The train now leaving Dereham station is the Lapland Express
- Credit: Ian Burt
It's a magical time of year, particularly for children, and on the Mid Norfolk Railway a ride on a heritage train to visit Santa in his grotto is a pretty special way to get into the festive spirit.
Having run the special trains every year for almost two decades the team behind the heritage railway believe this year's Lapland Express experience is the best yet.
And there was no doubt that everyone from the very youngest child to the oldest pensioner was full of excitement to board one of the first of this year's Santa trains to leave Dereham station to make the 22-mile return trip to Wymondham on Saturday.
'I think what makes this different to other railways is that we have the grotto as part of the train,' said commercial manager James Steward.
'We have done it before where there is a ride to a grotto at one of the stations but if the weather is bad it can get a bit difficult and this way it is all part of the trip.'
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After boarding the train passengers take their seats in their heated carriages and then are visited by elves who take them in turn to see Father Christmas whose cosy grotto with fireplace and Christmas tree takes over the central carriage.
'We have changed it around this year so there is more space and really worked hard on the grotto,' said Mr Steward. 'The children are entertained by clowns and given activity books to keep them busy and have to look out for Santa's reindeer on the way. We started doing first class carriages this year which have been really popular and were the first tickets to be sold. These passengers get a prepared meal and steward service as well as extra presents and a more comfortable carriage.'
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Father Christmas said he loved his new grotto and had lots of presents to give away to his visitors.
'The elves have been very busy finding out the sort of toys the children want,' he said. 'We have been busy reading all the children's letters as well.'
Mr Steward said by the time the first train left the station they had already exceeded their takings from last year.
'It has really taken off,' he said. 'We strive to build on it every year and come up with new ideas and it is still almost entirely run by volunteers.'
To find out more about the Mid Norfolk Railway's Lapland Express including timetable and ticket prices and availability visit www.mnr.org.uk or telephone 01362 690633.