To my friends, colleagues and family it is a bit of a joke just how much I love the run up to Christmas and all the festivities. Even before I had children I loved decorating my home and spending special time with family and friends. I admit that I’m a huge fan of a coordinated Christmas tree and decorations and one of my colleagues still likes to laugh that I have a collection of Wedgewood and Waterford crystal tree decorations that I would get out each year (don’t worry those beauties are carefully packed away patiently waiting for the time when my children leave home.
Since having children my love of the festive season has grown even more. I love the special family time, the memories we are creating and the happy times we share. It is the one time of year when my university job closes down and I purposely don’t book clients for my own business. It really does signal family time and a moment to slow down from work for me. I am known for trying to do too much but at this time of year I find it a (little) bit easier to say no.
Since having children my love of the season has softened my need for a fully coordinated tree (although there were a few years of having a children’s tree and ‘my’ tree before I fully accepted my new love!). I have grown to love the slightly off-balanced decorations on my tree and the smattering of homemade decorations that I lovingly pack away each year. I don’t care that things don’t match – the children’s faces when then are decorating are what feels so special to me.
Part of the lead up to Christmas for me is planning in visits to the different Christmas events that are put on. There are so many fab things to do with the family in Gloucestershire but here is a run down of some of my favourites that we have visited over the last few years.
Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum
Our first Gloucestershire Christmas experience (we moved to Gloucestershire from Somerset in 2012) was at Westonbirt Arboretum for the Enchanted Christmas. We loved it so much we have been back every year since. The 45 minute illuminated trail (longer with little legs in tow!) changes every year so always a new route and different lights to admire. The route is well marked and pushchair friendly (although it can get a bit muddy in the bad weather) and you can walk along at your own pace. There is a lovely Christmas village with food, Father and Mother Christmas, choirs, craft activity and a traditional carousel. Tickets must be pre-booked and often sell out in advance so you need to plan ahead. For more information visit their website.
Perrygrove Railway is in the heart of the Forest of Dean and has steam trains, playground, treasure hunt and treetop adventure. Unlimited train rides are available all day. Christmas at Perrygrove Railway is very special indeed! So many people told us that it was a must visit that a few years ago we made sure that we booked our tickets for our first Christmas visit (it is very popular and sells out every year so booking is essential!).
My son loves trains all year round and so Perrygrove is always a big hit with us (I’m excited to see that they are now offering annual tickets as we visit a lot!) but at Christmas it becomes even more magical. The carriage shed is transformed into a special theatre and Father Christmas comes down the chimney (really!) for a special interactive experience for 20 minutes which ends with him handing out presents to the children. There is usually a little festive treat for the grown-ups too! You book a timed ticket for the visit to Father Christmas but you are free to explore the rest of Perrygrove all day. For more information visit their website.
Dean forest railway
Another train, but this time a full-sized steam train! We have been on the Santa train a few times now and it is always a lovely time. You must pre-book your tickets as seats are allocated. The Santa train experience starts and ends in Norchard Station (GL15 4ET) where there is a lovely gift shop (perfect for little train lovers!).
When you are on the train there is usually some on board entertainment and little festive treats for the grown ups too. Father Christmas and his Elves visit the children in their seat (so no queuing required!) and stops to talk to them all individually for a few minutes which is lovely and perfect time for photos. For more information visit their website.
We love Slimbridge all year round and have annual membership but they also do some special Christmas events. For the last couple of years we have booked the “Santa is coming to Slimbridge” experience which involves booking for either breakfast or afternoon tea with the Elves (we have always booked breakfast which has been great) and a visit to Father Christmas in his lovely grotto. Children choose their own gift from a really lovely selection of quality books and toys. There are also special Christmas activities to join in with all day so you can really make a day of it. Marshmallow toasting, Elf den building, arts and crafts, write a letter to Father Christmas (and receive a reply at the special post office on the same day), and icing your own gingerbread man.
This year there is a special live show taking place – “Grandma Claus is waiting for Santa”. This is separate to the Santa experience tickets above but sounds like fun – and you can join in the other Christmas activities (excluding the meal and visit to Father Christmas). We have tickets to go to this with friends and can’t wait!
Clearwell Caves are ancient iron mines in the Forest of Dean. A Christmas visit to Clearwell was also recommended to me by many people after we moved to Gloucestershire and I agree that it is well worth a visit.
At Christmas time the caves are transformed to tell a lovely story. The story is usually repeated for 2 years but this year it is time for a new story – Cora and the Bloobious Bright. Half way through the cave is a beautiful underground Christmas market with stalls selling gifts, decorations and stocking fillers as well as an underground café!
Children see Father Christmas in his underground cavern and then choose a present from a wonderful selection before walking through the rest of the caves and enjoying the story and beautiful displays. In previous years one of the highlights for my children has been searching for their names on one of the hundreds of parcels that have been placed around the caves!
There is often queuing required, although this has improved now you can book tickets in advance, but once you have entered the caves you realise it is worth it. Wear sturdy footwear as it is a little uneven and can be wet underfoot. The website says that you can take pushchairs (I haven’t tried that as always carried our youngest in a sling) but it is not suitable for wheelchairs. For more information visit their website.
In addition to these lovely events there is something extra special about the Christmas Eve service at our village church before walking home and snuggling down for more family time. Perfect.
I think I’m the least organised for Christmas that I have ever been this year but on my list to book for this year is our annual trip back to the beautiful Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt, Slimbridge and a first for this year is a Christmas trip to Cotswold Farm Park. There was a great Halloween event at Cotswold Farm Park and I’m sure the Christmas event will be one not to miss too! I’d also love to see the new story at Clearwell Caves so fingers crossed I can squeeze in a visit there too!
A Guest Blog from Yvonne Hopkinson
Yvonne moved to Gloucestershire from Somerset in 2012 and immediately felt at home. Her Gloucestershire connection is a little older than this having moved to Cheltenham in 2000 to study for her degree. After graduation she was employed as a lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire and while she moved back to her home town of Taunton in 2003 to get married and eventually have her first child, she commuted to glorious Gloucestershire every day for years!
When Yvonne isn’t at the university she can be found teaching antenatal and hypnobirthing workshops for her business Relaxed Birthing or as part of the Nurture 4 Life team in Cheltenham. She is also ploughing her way through a PhD on the topic of exercise during pregnancy and so is keen to hear about any Mamans experiences! You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/relaxedbirthing, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a follow on Instagram .