doing it.
And at this time of year, there's perfect chance to meet
the folk that keep Ragley in good working order.
It's the Christmas shoot for the trustees,
friends and a few of the staff at Ragley Hall,
and I'm joining them in this executive caravan.
'Ragley Hall is a commercial venture.
'Like any other, it depends on its profits to survive.
'Alan Granger is the estate's Chief Executive
'and today he definitely means business.'
-So, how did you get on?
-Good, yes. Very good, thank you.
I was worried about a few of them coming down
-and hitting me on the head.
-Yeah, well, I did quite well.
Give me a feeling overall of total turnover of this estate.
The whole business turnover is around about £5 million.
So do you look at it as, you know, we've got a block of land...
Do you try and think quite widely
-about how you can capitalise on that?
It's a series of assets that we have available to try
and utilise in the best way possible.
Farming is still a substantial part of our income,
property itself, letting houses.
We have a woodlands business and then the house itself
which is used for the public and as an events venue.
What do you think it is that you're doing right at Ragley?
That's a really difficult question.
We are just trying to do different things, keeping up with what
people want, trying to change the product that we're offering.
'Today is a bit of time off,
'but Alan and the team have their hands full -
'keeping the estate running is a never-ending job.'
-So, is this a partridge?
-It's a partridge. French partridge.
Identified by its red legs.
'But what about the future?
'There's a young lad that I need to catch up with to find out.'
Eventually, all this and the responsibility that comes
with it, will fall into the hands of Lord Hertford's son, William.
So, who are the various horses that we've got in here?
This one's Billy.
-Billy. And this one?
-That one's Connor.
'It's a family tradition to give the horses a Christmas treat.'
Are there any big dreams you have for this place?
Any things you think, "I'd really like to see an X,
"which maybe I'm not going to tell my parents about."
But you can tell me.
A theme park?
No, I just wish to be a good custodian, really.
For you, there is a little bit of obligation involved.
I wonder if you feel like that ties you sometimes.
It does sometimes.
I wanted to do Classical Civilisation, actually,
because I loved the subject so much.
However, I realised, this summer alone,
that it would be more beneficial
for me, really, to actually study
Rural Land Management instead.
I just look around and remember what I have
and I'm reminded how fortunate I am,
so I embrace it, really.
'We don't have an endless pot of public money,
'so it's up to people like William to keep many of our stately homes
'alive, so future generations can enjoy them.'
The key to the long-term survival of these places
is to be loved by people.
Now, that could be a family who live here,
staff who work here, or the public that come and visit,
because without that, they're beautiful
but empty shells.
The gardens here at Ragley are a real draw for visitors.
And even in the bleak midwinter, they have a drama all of their own.
And that's where Ellie's heading right now,
to look for a little Yuletide inspiration.
You could be forgiven for thinking that not much goes on out here
at this time of year, but you'd be wrong, because right now,
the Ragley gardens are working harder than ever.
'I'm joining head gardener Ross Barbour.
'He's going to help me find
'some natural festive touches for tonight's party.'
Are you all right, Ross?
-How are you doing?
-What are you up to here?
I'm getting some foliage together to go in some
garlands for the Hall, some Christmas garlands.
Ah, very festive. Do you want a hand?
-How long? Like this?
-A bit longer than that.
Then the boys can shorten it down to the length that they want.
-There we go, how's that?
-Shall we make something gorgeous out of it?
-Yep. Sounds good.
-Here we go.
-So this is what goes on in the woodshed, then?
What are you going to make here?
We're doing garlands for going over the fireplaces in the Hall.
Wow. And do you tend to just pick what's out there
or do you have to grow specifically for it?
It's all grown in the garden already.
How many of these do you have to make? How long do they have to be?
We do two four-metre ones that go
-over the fireplaces in the Great Hall.
-I'm going to have a little go.
-Have a bit of holly, then.
Have some holly with some berries on.
So they need to be smallish sprigs, do they?
I think three will do.
-One, two, three.
-One, two, three. OK.
And we just...
So you get a little bunch, then what?
And then like that, and Lee will tie it up. Fantastic.
'It can take the gardening team a couple of days
'to make these garlands.
'We've got a few hours, and it's freezing.'
We'll deck the halls.
-A bit more. A bit of yew?
That's the garland sorted.
But there's still plenty to do over at the Hall.
-'I've a big task ahead,
'but where's Matt Baker when you need him?
'I seek him here,
'I seek him there...
'and find him in the games room - surprise, surprise.'
Oh, here you are.
I should have come here first, of course.
-Come on, I need you.
-Can I just finish my game?
-No, I need you now.
Come on, man.
Playing on your own, saddo!
-OK, what's happening?
-Big job in here.
Yeah, we're going to need a bit of help.
There we go, that's good.
Right, what we've got to do, this carpet needs to be rolled up.
-It's actually in three sections.
-What, all of it?
Yeah, all of it's got to come up.
So it's a bit of rolling that we've got to get doing.
-OK, I'll lend you a hand.
JOHN: I'll opt out, cos I've got an important message to deliver.
-John, that's the second time today.
-I know. But enjoy yourselves.
-What are you doing, John?
-I've got a bad back as well.
-After delivering that tree.
So we're a man down.
-I'll get on that, don't worry. You get rolling, I'll sort it out.
-I'll find somebody else to help.
-What? How did that happen?
'Rolling these carpets up is quite a task,
'so we've called on the help of house manager, John MacDougall,
'and Lord and Lady Hertford's youngest son, Edward.
'Oh, and Pippa the dog, who's really enjoying herself.'
That's it. That's looking good.
'These carpets protect the ancient tiled floor beneath
'from the feet of thousands of tourists who visit every year.
'Rolling them up is a Christmas ritual.
'The family's way of re-staking their claim
'after the tourist season.'
'You could just eat it, though, Pippa.'
Just two more after this, guys.
I'm sensing we're going off slightly.
-There we go.
'One down, two to go.'
Now, this should be easier,
because you don't have another carpet in the way.
Hang on, hang on, hang on.
Pippa, come on, come on!
OK, go again.
'Two down, and here's Lucy checking out the handiwork too.'
While they're busy rolling up the carpet for Christmas,
we all know that New Year is just around the corner,
and if you haven't already got one of these, you're going to need it.
It's the Countryfile calendar for 2013.
It costs £9,
and at least £4 of it goes to BBC Children In Need.
You can get one by going to our website - that's...
At this time of year, there's nothing like a real open fire.
And before he gets his glad rags on, it's Shane's job to build it.
-Are you all right, Shane?
-Very well, thank you.
-How's it going?
I'm not good at making fires.
You have to give me your best tips. Starting with paper, are we?
Yes, start the tinder with paper. You just scrunch it up.
-Not too tightly.
-Looser the better, really.
-Then onto kindling and then onto the big stuff?
So, how long have you worked here? You look very young.
Coming to the end of my fifth year now.
Really? How old were you when you started?
I was 21 when I started here.
-A mere child.
-And what's your job at the estate?
-I'm a houseman.
So, I do odd jobs around the house,
like maintenance and things like that.
-Gosh. And you get to live on the estate, don't you?
I feel quite privileged, actually,
to live at one of the gatehouses here at Ragley.
Some great surroundings and a really great place to be.
Are you looking forward to tonight?
Yes, really looking forward to it, actually.
-Don't get too drunk in front of your bosses.
-I most certainly won't.
-Right, so the big ones on.
-The small ones, first of all.
-Is this fire going to keep this enormous room warm?
-Yeah, it will.
It does give out quite a lot of heat,
and the wood burns really well.
There's a really good draw on this fire.
-And merriment keeps you warm, as well.
-It certainly will.
'Now, that's what I call a blaze.
'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.'
ELLIE: Christmas is a holiday for most of us...not for Adam.
There's still animals left to feed
and plenty left to do before the festivities begin.
This is a lovely time of year.
Christmas is just around the corner.
I don't like to do too much on Christmas Day, so I'm just getting
these logs chopped, getting some kindling to light the fire with.
Lots of people use an axe the wrong way.
They'll hold their hands together, then try and swing it.
What you want to do is keep your hands apart, then as you swing
it down, slide your hand down and let the weight of the axe do the work.
I've got some holly cut for the kids, as well.
They'll be able to decorate the house with that.
Keep out. Look out.
Mind your nose. There you go.
Look at that, it's nearly Christmas, and the roses are still in flower.
This old farmhouse doesn't have any central heating,
so it's good to keep the log fire in.
And there's something very special about looking into the flames
of a log fire in the winter months.
There are certain animals on my farm that have a starring role
at this time of year.
We keep a few donkeys on the farm
to breed from and to sell as pets,
and they're really lovely creatures, and of course lots of people think
about donkeys at Christmas, because they're in all the nativity scenes.
And on Christmas Day, for us as farmers,
we race around, getting all the animals fed and watered
and bedded down and checked on.
If there's any problems, we have to deal with it,
but hopefully there won't be, so we can get back to opening our presents.
And then there's lunch to tuck into.
These are my new turkeys.
I've got three different breeds.
I've got the Norfolk Blacks, the Bronzes and the Whites.
And the males are the stags that are all puffed up,
showing off to their smaller female.
And the Norfolk Black is a very traditional bird.
The meat is slightly gamier than the white turkey
and their slightly smaller breast.
But turkeys have been around for 10 million years,
and there's fossils to prove it.
And they were domesticated, it's said, by the Aztecs, and eventually
we got them over here in the UK, then farmed them on a grand scale.
But before lorries and roads,
we used to walk them from Norfolk all the way to London, to the markets.
And to stop their feet getting sore, they used to walk them
through tar and grit, to harden the bottom of their feet.
And also, they use to clothes them, to keep them in good condition.
They're remarkable animals.
Turkey is the UK's favourite festive meat.
For 87% of us, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without one.
Around 10 million turkeys were sold last year, so it's big business.
But it hasn't always been that way.
Traditionally, most people ate goose for Christmas.
And it tied in with farming,
because the goose farmers used to turn the geese out onto the stubbles
after harvest, to feast on all the spilled grain
and then fatten up for Christmas.
And that remained the case right up until post-war years.
But then, in the '60s, a new breed of turkey was imported
from America that was fast-growing and more economical to produce.
And it was only then, really, that the goose
was knocked off its top spot.
And that had a major impact for geese farmers who had
for so long ruled the Christmas menu.
I'm on my way to a goose breeder in Stamford, Hampshire,
who has a passion for protecting many of the breeds
that are on the brink of extinction today.
Colin Murton is the go-to man when it comes to geese.
He's keen to preserve some of our rarer breeds.
-Lovely to see you.
Goodness me, what a lovely scene. Toulouse geese.
Well, it's nice to see them, isn't it?
And how long have you been breeding geese for?
-Almost 30 years, I suppose.
-Ever since you were a boy?
-That's about right, yeah.
-Can we go in and take a closer look?
Yes, come and have a look.
Now, I've got a few Toulouse, Colin,
but I don't know much about their history.
I think they must have come in in the mid-1800s,
with the English passion to make everything bigger and larger.
And since the goose went out of fashion for our Christmas table,
they have become very rare, haven't they? Many of the breeds?
Oh, I think there's 18 breeds listed and they're all rare,
but the Rare Breed Survival Trust, in conjunction with the Goose Club,
has identified eight of these breeds really in dire straits.
Really want all the support they can get.
And why have they become so rare, then?
They're birds from the great outdoor. You can't intensify them.
With turkeys and chickens, you can keep them inside,
you can bring the unit costs down.
Geese, you just can't confine. They need grass, they need space.
I remember when I was a kid, we had a great big gander in what
we called the home paddock, which was just outside the yard,
and my dad heard me screaming, and this gander had me on the floor.
But it didn't put me off geese.
It does happen.
Another of Colin's rare breeds are his Pilgrims,
and they need letting out.
If you want to let those out? The Pilgrims, in there,
-and I'll let these out.
-Come on, boys, out you come.
-Come on, then, geese.
Well, they're lively.
Tell me about the Pilgrims, then.
The ganders are always white, and the geese are always grey.
Which is very, very useful, especially as a beginner.
You know how many males you've got and how many females you've got.
Many of these will go for Christmas,
apart from one or two I shall keep as replacement breeding ganders.
So, for people who want to get started, it's quite a good animal,
if they want to support a rare breed, isn't it?
Yeah, they really need all the support they can get.
But the work that's involved, other than shutting them
up every night to keep them away from foxes, is trivial, really.
And what would you recommend people choose,
because of all the different breeds?
If you choose what you like, then it will do well.
If you like it, you'll look after it.
'And now it's time to help Colin with some routine jobs.
'But first, we need to catch one.'
Yes, I've got him. I've got him.
So he's one of your favourites, is he?
I shall use him next year as a breeder, yes.
Lovely, aren't they?
Beautiful. The feathers, the down is just wonderful, isn't it?
Goose down, isn't it? We all sleep under goose down.
-What makes him so special?
-Well, it's the shape, it's the type.
It's the strong head and just look at that eye. Look how that shines.
Wonderful, isn't he? So, we need to stick a ring on him.
He's already got one ring on his foot, I see.
One's a permanent ring, which has got a unique number.
But I like to put a colour ring on them,
which I can put on at any time,
so that I can fix him from a distance.
-Can I slip that on? Just coil it on, don't you?
Just wind it round.
-There we go.
-It's as easy as that.
And what else?
Well, the only other thing, it's not necessarily essential,
but I like to worm them, just as a precaution.
And I worm them twice a year. A couple of mls...
-Just a squirt down the mouth?
-Straight down the mouth.
-There you are.
-There we go, mate.
-Back of the throat.
And that's it. Oops!
Mostly of it went down. But it's as easy as that.
-That's him all done.
-Yep, that's finished.
Come on, boy. Off you go.
MUSIC: "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"
-So will you be eating goose for Christmas?
There's no comparison.
The flavour of the goose, far superior to a turkey.
A bit like duck but much drier and gamier.
And a little bit less meat than a turkey, though?
It doesn't go quite as far, pound for pound,
but its quality rather than quantity.
And really, I suppose, they are our original,
traditional Christmas roast?
Yeah, for many hundreds of years, it has been the Christmas meal.
-Well, it's been lovely to meet you.
-Good to see you too.
-Yeah, and you. Bye, now.
MUSIC: "Sleigh Ride" by Leroy Anderson
-Adam can't make the party tonight - shame.
Because back here at Ragley Hall,
we're all getting right into the spirit.
Look at you, Tom! Sharp suited!
Tell you what, wearing those, bobby-dazzler,
you'll have to change your name to An-Tom Du Beke.
You need to smarten up, get with the programme - look at this place!
What's going on? Is this Strictly or Countryfile?
# Da, da, da, da... #
Look at those trews!
You've got a lot of catching up to do, you three.
-We certainly have. What a gorgeous day.
Think bodes well for Christmas Day?
Well, they do say,
"Red sky at night, shepherds' delight."
Is that as in-depth as the Countryfile forecast goes,
or shall we leave it to the experts?
I feel sorry for our weather boys and girls.
-They're missing the party.
-Don't worry about it.
As it's Christmas, I've sent them a festive surprise.
Oh, you're so nice.
-This is Ragley Hall, near Alcester in Warwickshire.
It's a grand 17th-century mansion,
just the place to host our special Christmas edition of Countryfile.
We've been getting stuck in and helping everybody here
get ready for the biggest party of the year, the staff party.
-THE Christmas party, where Lord and Lady Hertford
throw the doors to their family home wide open.
And it's going to get busy.
Very shortly, hundreds of guests are going to descend on the Hall
and they all need feeding.
Look at this, they won't be disappointed.
Beautiful sausages and look at the curry!
And I'm pretty sure a drink or two will be in order.
Winter sun over the yardarm and all that.
# Fa la la la la la la la... #
And what's a party without music?
# Tis the season to be jolly... #
Well, this should be the mother of all staff parties
and we're all going to be dressed up for the occasion.
There's plenty to do before the big event,
including helping Lady Hertford wrap some presents up.
So, are you looking forward to the party tonight,
or is it slightly stressful for you?
No, no. It's the best bit.
I love the background bit, which is getting together,
getting everyone in the same mood, Christmas time...
and everybody helps everybody in the Christmas spirit.
-Well, you helped a lot with the carpet and so on.
And thank you for that.
So, what are you looking forward to most tonight?
John perhaps singing with the choir?
-I hear it's the first time he does that?
-I think we all should be very proud of being part of this.
-The wrapping's done, the glassware is sparkling,
the best carpet is being rolled out.
The first guests will be here in about an hour,
and the Great Hall is filled with warmth and light.
Oh and very big Christmas cards.
ELLIE : We've got to do the obligatory.
-Are you going to be boy or girl?
-I'll be the boy.
Really? OK, go on.
Victorian style. Three, two, one.
Ta-da! Three rounds of Silent Night.
MUSIC: "Silent Night" by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber
-The Countryfile presenters are in their finery,
but we're not here to party. We're here to work.
Tom and Matt are on the canapes, whilst Ellie and I
are on the wine, in a manner of speaking.
Before then, I've got one last decorating duty to perform.
-It's the moment of truth. Do the lights all still work?
One, two, three...
-Look at that!
-It's lovely, isn't it?
There's one more thing, though. The final touch is yours.
And I'll just watch you.
The technique is, you just chuck it.
There we go!
-Never done that before.
MUSIC: "Jingle Bells" by James Lord Pierpont
'As the sun goes down, the staff party starts up.
'And here are the first arrivals.
'Seems we're still a presenter down, though.'
Tom! Have you seen John anywhere?
-Not for a while, actually. And it's getting on, isn't it?
Do you know the words to Come, All Ye Faithful?
-I could probably dredge them up.
-Start warming the voice up.
And I'll look for him.
# O come, all ye faithful... #
# Joyful and triumphant
# O come ye, o come ye
# To Bethlehem...#
'Hurry up, John! Your audience awaits.
'We'll keep them fed and watered until you arrive.'
Let's do this!
Right. Here we go.
# Ding dong merrily on high
# In heaven the bells Are ringing... #
Hello, everybody. Hello, Edward.
Can I offer you some festive mulled wine?
Pop that one on there.
The empty. Don't waste any, good idea!
Goodness, what's this?
You know, I should have asked before I came out, shouldn't I?
-That's goose and apple.
-I'll try that one.
So we've got goose and apple, that's the turkey curry.
The sausage is good.
# Hosanna in excelsis
# Gloria... #
-'Right in the nick of time, here's the entertainment.
'It's John and the Alcester Male Voice Choir.'
-The music is here!
-It is, indeed.
The party can now start. They're waiting for you.
Nice to see you.
Are you warmed up, John? # Me, me, me, me! #
# Deck the halls With boughs of holly
# Fa la la la la la la la la
# Tis the season to be jolly
# Fa la la la la la la la la... #
-Oh, good crowd!
A terrible waste left my tray here.
-I'm supposed to be working.
-No, I'm here for the party. Cheers!
JOHN: # Troll the ancient Yuletide carol... #
-That will do, won't it?
-Warms the cockles.
JOHN: # See the blazing Yule before us
# Fa la la la la la la la la
# Strike the harp And join the chorus
# Fa la la la la la la la la... #
-OK, Tom. Here you go.
-That's one is ready to go, is it?
-Yeah, thank you very much.
-Phwoar, looking good. Thank you!
Here we go.
Maybe just one to keep the engine running.
# Fa la la la la la la la la
# Sing we joyous all together
# Fa la la, la la la la la la
# Heedless of the wind and weather
# Fa la la la la la la la la. #
-Wasn't that lovely? Get that man a drink!
-Thank you, choir!
-Well done, John. Every note. Brilliant.
Well done, John. Well done.
We know that Christmas has well and truly started.
Yes, so there's just one final thing to do.
We raise our glasses for one final festive cheers.
So, from everybody here at Ragley Hall,
to all that are watching...
# We wish you a merry Christmas
# We wish you a merry Christmas
# We wish you a merry Christmas
# And a happy New Year
# Glad tidings we bring to you and your kin
# We wish you a merry Christmas
# And a happy new year! #
# Ding dong Verily the sky
# Is riv'n with Angel singing
# Hosanna in excelsis
# Hosanna in excelsis. #