Five North Yorkshire Market Towns Putting the Spirit Back into Christmas

The town of Malton that inspired Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas Carol, is one of five market towns in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, working together to put the Spirit back into Christmas this year. They have launched a festive season, which includes the region’s first-ever Dickens Festival starring BAFTA-winning actress Miriam Margoyles, and promises to be the perfect antidote to the soulless crush of our city centres.

“For many people around the world, Dickens’ story captures the essence of Christmas, and also popularised many of our Christmas traditions including the phrase ‘Merry Christmas!’” explains Craig Nattress at Visit Ryedale, the partnership helping to support the market towns’ renaissance. “The five neighbouring towns – Malton, Helmsley, Pickering, Kirkbymoorside and Norton – have taken inspiration from the true Spirit of Christmas Past, to reanimate the very best of our quintessential English traditions: within the historic streets and market squares, visitors can find all of the ingredients for a dream Christmas, with a warm welcome from hundreds of independent, distinctive, award-winning shops, tea-rooms, and world-class attractions, all offering the very Best of British, home-grown and hand-crafted from the heart and soul.”

Throughout December, the five market towns come alive with yuletide festivities. A winter highlight is Malton’s Dickens Festival on the weekends of 12-13 and 18-19 December, which includes a hilarious evening with Harry-Potter actress Miriam Margolyes, a Dickensian Christmas Market, Dickensian Treats’ Cookery School, Victorian Theatre, horse and carriage rides through the town’s historic streets, and also talks by the world’s leading expert on Dickens, Professor Michael Slater and Lucinda Hawksley, novelist and descendant of Dickens.

In an area famed for its ancient woodlands and long tradition of woodcrafts, from the artistry of Mouseman to the magic ‘Nanny McPhee’ wands of Keith the Stickman, Helmsley will pay tribute to Ryedale’s tree spirits with its magical Christmas Tree Festival from 5 December, where thirty trees will be decorated in Great British panto-style. The Christmas Tree’s origins are rooted in pagan cults, with evergreens being particularly venerated around the winter solstice in December. Legendary woodsman, Robin Hood, will also be starring in the town’s panto ‘Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood’ from 5 December.

Alongside these calendar highlights, Christmas soul-seekers can experience:

  • Madcap misrule at Helmsley’s Festive Panto Fun Day on 5 December, where the town’s businesses – finalists in the Great British High Street Award – will be staging pantomime-themed festivities including the Ugly Sisters’ Beauty Salon, the Candy Cane Trail, and even the s-Elfie photo booth, alongside Christmas baking, food and drink tastings, games and rides, music and choirs, novelty dog competitions, and even bee-keeping and Yorkshire Mangalitzas - all in proud recognition of Small Business Saturday. The town’s independent craft workshops and natural health clinic at Helmsley Walled Garden also open for a special late Friday on 11 December, with live demonstrations, carol singing and festive music.

  • Malton – also celebrated as Yorkshire’s Food Capital – will host a Christmas Food Market on 12 December, with the very best of local produce for Christmas feasting, live music, delicious street food, and live cooking demonstrations by top local chefs including chocolatier Andrew Thwaite.

  • Throughout December, there are Santa Special train adventures at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in Pickering throughout December, and atmospheric Winter Owl Evenings, as birds-of-prey fly free by candle and torchlight at the International Bird of Prey Centre in Helmsley, followed by a tasty festive meal.

  • Kirkbymoorside, Pickering and Norton switch on their Christmas Lights on 28 November – and Malton on 27 November - with the fanfare of traditional brass bands, markets and guest appearances by Santa Claus. Kirkbymoorside – a honeypot for antique-hunters and collectors – will also be hosting auctions on 5 and 12 December for unusual gift inspiration.

  • Daily Christmas spirit is provided by the many outstanding butchers, greengrocers, farm shops and gift shops, galleries and hand-crafted breweries that can be found in – and between - each market town.

For more information about Christmas in Ryedale’s market towns, including details of places to stay, visit For more information about the Malton Dickens Festival and to book tickets, visit



Visit Ryedale is supported by Ryedale District Council and over 700 tourism businesses and works in partnership with VisitYork, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire, Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit England.

Visit Ryedale's aim is to market Ryedale and it's market towns as a must-see destination to the leisure visitor, and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in Ryedale.  Visit Ryedale is responsible for leisure marketing, visitor services (running the district's Visitor Information Points) and ensuring a quality visitor experience.

Key facts: 5 million visitors annually, £209 million total visitor spend, supporting 7,000 jobs

For further media information or photographs, please contact:

Nicola Bexon or Jay Commins

Pyper York Limited

Tel:         01904 500698

Email: or

About Us

Ryedale’s beautiful market towns offer a perfect short break destination, within 30 minutes travel time of York. Together the market towns of Malton, Norton, Helmsley, Pickering and Kirkbymoorside create a 21-mile high street that’s receiving national recognition. Helmsley holds the title of Britain’s Best Market Town and has Britain’s Best Small Shop 2015 (Hunters of Helmsley), while Malton is hailed as Yorkshire’s Food Capital. Every market square is a shopper’s paradise of award-winning independent shops, tea-rooms and restaurants, world-class attractions and events, markets, and the region’s best arts and crafts. Visitors can immerse themselves in the old-fashioned traditions that have kept this area alive, from a ride on the world’s most popular heritage railway, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, to the National Bird of Prey Centre at Duncombe Park. There is something to appeal to everyone, from history enthusiast to thrill seeker, and from families looking for fun to those seeking relaxation and seclusion.