THE increasingly dark skies over Kendal and Ulverston will be aglow with thousands of tiny bulbs this weekend as civic dignitaries step forward to switch on the Christmas lights, writes Ellie Hargreaves.

An "all singing, all dancing" spectacle has been promised for Kendal, which could see the auld grey town awash with colour while Ulverston's mayor will interrupt a packed programme of festivities all on a Dickensian theme - to flick the Furness switch come tomorrow (Saturday) teatime.

Following a flurry of complaints about last year's lighting, Kendal Town Council clerk Hugh McClorry said this year was going to be "superb" with the main event moving from the Market Place to the Bird Cage on Finkle Street on Saturday.

Mayor of Kendal Coun Geoff Cook will be joined by the town crier and Ghyllside Junior School Choir for the 4pm switch-on which will see homes and buildings between Kendal Parish Church and Maude Street illuminated with fairy-lights, stars and snowflakes.

Last year, councillors faced a £25,000 bill for wall-mounted illuminations in Market Place, Finkle Street and Branthwaite Brow, which members of the council and public branded "pathetic".

"This year will be different," said Mr McClorry. "There will be more colour and a lot more lights and we've extended on to Stramongate and Wildman Street this year. It's going to be all-singing, all-dancing."

However, he added that the town's Saturday market had put paid to plans for a procession.

Meanwhile in Ulverston, visitors and residents will have little choice but to join in the Christmas spirit once town crier Yvonne Smith declares the two-day festival open at 10am tomorrow (Saturday).

In an agenda crammed with festivities, as well as music from the Ulverston Ghyll Singers Choir (noon), and Town Band (3pm), there will be unicycles, stilt-walking and juggling to keep the crowds amused along with rides on a miniature railway and children's entertainment from Percy Pie Crust.

A flea circus, the Furness Clog Dancers and free face-painting will fill the Indoor Market Hall before a period dress competition and grand procession sees Dickensian characters, including Queen Victoria, accompany the St Andrew's Pipe Band, horse-drawn carriages and a time-machine, around the wintry streets. Saturday's events will culminate in the official switch-flicking by mayor Coun Dave Miller and Father Christmas, at 3.45pm at the Market Cross.

On Sunday, the fun continues with more music from Ulverston Amateur Dramatic Society and, for those who can manage a decent tune themselves, carol-singing will take place at the Market Cross from 3.15pm before Ulverston town band leads a candlelight parade from the war memorial to the town's Parish Church for a Dickensian Songs of Praise from 4.15pm.

Four Christmas themed markets will also be held in Kendal this December. Showcasing Made in Cumbria crafts, organisers hope the festive fayres will draw in shoppers eager to bag a locally-produced present or two. In addition to the town's usual Wednesday and Saturday markets, the first of the additional events will be held on Thursday and Friday, December 1 and 2 followed by Tuesday, December 20, Thursday, 22 and Friday, 23.