Last weekend, we decided to take T to see Father Christmas for the first time. We’ve never thought about doing it before as not only was/is T not keen on people in costumes, but Santa’s Grottos can be very expensive and, if I’m honest, a baby/toddler is probably not going to really appreciate the sentiment.
This year, however, T is very much aware of who the man in red is and is incredibly excited about Christmas – making it the perfect time to finally meet him in person! It wasn’t long after this that we then saw an advert for Amberley Museum on Facebook. It looked really magical and had decent reviews. Plus, we saw that they had a train that took you to see Father Christmas.
With this fact alone, we were sold.
Based near Arundel, West Sussex – about 40-45 minutes from Brighton – Amberley Museum is a heritage site dedicated to the industrial side of West Sussex. This sounds pretty dull on paper, but when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised!
Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side that day but that didn’t stop us exploring – especially as the museum was so beautifully decorated for the event.
After buying our tickets, we made our way through the reception / gift shop and onto the main courtyard. This is where we found a number of buildings; from the Wireless Exhibition to The Bus Garage and Fire Station. There was also a large canteen that housed their cafe as well as a barn with a small craft fair inside. Outside there was a gorgeous hole punch style music box that was playing Christmas music and a vintage bus that was taking passengers to various locations.
We arrived around 10:30am which was perfect timing as our train to The Big FC was at 11am so we had a walk around the Wireless Exhibition; which displayed a variety of domestic and professional communications equipment – some dating back to the war. I found this really interesting and even remembered seeing a few of these contraptions in my Grandparents living rooms! Some were even still in working order.
If you’re a fan of the Fallout games – these will definitely look familiar!
Just as we were leaving, our train was coming into the station. Making it time to go meet Father Christmas. Travelling on the Narrow Gauge steam railway, you’re taken to Brockham, which is a few minutes up the road from Amberley. The train was nicely decorated and made the experience that bit more magical.
Arriving on the train, it wasn’t long before we saw the elves greeting us and a familiar white hand waving from a very steamed up window! Walking into the grotto, there was bright lights, a cozy fire, and the most beautiful tree. Stood in front of the fire was then Father Christmas himself.
Within our group were 10-12 children with their parents as well as a couple of wheelchairs, but we managed to squeeze ourselves in and, actually, having everyone in the room like this made it incredibly cozy.
Father Christmas (which was a really decent looking one if you know what I mean) gave the children a little talk about being kind to one another and then reminded them to go to bed early on Christmas Eve. Looking at everyone, they were completely glazed, including T who had been a little nervous to enter the room at first but eventually made his way to the front to sit with me.
After everyone had been given a gift and a photo opportunity we then made our way out. Typically, just as we were leaving, T was then more than happy to have a chat to Father Christmas.
After a short walk to the next ‘village’ of Cragside we arrived at further exhibits and museums, including what I think is a hidden gem; Electricty Hall.
This exhibit hall tells the story of electricity through a variety of displays and interactive pieces, and is probably where we spent most of our time! The main route takes you through the history of domestic and industrial appliances, along with displays on renewable energy and magnets, but right in the middle of the exhibit tells you about electricity itself, and on the hour every hour is a show on power – with a fully working, large Tesla Coil.
In regards to the interactive pieces, Amberley Museum have really gone to town with these. T’s favourite was the plug board – which took Sharon back to the days with her grandparents – and the light switch display, but there’s also lots of other experiments to take part in around the exhibition. All interactive pieces are marked with a sign of a hand which made it easy for T to see what he could and couldn’t touch.
Trains Trains Trains (and buses!)
After spending almost an hour here, we slowly made our way out and onto the final exhibit before some lunch; the Railway Exhibition. As you would expect, this is where several older gauge trains are housed for renovation or through retirement, but there’s also lots more to see.
This is really lovely area as there’s a children’s corner (with working whistle!) for them to play in, as well as lots of wide corridors for them to run around.
After negotiating with T who had attached himself to the Brio table, we made our way out and towards the Bus Stop, just as the bus was arriving, as we’d found ourselves quite hungry by this point. It had also started to rain so we decided to forgo the small walk back to Amberley, but on a better day we will absolutely take the walk back as the trail takes you past the Southdown Bus Garage, the Village Garage, and the Fire Station.
Looking at them as we drove by, we were actually quite sad to have missed them as they looked really interesting. It’s absolutely something T’s grandad would have enjoyed!
The last two museums on site is the Connected Earth hall and Paviors’ Museum, but one of them was being used to send actual telegrams to Father Christmas which T didn’t want to wait around for and the other we decided to save for another day, as by this time the smell of mince pies from the Food Hall was too much. It was time for some lunch.
The Food Hall is surprisingly big and is possibly a new addition, as everything looked really fresh. There’s lots of tables to eat at and we were welcome to eat our own food along with a purchase, however the only disappointing thing was that the menu wasn’t too expansive during our visit. There were a selection a children’s lunch boxes, as well as cakes, crisps, and hot drinks, but the only hot food were chips, a small Christmas dinner, or soup. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was because of the Christmas event – but if it isn’t then this was the only downside to the day. I perhaps would have liked to have seen some other meal choices or maybe a bigger selection of hot food; such as sausage rolls.
Nevertheless, we treated ourselves to a bowl of chips each – which were lovely – and a warm mince pie and hot drink. This filled us up nicely ready for the journey home as by this point the rain was really coming down and there weren’t many indoor exhibits left to look at. When we return, our first visit will likely the nature trail as well as the play park as T was quite sad he couldn’t do them. If you want to know what else is at Amberley Museum, you can check out their map here.
Cost-wise, we paid £20 for two adults and £8 for T for the day including the Christmas event and additional rides on the train and bus, which I think is excellent value. On normal working days, from March until October, tickets are £12.50 per adults and £7 per child (£6 per additional child) which, again, is impressive considering what you get during your visit. We had such a lovely time at Amberley Museum and even debated becoming members.
The 40 minute trip from Brighton is well worth it and there always seems to be something going on; from talks to tours. The volunteer staff are also incredibly friendly and welcoming – they really made our day special. In the summer, I imagine it’s quite a sight to see all the vintage cars out on display – sadly they were tucked away from the rain when we visited – and the nature trail looks like a lovely walk to break the day up. We honestly can’t wait to return in the Summer.