Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

Santa’s coming to town: Santa’s grotto and stop off points in West Essex and nearby for Christmas 2015


Yay! It’s November which means I can officially start talking about Christmas. I love the festive season but my partner finds my over-excitement a bit much so I’m banned from breaking out the Christmas songs until now. As the little one is two this year, I’m hoping he’ll really get into the whole Santa thing. He certainly understands what presents are now. So I’ve rounded up some places where you can take your kids along to meet Father Christmas, special Santa grottos in Essex and nearby as well as family-friendly places with plenty of festive atmosphere for the children and grown ups.

Santa at North Weald station for Santa specials train rides Epping and Ongar railway

Some things like the Santa train in Epping get booked up early so it is worth getting tickets as early as you can. Other events have yet to publish their full details and I will be adding to this post soon as I get more information, so keep checking back.



Santa special Christmas train Epping and ongar railway

All aboard for a fabulous festive day out. We took the Santa special train last year and had a fabulous day. On arrival, there is mulled wine and mince pies for the adults and juice and snacks for the children. Then the classic steam train will arrive at the station where you can board for the short journey through the countryside to Ongar. There are children’s entertainers on board and Santa and his elves come round to deliver gifts to all the children. The train stops for a short while at Ongar where a brass band plays carols and you can stretch your legs before boarding the train back to North Weald.
There is limited parking at North Weald so it’s advisable to get one of the special vintage route master busses from Epping or Ongar. All in all it feels very festive and if your little one loves trains they will have a brilliant time.

Dates & times: Santa specials will run on the 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 22, 20, 23 and 24 December. Departures from North Weald are at 09:45*, 11:25, 13:05, 14:45** & 16:25** (*excluding 5 & 6 December, **excluding 24 December).
Price: Adults £16, children £13 respectively but some busier days will costs slightly more for adults. You can also book out entire train compartments for large groups.
Address: Trains depart from North Weald station, CM16 6BT
More details: Epping and Ongar Railway website

reindeer at chigwell nursery for christmas
This is where we get our real Christmas tree to I love the fact that the whole nursery feels Christmassy and is full of decorations. To be honest, this is not the place to go for a big flashy grotto but a great way to fit in a visit to Santa while picking up your tree and decorations. There’ll also be local carol singers from 2:30pm on Saturday 5th December.

Dates & times: Saturdays: 28th November; 5th, 12th & 19th December: 9:30-12:00 & 2:00-4:30. Sundays: 29th November; 6th & 13th December: 9:30-2:00
Price: Free. A voluntary collection box will be present, with all donations going to local community group Youth Plus.
Address: Chigwell Nursery, High Road, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 5BL
More information: Chigwell Nursery Website or call 020 8500 2690


We love the soft play centre at Ashlyn’s farm shop as it’s a great place for the little ones to run off steam and is clean, safe and friendly and it has a brilliant farm and outdoor playground. For Christmas, they are offering tractor rides to visit Santa and his deer in his grotto. There’ll also be festive treats like mulled wine and mince pies available to buy.

Dates & times: Farm opening hours during December, call to confirm.
Price: £12.50 per child which includes 2 accompanying adults. Booking advised, call 01992 523 118 to book.
Address: Ashlyns Farm Shop, Epping Road, Epping, Essex, CM16 6RZ
More information: Ashlyn’s Farm shop website

Sometimes an all-singing, all-dancing Santa experience is what you’re after and the grotto at Westfield Stratford delivers. We had a lovely time there last year and it starts with an interactive film featuring the children and the highlight for my son was a huge moving train set. This year Shrek and Donkey will be helping Santa out with a 4D cinematic sleigh ride which will transport you through the skies to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. Each child will have the chance to speak with Santa and receive a gift and photo packages will be available to purchase after your visit. Last year we got a really sweet little snow globe with a photo inside of our son with Santa. And it’s worth noting that there is a buggy park near the grotto.

Dates & times: 16th November – 24th December 2015
Price:  Peak single: £10, peak family (4 people): £35, off-peak single: £8, off-peak family (4 people): £28. Peak and off-peak sessions are displayed on the date & time selection page of the booking site.
Address: Adventure to Santa’s grotto is located outside at Chestnut Plaza beside Cafe Football and Omega. Westfield Stratford, Montfichet Road, Olympic Park East London E20 1EJ
More details: Westfield Stratford Santa’s Grotto website

Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

It’s a bit further away in Saffron Waldon but the Audley End Miniature Railway transforms its usual enchanted fairy and elf walk into a Christmas special. Families take the Santa Express train into the woods to visit Father Christmas and his elves at his woodland Grotto. Each child receives a present and there’s letter writing in the craft tent for older children and a bouncy castle which is an extra £1.50 weather permitting. For adults there’s some complimentary festive roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and tea or coffee.

Dates & times: Open on the 28th & 29th Nov, 5th & 6th, 12th & 13th, 16th – 24th December. Trains run 11.00am – 4.40pm.
Price: £8.00 per person on the 28th & 29th November, £10.00 per person on the 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 16th – 24th December, Under 2s are free. It is advisable to book tickets in advance but tickets are also available on the day.
Address: Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JB
More details: Audley End Miniature Railway website


Santa will be stopping off in his cosy, twinkly grotto at Redbridge Central Library during December. His merry elves will be on hand to keep you amused and spread some Christmas cheer.

Dates & times: Saturdays 5, 12 & 19 December 11am – 4pm. Tuesdays 8 & 15 and Thursdays 10 & 17 December 11am – 1pm. Monday 21 – Thursday 24 11am – 3pm.
Price: £3.50 per child with a gift included, book in advance at the library or online at The Little Box Office
Address: Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, IG1 1EA
More details: Redbridge Central Library website


Although the details on their website are currently minimal, one of the people who works in the View told me that this is a lovely magical weekend. Santa’s Grotto is inside the Queen Elizabeth Hunting lodge which gets decorated and there is festive music to get everyone in the mood. Booking is essential and as it is only on for a few days it’s likely to get booked up quickly.

Dates & times: Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 December from 10am – 3pm
Price: **UPDATE: TICKETS ARE NOW ALL SOLD OUT** Booking is required and costs £12.95 per child which includes a gift. You can buy tickets in person at The View or by telephone on 020 7332 1911
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Rd, London E4 7QH
More details: Epping Forest events website

If you know of another stop off on Santa’s busy schedule that you’d like me to include just comment below or tweet me @westessexmums.

Review: NCT Nearly New Sale and Woodford Fire Station Open Day

It’s not for the faint-hearted. With ten minutes still to go before it opened, the long queue was already snaking through the church car park and I looked on in awe at the pregnant ladies in the line. I seem to remember having no patience at all for prolonged queueing while I was in their position, not least because I need the loo every five minutes. Soon the doors were opened and cheery volunteers were ushering us to the table and rails groaning with toys, books and clothes. One friend who arrived at this point, took one look at the scrum and walked straight out again. Admitedly she is eight months pregnant. But the elbows-out jostle is not for everyone.

NCT Nearly New Sale at Christ Church Wanstead

However, it was worth persevering. I got lots of In the Night Garden toys (as that is the current addiction in our house) and a few books that look new to put away for Christmas. I was a bit disappointed by the selection of clothes for our Little One’s age group but was cheered up by some as-new wellies from Mothercare for £1. But the real bargain of the day was a second-hand MacClaren pushchair for £24. We’ve been keeping an eye out for one for while now, and although it needed a bit of a clean it even had a rain cover.  There was another one next to it which was a bit cleaner but cost £60. That’s the beauty of the NCT sales, everyone prices their own stuff so things can vary which also means you can get some good deals. When I paid, the volunteer cashing up helpfully told me that I could just put the seat in the washing machine on a cold cycle which worked a treat. So free tips as well, double win.

Next time, I must try to organise all the bags of clothes so I can actually sell stuff myself.

Family Open Day at Woodford Green Fire Station

Our trip to the Woodford Green Fire Station wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped. Firstly, The Little One had a late nap so we didn’t get there until almost 4pm and by then there was no sign of the helicopter, guide dogs or even much going on. But really, I think he’s actually a bit too young. He usually loves big trucks and vans so I thought he’d love the fire engines. But as they are static they are not quite as exciting and he was a bit little to get inside them and try on the helmets etc. However, all was not lost as there was a little fun fair ride with mini cars that went round which he totally loved and went on twice. There was also a bouncy castle for older children. By the time we were leaving at 4.30pm they had already packed up all the stalls inside so we didn’t get a chance to look at those and I’ve heard a few other people complaining that things were finished well before the advertised time of 5pm. I do think it will be more of a success when the Little One is older so I’d definitely go again and maybe in the morning next time.

The other event we had hoped to go to was the Apple Day at Copped Hall but instead, I stupidly uttered those dreaded words ‘I think we need to go to Ikea’. I then spent most of Sunday wishing I’d just ignored the growing pile of toys like normal instead of buying shelves and toy storage. I joined the chorus of people in the car park muttering ‘never again’. But sadly, like Arnie, I know I’ll be back.