DUNCAN Leatherdale and family were among the first passengers to be transported to the North Pole on a County Durham railway.
ON a cold, dark winter’s night, going for a ride on the Weardale Railway dressed in my PJs was not too appealing.
But, layered in our thick dressing gowns, myself, my partner Stacey and her two children Kelsey, 12, and Holly, ten, found ourselves enjoying a magical evening of festivity, frolics and, despite one or two teething problems with the sound system, fun.
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We boarded at Stanhope station and, after a slight delay, were whisked away through wintery Weardale, our destination being The North Pole - somewhere near Harperley.
Each of the ten carriages had its own conductor and fleet of singing and dancing chefs who not only served the hot chocolate and cookies, but also carried illustrations up and down the aisle while a recorded actor, who sounded a lot like Liam Neeson, read out the story of the Polar Express.
It is a lovely story about a boy who is starting to question the reality of Father Christmas, but has his eyes opened and his beliefs reaffirmed by a magical journey to the big man’s hometown at the North Pole.
The trip itself is quite an adventure with a ghostly hobo who preys on the youngster’s doubts, the kindly but quirky conductor and the band of other innocent children all dressed in their pyjamas and fluffy dressing gowns.
The Weardale Railway is obviously limited in its ability to recreate the drama and action - no frozen lakes or deep crevasses to traverse - but the staff go all out to ensure the magic isn’t lacking.
They sing, they dance and they cheer as the train makes its way towards the North Pole.
The railway follows a very scenic line along the bottom of the valley floor, but in the dark, you really could be anywhere.
Seeing nothing but the occasional twinkling light in the distance visibly heightened the excitement of the younger passengers - and this older one - who really felt as if they could be cruising over land masses and frozen seas towards the home of Father Christmas.
Then the excited chattering became higher pitched squeals of excitement as word reached us that the North Pole was in sight.
Children craned their necks, faces pressed against the cool glass, eager to catch that first glimpse of the winter wonderland.
Trees blazing with lights lined our path, a great series of archways points us towards the town filled with towering buildings all bedecked in bright bulbs, and in the middle of it all stood Santa beside his sleigh.
Some more light so we could see the shadowy elves waving at us would have been nice, but we soon got a close enough view as they boarded the train.
The ride back was again filled with excitement as Father Christmas gave bells from his sleigh to those who believe.
Arriving back at Stanhope we were in fine festive spirits – just a shame we have to wait for six weeks for the day itself.