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Brockenhurst Christmas Fair 2015

PUBLISHED: 10:48 30 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:12 09 December 2015

Pauline Child from Pauline's Pantry ©NFNPA/Chris Balcombe

Pauline Child from Pauline's Pantry ©NFNPA/Chris Balcombe

©NFNPA/Chris Balcombe

Brockenhurst becomes a mecca for unique gifts when the Christmas Fair rolls in to the forest once again says Viv Micklefield

‘Tis the season to be jolly, yet raising a smile, having waited-in for an online order that fails to arrive or queued for a parking space only to join the throngs of High Street shoppers, can be a big ask. There will be plenty of happy faces though at the New Forest Christmas Fair, which returns to New Park, Brockenhurst this December.

“It’s the perfect weekend to get into the Christmas spirit,” says Debbie Mulkern of New Forest Aromatics (www.newforestaromatics.co.uk), and one of the stallholders who will be at the fair, which is now in its fourth year. She continues: “You can come up to New Park and buy a Christmas tree, then get your presents and the kids can have a wagon ride with Santa - families can easily spend half a day, or even the whole day here, it’s a really nice thing to do.”

From naturally scented skincare and candles handmade by Debbie to free range farm produce, artisan savouries and sweets, and creative crafts, both foodies and discerning shoppers alike are in for a treat when it comes to finding a unique gift. As Jane Overall, one of the fair’s organisers and Chairman of the New Forest Marque explains, first and foremost it’s an opportunity to champion what Hampshire’s growers and producers have to offer.

“The invitation to be at the fair goes out initially to New Forest Marque, Hampshire Fare and Hampshire Farmers’ Market members.

“We prefer to have two or three examples of one thing, so it’s always a very good cross-section of stallholders. For 2015 we anticipate that there will be over 100 stallholders, including some young entrepreneurs, who will be here for the first time.”

For such an eagerly anticipated date in the New Forest calendar, the task of bringing everything together for the big weekend falls to Jane’s small band of volunteers alongside Beth Beales, who is based permanently at New Park, and has been involved with the Christmas Fair since it started in 2012. When Beth’s phone rings it could be anything from to booking bands who entertain the visitors to coordinating contractors installing temporary toilets, she’s the lynchpin who ensures that everything runs smoothly.

“It’s grown so much over the years,” Beth reflects, “Now we have two big marquees with a further selection of stalls outside so this attracts lots of interest - people love meeting-up with their friends over some mulled cider.”

Another of the producers looking forward to returning this year is Alec Mart from Pauline’s Panty (www.paulinespantrycakes.co.uk), which has been based in Ringwood since 2014. Their mouth-watering range of bakes includes not only traditional Christmas cakes and puddings, but also a Bakewell tart using locally produced Naked Jam preserves and a Porter cake developed with the Ringwood Brewery. These ingredients, says Alec, contribute towards the 25 per cent of content he and partner Pauline Child need to source within the forest itself in order to advertise the New Forest Marque logo.

“Finding sugar cane here is impossible,” he laughs, “But wherever we can we’ve adapted our recipes. Last year’s fair was our first and as a new business in the area it made a huge difference to us.”

And local provenance is equally important to Debbie Mulkern.

“In our popular gardener’s hand balm, we have beeswax from Howards Hives who, like us, are a New Forest Marque member - while our hand wash contains New Forest Spring Water. From slightly further afield, ingredients such as lavender, dill, parsley, and mint oil are supplied by Summerdown Farm, near Basingstoke.”

Aside from the warming scents of cinnamon and zesty orange, which go into her popular Festive Spice candles, Debbie’s also bringing along a pamper hamper to the fair that’s packed with goodies. And there are likely to be some brand new product lines too, although for now these remain a closely guarded secret.

Someone else who’s been busy concocting in the kitchen in readiness is Alison Landymore, the brains behind Paws Deli (www.pawsdeli.co.uk). However, there might well be a guest appearance from her four-legged pooch Emsy Boo, the inspiration and chief taste tester behind this unique business. “My concept is simple...fresh ingredients made into pet treats without the use of added sugar, salt or anything artificial,” says Alison. “I started with a range of three flavours, which has now grown to over 20 and I love making-up new recipes using locally sourced seasonal ingredients.”

Our pampered pets can certainly join-in the festive celebrations when there’s venison and plum bone-shaped biscuits featuring stone ground flour from the Eling Tide Mill, and gluten free fishy crackers for cats using chalk stream trout on the menu.

Another local lady with a business that’s going from strength to strength is Catherine Shutler, one of the most recognisable faces due to set up her stall at this year’s fair. Having run Cyril’s Soap Shed (www.cyrilssoapshed.co.uk) since 2009, Catherine’s passing-on her experience of attending numerous local markets, by helping to organise this year’s Christmas fair.

“It originally started with us doing two markets a month, and now the business has grown so much that we are supplying over 100 different shops and hotels.” She continues: “I do all the milking of our small goat herd and then make the soap adding natural herbs and essential oils - my husband does the packaging and my two children stick-on the labels.” While Catherine reveals that rose and geranium, and lemongrass remain the bestsellers, this Christmas look out for the special frankincense and myrrh soap with chocolate.

For many of the cottage industries at the fair it really is a labour of love, and the passion they have for their products is infectious. The final word goes to Jane Overall who is keen that everyone benefits from this. “Entry to the fair is free and I think that’s important,” she says. “We want visitors to come and have a lovely time and spend their money with the stallholders. As people get to know who they’re buying from, that encourages them to come back.”

The New Forest Christmas Fair is on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 December from 10am to 4pm. The Showground, New Park, Brockenhurst, SO42 7QH. Entry is free with ample car parking available onsite.

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