Friday 15 December
Last year, Flic visited us about this time with her friend, Laura and paid a surprise visit to Mel at the Peel Pantoloons annual Panto. This year, however, a visit to the Panto by Flic could not be arranged due to Gary’s work commitments, so a visit the following week to the Santa Steam trains organised by the Isle of Man Steam Railway was the only option.
After some debate, a ferry crossing from Heysham was the selected mode of transport and, for once in December, the weather was kind.
Saturday 16 December
Morning at The Shed, Laxey
A morning out by the sea – yes the weather is still mild and wind free – and time for a coffee on Laxey sea front with blankets supplied by the wonderful new little cafe, The Shed. (http://www.creativejuices.im/splash/)
An afternoon train ride from Douglas to Santon had been organised and our train on this occasion was double headed by two of the small gauge resident steam engines.
Double heading was unusual especially as it wasn’t a particularly heavy train but more about this later.
Santa’s helpers at Santon
Cody is obviously too young to appreciate the train ride but Gary certainly did especially as he could stand in front of the engine whilst it was being watered when we reached Santon.
Taking on water at Santon
Talking about watering, at Santon we disembarked with some of the train’s passengers going to see Santa first before consuming some well prepared food whilst others in the front of the train did the visiting to Santa after the food and mulled wine.
Who are you?
Cody was absolutely mesmerised by Santa, he just didn’t know what to make of him, again understandable in the circumstances.
Douglas Station, end of the day
The return was behind one engine, the other being used to bring Santa’s grotto back to Douglas later in the day as this was the last Santa ride of the season.
Hopefully next year we can get Sarah, Ali and Harry over for a visit at this time?
Sunday 17 December
A first stage production for Cody as he becomes Baby Jesus for Mel’s Sensations Group at a church service in Peel.
Cody at the Sound
He slept for a lot of the time, woke up for the important part and spent the time looking around, not a murmur.
Lunch at The Sound Cafe
Monday 18 December
Flic, Gary and Cody off for an early ferry and we have to pack as we are following them on the same ferry 24 hours later.
Ferry into the Sunrise
Flic and Gary had a bit of a tortuous journey, Cody being fed up, the journey taking well over 5 hours due to yet another accident on the M6.
Tuesday 19 December
A smooth crossing for us and we head for Liverpool for an Andre Rieu concert, staying at the Crowne Plaza on the dockside.
An upgrade meant we had access to the club lounge in the hotel which provides snacks at tea time and a continental breakfast as well as a waterfront view.
A walk out to the shops revealed a square I had not been to before, Exchange Flags which was also featured in an excellent BBC programme recently, A House through Time.
Getting the Reindeer ready
Wednesday 20 December
Horrible drizzle today so not worth going to anywhere outdoors. The garden centre at Bebbington serves up some very nice snacks for lunch before we return to the hotel to get ready for the concert.
But before that, I couldn’t resist a brief visit to the waterfront fair and the reindeer being prepared for the night’s activities.
Colourful Andre Rieu concert
We have seen an Andre Rieu recording both on TV and at a local cinema but there is nothing like seeing a live concert.
With their flamboyant and colourful costumes, the musicians played, danced, sung and entertained us for nearly 2 and a half hours which included at least half an hour of encores and a festive rendition from a Scottish pipe band from the Wirrall.
Artificial snow falling on the audience was something special to watch from high up as we were.
Meet up afterwards for drinks with Laura & Jim from Jersey who are also over for the concert, staying with a friend locally.
They got covered in the artificial snow which was very minute plastic particles.
Andre Rieu concert
Thursday 21 December
Drive down to our house in Clearwell just to check all is well and to inspect the new doors.
Making Croissants at The forest Bakehouse
A bit of Christmas food shopping in Gloucester followed by a lovely lunch at The Forest Bakehouse in Longhope (Gloucestershire) which we never knew existed despite us driving past the area for the past 13 years. (http://www.forestbakehouse.co.uk)
The Forest Bakehouse at Longhope has a small seating area and a thriving orders/collection business judging by the various bags full of various types of bread awaiting collection.
Preparing the croissants for future baking were two members of staff one of whom had cut the dough with an ingenious looking hand held device that created the triangle prior to them being rolled into shape before baking.
Back to Clearwell, visit to Rob, wrap presents for Christmas but we are not here for Christmas this year, our 3rd non Clearwell Christmas in 14 years.
Friday 22 December
Drive to Didcot Railway Centre to meet up with Sarah, Ali & Harry as well as Flic & Cody for another Santa train ride.
Festive hats at Didcot
Santa does get around and is exceptionally busy, so to get to see him twice is quite an achievement!!
Sadly, Gary has to be on call and Mel is to meet up with us later as her flight from the IoM and the trains from Gatwick to Didcot couldn’t get her to us until half an hour before the ride – she makes it though.
Harry with Santa on the Santa train
Before the Santa train ride we amble around the shed with an assortment of vintage steam engines and other railway artefacts all of which are available for touching and some for clambering on, much to the enjoyment of the kids of all ages.
Ali the ticket collector
The Santa ride was not as good as the one in the Isle of Man the previous Saturday according to Flic, especially as the organisers had run out of presents for kids of Cody’s age. Harry enjoyed his present though.
Meanwhile, our usual haunt for Christmas and the Perrygrove Santa Trains were doing a roaring trade.
Santa trips at Perrygrove (picture from Heritage Railway Magazine)
Sarah, Ali & Harry go off to get some more Christmas food and we go off to find our house for the next week in Maidenhead.
All I shall say about the house we rented for the week in Maidenhead is that it was “interesting” but if I then said we would definitely not recommend it and would not be going again, I hope you get the gist.
My words on this are not going to be minced.