We arrived at East Tanfield station and were directed to a car parking space by cheerful attendants. The car park is a little muddy in parts so maybe pack your wellies. We gathered in the waiting room where people were drinking huge hot chocolates (chargeable), creating Christmas crafts or browsing the couple of stalls that were set up. The waiting area was warm and cosy and Jack of course had to buy a Thomas flag (£1).
Jack is pulling a funny face as I asked him for a photograph!
Our train was set to arrive at 12:30pm and everybody gathered on the platform in anticipation. Nothing beats the excitement of watching a steam train arrive. Seats aren't allocated but there was plenty of space and everyone got to sit with their family. We were joined in our carriage by a family of three. Once everyone had boarded we were off.
The train ride is completely different from modern trains and exactly how you would expect trains to be in times gone by. It is a little bumpy in places, you can watch the steam out of your window and everyone cheers when the whistle sounds. It is lovely looking out onto the Countryside as the train trundles along - some people have been lucky enough to spot deer!
After about 15-20 minutes we arrived at our destination - The North Pole! The main Tanfield station had been transformed and there was some fantastic attention to detail.
As this was our first visit we weren't really sure where to go and consequently ended up quite near the back of the queue to visit Father Christmas (tip - head for the marquee at the end of the platform towards the bridge as soon as you exit the train). We queued for about 30 minutes which wasn't as bad as it could have been. I would advise two pairs of socks though as all of our feet were freezing cold.
As we were queuing we watched the train being filled with fresh water and coal and the guard informed us all that our return train would be leaving the station at 1:40pm. A special mention to the volunteers at Tanfield railway - they give up their time to make this trip special and every single one of them had a smile on their face the whole time and really enhanced our experience. They must have been freezing cold so we would like to say thank you for all of your hard work - we appreciate it!
The wait was over and it was our turn to visit Santa. You are taken through in family groups and get the chance to have a little chat. Santa was lovely - everything you expect Santa to be and he was lovely with our children - especially Jack who had a HUGE list of things he would like for Christmas and made sure he named them all!
Our children were all given a present and made sure they said Merry Christmas to Santa before leaving. We had half an hour before our train was leaving which was the perfect amount of time to enjoy our complimentary hot drinks and mince pies for grown ups and juice and crisps for children in Mrs Claus' tearoom. Adults were also given a glass of sherry which was a nice touch.
Our children were over the moon with their gifts and they were of good quality - you would probably pay £5 for these presents in the shops. Our elf on the shelf has already been enjoying a ride in Jack's tractor and the toys did a good job of keeping our children entertained in the car on the journey home.
Before long it was time to return to East Tanfield. We all took a seat in our carriage and as if by magic a snowman appeared at the window. He opened our carriage door and handed out Christmas chocolates and high-fives to everyone. This was such a lovely touch and our children left with smiles on their faces.
Photograph Courtesy of Tanfield Railway
During the journey home the carriage next to us started singing carols and everyone joined in. Very festive!
Our experience lasted for 1 hour 30 minutes. Tickets cost £12 per person and include a return train journey to The North Pole, a visit to Santa Claus with gift, snacks and drinks. This to me offers superb value. Unfortunately tickets for 2014 are now sold out but keep an eye on The Tanfield Railway Facebook page where they'll announce when 2015 tickets go on sale.
If you can't wait until next year, the railway have just launched Winter Warmers which will run every Sunday from 4th January until 22nd March Tickets are £16 per adult, £12 for senior citizens and children and under 5's are free. They include unlimited train travel throughout the day plus hot soup and bread, hot drinks and cakes in a traditional catering carriage which departs at 1:30pm. Sounds lovely! Click here for more information and to book.
Photograph courtesy of Tanfield Railway
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