There are signs in this city that Christmas is on the way. Some are not so welcome -like the weather getting colder, and the night's drawing in-but one that puts a smile on many faces is the Mill Road Winter Fair, this year rolling up on the first Saturday in December.
Mill Road is well-known as a place where you are likely to hear multiple languages. Simply taking a walk along the street you could feel, for example, as if you were in Little China due to the myriad Chinese shops you'll encounter. There are no less than three Chinese supermarkets, and East Wind a shop towards the end of the road sells Eastern trinket boxes, soft furnishings and silks.
While the main theme of Mill Road is undoubtedly food, food and more food, it also has a definite vintage style, and if you were interested in second hand clothing or authentic fancy dress -though you may have to look closely- this is the road you want to wander down.
It has the stables of Oxfam and British Heart Foundation, but also includes independent stores and more in the way of period jewellery then you might imagine. Work your way to the back of The Old Chemist Shop, past the trinkets, and a fairy tale of ages awaits your discovery. Trilby hats and decadent feathers, art deco jewellery and a plethora of shoes and dresses are all hanging on the back wall -enough to keep you entertained for hours.
If its jewellery you're after, something that is unlike the sort of items available these days, the Cambridge Antiques Centre, on Gwydir Street, just off of Mill Road, deserves a stroll around. As well as the usual suspects, it houses silver tie pins, perfume holders, lockets and necklaces that you won't find on any usual high street.
The residents of the streets near Mill Road hail from a myriad of backgrounds. Such diversity contributes significantly to the atmosphere of this popular event. According to the Mill Road Grapevine, when the event first took place in 2005 punters were so taken with its authenticity that one was heard to say 'apparently it's been going for hundreds of years!'
Though this was far from true, six years on it's found its way into the hearts of residents and visitors alike. This time it looks to be particularly poignant, as a minute's silence will be held for Suzy Oakes, the founder of the Fair, who passed away over the summer.
On the day itself, over 100 businesses, shops and places of worship will be taking part in one way or another. Over 60 stalls will be displaying in the marquee on Donkey Common in Ditchburn Gardens, so you can find a unique Christmas gift for those difficult-to-buy-for members of your family.
Some businesses will be showing their wares for the first time, including local T-shirt printing company ‘This Is Cambridge' which depicts images of Cambridge architecture and history with the niche of a mini history lesson on the back. Daphne Kaufhold, one of the company's owners, explained the attraction: ‘This is a real festive fair with a focus on the community. We're looking forward to showing our insight tees and Cambridge stories in person and are we hoping to hear other interesting facts about our city from visitors'.
Other stallholders are repeat offenders. The Mashi Foundation, a charity supporting children living in poverty in Ecuador and set up by Cambridge resident Sarah Clarke, will be selling their Wapa-Wapa Jewellery again this year. For those not in the know, Wapa wapa is brightly coloured necklaces made from the Tagua nut, which is found in the rainforests of South America. An ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly resource, and a substitute to ivory, it plays an important part in reducing elephant deaths for their tusks. So you can buy something unique and beautiful, whilst spreading a little of that Christmas Joy towards children in South America.
Sarah let us in on how it felt to be on the other side of the stall last year: ‘There was an amazing atmosphere throughout the whole day. It was great to see so many local people as well as those who had travelled for the event. There was a range of stalls, an eclectic mix of music and lots of great food! It really was a community event that bought people together and offered entertainment for everyone. We are really looking forward to being involved again this year'.
Those not yet in the festive mood will, in all probability, find themselves humming along after hearing the carols at 12.30. A children's choir at 15.00 should melt the heart of any Scrooge type character. When you get a bit peckish you're in safe hands too as one of the 30 stalls in the food fair, held in Gwydir Street car park and selling, cakes, snacks and world foods is sure to cater for whatever it is you are hankering after.
Street performers and parades will (in the nicest possible way) demand your attention throughout the day, and the busking spots along the length of the street and the surrounding areas should keep your toes tapping. Once you're done shopping and eating you can still work off those pre-Christmas calories: towards the end of the afternoon there will be more music in the Romsey Labour Club for you to dance away to.
This year will see the road itself close down for the first time. To judge from the pictures of last year's event and what we've heard so far, it looks to be a lively, popular experience for all the family to enjoy.