When your son is a complete train obsessive and your local heritage railway run dedicated festive services, there is really only one option of where to go to meet the big man in red. Add the fact that we took Thomas on the local “Santa Special” service last year – and it’s fair to say that he really loved it – so why take the chance of going elsewhere and having an overwhelmed pre-schooler on our hands when we knew this would be a massive hit?
So last Sunday we set out bright and early for Eridge station to join the train in what could easily become a family Christmas tradition. We enjoyed the lovely log fire in the waiting room, and hot chocolate (or orange juice, in Thomas’s case!) in the buffet car before the train pulled in to take us on our way.
This year, in contrast to last year’s set up, Father Christmas actually visited each child on the train to have a few words and give them a little gift. (I won’t spoil the surprise in case anyone is going on the same trip, but it’s a decent quality item with plenty of play value.) Father Christmas then posed in his sleigh in the engine sheds at Tunbridge Wells. This actually worked very well as it meant each child got two opportunities to see him (and this would be helpful with a child prone to getting shy, overwhelmed or otherwise potentially distressed) and it also cut down the waiting time in the engine sheds as each family was only posing for photos, rather than also getting their gift and chatting to Father Christmas for a while.
Thomas is at a really perfect age for becoming completely wrapped up in the magic of Christmas. Although he’s normally full of questions about “why” or “how” it hasn’t occurred to him yet to be anything other than completely absorbed by the magic of the season. I know that we won’t have that long until it begins to fade, so I want to clutch it hard whilst it is here. Seeing the look on his face when the big man arrived in our compartment was one of those moments I’ll treasure.
Thomas very sweetly whispered to Father Christmas to remind him what he had written in his letter, and Father Christmas was happy that he’d come on his train ride, given that he wants trains for Christmas!
He also very happily climbed aboard the sleigh for photos, which was something I’d been unsure that he would actually want to do!
We then got the train back to Eridge, complete with a visit from a balloon modeller (yes, the same guy again!) Thomas was suitably impressed with his sausage dog that had eaten a single sprout! We also had delicious mince pies, and a train shaped shortbread for Thomas, included in the ticket price.
Thomas absolutely loved the train ride, quite apart form seeing Father Christmas. He spent a good deal of the time with his face out of the window shouting about the trees, tracks, animals and steam that he could see.
He wasn’t too happy about leaving the train when we got back to Eridge, but we had a table waiting in a local pub for a delicious lunch… and The Polar Express to watch (again) when we got home!
We went on The Spa Valley Railway Santa Special Service but paid for our own tickets and all thoughts are our own. I can highly recommend this trip, especially if you have a little train enthusiast, and similar service operate at other heritage railways across the country.