29 November 20 24 December 2014
Reviewed by Shelley Owens
With wellies, snow-suits and woolly hats at the ready, we set off on our hour long journey to The National Forest Adventure Farm in Tatenhill, Burton upon Trent. With rain clouds looming we can be forgiven for fearing that the cold, wet conditions would lower our seasonally good spirits as we looked forward to the special Christmas Weekend activities on offer but we needn’t have feared – our family fun day out was fantastic!
Well signposted from the A38, The National Adventure Farm is easily found nestling in the beautiful Staffordshire countryside alongside Postern House Farm run by the Robinson family. Upon arrival we easily found a space in the large car park, which has ample disabled bays available close to the entrance for anyone who has mobility issues. The Christmas experience is available every weekend during December with FREE entry for an adult with each child paying the full entrance fee (£6.75) and there were lots of very excited children waiting in line! We had a short wait in the cold to actually enter the entrance area so we were very glad of our warm outdoor clothes and boots! Once inside there are just 2 cashiers taking entrance fees, Santa visit payments and arming visitors with a Farm map and list of Christmas Weekend activity times. This is essential to time fitting in all the activities on offer during your visit with special events held throughout day, most are repeated at regular intervals but some, such as the Christmas Show, are only on once!
Our first stop was a small kiosk to book our visit with Santa for which we had paid £5 each for our 3 year old daughter and 2 year old boy/girl twins and we were allocated a 3pm time slot which seemed an eternity away to the little people first thing in the morning but as we discovered, there was plenty to occupy us and take their minds off meeting the big man himself! The Farm opens at 10am so get there early if you want a morning slot with Santa!!
The site is well laid out and easy to navigate with the help of the free map and our first chosen event of the day was Reindeer feeding in the Animal Events barn. This lovely big barn houses domestic and farm animals, offering animal feeding and petting experiences regularly throughout the day as well as the seasonal activities such as the interactive Nativity (more about that later!). The rabbit and guinea pig enclosures are beautifully constructed with miniature houses and bridges surrounded by a low wall and a neat wall of hutches beyond. The children loved getting up close to the animals and after hand washing at the barn door we headed off to the events barn on the other side of the site for some Elf Training!
Taking place in the Events Barn, Elf Training is a fabulous, fun interactive experience for the children run by 2 “Elves” who teach the basic rules of “Elf and Safety”, how to use the new (imaginary) wrapping machine through mimes and silly sound effects and the Elf Promise. The performance relies heavily on audience participation from the children and there is just enough adult humour to keep the grown-ups entertained too! These sessions are held 3 times throughout the day so you will be sure to fit it in during your visit.
Training over, our little ones were keen to sample the giant inflatable Christmas Pudding on the other side of the barn and our 3 year old loved it but at 2 years old the twins didn’t like the feel of the airflow and this is definitely a fun attraction for the older children, promising some fabulous indoor fun and an escape from the cold outside! The rest of the barn was beautifully transformed into the area we were most looking forward to – Santa’s Grotto!! A large, inviting wooden chalet structure with a beautiful snow scene in front of it and a single reindeer model and sleigh placed perfectly for photo opportunities while you queue for your big moment!
With lots more to see we headed back outdoors, past the outdoor play area which although muddy was still inviting with lots of activities for children of all ages. We took our place in the short queue for the Quad Barrel Ride using the free tickets allocated to each visitor from the guide map (take note, under 3s must be accompanied by an adult and my twins are not tiny for 2 years old so it was a little bit of a squash and a squeeze!). We had brilliant fun being pulled around the simple figure of 8 track in a little row of cars made from barrels!!
Heading back towards the barns we hopped on the Festive Tractor and Trailer ride which was definitely more sedate but for our little people it was just as fun – the route is dotted with scarecrow and (for the festive season) Sneaky Snowmen signs which our “guide” told us we must shout “scarecrow” or “snowman” at when we spotted a sign which our toddlers did with great enthusiasm!! As the ride took us back towards the farm the remains of the summer Maize Maze were clearly visible with the field now reduced to stubble but the large bridges, viewing towers and 3 miles of pathways can clearly be seen and look to have been a magical experience earlier in the year!!
Tummies were now rumbling so we headed over to the barn housing the Events Barn, toilets, indoor play area and restaurant. The play area was bustling and there are tables surrounding it, allowing parents to enjoy their refreshments while the children play but as we have toddlers we decided to get lunch out of the way first!! There is plenty of seating in the restaurant area itself with an upstairs seating area clearly signposted and although very busy the staff are polite and helpful. The food and drinks are competitively priced and the option to purchase a jug of squash and cups for the kids is a great idea!! Having brought our children a picnic from home we purchased hot drinks and some food “to go” for ourselves before heading out to the covered picnic area which is well sheltered from the elements.
Checking the activity schedule I realised that we were missing the Christmas Show in the events barn next door so I snuck away from the children and my other half to enjoy a sneak peek at what it was all about! The crowd was much larger than the earlier Elf Training and once again the “elves” were enthusiastically delivering a well scripted story to a delighted audience with a good balance of humour for the adults thrown in! Be prepared for lots of audience participation and ready to encourage your little ones to join in and it will be an amazing experience!
Still awaiting our turn with Santa, the family all headed for the outdoor paddocks which as the signs warned, were quieter than they are during the summer months but the children were able to get up close and feed the Alpacas and Goats (watch out for the Biggest Billy Goat Gruff as he is super greedy!) and we strolled leisurely through the neat paddocks and paths which considering the earlier rain were far from muddy! On the way back we stopped and fed the chickens but opted out of the egg collection for fear of overenthusiastic toddlers!!
And so the time had finally arrived, the moment we had all been waiting for, our appointment with Santa!! Pausing for a quick pose on the sleigh we took our place in a tiny queue which was nothing like the huge line we had seen waiting that morning! A friendly Elf chatted to the children when we reached the entrance to the Grotto and the cheery Christmas music set the mood perfectly! Our Elf then led us to a corridor, beautifully decorated and knocked on the first door we came to. Stepping inside, there was a large decorated Christmas tree to our left, a stone fire surround and an inviting living flame fire and a bench seat on to our right which our youngest headed for as she is terrified by the man in the red suit sadly!
There by the fireside sat the man himself and he was amazing, so lovely with the children and asking them questions about who we all were before the big question on everyone’s minds – what did they want for Christmas?! Two out of the three children sat happily chatting with him for a good few minutes and I was able to take some lovely pictures, Ava was not to be persuaded however and just before she burst into tears our Elf knocked on the door again and Santa announced that as they had all been so good the Elf was to take them to the workshop and they could choose an early present! Following the Elf down the corridor we passed several similar doors to the one we had left and my husband I exchanged a knowing smile before we all headed into a door on the right, entering a room full of toys! The children were in a daze as we explained that they could take one present each, carefully steering them towards age appropriate piles and grabbing a quick snap with another friendly elf before stepping back outside into reality!
To round off our magical afternoon we walked back down to the animal barn where the last Nativity of the day was due to start. The children (and adults) are invited to join in with this fantastic panto style mini nativity and choose costumes from a great selection on show – angels, donkeys, shepherds and wise men then took their seats on the rows of hay bales in front of the life sized nativity scene in the corner of the barn with livestock in the pens behind them. Our trusty Elves from each of the earlier performances then retold the Christmas story with humour, audience interaction and lots of enthusiasm. Our youngest Wise Man Ted kept wandering off to check out the livestock and our angel Ava was not exactly willing to hail anyone but 3 year old Imogen played her Wise Man role with great enthusiasm, as did the others joining in and we have some very funny moments to cherish! Full marks to the team for putting together a great Christmas experience which we rounded off with a Christmas Sing-a-long and made the cold damp weather outside fade away, pasting smiles firmly on our faces that lasted all the way home!
Christmas at The National Forest Adventure Farm is available every weekend until Christmas Eve. Free entry for adults with each full paying child at £6.75 (Under 2s are free). The visit to Santa’s Grotto is an additional £5 per child which includes a good quality gift and the experience is magical! For full details see their web details www.adventurefarm.co.uk/national-forest-adventure-farm-event.asp?EventID=62 and all Christmas visitors receive a 50% off return voucher to be used during January, February and March 2015!
Concessions and group tickets are available and prices vary throughout the year with other seasonal activities available, visit their website for details www.adventurefarm.co.uk/prices-national-forest-adventure-farm.asp
Top Tips – arrive early to schedule your Santa visit to fit around the many Christmas activities on offer throughout the day – time slots are every half hour from 10.30-4.30 when the grotto closes.
Use the timetable provided on entry together with the site map to plan your activities, allowing time to take part in the interactive experiences and enjoy the activities around the farm that are available. Wrap up warm with willies if possible and plan to spend the whole day there as there is so much to see and do! Don’t forget to take a little spending money for the animal feed (£1 a tub) and the gift shop which has little pocket money toys up to larger items but is essentially a toy shop rather than traditional souvenir shop.
Directions by car – From the A38 take the Burton South (or Branston) exit. Exit the island at the turning signposted Tatenhill. Follow the road into Tatenhill village and at the crossroads, turn right. Continue for 1 mile. The National Forest Adventure Farm is on the right hand side of the road.
Value for Money and overall experience – With a free adult entry for every child over 2, Christmas at the National Forest Adventure Farm is fantastic value for money! There are so many Christmas activities included in your entry price plus all the usual farm activities and indoor and outdoor play areas. The £5 fee to visit Santa in the grotto is good value for money and the gifts available to choose from retail at around £2.50-£3 in the gift shop so we felt it was well worth the magical experience the children enjoyed!
The farm site itself has so much to offer visitors of all ages and pushchair and wheelchair access is excellent, we didn’t find anywhere that could not be accessed as pathways are clear and wide (assistance would be required to access some activities but staff are very friendly and helpful!)
The toilet and changing facilities are excellent and amongst the cleanest, well-kept I have seen for a long time – remember this is a farm with many visitors yet the floors and facilities were outstanding!
It was easy to see why the Farm was selected as this year’s winners of Staffordshire’s Tourist Experience of the year! Browsing their fabulous, easy to navigate website and brochure, you will see that the farm has seasonal activities that make visiting worthwhile over and over again! I can also see why they offer an annual membership at just £45 because if we lived a little closer, this would definitely be a regular destination for us!
5 out of 5 from us for a magical, interactive Christmas experience to treasure!
For more information visit www.adventurefarm.co.uk.
National Forest Adventure Farm, Tatenhill, Burton Upon Trent, Staffordshire, DE13 9SJ