Yesterday we went to the Bury Christmas Market. We've been there several times now, and I've never really enjoyed it.
It's got a fair number of interesting stalls. There's a wide range of interesting produce and gifts. There's also the usual amount of utter tat, but presumably it sells to someone.
The real problem I have is that these places are just too darned busy. There's often a one-way system in force (Bury had one in the Athenauem and the Apex) so you can't wander at will. You're jostled, pushed, and shoved. You can't get to actually see the stalls properly, or stop if there's one that piques your interest. It's all too tense and frantic, rather than the pleasant browse that you're looking for.
So I bailed out and spent a very pleasant couple of hours in the Mason's Arms instead. I got there just after opening time, and it was already busy, but the turnover of people popping in for a quick drink or snack was quite reasonable, so I was sat down only a couple of minutes of getting a drink. At a large table on my own, so I decamped to a nice small table in the corner once that came free and let a much larger party take over - who then had to pass my lunch over to me. An uncomplicated menu, decent food, good beer, with friendly and helpful staff - what more do you want?
We've been to other Christmas Markets over the years. We went to Lincoln a couple of years ago, and it was a total disaster. The whole town is a one-way system, it was so crowded you could hardly move, and if you lifted your feet off the ground you would have been carried along at the snail's pace of the general flow.
We went to Lille a few years ago on the Eurostar, and that wasn't too bad (although I was probably a bit cranky due to the early start). There's a picture of the Big Wheel there in one of my desktop wallpaper collections.
While visiting family we've also taken in Birmingham and Nottingham. Again, these would have been quite pleasant if they weren't quite so congested.
Back to Cambridge. Today we went into town and wandered round the North Pole. We spent a couple of minutes, and we only stayed that long to confirm that there wasn't anything hiding in odd corners.
The first year or two they had a winter market on Parker's Piece it was pretty good - never huge, but an interesting selection of stalls. Recently, it's been dire - and from the evidence we saw today, that's not improved. I really can't recommend it, it managed to come in well under even my lowest expectations.
Today we also went over to the local Christmas Market at the NCI Social Club on Holland Street. This was far more interesting - just the sort of thing you expect from a local community event, eclectic and friendly.