'The most Christmassy place I know' - inside Keydell Nurseries' Christmas woodland walk
‘I want to go home, Mummy’, said with extra emphasis on the ‘o’ sound in home, is currently my two-year-old son Eddie’s favourite saying.
It’s up there with other favourites such as ‘I don’t like that one’ and ‘noooooo’. These are just a few of the joys of living with a strong-willed and very outspoken toddler.
Anyhow, the top catchphrase has already been uttered, and we’ve only just pulled up in the car park.
As well as Eddie, I’m also accompanied by my mum, otherwise known as Nanny, and my daughter, four-month-old Rosanna.
Anyone with two young kids knows that it’s a big enough mission to get everyone assembled and into the car, so my son’s wish to return home is being suitably ignored - for now.
He’s jollied along, Christmas jumper pulled over his head, for we are off to see Father Christmas at the most Christmassy place I know - well, aside from the North Pole, and at the very least in Hampshire.
We are at Keydell Nurseries in Horndean, where Father Christmas is back and has set up a fantastic grotto, complete with a magical woodland walk.
We book our tickets and time slot at the front desk, and spend 30 minutes marvelling at the wonderful range of Christmas decorations for sale, before paying Keydell’s parrots a visit.
With so much to look at, our time slot soon comes round, and we are entertained by a large singing reindeer as we queue. There are also plenty of friendly elves, who all talk to my tantruming toddler, and he’s soon won round to the visit.
The baby is just simply amazed by all the lights, her eyes are like saucers and we haven’t even reached Santa yet.
By the time we knock on Santa’s door, my boy is doing a very good impression of being the best-behaved boy who has ever walked the Earth.
As Santa’s voice booms out that we can enter and the door swings open, his face is an absolute picture.
The grotto is one of the best around, just as you’d expect, and every single little detail is in place.
Father Christmas is looking superb and he takes on the challenge of both kids, balancing one on each knee, before asking Eddie what he’d like for Christmas.
“I would like a train please” comes the angelic little voice. Excellent news, Santa says he’s sure that can be done.
We smile for the photo (available to buy at an extra cost and very professionally taken) and then we are taken to the elves’ workshop to pick a toy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. And luckily there are three different train set-ups. The most festive is chosen and is held lovingly for the entire trip round the woodland walk, only briefly set down to climb aboard the full-size train carriage for a picture and a turn at ‘driving’.
There are honestly so many things to look at. It would be impossible to list them all here.
Some of our favourites were the flying snowman, the singing reindeer (yes there’s more), the unicorns, the sleeping polar bears, throwing pennies into the fountains (collected for charity) and of course, the real reindeer, which are beautifully cared for by the family who own the garden centre all year round, and of course the Polar Express.
After our woodland walk, we head to the Potting Shed, the centre’s excellent cafe for a spot of refreshment and a slice of one of their magnificent homemade cakes.
No visit to Keydell would be complete without visiting the ducks, so we call by the duck pond to wrap up yet another successful Christmas Keydell visit.
As I’m loading all my equipment and entourage back into the car, a little voice pipes up from the back.
This time, it’s not ‘I want to go home Mummy’, but instead ‘I want to do it again Mummy’.
What a relief, he’s had fun. And I’m sure we will do it again before the big day as it’s been such a hit. Merry Christmas everyone.
Santa’s Grotto is open at Keydell Nurseries until December 23.
Tickets cost £14.50 child and £3 adult. Grotto tickets include entrance to the woodland walk. The woodland walk without a grotto visit costs £3.50 adult, £2.50 child.