“We’ll be totally laid back parents,” we said confidently, long before he was born. “You won’t catch up standing in line to hand our baby over to a man in fake beard: no way!”
In our defence, my mum has been talking about Goulding’s Garden Centre’s Winter Wonderland for as long as I can remember. Now, I’ll just stress here that my parents never once tried to put pressure on Terry and I to present them with grandchildren: they always just took the view that it was our lives, and it was up to us what we chose to do with them. But every December, my mum would get a misty, faraway look in her eye. “They have live reindeer!” she would say. “And I think maybe some miniature donkeys! And if we just had a child, we could go and see it for ourselves!”
Now, I’m not saying I had a baby just to get to get to meet Rudolf and chums, but, well, she had me at “miniature donkeys”, really, so, last week my parents came to pick up Terry, Max and I, and the five of us headed to the Clyde Valley to experience this wonderland for ourselves.
We dressed Max as a lamb, obviously. It was only later that it occurred to me that his reindeer onesie might have been a more appropriate choice, but then, would it really, I wonder? Or might Santa have found it a bit awkward to have a reindeer on his knee? We will never know.
For those of you who don’t know my mum, and haven’t been hearing about this for years now, Goulding’s is a garden centre (Because, obviously…) in the Clyde Valley, and it’s one of those garden centres that’s more like a theme park for parents or something: I mean, I’m sure they must sell plants and other gardening-type stuff, but I only have eyes for the scented candles and cute baby clothes, so I couldn’t tell you. (I CAN tell you that the restaurant is REALLY good, though, with some of the best cakes you’ll find anywhere. We always come home with a giant box of them, which we’ll still be eating for breakfast three days later…) Their Winter Wonderland extravaganza is well known in these here parts, because, rather than simply setting up a tent or something for kids to file into and meet Santa, once you’ve paid for your ticket (£3 for adults), you then board a tractor ride, which takes you past the aforementioned reindeer, donkeys and sheep:
(As you can see, Max has yet to master the art of the selfie. And so has Terry…)
(There are no photos of the reindeer and donkeys, unfortunately, because we were too busy trying to wrangle the baby. In fact, it would probably be best if you just lower your photo-expectations for this entire post, to be honest, because we were indoors most of the time, and also, since having Max, we’ve found most things too difficult for us. No, we have no idea why, either…)
Once you disembark the tractor, you go back inside, and walk past various different festive scenes, to get to Santa’s grotto: there’s singing Yetis, snowmen, a glimpse into Santa’s workshop, where the elves are hard at work, etc. It’s a little bit like the kind of thing you’d see while queuing for a ride at Disney, and it’s all really well done. Max was obviously too young to know what he was looking at, but he was a big fan of all of the twinkling fairylights and various different scenes, and I can imagine slightly older children would find it all pretty magical, really.
Some slightly older children confirmed that this was so…
Once you’ve wound your way past all of the various festive scenes, it’s time for the main event: Santa!
(I’m pretty sure Max suspected Santa’s beard might not be real…)
It was only after we left the grotto that we realised we were all supposed to gather around Santa and have a professional, group photo taken, which you can buy later. (They all come up on screens, a bit like when you come off a roller-coaster at a theme park, and go and find your photo…) I’m seriously kicking myself for not realising this and getting better photos, but… these really terrible ones work just as well? I guess?
As we were leaving, Santa presented Max with a shiny gold coin, which he then used to claim a present from the stall just outside. There was a huge selection of toys, all of which looked really good value, considering we’d only paid £3 each for the whole thing. After a bit of debate, we got Max a Play Doh set (Because, to be fair, we don’t really NEED the living room rug to be clean, do we?), and – most excitingly from his point of view – the nice lady on the stand also let him keep the shiny gold coin, which we were technically supposed to trade in for the gift, but which Max felt WAS the gift. So, so nice of them.
The fun wasn’t over, though, because, once you’ve claimed your gift, you then exit into an indoor funfair area, complete with rides, stalls etc. Again, Max was a little bit too young for most of this, but Terry suggested he might quite enjoy a ride on one of the merry-go-rounds, which is how I came to find myself crammed into this:
But he seemed to enjoy it, and that’s the main thing, right?
Maybe next year we’ll get those well-lit, non-blurry photos I was hoping for…