The Watercress Line has announced that Father Christmas will be visiting the heritage line on selected dates in November and December.
Heritage railways have had a bad time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Always short of money, many have really suffered through losing income from visitors while having to keep making insurance payments and carrying out essential maintenance.
Reopening with restricted capacity on 11 July, the Watercress line, officially the Mid Hants Railway and based near Alton in Hampshire, was awarded a grant of £250,000 in September by The National Lottery Heritage Fund from its Heritage Emergency Fund, set up to help heritage organisations affected by the impact of Covid-19. In October, it received a further £600,000 from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, helping to stabilise the heritage railway’s finances.
Now visitors will meet Father Christmas in his grotto at Ropley Station and enjoy a host of traditional festive fun including vintage fairground rides, a miniature railway, a petting farm and a Christmas market.
Simon Baggott, general manager at the Watercress Line said: “We’re delighted to be able to offer a Father Christmas experience at the Watercress Line this year in addition to our spectacular Steam Illuminations event which we recently announced.
Families may have some reservations about Father Christmas experiences this year, but we are ensuring it is compliant with government guidelines while keeping the magic alive for children. Although visitors will need to socially distance from Father Christmas, he will not be wearing a face covering to ensure the best experience for children and allow you to take advantage of photo opportunities.”
Visitors will be able to enjoy unlimited rides on the miniature railway, meet Father Christmas’s farmyard friends from Mucky Bucket Farm, take unlimited rides on the vintage fairground, while grown-ups can enjoy a hot drink included in the booking. Due to government guidelines, bookings will only be available for up to a maximum of six people.
The Christmas Market will offer a range of gifts, perfect for getting Christmas presents for loved ones or indulging in some of the delicious treats on offer. The station’s T Junction will also be serving hot food and drink on the day.