19 December 2011
During the weeks coming up to Christmas many visitor railways run Santa Special Christmas trains.
The Midland Railway in Derbyshire is no exception. With a special train service with an opportunity to see Santa on the train.
Read the day out review below ...
Christmas Santa Special - Midlands Railway at Butterley
We had visited Midlands Railway Centre at Butterley once before. This wasn't our first choice for the Santa special, but that was due to the distance from home rather than having anything against the railway as we had certainly had a good day out previously. We booked on the earliest train of the day which departed at 11.00 am.
We had booked on-line and exchanged our printed coupons for the tickets at the booking office. We were provided with an envelope with our coach allocation on the ticket. Whilst this specified the coach we were able to choose our own seats within that coach. The train was fully booked, but they hadn't tried to squeeze too many people in and we were able to have 2 tables (8 seats) between the 6 of us.
The train was being pulled by a steam locomotive and had 4 passenger coaches. When we got on the train it was very cold. I suspect this was due to it being the first train as the heating came on when we were under way and by the end of the journey the train was quite warm. Most of the toilets on the train were out of order, but there was at least one that was operational.
The train ride lasts for about an hour. During this time the adults were served with a miniature alcoholic drink (Baileys, Brandy or Whiskey) and a mince pie. There was also a buffet car on the train selling hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks.
During the journey the children would go and visit Santa who was in a Grotto at the front (or back depending upon which part of the journey) of the train. As the trips to Santa were done a family at a time there was no queue to see Santa other than waiting for the previous person to come out, which is much better than having to queue.
The present from Santa was not of particularly good quality. In the case of the boy toy he received two very cheap toys, which would have been better as one, but the girl toy was a little better. You don't necessarily expect the gifts to be particularly good, but I don't think these will even last until Christmas before they end up in the bin. The tickets for the train were I believe about 4 or 5 pounds more than the normal day rover ticket. Whilst there is a risk of charging too much putting people off I think it would be better to charge a little more and provide a better gift.
Whilst the train still stopped at Swanwick Junction there wasn't really an opportunity to get off as the tickets were only for that train (rather than a day rover which they are on the regular days). If you did get off you would have missed the last 10 minutes of the train journey and would need to make your own way back to Butterley station. Also in our case we were in the last carriage and hadn't yet been to see Santa.
After arriving back at Butterley station there was a puppet show included in the ticket. There was also a train fairground ride for a small additional fee.
The indoor and outdoor model railways were also running, although the outdoor garden railway only had one train going around when we were there.
The cafe was open and there was a burger van selling food. Last time we visited the Midlands Railway we ate at the Cafe on the station in Butterley. The menu in the cafe was mainly snacks and light bites, and we wanted a more substantial meal on this visit. We tried to drive to Swanwick Junction, but it does not appear to have public vehicle access (the road to the area is marked "Private road no access to Butterley station"). I believe we could have walked to the station, but didn't realise that until afterwards and I'm not sure where the path goes.
Instead we ate at the Ripley Butterley Park Table Table Restaurant situated behind Sainsbury's. The food was excellent.
We had a good time on the Santa Special Train at Midlands Railway, although we had a better day out when we visited when the normal train service was running as there was lots to visit at Swanick Junction as well then.
The train journey was pleasant and it was good not having to queue to see Santa, but I was a little disappointed by the presents for the children. Worth considering if looking to combine a visit to a steam railway with a visit to Santa.