Lovely as is, with all the shopping and cooking, nursery and school plays, not to mention the impossible task of keeping the kids’ excitement at a manageable level, the Christmas period can make many of us feel like we’d like to run away and escape to the woods at some point. Well this year, that dream can be a reality because Northwood Trail, York’s newest family attraction in York, has launched a brand new festive experience that’s the perfect antidote to all the Christmas chaos. We visited at the weekend to find out what’s on offer.
Getting to Northwood
This was our second visit to the Northwood Trail and we managed to get there in just twenty minutes by car from our house in central York without any drama. Having learnt our lesson from the first time when we got VERY lost, this time we didn’t follow the satnav but let Google maps and our instincts guide the way instead. From York, you need to take the turning to Buttercrambe after The Balloon Tree – do not go into Stamford Bridge!
There are signposts along the way for Northwood, but they are hard to see in the dark. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s very straightforward when you know where you’re going. Parking is free and there was plenty of space in the car park (and puddles too – wear wellies!).
Hot punch at the Northwood Kitchen
Included with every ticket is a cup of hot punch from the Northwood Kitchen: alcoholic for the adults and non-alcoholic for the children/non-drinkers.
Northwood Kitchen is a wonderfully cosy woodland cafe with twinkling lights adding sparkle to the gorgeously dark interior. There’s a great selection of homemade cakes, a well-stocked bar and delicious coffee too. Get there before 4pm and you can even have lunch. We took a table by the fireplace and warmed up with our punch until it was time to head outside.
Meeting Lady Winter
Northwood has been very clear that this is a family Christmas experience with a difference, focusing on the traditional roots of Father Christmas. It couldn’t be more different from the red-suited Coca Cola-inspired Santa Claus experiences that many of us are familiar with, and that’s its strength.
Our journey began outside with our ivy-crowned guide telling us all about Lady Winter – who represents the quiet, still, dreamy side of winter – and then showing us inside to make a wish. Inside the sparkling grotto, Lady Winter – dressed in white with her face covered – sat in silence and occasionally waved as the children quietly made their wish and admired the wonderful full-size fairy costume. Our cynical older boy was slightly bemused by all this, but our two girls seemed to find it magical and it certainly put them in a calmer mood.
Meeting St Nicholas
After bidding farewell to Lady Winter, we were led down the track a short way into the woods to St Nicholas’s temporary Yorkshire home. We followed the sound of a whistle playing to find a spacious tent decked out in fairy lights, with woodburning stove, little model alpine village, and none other than St Nicholas there to greet us! All dressed in green with long white hair and beard, he looked just as the Holly King should. More importantly, he was absolutely convincing.
We all took our seats (on tree stumps – we were in the woods, after all) to enjoy a half-hour (or so) audience with one of the best Father Christmas characters we’ve seen. Although he may not have looked like the Father Christmas we’re all familiar with, he was just as jolly. Funny, engaging and a brilliant storyteller, St Nick had us hanging off his every word, joining in with the story and singing along when a song was called for. More of a performance than straightforward storytelling, it was clear how much effort has gone into creating something that would be true to the roots of St Nicholas while still entertaining twenty-first century children.
When we visited, the age of the children ranged from five (our youngest) up to around ten and they all looked to be having a good time. Parents taking children who struggle to sit still for more than five minutes or are likely to make a beeline for the piping hot stove may not have a relaxing time! But for slightly older children who love a story, enjoy nature and can appreciate the simple pleasures, it’s just perfect. Each child is given a copy of the story they’ve just heard to take home, as well as a chocolate coin. Every child is different, but ours didn’t moan about or even mention the fact that they weren’t given a toy.
At the end, there’s the chance to toast marshmallows around the fire (85p a stick from the cafe). Instead, we decided to enjoy some calm (and cake) in the Northwood Kitchen before heading home to the real world and the glitter and glamour of the Strictly Come Dancing final. Something tells me that it won’t be long before we feel the need to head back to the woods.
Christmas at Northwood runs until Sunday 23rd December 2019 on selected dates. Booking is essential. Visit the Northwood Trail website for more details and to buy tickets.
Thank you to Northwood Trail for inviting us. As always, our review is completely impartial and we will only ever recommend something that we have genuinely enjoyed.