After reading lots of lovely posts from others about the Christmassy things they have been getting up to I decided to draw up a list of potentials for the boys. I considered everything from the Santa Express on the Watercress Line to Lapland UK, but a lot of the fun to be had does come with quite a price tag attached. Then a National Trust newsletter dropped into my in-box I was reminded that, being members, we have the ability to turn up to any number of venues and make the most of what’s on offer for the season.
As we were staying over with my parents for the weekend I checked for a location within a drive of them and discovered that Osterley House was hosting Santa and, for a fiver, the kids could meet the big man in red and come away with a little present.
I booked a couple of slots online in advance and then on Sunday we set off in plenty of time (or so we thought) but a misleading road sign up at Gillette Corner took us into unknown territory and we ended up parked about 10 minutes’ walk away from the house with five minutes to get there! To say I am out of shape is an understatement but I managed to give EJ the ride of his life hightailing it up this seemingly never-ending path with the buggy. My legs ached for days afterwards!
Nevertheless we made it in time and even had a bit of a wait whilst about three other children took their turns first. When the time finally arrived JJ was so excited. We knocked on the door and a booming voice rang out inviting to us enter. Inside we were greeted with the sight of four or five Christmas trees, their fairy lights providing a low glow to the room and the man in red was standing nearby holding one red bauble.
Unfortunately at this point, EJ decided this was just about the scariest experience of his life and ran for the door screaming! It took a few hugs and a very hurried dummy search, retrieval and insertion to calm him down enough to at least stay there by the door.
Santa took this in his stride and got on with the business of enthralling JJ by explaining that this bauble was his final decoration and he was going to need help deciding where to hang it. JJ picked a nice obscure spot round the back which Santa thought was most unusual!
They sat down and he explained that this was his London base and he liked it because of its proximity to Heathrow (handy for Sleigh landings). He asked what JJ would be leaving out for him as a drink on Christmas Eve and when we prompted him with ‘brandy’ or ‘sherry’ Santa pointed out that milk would be more appropriate bearing in mind the time he’d been intercepted mid-air by a Met Police helicopter.
JJ was given two presents, a little wooden frog puzzle (a bit babyish for him so I’ll probably put it in EJ’s stocking!) and a lovely painted wooden yo yo. EJ was given a little furry kitten which he immediately bonded with and called ‘Baby’ (a common name for small furry toys apparently!).
JJ’s little face was a picture of happiness during this whole experience – he was a little bit shy but seemed to love having the attention from one of his idols and it was a bit of a magic moment after previous years of not really having a Scooby as to what this Grotto business was all about.
By the time we emerged it was about 12.30 and we were all hungry so we headed over to the café for a spot of lunch and I had a yummy slice of Victoria Sponge cake and a coffee too! Then we headed back into the house to explore the other activities on offer. There was garland making (which we didn’t participate in), beer tasting (my dad was whisked into this one while we were waiting to see Santa!) and they were making Christmas citrus spiced welsh cakes in the old kitchen (we tried a sample – it was good!). For the children though, the second best activity was the craft rooms. To start off JJ made a paper crown with my mum’s help (EJ just wanted to cut things with scissors), and then (with our help) they made up some really cute Christmas decorations – a Santa for JJ and a snowman for EJ. It took all my concentration to put this Santa together (!) but I think it came out OK!!
We checked out part of the house with all it’s amazing old fashioned decorations and an absolutely massive tree rising up two floors in the stairwell, joined in with a couple of carols and eventually left the house making our way back to the car with a little impromptu footy action down the driveway (if you have two boys always take a ball with you wherever you go!).
This little excursion has really got us in the Christmas mood and left JJ a little bit star struck too! I was also a bit star struck when I tweeted out a picture of our decorations and later noted that not only had it been retweeted by the National Trust, but also by the Earl of Jersey himself!!
At this point I have to appreciate being two things: 1) a parent, and 2) a member of the National Trust. The NT provided us with a lovely Christmassy afternoon, but without children, we would have missed the most magical parts of the experience.