Regular readers will know that we are National Trust members in our family (despite the fact that I'm sure we don't get value out of it, as pretty much all the six or so sites within driving distance of us are all over 30 minutes drive away, so it requires a full day usually to take advantage.)
However; when I received this season's 'Christmas what's on' guide I was struck by the number of Christmas activities taking place at National Trust properties. Since we've not previously visited Clumber Park then it was top of our list. Being members, entry would be free.
The mistake we made was 'not' to rush when we planned to go on Saturday. If you are a mum you probably find yourself spending most of your time desperately trying not to be late (or is that just me?), so I made a conscious effort to relax yesterday and decided to do some chores first. Apparently Father Christmas was going to be in attendance at Clumber from 12noon until 5pm, so when we finally set off at 2pm I wasn't too worried. I figured we'd join the queue for Father Christmas first and still have some time to play on the park (assuming there was one... it was a good bet, and there was) before it got dark.
We arrived at 3pm after a 40 minute drive. I feel that I need to stress this bit quite a lot, so I'll say that again. We arrived at 3pm. A good 2 hours before Father Christmas was, we were led to understand, due to finish his meet and greet for the day. Firstly there were no signs showing us where to find him, so I had to ask a passing Elf. (stop sniggering!). The Elf wasn't too helpful. He pointed me towards a corner where he thought there would be a member of Elfing staff selling tickets to see Father Christmas, but when he noticed that his colleague was no longer there he just shrugged. So I tried a member of the National Trust staff in the main shop who didn't know exactly and pointed me towards the Toy Shop. (I was getting worried by this stage...)
When I arrived at the Toy Shop my request was met with that expression... you know the one... the expression that says "I'm-really-sorry-for-what-I'm-about-to-say,-less-so-for-you,-than-for-me,-for-having-to-say-it-and-making-2-under-5yr-olds-cry". And of course that it the essence of what this lady said. That Father Christmas tickets were sold out. Already. Well I welled up. I couldn't face telling the two girls who were looking at me with worried expressions, the eldest more so, who had caught the meaning of the conversation already.
But my hubby is a clever man. And so he quickly said. "But is there anyway they can just see him quickly simply to give him their letters. They brought their letters to give him personally and we've come a long way."
Hurrah! This was a request that, after the lady rushed off with her walkytalky and returned, could be met. We would have to be quick she said. But yes, they could hand in their letters and say a quick hello.
Afterwards the girls were, of course, ecstatic to have seen Father Christmas in person, to have given him their letters and a kiss, and had a picture, and to hear from his (more) helpful Elf that they were indeed on the good list (a very impressive large Christmassy book that looked suspiciously like a dictionary in disguise!) while they waited in the queue.
The lady, back at the Toy Shop, was still apologetic when we returned there to buy a treat each for the girls and she apologised for not being able to do more, which was nice, but I wasn't sure what more she meant. The girls got exactly what they came for. They didn't need to sit and chat with him for ages.
And so, my conclusion is this. If you are responsible for arranging a meet and greet session for the white bearded fellow, don't worry too much about how much time the children get with him. Price it sensibly (I think £5 maximum, but less would be more enjoyable for the parents), and ensure to have a very helpful Elf with the 'Good list' book talking to the children in the queue to cleverly extend the experience.
And for good measure throw in a Snowman and walking Christmas Tree wandering around outside with the actual Christmas tree to have their pictures taken with the children. My youngest cried when we had to say goodbye to the Snowman.
Worth a visit.... but get there early. We couldn't join in with the wand or lantern making either - as they'd ran out at about 3pm (typical!)