YORK city centre was heaving today on the first Saturday of the St Nicholas Fair.

At a chalet selling scented decorations made from dried fruit, stall-holder Craig Shaw was having to shout to make himself heard by a customer.

“They’re £8 each or two for £15, darling!” he said.

Sale made, Craig – who had come all the way from Ludlow in Shropshire for the market - paused for a breath.

“This is brilliant!” he said. “I love the city – and business has been really good. And it’s great to see that people have a bit more confidence about coming out!”

A year ago, this fair went ‘virtual only’ as a national lockdown meant the traditional fair could not go ahead.

York Press: York's Christmas market is 'brilliant', says stall-holder Craid Shaw, from Ludlow

Even this year, things are a little different from normal.

There’s a different layout for the 68 alpine chalets spread out across Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square. They’re organised in just a single row of back-to-back chalets in Parliament S5reet, so as to avoid hemming people in.

Even so, the crowds this afternoon were so large that at times people could barely move.

But there was plenty of Christmas spirit on show – from the buskers belting out Christmas tunes, to the festive fare on sale – mulled wine and hot roasted chestnuts – and the group of women sporting rudolph head-gear.

York Press:

The Christmas market was packed this afternoon

And business was booming.

Adam Wild of Wildwood gifts had come from Skipton to sell his handcrafted, Made in Yorkshire hardwood chopping blocks.

He was positively beaming with satisfaction at the way things were going.

“It’s York!” he said. “The York Christmas market is the best. It’s really well run, and this is such a great place for people to come. It’s a real destination!”

Matthew Burnham, at the Artifactually stall just a few chalets down, was equally enthusiastic.

He’d come from Kingston-upon-Thames to sell his hand-painted, mouth-blown glass decorations – delicate birds, insects and baubles in bright, Christmassy colours.

“It’s a brilliant market!” he said. “We’ve been coming here for four or five years, and it’s just amazing. The people up here are so nice!”

York Press:

Matthew Burnham: 'The people up here are so nice!'

Market visitors seemed equally happy, despite the crowds.

Stephen and Emma Livett were visiting York for a few days from Warrington, and this was their second day at the market.

They were taking a breather, sitting on one of the benches lining Parliament Street as the crowds surged past. But they were loving it.

“It’s fabulous!” Stephen said. "And it's so good to be back to something like normal, and to see people with the confidence to get out and about."

“We love all the craft stalls – they’re just gorgeous,” added Emma.

York Press:

'We love the craft stalls': Stephen and Emma Livett

Ph.D students Matthew Quinn and Ianthe Dumas were down from Durham for a conference. But on their morning off, they’d gone exploring, and found the market.

“It’s such a lovely atmosphere – and there’s such a variety of things here,” Ianthe said.

And what about the so-called ‘ring of steel’ – the anti-terror barriers installed around the city centre for the duration of the market. Did anyone find them off-putting?

They didn’t seem to. “It’s a good idea, after what happened in Liverpool,” said Stephen Livett.

“It doesn’t take away from the city for me at all,” added Ianthe.

York Press:

'A lovely atmosphere': Matthew Quinn and Ianthe Dumas

  • The St Nicholas Fair runs in York city cenre until December 23, from 10am to 6pm Sunday to Thursday and 10am to 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays.