WHAT'S ON AROUND THE UK:; What the Dickens, it's Christmas!

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The Independent Travel
Fat geese or no, Christmas is most definitely upon us this week. But why not forget the shopping and try the more therapeutic activity of Christmas decoration-making on offer at Killerton House (tel: 01392 881883) at Broadclyst, near Exeter? This monument to High Victorian style hosts classes today and tomorrow, in which guests will learn how to make mistletoe crowns, topiary Christmas trees and other decorations from natural materials.

More Victoriana, meanwhile, is in evidence in London, at Dickens House Museum, at 48 Doughty Street WC1 (tel: 0171-405 2127). Between 24 and 26 December, the house will be decorated as it would have been during Charles Dickens's first Christmas there in 1837. Guests will be offered mince pies, a glass of "Smoking Bishop", Dickens's own favourite tipple, and other goodies. Entry is pounds 10 for adults, pounds 5 for children, from 10.30am to 6pm.

An unusual addition to the plethora of Christmas shows and pantomimes at this time of year comes in the form of Humpty Dumpty On Ice, at the Lea Valley Ice Centre (tel: 0181-5333154). Running until 29 December, this pantomimic interpretation of the nursery story will be performed by skaters from the Ice Centre. Tickets for the performances, which are at 2pm and 6pm daily, are pounds 8.50 for adults, pounds 4.50 children and concessions. Family tickets are pounds 22, and it is also possible to book a table on the ice itself (carpet underneath your feet will keep them from going numb), at pounds 54 for six, or pounds 36 for four.

Two highlights of the many Christmas Eve carol services happening up and down the country are the services of nine lessons and carols at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, and at King's College, Cambridge. The Edinburgh service starts at 7.30pm; at Cambridge, 3pm. Those who wish to attend carols at King's are advised by the porters to get there early (before 10am) for tickets; people are known to start queuing at 6am. Entry for both services is free and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Christmas Day brings the Peter Pan Cup swimming race at 9am in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. This 100-yard dash has been held in the London lake every Christmas Day since 1864. While only members of the Serpentine Swimming Club are eligible to take part, all are welcome to watch.

But if you really insist on taking a dip in icy December waters, head for Tyne and Wear. The Boxing Day Dip takes place in the even colder waters of the North Sea, where an unbelievable 900 people are expected to take part, many in fancy dress, gathering on Sunderland's Promenade to be doused by the hoses of the local fire brigade's "guard of honour" before running down the beach into the sea. The event is organised by the local Lions Club for charity. For more information (tel: 0191-5678221).

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