Magical winter wonderland comes to Watercress Line as its kicks off its Steam Illuminations events with real snow, dazzling LED displays and Father Christmas himself

A MAGICAL festive experience has turned a heritage railway in Hampshire into a winter wonderland complete with thousands of fairy loights, Father Christmas and real snow.

Saturday, 13th November 2021, 5:45 pm

The Watercress Line, which runs from Alton to Alresford in Hampshire, kicked off its Steam Illuminations series of events yesterday.

There was plenty of festive cheer as the railway welcomed the first guests to experience its dazzling display of lights, before embarking for a journey up the track and back.

While on board, guests were greeted by the big man himself, as well as enjoying Christmas food and music, with the carriages lit up with LED lights and LED wristbands.

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Santa Claus waves as he leans out of a carriage on a Steam Illuminations train, a light show on and in a steam train, consisting of thousands of fully controllable colour mixing LED lights, on the Watercress Line in Hampshire, which forms part of their Christmas programme of events. Picture date: Friday November 12, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The train travelled under the Ropley bridge, which appeared in the Harry Potter films, where it passed through a flurry of snow.

Chairman Richard Lacey said he was delighted to see people back on board and enjoying themselves, especially after the events had to be curtailed last year due to coronavirus restrictions.

He said: ‘It’s wonderful to see.’

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A guard walks past a Steam Illuminations train, a light show on and in a steam train, consisting of thousands of fully controllable colour mixing LED lights, as it stops at Alresford station on the Watercress Line in Hampshire, which forms part of their Christmas programme of events. Picture date: Friday November 12, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Among the guests enjoying themselves at the opening was Alton town mayor councillor Pam Jones and her consort John Jones, as well as deputy town mayor councillor Ginny Boxall.

Councillor Jones posted her highlights on her Facebook page, she said: ‘It was great to meet and speak to all those who had set up this amazing attraction.’

The event has already proved popular with tickets selling fast even before its official launch.

General manager Simon Baggott said: ‘The fantastic Steam Illuminations has proved more popular than ever this year and so we are delighted to announce more dates for people to come along to enjoy the spectacular festive train rides.

The BR Standard Class no. 70167 passes through fake snow as it leaves Ropley station as it pulls a Steam Illuminations train, a light show on and in a steam train, consisting of thousands of fully controllable colour mixing LED lights, on the Watercress Line in Hampshire, which forms part of their Christmas programme of events. Picture date: Friday November 12, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

‘It promises to be a wonderful highlight of the festive season. Please book your tickets early so you don’t miss out on magical memories.’

Opened in October 1865 as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway, it became part of British Railways until its controversial closure in 1973.

The line and services were reinstated by a preservation group and now the Watercress attracts 125,000 visitors annually with a turnover in excess of £2m.

The BR Standard Class no. 70167 leaves Ropley station as it pulls a Steam Illuminations train, a light show on and in a steam train, consisting of thousands of fully controllable colour mixing LED lights, on the Watercress Line in Hampshire, which forms part of their Christmas programme of events. Picture date: Friday November 12, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The attraction also holds many popular events throughout the year such as its Autumn Steam Gala, vintage days and family-friendly Thomas the Tank Engine visits.

The Steam Illuminations run from November 26 until January 8.

Tickets cost £48 for a table of two, £96 for four, a compartment for up to six people is £150, with children under two going free.

Tickets must be pre-booked, go to watercressline.co.uk/steam-illuminations