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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Walking in Kielder’s winter wonderland

THERE aren’t many attractions which can claim to have generated in excess of 37,000 calls during the first day of ticket sales.

Nor are there many who have sent home in the region of 15,000 happy children and adults from all over the North-East in the space of just 15 days this year.

And it’s a combination of impressive figures like this and the enchanting experience on offer which makes Northumbrian Water’s annual Winter Wonderland event at Kielder’s Leaplish Waterside Park so special.

Forget Lapland – or even Disneyland for that matter – start with the experience available right on our doorstep, which is guaranteed to draw gasps of delight from the kids and transport any adult back to the days of not being able to sleep for excitement on Christmas Eve.

Now in its fifth year, the event continues to amaze children who visit the festive forest and lakeside landscape time after time. With a variety of activities throughout the day, the experience is just as action-packed as it is magical.

More than 70 members of staff, including actors and actresses, are involved in making the day out one to remember for the whole family and for a number of years now the successful Newcastle-based Dodgy Clutch theatre company have played an integral part in the experience.

Last year’s event was officially a sell-out success after organisers received 24,000 enquiries during the first 40 minutes of booking and more than seventy per cent of places at the event were snapped up within the first two to three days of telephone and internet booking.

Staff regularly brace themselves to welcome almost 1,000 visitors to one of England’s most tranquil destinations on each and every day the event runs.

And after experiencing it first-hand, it is easy to see what all the fuss is about.

The day begins with eager groups of children, ranging in age from young toddlers through to 10 or 11, clambering through the door of a Christmas cottage where they stumble upon Himself the Elf, stealing a few minutes to take a nap in his workshop during the hectic pre-Christmas rush, after busying away for hours making toys for Santa to deliver.

With the elves always on the look out for someone to help, the children are all given the task of putting together and decorating their very own toy, before being whisked away through a forest trail by another friendly elf, on a quest to find Santa’s secret hideaway.

Winding through the dense forest, on a path which is lit up by hundreds of twinkling lights, the children then stumble across a Christmas fairy, who enlists their help to light up the first bulb of spring ready for Santa, who apparently is a keen gardener in his spare time.

And after a song and dance with the fairy, the group then continue deeper into the forest, led by the elf, to catch a glimpse of the big man with the white beard himself.

After a short walk, in a forest clearing, a small cabin comes into view and faces light up as the children are told this is where Santa lives. Then, once gathered round the door, the children are encouraged by their guide to give the door a little knock to determine whether he is at home.

Before long the door is flung open and a cheery figure dressed in red appears to welcome in all his visitors.

As everyone settles in the warm and cosy cabin, Santa begins to go through each and every one of his young eager visitors, mentioning their name and drawing their eyes ever-wider as he reels off a secret or detail individual to each of them.

And after receiving a special Winter Wonderland souvenir from Santa, the children are then spoilt for choice as to what to do next.

At another stop in the vast forest, visitors will stumble across Mrs Christmas’s Kitchen and her scores of woodland friends who are helping her prepare for the big day. Meanwhile, over at the Christmas theatre, the elves take centre stage and put on a special show which proves just how mischievous they can be.

But the day is still far from over. Families can then take to their blades on Leaplish’s very own synthetic skating rink, or for the thrill-seeking visitors, there is a chance to try out snow tubing.

Climb to the top of a seven-metre high slope before diving onto a rubber ring and hurtling down the slippery slide at speed.

And for those with younger children there is a tent offering an array of arts and crafts as well as a traditional fairground carousel to keep them smiling.

Assistant operations manager at Leaplish, Peter Pattinson, explained: “What the Winter Wonderland has allowed us to do is turn the seasons on their head and create one of the busiest times of the year from the time that was traditionally the quietest for us.

“We didn’t want the staff here to just have seasonal jobs and the event really has taken off over the past five years to become hugely popular.

“We have learned from experience that structuring the event for families means they can make the most of their day out and it ensures they get round all the attractions with as little hassle as possible.

“And we always try to vary the theme and throw something new into the mix for those that come back year after year.”

Peter and his team of rangers spend months preparing for the event behind the scenes and then just a few weeks before it is due to begin, they work flat out doing everything from decorating the forest with miles of fairy lights to decorating a secret cabin in the forest ready for Santa’s arrival.

This weekend sees the final few days of this year’s event which were sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. Tickets are required to be booked in advance so, to avoid disappointment, why not make it a priority for next year.

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