I’m going to let you in on a secret . . . there are many Father Christmas impersonators around at this time of year, giving out gifts and posing for photos in grottos but the real one? He’s at Stockeld Park. We’ve seen him.
Today was the third time in five years we’ve visited Father Christmas at Stockeld Park . I was so excited to be able to go back today (what do you mean this is meant to be about the kids?).
Stockeld Park is in Wetherby, which makes it easily accessible from Harrogate, Leeds and York. And, if you’re so inclined – Manchester! From door to door it takes us around 1hr and 15 minutes and is a perfectly straightforward journey over the M62 and up the A1M. It is also perfectly situated for meeting up with Aunty Nic and Granny who both try to come and visit Father Christmas with us each year.
Today the kids knew that we were going on a special Christmas Adventure and that we might see Father Christmas but we hadn’t told them any more than that.
As we arrived we were directed to a parking space (hurrah for car park management) and we prepared to join the rather enormous looking queue. We arrived at around 11.15am but I think the whole world had the same idea so things were looking pretty busy. As it turned out we didn’t need to queue up as our tickets had been put to one side. I spoke to a member of staff though who said the queue was moving pretty quickly as they had all six windows open and had fully expected today to be really busy as the wet weather we’ve been suffering had caused a slow start to the season.
We had day passes which allowed access to everything bar the grotto – unfortunately the ice skating rink was closed (which Chloe was really disappointed about) and in reality the kids are too little for the Nordic skiing, though Ben was keen to try! So we could only actually access the Maze and the Enchanted Forest meaning, had we been paying customers, it would have been better value to buy combined activity passes. Access to Father Christmas in his fabulous log cabin is an additional cost (at peak season £10 per child).
Once we had collected our tickets we decided to head straight for the maze to explore this before we met up with Granny and Aunty Nic. Having visited York Maze in the summer Ben and Chloe felt confident to set off into the maze and explore – this meant Dave and I spent quite a bit of time shouting to Ben to stay where we could see him! I was more than a little worried about losing him in amongst the beautifully illuminated yew tree hedges! The maze was a little muddy underfoot as is to be expected at this time of year, but it was perfectly accessible by pushchair should you choose. The maze is set out in the shape of a snowflake and features some rather puntastic street names and numbered gates illustrating the Twelve Days of Christmas song. I should hold my hands up here and admit that we found about half of them, in no particular order, before accidentally finding ourselves at the exit and deciding to take full advantage of this and escape. My enjoyment of mazes is limited as I soon find myself either a little bored or panicking a bit that we might never get out!
After we’d done in the maze we decided to fill some time down at “Farmer Foster’s Barnyard” – this play area is fantastic. With a mixture of real grass and artificial grass it means that children are free to play safely and without getting too dirty (point proven by Ben and Chloe choosing to roll down hills). A win win there I think! The wooden, farm themed play area features a number of slides and climbing equipment along with hills and a tunnel. On a nice day I think you could happily lose hours in there! On this occasion it kept the kids nicely busy whilst we waited for Granny and Aunty Nic to arrive. I snuck off to go and meet them and brought them down to the play area to surprise the kids. Needless to say Amy was thrilled to see “Ganny” and had a big hug for her!
Farmer Foster’s Barnyard done we thought it was about time we got inside, warmed up and had something to eat. It would seem however that at least half the visitors to the park had had the same idea. It was about 12.45pm after all, so I guess busy eateries are to be expected but unfortunately when we entered the enormous Woodland Cafe there was absolutely nowhere to sit and a queue far longer than I could expect any of the kids to stand in. We made a quick decision to head back outside to “Hansel’s Cabin” to grab a hot drink and a snack as a bit of a “put me on”. The queue for Hansel’s Cabin was relatively short but surprisingly slow moving which I must admit frustrated me, by this point we were cold and hungry and wishing I had packed some lunch! Luckily we found ourselves a table in a nearby shelter so we were able to sit down and warm up a bit while Dave continued to queue for our food and drinks – the man is a hero! Our order of three hot chocolates (with the works – cream, marshmallows and a flake), a piece of Christmas cake and three immense chocolate brownies came to around £17.50 which, whilst not exactly a bargain, wasn’t too painful considering just how delicious it all was. The hot chocolates were enormous and hot which might seem like a silly thing to say but all too often these things cool down far too quickly! The chocolate brownies were thick and squidgy and very well received by the kids and Daddy!
Warmed up and re-energised we considered a trip into the Enchanted Forest but then realised that the numbers on the screen were creeping up and it would soon be our turn to go and visit the big man himself. The queuing system to visit Father Christmas is akin to taking a ticket at the butcher’s counter. Your number is assigned when you purchase your Grotto tickets and you just keep an eye on the screens around the site for your number to be called. There isn’t a massive panic to get down there once you’re number is up, but you mustn’t go down before. This keeps the queue short and steady and, as any parent with small children knows, this is a life saver – particularly as you don’t want to be stood queuing outside in the cold as we have done in previous years.
As you join the queue to enter the log cabin you are greeted by friendly, enthusiastic elves who chat to the children about what might be on their Christmas lists and if they think they’ve been good or not. Ben, rather honestly and with a sad face, admitted that he thought he might be somewhere in the middle of good and bad! We soon put him straight! Once inside the cabin we met another elf who handed each child a special gold coin and sprinkled it with magic dust explaining that they must hold it tight and give it to Father Christmas when they saw him. This was a lovely touch as it added to the experience and meant we weren’t just stood in a never ending queue. I can’t tell you how tightly the kids held onto those coins! The cabin in iteself is full of things to look at including hints and tips about what sort of behaviours get you onto the good list and things to avoid if you don’t want to be on the bad list. The queue seems to move reasonably quickly though we didn’t mind too much as we were quite happy once we were in the warmth! When it’s your turn you are taken into a small waiting room by another elf who then guides you through to knock on Father Christmas’ door . . .
The grotto itself is beautiful and really does feel like you’ve just walked into Father Christmas’ office as he’s sat there in his big arm chair with a Christmas tree and stacks of presents alongside all manner of festive nick nacks. Now I’ve been to see Father Christmas many times over the years – as a parent, a volunteer and as a child myself. There are definitely times when the whole experience can feel rather rushed and conveyor belt like. Not at Stockeld Park. When you get your moment with Father Christmas, you really do get your moment with Father Christmas. He took time to talk to each of the children about his reindeer, about the rules for Christmas Eve (be asleep!) and to ask what their main Christmas present should be. He was lovely with Amy who was really very unsure of him and whilst she would speak to him from a distance, holding my hand, there was no way she was going to get anywhere near him – not even to take the present he offered her . . . she simply shouted “I can’t reach”! which made us all laugh! Ben and Chloe were both really confident and happy to chat to Father Christmas which was a joy to see. From his voice to his clothes to his beard, there was no doubting that this man was the real Father Christmas!
One of the things I really love about visiting Father Christmas at Stockeld Park is the quality of the gifts. Every child gets exactly the same present – a special Stockeld Park cuddly toy. This year’s toy is a husky dog (which the children have named Wolfy, Pinky and Rabbit – I’ll let you guess whose is whose!) These will be added to our penguins and reindeer from previous visits and brought out each Christmas. Whilst £10 might seem like a lot to visit Father Christmas, when you get a good quality present and a real magical “experience” I think it’s worth every single penny.
The Enchanted Forest was last on our “to do list” for the day for the simple reason that I had hoped it would be starting to get dark as it’s just so much more magical in the early evening. That said, if you do get to go around in daylight, the relatively recent addition of three new play areas is great! We’ve explored the play areas in the past when we visited the Summer Adventure and loved them. They do add real value to the cost of the “Enchanted Forest” activity as it means you can spend much more time in the area (assuming you are well wrapped up of course!) Although this was now the fourth time we have walked the Enchanted Forest, I still loved it! You do tend to forget what’s around the corner. I think perhaps I’d have liked to have walked around twice today – once to play and once to enjoy the lights in the dark, however by the time we’d made our way around after our Father Christmas visit we were all cold and tired and looking forward to an early tea after not really having had a proper lunch!
We finished our visit with a quick dash to the (very busy) toilets and a second wander through the amazing Christmas Shop where I could genuinely have spent a small fortune and was thrilled when Dave let me to buy a little treat to add to our festive decorations at home.
The Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park is not a cheap day out but it is fabulous. We will continue to visit Father Christmas there each year until there is no longer a need (please tell me that won’t ever happen!) In previous years we have visited late afternoon to just do the Enchanted Forest and Grotto, today we made a day of it and filled over four hours on the site – both ways work though I’d have loved to have been able to take the big two ice skating so as to make the most of our day passes. If you’re looking for a family friendly festive day out then definitely consider The Christmas Adventure at Stockled Park!
Thanks for having us Stockeld Park! We’ll be back in the summer!
*Disclaimer – We were given our day passes free of charge for the purposes of this review however we paid for the grotto experience ourselves and all opinions are completely unbiased*