Back in December 2014 my sister Emma and I arranged for us and our families to have a pre-christmas meet up at Belton House in Grantham. We did not realise then that we were starting an annual tradition!
My sister and her family live almost two hours away from us which means with busy lives we don't get to see each other anywhere near as much as I would like, especially as my niece and nephew are growing up fast. As a result the time we get together is precious and now it feels like christmas just wouldn't be christmas without our trip to Belton House. This year we were having trouble finding a day we were both free, it has to be a Sunday as Tinker is at her dad's every Saturday, my niece and nephew both had cross country races, we had booked for Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and at one point it looked as if we just weren't going to be able to manage it. I have to say I was absolutely gutted and fortunately managed to rearrange our plans so that we were free on 18th December, the only day Emma could make it – phew! Emma made the call to book us a Santa visit and that was it, it was happening.
It is always a lovely relaxing day, we meet up around midday, have a little wander around, go and have some lunch in the cafe and then go for a long walk around the grounds, which are really beautiful. There is a maze which the kids love running around in (and us adults too, though turn me around twice and I am hopelessly lost), a lake and boathouse, beautiful views and fields full of deer. Our kids all get on so well despite the differing ages and they have such a great time together that there are never the usual grumps and strops that accompany us (in fact, maybe I should just take my niece and nephew everywhere with me as they certainly seem to have a magical effect on Tinker!)
It has become a tradition for me, Mr T, Tinker and Totsy to have our photo taken in the same spot every year, although the first year Totsy was still a bump! This year the tree where we normally sit is being specially protected, so we stood in front of it instead, and though it was quite difficult to stop Totsy from wandering off we still managed the photo. As you can see, Totsy has changed quite a bit!
We were booked in to see Santa at half past three, and when we arrived at the stables there was just a short wait. To keep them occupied the kids wrote notes about what they would be doing at Christmas and pegged them up on the wall and we read through the grotto rules for elves, while Milly and Nathan amused themselves taking selfies on my phone.
The big man himself was great, it's a lovely rustic setting and he had plenty of time to chat to the kids. Tinker was much more confident than previous years, asking for a singing Anna doll and a non-singing Anna doll to go with her existing Elsa dolls, while my niece and nephew were a bit more ambitious wanting a laptop and an iPod, but fortunately (unlike last year) there were no unexpected last minute requests to invoke panic in us parents (there is nothing like the horror you feel when your child suddenly asks for something at the last minute that they have never even mentioned previously!!)
When we headed outside it was just beginning to get dark and there was carol singing going on outside. The kids all collected a singing sheet and joined in (Totsy may or may not have immediately scrunched her carol sheet into a ball then wandered off….)
After a bit of carol singing (more giggling than singing if I'm absolutely honest) we headed to the cafe for hot chocolate and mince pies while the kids played in the soft play area (because their older cousins were busy running after Tinker and Totsy we managed to actually drink our hot drinks before they were room temperature and have an actual conversation that wasn't in twenty second sound bites in between dashing into the ball pool to stop Tinker bouncing balls off Totsy's head, or dashing to the top of the high slide where Totsy is teetering at the top, which let's face it is the usual joy at soft play!)
Before we knew it, it was time to head home. We stopped for a few photos on the way back to the car, watched the lights projected onto the front of the big house (quite impressive) then said our goodbyes and reluctantly headed off in different directions.
See you next year Belton House!