by Rosa Silverman, The Telegraph, December 12, 2017
If, like me, you have a young child obsessed with trains - and I mean obsessed: he sometimes talks about them in his sleep - any Christmas event involving the word “train” is going to have you frantically searching for a free slot in the crowded festive calendar. The Train to Christmas Town, which runs in Dartmoor, Devon, and Weardale, Durham, was therefore a must.
We’d whipped the three-year-old into such a state of excitement beforehand he insisted we arrive at the station in Okehampton, Dartmoor, one-and-a-half hours early - a demand we managed to resist. This was just as well, since a long wait on a cold platform with him and the baby might have taken the edge off the fun of turning up with a crowd of other families, all dressed in Christmas garb or nightwear (encouraged by the organisers) and ready for the ride.
The entertainment begins before the “all-aboard” call is made, with music and performances on the platform. But this was of less interest to our son, who had eyes only for the train itself, a handsome old-fashioned locomotive that was already waiting at the station.
After we’d wandered up to the old signal box (the station dates to 1871) to catch a glimpse of the engine, it was about time to clamber on board and settle into our seats.
What followed was a non-stop spectacle of dancing elves and other costumed characters roving the brightly lit carriages as the train rumbled onwards through the dark winter evening, corralling everyone into a sing-along, clap-along, bang-along-on-the-tables jamboree. And lest the Christmas music and drama wasn’t enough, hot chocolate and cookies were doled out to guarantee every child that festive sugar high.
The Train to Christmas Town experience is based on the children’s book of the same name, by Peggy Ellis, but if you’re not already familiar with it, the story might not become apparent en route: although it was played through the speakers, the dancing elves tended to drown out the story with their performance.
This mattered little, however, since the visual and aural extravaganza is the selling point of the journey. And, of course, Father Christmas, who boards the train when it reaches an illuminated “North Pole”. When he asked our awestruck son what he wanted for Christmas, the answer was predictable enough: a train.
We decided to make a weekend of it by repairing afterwards, with two happily exhausted children in the back of the car, to the wonderfully cosy and comfortable Fox & Hounds Country Hotel in Chulmleigh, 15 miles north of Okehampton. The kids promptly perked up in the hotel restaurant, where staff were mercifully accommodating, and children’s menu portions were the most generous I’ve ever seen.
In this charming former coaching inn, we eventually sank into a four-poster bed, the three-year-old tucked up in a handy little annex off our room, content in the knowledge we’d laid on a fully tot-friendly trip that would fuel family conversation for Christmases to come.
How to do it
The Train to Christmas Town runs until December 28. Standard class tickets are £25 for adults, £19 for children aged 2-12 years. Premium tickets are £39 for adults, £29 for children traintochristmastown.com