Countryfile celebrates Christmas at Bamburgh Castle on the Northumbrian coast. John Craven learns what the first Christmases on Lindisfarne would have been like.
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There's nowhere quite like the Northumbrian coast at Christmas.
And if you're having a Christmas party,
then there's nowhere quite like a castle to have it.
And Bamburgh Castle fits the bill perfectly.
It's where I'm going to be decking the halls
a little bit later on for a Countryfile festive knees-up.
Yeah, and I'll be getting the party started
with a flaming seasonal treat.
I'm bringing a tipple from the nearby Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
It's been a favourite through the ages.
And what would Christmas be without church bells?
Well, strangely quiet, probably.
I'll be finding out where all the bell-ringers have gone.
Ellie is here too, looking after the wildlife this Christmas.
As a nation, we are absolutely fantastic
at putting out food for the birds.
But when temperatures drop well below zero,
leaving out fresh water is just as important.
And Adam's with the hill shepherdess on their way to church.
It's an old tradition in the north country that on Sundays,
and especially Christmas Day,
shepherds would take their dogs to the church services with them.
And, of course, there'll be plenty of carols as well.
So grab a mince pie, sit back and enjoy Countryfile at Christmas.
MUSIC: Deck the Halls
Twinkling lights and tinsel,
crisp air and festive good cheer.
All across the land, the unmistakable spirit of Christmas
has finally arrived.
And to celebrate, I'm at Bamburgh Castle,
bang on the Northumbrian coast,
not far from the Scottish border.
Well, this is the place that I'm going to be decorating
for a Countryfile Christmas party a little bit later on,
and you're all invited.
It's the perfect place for a Christmas do, with its grand halls,
medieval kitchens and treasures at every turn.
They've celebrated Christmas here for centuries
and current owner Francis Armstrong
is going to tell me some of its history.
-Nice to see you.
-Nice to meet you.
Welcome to Bamburgh. It's fantastic, isn't it?
-What a room!
This is the King's Hall, the ballroom of the castle.
So what's the story?
Well, the story is that this rock has been lived on since 5,000 BC...
-..and then the rest of the castle was formed around it.
The Normans came along in the 12th century, built the keep, which,
you know, big thick walls, 12 feet thick in places.
Lord Armstrong, my great, great, great uncle
bought the place in 1894 for £60,000
-and then spent over a million quid then restoring it.
And that's how it's now in the family.
-It's just stayed in the family ever since.
I never really consider myself as the owner.
I'm the sort of keeper of the place.
And what are your memories of Christmas here?
Christmas was awesome here when we were kids.
It was just fantastic. We used to live in the keep.
Big Christmas tree, big fire.
I can imagine getting a bike for Christmas
and riding it up and down in here.
-Oh, no, I wouldn't be allowed to do that!
-Would you not?!
I'd have been killed.
And so do you keep this place to yourself at Christmas time then,
or is it still open to the public?
It's open to the public all year round, weekends in the winter.
Which... I mean, we have to do it.
To keep the place standing, the money involved is horrific.
We've got a great team of guys who work here, inside, outside,
and they're constantly busy.
Now, there's often a bit of sprucing up involved before the big day
and Bamburgh Castle is no different.
Helen Shinwell is in charge of the pre-Christmas clean-up.
So who is this beautiful figure here then, Helen?
This is a lady that was a regular performer
at the Folies Bergere in Paris.
There's a team of four of us and during the winter months
-we do more of a detailed clean.
We don't really want it to be a museum
and that's why a lot of things are on show,
and things do get touched by people, obviously,
and that's why it's important that we need to clean these.
Do they always stay in the same position?
Some things are moved, they're put away in archives
-and then new things are brought out to put on show.
It's so lovely, isn't it, as you're working away
and suddenly you just hear these clocks chiming in the background.
-It's really nice, the kind of...
The tempo that you work at seems to be set by the pace of these clocks.
-It is, yeah, and it's lovely when they all chime together.
Now, I was saying to Francis earlier on how kind of homely it feels here.
Do you get that vibe as well?
Yeah, this castle, it does feel warm and welcoming
and people do comment on that.
Now, whilst I'm busy here at Bamburgh,
Anita's heading to the hills in search of festive gifts.
MUSIC: We Three Kings
I'm far inland from Matt, out in the wilds of the North Pennines,
and I've come in search of something special for the party.
The Three Kings in the carol were wise men bearing gifts
of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I reckon I could find something out here to rival them.
This is Alexandra Jackson, an artist who draws inspiration
from the landscape around her home in Langley, Northumberland.
The natural materials she uses are just as precious to her
as the gold, frankincense and myrrh of the Three Kings.
She's got something very special planned for our festivities later.
How you doing?
-Good to see you. It looks like you started without me.
Yeah, yeah, I've got some holly in here and some pine cones
-and a few acorns as well.
-What an amazing place.
-It's pretty beautiful out here, isn't it?
It's an inspiring landscape to have been, sort of, born into.
Especially today, that sky is amazing, isn't it?
Yes, it's especially amazing this morning.
And what is it about this place that inspires you?
I think it's the bleakness and sort of the emptiness of the landscape.
I find it so beautiful and there's so much room to sort of think
and it's so... It's so inspiring.
Well, I'm with you today, so what is there left to collect?
We've got some hawthorn berries behind the cottage in the garden,
so if we want to collect a few of those?
I'd love to. Which way do we go?
-Come on then, lead the way.
MUSIC: The Holly and the Ivy
'Some bright red hawthorn berries complete our haul.
'Now it's back to Alexandra's studio,
'an Aladdin's cave she's worked in since leaving school
'a year or two ago.'
-What a perfect workshop.
It's here she designs and creates the jewellery
she sells online all over the world.
Alex, I love it in here.
Yeah, it's pretty perfect for what I need it for.
-All this jewellery!
-It is magical.
So Christmassy, isn't it? It's perfect.
Yeah, yeah, it's beautiful.
So what are we making today?
We're going to make a beautiful table wreath
and there's going to be all sorts on there
from the acorns and berries, and it's going to be in silver
and gold, but first of all we've got to paint the leaves.
Are you going to entrust me with a paint brush?
Yes. No, of course.
So what you're going to need is one of the leaves
and I am going to paint a little acorn and just
paint a really thin layer.
And that's just an acorn that you've foraged or found?
Yeah, and dried it off and now it's ready for painting.
And this is all because it was really tough for you
to try and find a job after school, wasn't it?
Yes, yeah, it all sort of stemmed from that.
Like, things like buses, it's just...
Just about non-existent, there isn't a bus around here.
It's just sort of using the landscape I love
to sort of make a future for myself.
Oh, it's so satisfying.
You're an alchemist, really, aren't you?
Yeah, yeah, a modern-day alchemist.
And just like the alchemists of old,
Alexandra is going to turn ordinary material
into a precious gift of gold.
MUSIC: We Three Kings
So what happens next?
So we're going to pop these leaves into the solution here.
-Just bend over the wire.
-Just like that?
Yeah, make sure it's well attached to the copper pipe
because that's where our current is going to flow through to the leaves.
And what will happen to them?
They will slowly transfer around the leaf
and the leaves will turn into copper.
The process she uses is called electroforming.
It involves passing a small electric current through a solution.
Atoms in that solution react with the current
to create layers of copper, gold or silver around an object.
With any luck, it'll add the decorative pizzazz
our holly and pine cones need.
'We just need to let nature and science take its course.
'In the meantime, we can get on with weaving the willow base
'and add some festive touches.'
So we're just going to weave it like we did the willow.
'Time now to see the results of our handiwork.
'And where better to reveal our festive table wreath
'than a suitably seasonal setting?'
Gorgeous roaring fire, mulled wine.
-Anyone would think it was Christmas, Alex.
All we need is your creation.
-Shall we have a look?
-Well, here it is.
Here's our wreath.
That is spectacular.
It's really beautiful, isn't it?
Look how well the copper's come out.
Yeah, yeah, so we've got the gold plating
and we've tied in the silver as well.
It looks really beautiful, doesn't it?
I can't believe that these are real acorns under here.
Yeah, all real and the berries we collected this morning.
You are one gifted young lady.
-Here's to a Merry Christmas.
There are some things about this time of year
that just make it feel so Christmassy.
The trees are looking festive.
# Ding dong merrily on high
# In heav'n the bells are ringing
# Ding dong verily the sky... #
And children's voices filling the air.
They're really good.
# Gloria... #
And, of course, the peel of church bells.
But there is a problem with this idyllic winter scene.
Church bells need bell-ringers
and in rural areas up and down the country,
they're getting hard to recruit.
So could this tradition be under threat?
I'm at All Saints Church in Rothbury beside Northumberland National Park.
Tower Captain Colin Wheeler helped restart
these bells in the '80s after they had been silent
for more than a decade.
So, what were the bells like when you came to them a few decades ago?
Well, they were the original installation.
It was glorious to find them the way they are.
And the sound of them I still love
and think is just about as perfect as it can be.
And what condition were they in when you came to them?
Buried in bird nesting materials.
19 sacks' worth went out first off.
Fortunately because the air is so clear here,
there was very little corrosion.
Sorry, when you say buried, I mean, that's pretty deep here...
-Oh, about to where your hand is.
Up to here with nesting and bird droppings...
These bells were installed in 1893.
They were cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in London,
the same place they made Big Ben.
But sadly even this, the world's oldest bell making factory,
is due to move site next year.
MUSIC: Ding Dong Merrily on High
Why do you like bell-ringing so much?
It's all absorbing, it's an addiction rather than a hobby,
I love the sound of them, and once the rhythm starts going,
you lose yourself in it.
How challenging is it to find bell-ringers now?
It's difficult because the church congregation...
I think we've tried all those who are able to
make the stairs and would be able to ring.
A recent national survey by BBC local radio
found three quarters of the UK's bell-ringing groups
are concerned about recruiting new members,
even though two thirds say demand for their services is increasing.
'Michael Pace and Betty Rogerson are proof that here at All Saints
'they're bucking the trend. They both recently signed up.'
Now, I don't quite know how to put this delicately but I was expecting
young apprentices, would you at least give me a decade?
So what's the appeal?
It's a really good mental challenge because you really do have to think
about what you're doing and this is only the very easy, basic stuff.
What about you, Betty? What drew you into it?
Well, when there were a call-out for bell-ringers, I thought, well,
I'm just going to go down and see what it's all about.
And you get drawn in and you get hooked.
How much would it help if you had some younger people
in the group as well?
We need the younger blood coming in because we are not going to be
around forever and it's a tradition that's gone on for hundreds of years
and we need it to go forward.
As in many rural areas,
Rothbury's ringers reflect the ageing countryside population
but maybe for once the country could learn from the city
because it seems many urban churches
have a thriving young ringing community.
Jemma Mills runs a city ringing group and she's just 19.
Why do you do it?
I do it because I just like the challenge.
There's a new pattern to learn, there's a new skill to learn,
there's a new weight of bell to ring, and that sort of thing,
which all requires different skills.
Do you think bells ringing's a bit fuddy-duddy?
Not really because it's a very traditional English thing
to ring bells in a church, to call people to worship on a Sunday,
but at the same time it's keeping a tradition going with new people.
How would you sell bell-ringing to younger people?
I would maybe sell it to them if they're like,
at uni age, like we are, with the social aspect as well.
So we have a lot of parties and activities.
Like, for example, at New Year,
we went on top of the church next to Westminster Abbey
and watched the fireworks over the Thames.
That was pretty cool.
Maybe Jemma has it.
Could a more varied apres-bell social life
draw in the younger generation?
Well, ignoring the fact that some say I'm a bit clapped out,
I've been inspired to find out what this addiction is all about.
'And Colin's going to be my teacher.'
-If you want to put your hands the same way round...
Right over left. Now stretch up as high as you can stretch.
-Catch now and pull.
Don't look up. Catch now and pull.
That's good. Keep going.
Don't try... Oh, no. If you look up, looking up is...
As you've just proved, looking up does not work at all.
'Church bells can weigh anything from a quarter of a tonne,
'which is three times my weight, to several tonnes.
'But, as I'm finding out, it's not about muscle power.
'The skilled ringer uses balance and rhythm.'
Try and catch a little bit higher, you'll find it easier.
That's it. That's the height. Lovely.
It is an extraordinary kind of work-out for the mind and the body.
I feel the moment that I'm distracted,
it's all going to go to pot.
I think Rothbury has probably heard enough of my efforts.
Time to let the experts take over.
Trebles ready. She's going... She's gone.
And they've invited Jemma to join them.
If young people like Jemma can spread the love
of bell ringing out across the countryside,
that great Yule time tradition will continue -
the bells ringing out for Christmas Day.
# And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day. #
There's nowhere quite like a castle at Christmas.
And I'm on a mission here at Bamburgh to deck the halls
and lay on a celebratory Countryfile Christmas spread.
Top of my shopping list is some festive fudge -
if I can find a kitchen, that is.
That's the wrong way, that's the dungeons.
I'm trying to follow the smell.
Got to be getting close now.
Oh, Grazia, I found you.
I'll tell you what, I have been looking for you for about an hour.
I know, you're sweating a little bit.
-What a place.
-You must always get lost here, do you?
-No, not any more.
-Not any more.
-Not any more.
-You've come in at the right time.
I followed the smell, it's absolutely beautiful in here.
-These are you.
-Oh, I'll put the gloves on.
Yeah, thank you.
'Grazia Calvert makes all of the fudge that's sold in the gift shop,
'and she stays in one of the castle's private apartments
'with her husband, who also works here.'
Right, now, let's talk about this beautiful fudge
because this is what...
Which one are we going to try and create today?
We are doing marzipan and cranberry today.
Which you can try and tell me what you think of it.
It's delicious, goes without saying.
So what's in there at the moment?
Oh, lots of sugar and lots of butter...
-All fabulous stuff, then.
-All fabulous, yes.
If you would like to add some cranberries.
That's just lovely... Now the paddles are going.
So they mix it up nicely.
Switch it off.
Look at that.
I've got a bit in the middle there I need smooth.
What do we think to that?
-Happy with that?
-I'm very happy with that, yes.
-Oh, it smells divine, doesn't it?
Oh, look at that.
I tell you, I don't who's going to love this more -
Anita, Tom, Adam or John.
No, I think John. John's going to win the fudge-eating contest.
I hope they're all going to enjoy it.
-Yes, I'm sure they will.
-I'm sure they will.
# O come, all ye faithful
# Joyful and triumphant
# O come, ye... #
O come, all ye faithful.
And the faithful have been coming here for nearly 1,400 years.
This is the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
It's where Christianity took hold in England again for the first time
since the Romans.
These are the ruins of the 12th century priory,
but St Aidan built the original monastery here
five centuries earlier.
Which makes Holy Island one of the first places
where Christmas would once again have been celebrated.
But it would've been a very different Christmas
from the one we know today.
To discover more, I'm heading to St Mary's Parish Church,
built on the site of that first monastery.
The Reverend Paul Collins is the vicar.
Putting the final touches to the tree, Paul?
Yes, it's a splendid tree, isn't it?
Yeah, but of course there wouldn't have been any tree
like this back in the seventh century, would there?
No, I think that's all 19th century.
I think with Prince Albert, wasn't it,
who got us to have Christmas trees?
What would Christmas have been like
on the island for the monks back in the seventh century?
Well, it was probably quite hard.
They would have celebrated Christmas...
In what sort of way?
I think they probably spent time, first of all,
in silence and saying the psalms and then eventually they would have
celebrated the Eucharist and then they probably had a feast.
Oh, really? What kind of feast? What sort of food would they eat?
Well, round here there's lots of ducks and geese,
so maybe they had something like that to eat.
And what about fish? Because a lot of fish in the sea around here.
-Probably not on Christmas Day.
Well, fish is often seen as a substitute for meat,
which you would eat on a fast day.
So on a feast day you'd have...
-You'd really tuck into the meat.
-I think so.
After that festive feast,
those monks would have returned to the scriptures again,
reading the Nativity story in one of the greatest manuscripts ever
produced, The Lindisfarne Gospels - and there's a replica in the church.
And here are the Gospels, opened at the start of Saint Matthew,
of course famous for its telling of the Christmas story.
-They're stunning, the illustrations.
They're very beautiful. Such amazing colour and detail.
And who was responsible for The Lindisfarne Gospels?
Well, one of the monks became a bishop and his name was Eadfrith.
And Eadfrith is the one credited with, at least commissioning,
if not himself writing and illustrating the Gospels.
And then here, we have the beginning of the Christmas story
and it tells us this is "Mater eius Maria Joseph",
Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Joseph.
And of course, in their day, The Lindisfarne Gospels
were hugely important, weren't they?
Many pilgrims would have come to see them.
A couple of centuries after they were made,
above each of the Latin words,
the equivalent in Anglo-Saxon was written.
So it's the first time the Gospels appeared in Early English.
MUSIC: O Come, All Ye Faithful (choral version)
Now, as well as the Gospels, Holy Island is also famous
for something which I think is going to go down a real treat
at our get-together later on, and that is Lindisfarne Mead.
MUSIC: O Come, All Ye Faithful (jazz version)
Mead's an old favourite that's been going down a treat for centuries.
And just the thing for a cold Christmas night.
I'm meeting Ronnie Tait, who's been making mead
for more than 30 years.
Can I stop production for a moment, Ronnie?
-Yes, certainly. Yeah.
-So, what exactly is mead?
Mead is probably the oldest alcoholic drink in the world.
In its simplest form, its water and honey fermented with yeast.
And does mead-making go way back around here?
There's a smallholding on the way here, called Beal,
which is a shortened term for the Bee Hill.
I believe the monks would go across to Beal
to get the wax for the candles and, who knows,
maybe they got the honey and made some mead here.
And how many bottles a year do you produce?
At least 100,000 and it's growing all the time.
We're hoping to expand by 10% next year
and maybe 10-15 the year after.
-You may have to get robots to bottle it.
Yes, well, we'll need a bit more automation
than we have at present, yeah.
In the meantime, how do you do it? How do you...?
Yeah, you just put the bottle on there and it will fill...
-The pressure will fill it up there.
-Another one. Yeah.
-There we go.
-Makes a nice noise.
-Right, there we go. Another one in here.
Right, now I know how it's bottled.
What I want to know now is what does it taste like.
'So it's off to the winery shop.'
Right, Ronnie, what have we got here then?
This is the spiced one. In here we've got cinnamon,
cloves and finished off with a wee bit nutmeg.
-Nice and warming in winter time.
-Yeah, very good, yeah.
It's similar to a mulled wine.
And this one in particular we're sending off to the Christmas markets
in Birmingham and Manchester.
Well, it's great to warm the cockles on a cold winter's day when you're
-wandering around these markets, isn't it?
-Yeah, just the job.
And what about this one?
OK, this is the dark one that you were bottling earlier.
It's sherry style, quite smooth.
-More local honey.
-Yeah, you can really taste the honey in this one.
-Well, cheers, Ronnie.
-Cheers. All the very best.
And I tell you what I think I'll do, I'll take a bottle each...
-Yeah, why not?
-..for our Countryfile Christmas party.
-I hope you enjoy them. Merry Christmas.
Happy Christmas to you.
MUSIC: O Come, All Ye Faithful (recorder version)
Those old monks had a saying,
"If the soul was in God's keeping,
"then body needed fortifying with Lindisfarne Mead."
'And I can think of a few bodies who'd drink to that.'
MUSIC: In the Bleak Midwinter
Winter can sometimes feel bleak, but in the natural world
it's always beautiful.
Despite being the coldest and darkest time of the year,
there's a wonderland of wildlife
out there during these winter months.
I'm close to home this Christmas,
helping out The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust,
of which I'm president.
'I'm with volunteers on Greystone Farm,
'who are working to maintain the rich habitat
'found along the banks of the River Eye in the Cotswolds.'
Well, I've been told if I work hard enough,
I might even earn myself a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine
at the farmer's Christmas bash a bit later.
-That's it. Where do you want this?
-You can pop those just down here.
-Just on there?
-That would be great.
'Will Masefield is the community wildlife officer
'here at Greystone Farm.'
We're out here today doing what we call green revetment.
So we're re-profiling this river bank.
We do this sort of thing up and down the Cotswolds
where perhaps cows might have smashed the river bank down
and introducing a lot of silts
and you lose this lovely bank profile,
which is where water voles, for example,
love to burrow and dig their burrows into here.
A lot of the work that we do throughout the catchment
is to benefit the invertebrates in the river
and the vegetation and the fish, and then of course
all the kingfishers and otters and the rest of the food chain
-that benefits from that.
And how much of that work do you rely on volunteers for?
An awful lot. We have over 400 volunteers
-with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
So a few mince pies and a bit of mulled wine.
It's a small payment for all that work they do, isn't it?
-Yeah, for a day like today.
Standing in the river up to your chestnuts in cold water.
But you know what? It's pretty glorious, isn't it?
We're not moaning too much because the sun is shining.
The volunteers have really put in a good shift today.
But we can all do our bit.
This Christmas, while we're tucking in,
we should spare a small thought for wildlife,
and you don't need waders to help.
I'm going to show how you can make a difference in your own back garden
with a festive twist.
As a nation, we are absolutely fantastic
at putting out food for the birds,
but when temperatures drop well below zero,
which they are doing at the moment, and the countryside is all frozen,
leaving out fresh water is just as important,
particularly for the seed-eating birds
like the tits, the finches, nuthatches -
they have a very dry diet, so they need to drink quite often.
Now, one of the things you can do, if you have a bird bath with water in,
is float something in the top.
So I've got a little Christmassy bauble there, which will do the job.
Or I'm sure many of you will have some of these during this season,
fizzy wine cork.
Let that blow around in the breeze.
It'll prevent the crust of ice forming on the top
and even if there's just a small gap,
the birds will be able to access the water.
Looks like the end of a good Christmas party.
One thing that you can do that will ultimately help the birds but, in the meantime,
will look fabulous and festive in your garden, is to make ice lanterns.
You just need two vessels, one slightly smaller than the other.
Add water, so that you're making a moat around the outside.
And then because it's floating and because you want this middle one
to stay as central as possible,
I'm going to add some tape to keep it in place.
That's the basics of the ice lantern.
But it's rather nice to decorate it with some evergreen
that's available all around the countryside at this time of year.
I've got pieces of holly down here and you put it down into that moat.
And simply freeze overnight.
I've got an audience suddenly just joined me,
intrigued to see how these are going to turn out.
Now the moment of truth for the one I made earlier.
Turn it out as you would a Christmas pud.
Oh, my goodness, it looks amazing.
Put it on your bird table with a beautiful candle inside.
Eventually, the water in the ice lantern will melt and all
of the greenery will act as a perch for the birds in the fresh water.
Yes, love that.
That's the smaller birds sorted for Christmas.
But there's good news for the big birds, too.
They won't be getting left out in the cold.
They've got barn owls on the site here and they know because
they leave behind these pellets.
You can see tiny, tiny jawbones
and tiny femurs and you can work out how many animals they've eaten,
usually around four or five.
The volunteers are building 16 new homes for barn owls.
It's hoped they'll provide a lifeline for these beautiful birds
here in the Cotswolds.
John Fields from the Trust is leading the effort.
How's the carpentry going, John?
Yeah, I'm just measuring up some baton.
-Good. "Measure twice, cut once," they say in carpentry, isn't it?
-Yes, that's right.
This is for the inside of barn owl boxes.
How are barn owls doing here?
Well, the sightings are getting quite frequent - that's good.
But the success rate for breeding,
it just isn't there and that's one of the things we're trying to address.
How are they taking to the barn-owl boxes so far?
Very well. They love them.
We put barn-owl boxes in a small barn near to here
and within a matter of days, we had barn owls in there.
Yeah, they really do work.
So last one for the day, this box?
-Very much so.
-You've worked hard.
You deserve a mince pie and some mulled wine,
which I think is on its way.
Hey, check this out.
Mulled wine, if you please.
And a yule log!
With a barn owl on!
Thank you. Cheers.
-Cheers, merry Christmas to you.
Well done, everybody. You truly deserve this.
And it's a happy Christmas from us all here in the Cotswolds.
-ALL: Happy Christmas!
Now, putting up the Christmas decorations is always a big day, isn't it?
I can't imagine what a massive challenge it would be living here at Bamburgh Castle.
You need truckloads of tinsel and barrow loads of holly.
Perfect. Hi, Chris.
Thanks, mate. See you at about seven tonight, yeah?
-Excellent. Just listen out for the music.
Yeah, there's a big party going on here tonight and thankfully Robert is here
to help me get all the Christmas decorations in order.
-Now then, Rob.
-Whole barrow load of holly for you there with some ivy...
-Thanks very much.
-Oh, my word, look at that.
Isn't that beautiful?
This is a really natural door wreath,
which is used with all Northumbrian foliage and then decorated with some
nice scented bits, so you get a nice welcome scent at your door when
visitors come over the festive period.
-There's a nice, noble fir, blue foliage on the outside.
The next layer is some golden yew and the last layer is the nice
variegated holly in the middle.
-Great. Shall we hang it up and see how it looks on this door, then?
This very grand door of this castle, which,
as I understand it, the reason it's shaped like this -
absolutely fascinating - is so that...
Back in the day, if any soldiers or knights were under siege, they would
actually ride into this courtyard on a horse,
they'd open the door up and then they'd actually go through the door on horseback,
so you've got the shape there of the horse and then the rider would go
through the top bit. It's unbelievable.
So, how have you actually constructed this, then, Rob?
So, the ring is soaked in water and then wrapped in plastic
and then the foliage is stuck into that,
so that should keep your wreath nice and fresh until well past the festive season.
I mean, it is, it's a beautiful art form.
And actually it's that thought, isn't it, of bringing...
Decking the halls with boughs of holly and actually bringing it out...
It's nice to bring the garden straight to your front door.
Well, that is very much the entrance sorted.
-Let's get some of this...
..in there and then we can start decking the halls.
Taking greenery inside, like holly and ivy,
is a tradition that goes back to pre-Christian times.
Evergreen symbolised eternal life - that as one year ends,
a new one begins and life renews.
And this wreath will provide a festive welcome for our guests later on.
Stay there. Stay there.
ADAM: Ashley Stamper is a 24-year-old hill shepherd
working across 9,000 acres in Northumberland.
In the festive season, she spends most of her time
working up on the fell in the harshest of conditions,
but today she's brought the ewe lambs
down to the grassland at Belsay Hall
to graze over the Christmas holidays.
-Lovely to see you.
-How are you doing?
What a beautiful place to work.
Yeah. It's lovely.
It's nice to be able to split my time between coming to
the grass parks or working up on the hills as well.
These sheep look beautiful.
North of England type, with a bit of Scotch in them.
With us down in the south, our farming is very different -
quite easy in comparison to the hills. How tough do you find it?
It changes all the time,
so you think you've learnt the hill and then you go up one morning and
the fog is right in front of your face and all of a sudden you have no idea where you are.
I get a lot more out of it than working down here -
it's a lot more challenging.
So, tell me about these blue marks.
It looks like you've got baubles on them for Christmas.
No, no, not at all! Because we don't have fences,
we need to teach the sheep where to stay
and that's an expression called hefting.
Hefting is where the sheep learn to stay on a certain part of the hill.
So we would call one part of the hill a hersall and within
the hersall we have different cuts of sheep.
The cut is like a family and they learn to stay on that part of the hill.
There's usually two or more marks -
one mark tells you which hersall, which hill, they're on
and the other mark tells you which cut they're from on that hersall.
I know about hefting,
where the sheep learn to live on a hill,
where to find the water and the shade and the grass,
but I've never heard of hersalls or cuts of sheep, I have to say.
Yeah, OK, so they're traditional names and there's a lot more
and I'm still learning them all!
Jim, lie down. Lie down.
You lie down there. And you,
stop getting off the bike when you're not told.
After Ashley has seen to her cheeky pup, Moe...
Sit down there now, you stay there.
..it's time to load the lambs that she's been bringing in today.
They're off to a nearby Christmas livestock market.
They are counting the lambs onto the lorry and they've got to get
the correct number, so they know how many have gone to market.
And Ashley is all across it.
She knows exactly what she's doing.
Staying quite calm, lovely nature,
and that's the way you've got to be with animals.
Frankie Walton has been shepherding for nearly 50 years.
He's acting as a mentor to Ashley.
-What a great team.
-Ah, can you be here every week, please?
And you get to go to the markets as well, you're following these in?
-Yeah, I work at the market sometimes.
-Fish and chips on a Friday at the market.
-What a treat!
And you'll be home, you know, carving the Christmas turkey,
just peering out of the window, looking at her up on the hill.
Yes, yes. Oh, definitely.
I've got to have my Christmas off.
Ashley got her break into farming
through the Prince's Countryside Fund,
a scheme designed to help UK agriculture.
But she's not from farming stock.
So, tell me about your family background, then.
Well, my family have absolutely nothing to do with shepherding or
farming at all, really.
Both my mum and dad are some way related to being in the beauty industry.
Hence I started as a beauty therapist and became qualified and
started running a beauty salon in East Lothian.
-Why the change?
-It was just indoors and wasn't for me
and I'll never go back.
I enjoy being outside.
And now you're at university, too.
I am in fourth year studying agriculture.
The honours project, believe it or not, is in sheepdogs.
There's not really much data out there that shows just how much work
these dogs are doing, so I'm going to look at energy consumption.
Fascinating. Cos they are on the go all the time.
-They travel some miles.
-Yeah, they do. This little pup's only five months, aren't you, Moe?
And she's had a big day today and it would just be interesting to see
how much energy she uses compared to a pup that isn't, you know,
going to be a sheepdog and the same for the older guys.
And it's not just that they're a working tool -
it's the companionship, too, isn't it?
Absolutely. When you're out on the hills by yourself and the mist is in
and it's just you and your dog, it is special.
I enjoy the dogs, I'm with them all the time.
Shepherding and dogs are part of the fabric of this landscape.
And in days gone by, Christmas was shared in a very special way.
It's an old tradition in the north country that on Sundays,
and especially Christmas Day,
shepherds would take their dogs to the church services with them.
Bolam Church is just a stone's throw away from Belsay.
Lay minister Pam Walker is going to tell me all about those old traditions.
-What a lovely little church.
-It's amazing, isn't it? We're so lucky.
Pam, tell me the story about shepherds bringing their dogs into the church.
Well, there's certainly a tradition of that happening in the Borders.
Especially in the festivals like Christmas,
when everybody's families are coming back together, they're enjoying themselves -
well, their dogs are part of the family as well as their working companions.
So they would bring them into church with them.
It must have been a bit strange for the person carrying out the service
to have lots of dogs milling around.
There are stories of travelling priests, certainly in the Borders,
who would arrive at a church and be really, really puzzled
why his congregation wasn't standing up at the appropriate places.
And that's because if they did,
the dogs would all stand up and think, "It's time to go off home."
And that was what would happen. So it was easier
and kept probably a more holy atmosphere if everybody remained seated.
It's very lovely to see how quickly they've settled down -
although they're working dogs, charging around in the fields,
they seem to come into church and just relax.
-Because it's a place of peace, I think, yes.
# While shepherds watched their flocks by night
# All seated on the ground
# The angel of the Lord came down
# And glory shone around. #
I find it wonderful that the bond between the shepherds and their
dogs was so strong that they quite literally went everywhere together.
Very special indeed.
# Glad tidings of great joy I bring
# To you and all mankind
# The heavenly babe you there shall find
# To human view displayed... #
And since it's Christmas, what better way to finish the day
than back out in the fields with Ashley,
the shepherd, watching her flock?
MATT: At the foot of Bamburgh Castle is Bamburgh village -
the perfect place to do a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping.
Food shopping, to be exact,
and I'm looking for a bit of a twist on the usual Christmas menu to feed
the rest of the Countryfile gang and our guests a little bit later on.
And The Potted Lobster is the reason I'm here.
Award-winning chef Richard Sim is a dab hand when it comes to
traditional Northumbrian fare.
So, Richard, this is some of the latest catch.
This is it. Some fabulous oysters,
just literally from just a stone's throw just down the road.
Lindisfarne oysters, really, really good.
Some spoots or spouts or razor clams.
But, you know, spoots up here.
Some lovely lamb. We're going to do a little bit of roast lamb.
And there's a lot of sheep in this region.
More sheep than people, they say, in Northumberland.
That's one of our claims to fame, I think.
Yeah. Yeah, that looks lovely.
Fantastic lamb. The quality of the produce at the moment is absolutely at its best.
-Do you want to try an oyster?
-Yeah, yeah, why not?
-OK, so a little squeeze of lemon.
-Squeeze of lemon.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Go for it. Cheers!
That is a good one. That is a good one.
-The sea round here tastes pretty good. I tell you.
Back in medieval times,
eating meat was prohibited in the run-up to Christmas.
Advent was a month-long fast
and only fish could be eaten before the 25th.
So, what's the plan for tonight, as far as this feast is concerned?
Run some food up to feed you, I think is the idea.
Excellent. Well, listen, I'll let you crack on and we'll give you
-a whistle from the top of the hill when we're ready.
-OK, cheers, Matt.
-See you later.
-See you later. Cheers, Matt. Bye.
ANITA: On my quest to bring a merry Christmas to our festive feast,
I've travelled to rural Northumberland,
just outside the old market town of Alnwick.
What I'm looking for is the showstopper, the grand finale,
the blazing flourish for our Christmas gathering,
and that could only mean one thing - Christmas pudding.
The Christmas pudding as we know it has been a firm favourite
since Victorian times, but its origins date back
to the Middle Ages as a way of preserving meat.
The pottage, as it was known, was more of a broth made from mincemeat,
dried fruits, spices and thickened with breadcrumbs.
But not everyone was a fan.
Some even claim Oliver Cromwell tried to ban the Christmas pudding.
What a killjoy!
But over the years, such luminaries as Prince Albert and Charles Dickens
have all championed the Christmas pudding.
And I've even heard John Craven is a fan.
So I've come to meet award-winning pudding maker Susan Green
on her family farm.
This is quite some spot you've got here, Susan.
Oh, it's fabulous. We're so lucky.
So, when did the Christmas pudding business start?
My pudding business started in 2000, 2001.
My husband and I were going to have our fourth child.
It was a time when, as tenant farmers,
we were finding it a little bit of a struggle.
And I decided I needed to do something to contribute.
I'd always baked.
I started doing some baking
for a local farmers' market.
And it grew from there.
And the pudding business has developed from there.
And I hear that there's a secret recipe.
Well, do you fancy coming to have a look?
I would love that.
-Yeah, it's a beautiful house.
-Oh, thank you.
The farmhouse is full of festive spirit -
just the setting for me to make my very first Christmas pudding.
-Come into my kitchen.
So, Anita, with Christmas pudding, preparation is everything.
It smells amazing in here, by the way.
-So Christmassy, it's gorgeous.
Citrusy and spicy and yummy.
-So, what have we got?
-We have got a mixture of dried fruits,
and then we have fresh fruit, some dry ingredients, and some spice.
I think I've just spotted your secret recipe.
-I've got a homing device for fine alcohol.
-So, what's this?
-So, that's our local Alnwick rum.
And how much of this goes into it?
You're going to put all of that bottle into this pot.
Why do you put this into your Christmas pudding?
My mother had always made her Christmas pudding with Alnwick rum.
-Is that right?
It's the recipe that my mum used when we were children and my family
have eaten this Christmas pudding every year.
So, this is an authentic Northumberland recipe,
passed down through generations.
The dried fruit is soaked in the rum for a minimum of 48 hours,
so, in the finest tradition, Sue has prepared a batch earlier.
You really have to smell this one.
-This one has had its two days.
-You can smell the fumes, can't you?
That's quite something.
Next up, I add the zest and juice of a lemon to the mix,
already containing fresh apple, carrot and orange.
This is my first-ever Christmas pudding.
Well, I hope you'll feel inspired to make one yourself next year.
I don't know. I'm being taught by the Queen of Christmas puds here.
I don't think the rum would get into the fruit stage.
Then to the mix of breadcrumbs, brown sugar,
suet and flour we add the all-important festive spices.
That smells like heaven in there.
-It's the Christmas smell, isn't it?
'Finally, we add all the ingredients together...
'..add some eggs...'
And then if you'd like to switch it on...
'..and give it a mix.'
That looks so good. This is when real love gets involved.
Why don't you do it all in the mixer?
We can be sure that it's a nice, even mix.
And, of course, we're getting all the last residue of the rum
that was left in the bottom of the container.
The most important thing.
So that's looking great.
-You have actually now made a Christmas pudding.
Woo-hoo! I'd high-five you but, er...
So, into the pudding bowl it goes, before steaming for ten hours.
But we can't hang around.
We've got to hightail it to Bamburgh Castle
for the Christmas festivities.
Here we are.
So, once again, Susan is one step ahead, with another all ready to go.
That is heavenly.
I can't wait to taste it.
In fact, I can't wait to show the others.
All that's left now is to add the finishing touches
and we're ready for the journey.
In a moment, we'll be joining the Christmas feast.
All we need now is a bit of snow.
The question is, will we get any in the run-up to Christmas?
Here's the Countryfile forecast for the week ahead.
MATT: It's party time at Bamburgh Castle.
The halls are decked, the tree is up,
and there's treat after tasty treat on offer.
We've invited the folk we've met throughout the programme,
even the sheepdogs.
-Oh, you're here! I'm so pleased you came. Hiya, Tom.
-Nice to see you.
Nice to see you. Merry Christmas.
-Got some mead!
Make yourselves at home.
John, of course, has brought some of his favourite new tipple, mead,
to get the party started.
Have you ever drunk mead before?
-Never in my life.
No? Well, it's a fortified wine with honey in it.
It goes really well with an occasion like this, doesn't it?
-I'll have a drop as well.
-Would you like an oyster?
-I'd love an oyster, yeah.
Yeah. Have a little bit of that.
Here we go.
It's good sea around here, you see?
-Better than your neck of the woods.
-Careful - they're supposed to be an aphrodisiac!
I'm on my way. I'm on my way!
-Would you like a taste?
-I'd love some.
I love a bit of mead, actually.
-There we are. Merry Christmas.
-Down the hatch.
There we are.
Here's my present for you, Matt.
-Yeah, for you.
Well, do you know what? It just so happens
that I have a present for you.
They look alarmingly similar.
-Um, anyway... Yeah.
-Thank you. Happy Christmas.
I know what's happening here.
-What do you mean, you know what's happening?
Well, I know what's happening.
There we are. As predicted.
Who could have guessed? Who could have suspected that?
My word, you've got the dogs in the castles and in churches now.
It looks as though he's been drinking my mead.
As the oysters went down well, it's on to our medieval-inspired main.
Put your hand up if you want fish pie.
Hands up for fish pie.
Who would like a bit of fish pie?
Roll up. Come on.
Who would like to...? Yes, this lady.
Sold to the lady in the nice jersey.
And now for the star of the show,
the traditional Christmas pudding Anita brought with her.
Just admiring your wreath.
-It looks lovely.
-It looks absolutely stunning.
Beautiful, isn't it?
-Here we go.
-Here we go.
-Lovely, look at that.
-Look at that!
All together - one, two, three...
Right. I'll do the honours.
-Let's get in there.
-Work on that wrist strength.
I cooked it.
That crew look hungry over there, don't they?
-Can I take a picture of all of you?
Well, that is all we got time for from a very festive Bamburgh Castle.
We're going to be back on Boxing Day, at the earlier time of 12:50pm,
with a programme all about our nation's favourite vet,
James Herriot. But in the meantime,
have a wonderful Christmas and it looks like we are
all in the perfect position for a bit of carol singing.
So, here we go, on four.
One, two, three, four.
ALL: # 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
# Don we now our gay apparel
# Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la
# Troll the ancient yuletide carol
# Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. #
It's Christmas and Countryfile celebrates in high old style at Bamburgh Castle on the wild and beautiful Northumbrian coast. Matt Baker decks the halls and gets the place ready for a big Countryfile Christmas party. Anita Rani goes on a festive forage with a jewellery maker who turns natural materials into stunning decorations. Anita also sees what it takes to make an award-winning Christmas pudding. John Craven is on Lindisfarne discovering what the first Christmases in these islands would have been like. He then meets the makers of those old monks' favourite tipple - mead. Ellie Harrison gives some hints and tips on how to look after wildlife when the temperature drops. Adam Henson joins the hill shepherd watching her flocks, and Tom Heap wonders if a lack of bell ringers could cause some churches to fall silent this Christmas. Then it's all back to Bamburgh Castle to tuck in to the festive feast Matt has laid on for the presenters and their guests.