When it comes to paying a visit to the man himself (Santa, Father Christmas, Mr Claus whatever you like to call him. Santa Christmas is the latest favourite in our house) we always like to try and find a new experience. We only see one Father Christmas in the festive season and, like most things in life, we like to find something just a little bit different, or out of the ordinary. To find somewhere you get the whole Christmas experience with bonus points if it can also double up as a day out in itself.
Last year after some research I decided upon the Santa Express at Statfold Barn Railway. The girls both love trains, especially Roma, so it felt like the perfect fit and not something we have experienced before.
I found a groupon deal (a site that is always worthwhile just having a quick look at any offers you can find) and booked. I opted for the first day we could get so as to really kick start December with that festive feeling. As luck would have it, the 1st was on a Saturday.
After surprising them with a Santa visit in their activity advent calendar, but keeping the actual location a surprise. We made it almost all the way there, soaking in the tangible excitement in the back of the car until Eva saw a sign for Santa Express when the squeals of excitement really geared up at the prospect of actually going on a train!
I must stress that they have been on trains, and to railways. Obviously never a Santa train though and this just goes to show their love of the mode of transport in question. The fact that they would soon be surrounded by trains and train memorabilia all too soon was really going to blow their tiny minds.
As we made our way to the ticket office, walking through a cloud of steam like a welcoming signal the girls in their Christmas jumpers and matching hats, I could not have felt more Christmassy.
The traditional ticket office hut was transformed with red vintage looking signs, good old multicoloured tinsel, twinkly lights and a smart looking nutcracker soldier bigger than Eva herself. Inside housed a friendly lady behind a desk presenting the girls with their very own golden ticket so exciting that Eva likened it to how Charlie Bucket must have felt in Willy Wonka. She held onto that ticket so tight in her tiny little hands the shiny gold card ended up with fingerprints all over its surface jumping out at you like the marks of a well loved toy.
Immediately (and thankfully to escape the rain) there was a carriage serving mince pies and mulled wine through a little hatch, or to enjoy whilst sat on the wooden seats looking out through the rain onto the tracks beyond.
Following signs over the bridge, there welcoming us on the platform where the train awaited, lights and all, were friendly elves keen to show us the way to a festive paradise. Presenting their precious tickets (to show not to keep thank goodness) we were welcomed aboard the once again festive tinsel covered seats. 10am prompt the steam billowed and started our short but exciting journey where Christmas music played and everyone sang and danced. Completely forgetting any inhibitions usually adopted by the reserved British in public we had the honour of listening to Father Christmas over the tannoy telling jokes! Who knew Father Christmas was funny aswell as jolly, friendly and all giving?
I adore this photo and the fact that you can see how she is still clinging onto her precious grey rabbit. It feels like the magic and wonder of Christmas for children in one photo.
It was probably about a 5 minute journey (but felt like much longer with all the Christmas spirit in the air) and as we disembarked not knowing what lay ahead in the ‘North Pole’ you could feel the excitement envelope you.
What greeted us behind the archway was a chance to meet, chat to and even touch the three adorable reindeer. A huge Christmas tree so big the children stared up as if looking right into the sky. Lots of vintage vehicles, one even steaming and the best of all (for the children) rides. There was a small bouncy castle and, the chair swings. The girls absolutely loved it which was clear to see every 4 seconds as they circled back round to us with huge beaming smiles on their faces, hand in gloved hand.
It wasn’t entirely clear what to do or where to go next but as soon as we made our way indoors it was like a winter wonderland. The place was full of festivity with 4 little wooden huts for the various activities involved centred around lots of tables to relax at and even a ventriloquist to entertain you should you have a lull in activities or have to wait in line for the Grotto. There was definitely no chance of boredom today.
This is also where the golden ticket really came into its own. At each beautifully decorated hut you could take part in an activity and as you did they stamped each card with a snowflake stamp (nice touch right?) which I thought was a genius idea and a great way to keep the children involved and bonus, a good keep sake at the end of the day.
First stamp stop for us (you can visit whatever activity you want in whatever order you choose) was the Rudolphs Snack Hut. There the children made reindeer food with oats and glitter (something I never let them use at home) and they had the time of their lives choosing what colour to make their food extra sparkly and attractive come Christmas Eve. Eva lent a helping hand to Roma in an attempt to actually get some glitter in the pack and not just all over the floor and herself! With varying degrees of success.
As we completed that we walked out only to find a reindeer right there ripe for a hug and a high five making their day once more. Could it get any better? Look at Romas little face. She is a sucker for a teddy, and a hug!
Well yes it could.
Next we visited Mrs Claus Bakery. The benches were filled with trays of decorations, tubes of icing and lots of excited creative children mostly just trying to fit as many toppings onto gingerbread as possible whilst Mrs Claus came round with comforting words of encouragement and a choice of biscuit design. Roma chose the snowman and Eva a Father Christmas. In case you can’t tell the difference in 4 years of age and crafting skills.
We sat outside the bakery to take it all in and tuck into their biscuit treats and the girls decided then, once faced with the Grotto entrance, that this was the time to meet Father Christmas.
As we queued up waiting we got talking to the friendly Santas helper when Eva totally stumped her by asking her Elf name. Trust Eva! They had a long discussion where suggestions were banded around before settling on Snow Belle. I’d love to know if she used it that whole season!
I have to say I found that all of the staff were amazing from beginning to end. Interaction with the children was great and just generally being happy, smiley and welcoming all the time which must be hard when there are so many people through the door but really does make the experience special.
The Father Christmas visit was ok. The grotto was gorgeous and in line with all the other sympathetically designed and decorated rooms. You did however have to buy the photo that was taken with him therefore you couldn’t take photos yourself which I think is disappointing having paid for the ticket but I guess is not usual for this type of thing. I was also a little put out that Santa wasn’t wearing glasses. I mean what even is that? It certainly didn’t take away from the experience for the girls though which is what it is all about.
What I absolutely loved was the way they got their gift. After having a few words with Father Christmas we were all led to a ‘toy store’ where all the gifts were laid out on tables to choose from. This not only saves on wasted wrapping paper but is a great way to ensure no matter what taste the children have, their age, gender, they can choose something they will enjoy. More joy and less waste especially good when you don’t have stereotypical interests. I say that and of course the 7 year old would gravitate towards the thing she knows full well we would never buy her and after trying a little to dissuade her, to no avail, we decided it was in fact her choice and pretended we didn’t in fact mind that she had chosen a nail art kit she was so keen to open it was out within 5 seconds of being home.
Roma, after almost choosing a tractor for which she has many at home and a teddy of which she also has so many we can’t seem to house them all, eventually set her sights on a monkey tumbling game not unlike the Kerplunk of my day. Another one which got a lot of play for the rest of the day.
The exit from the shop took you through the museum which they adored. We actually only had a quick look around where Roma thought she had found a secret train under the step, exciting times when you are 3. So cute. We’d actually love to take her back to explore that in more detail but today, was all about Christmas.
The last activity was to visit Santa’s Post Office.
The letter templates were all laid out ready although it really wasn’t busy which was nice. It was magically decorated as I had come to expect with beautiful pictures of maps and letters, Merry Christmas in lots of languages and I loved the touch of the frosted snow covered windows. Of course as with the toy shop Eva took the opportunity to ask for something she had never previously spoken about and knew we wouldn’t approve of for an almost 8 year old… make up!
I spied over her shoulder at her beautiful writing of what seemed like war and peace before she secretly sealed it and posted in the cutest little post box along with Romas which simply said what we knew she had wanted all along. A cot.
Although all the ticket stamping activities had been enjoyed and the golden card safely deposited in my bag to take home and treasure. You can stay for as little or as long as you like so we set on exploring a bit more. We sat in the carriages they have there. The children admiring their presents and me just loving the experience feeling like I could have been in an old movie if only I had a fur bolero and a hat box bag. A far cry from the trains we enjoy today.
The train, and the whole place had such a timeless and traditional feel which is just the way I like it and although of course it was commercialised for the day and to appeal to the children in my opinion it had been done in a sympathetic way as to still celebrate the beauty that was already there and didn’t take away from that at all. It was basically like two experiences in one, especially of course if you like trains. I could have taken pictures in there forever!
Behind these carriages and away from the main room (and most of the people) there is a little cafe. We were literally the only ones in there and its a lovely spot to take in a moment of calm. We had a coffee (for us) and milk (for the girls) which are served in your own choice of train mugs! I know, a really cute touch. I am sure a real train enthusiast would love it. We, mostly just went for what colour we liked!
After spending a few hours there we decided to head back and catch the return train. The excitement once again grew like it was the first time as we actually watched the train approach across the fields, the steam falling away behind it. Even the driver as he leaned out on approach had a Santa hat on. Talk about being committed to the cause.
The return journey was just as special as the way there with music and a sense of contentment from the day. Once back on the platform as everyone else exited up the stairs we hung back where the drivers chatted to us and even let the children step onto the front of the train to have a closer look. A real special treat just because they were kind and they could.
Overall it was such an amazing experience and well worth the money. The decoration was traditional and timeless with so much attention to detail. That teamed with the friendly staff and I don’t think you could ask for much more (apart from some glasses and a picture that is!) It was a real treat for us and a perfect way to start the festive season. I might even go so far as to say it’s the best Father Christmas experience we have had (so far).
So if you like a bit more of a Santa experience than just a quick visit I would totally recommend it as a lovely day together. A tip I would give is to book as early in the day as you can. The trains run every 30 mins from 10am but as you can stay as long as you would like (typically it is a 2-3 hour experience) I can imagine it could get busy later in the day. Plus it was just lovely to be the first ones there.
The tickets cost £23 per child £18 per adult £70 for a family ticket (Our Groupon Deal was £48 for two adults two children)
Thank you Statfold for the day and for the memories, they really will last a lifetime.
Other Santa visits we’ve had – Santa Cruise in London.
I also made a video of the day as I was doing vlogmas at the time if you fancy watching some of the experience too.