Visit The Reindeer Centre and grotto in Bethersden
PUBLISHED: 12:11 17 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:12 17 December 2019
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Farmer Sandra Fagg adores Christmas and now she and husband Mike run their own reindeer centre and grotto
The Reindeer Centre in Bethersden near Ashford, is a popular visitor attraction loved by children, but it's also one of those places that has something to offer people of all ages.
The centre owes its origins to Sandra Fagg, farmer and owner, who explains: "Having been a huge fan of Christmas ever since I was a little girl, one day in the middle of 2005 I thought how lovely it would be if we could have a reindeer to visit the farm at Christmas for a family treat."
However, Sandra discovered that at that time the UK's only resident reindeer were based in the Cairngorms in Scotland and it was immediately apparent that the distance made it impossible for them to visit Kent.
Talking to family and friends who shared her enthusiasm, she started to consider having reindeer on the farm permanently.
Her vision came to life with the purchase of two large male reindeer - Twinkle and Star - from a local zoo. Things developed quickly when friends suggested Sandra's husband, Mike, should make a sleigh and dress up as Father Christmas.
The idea of a grotto quickly followed and a small one was made out of an old shed. Children came to meet Father Christmas and the reindeer and receive a small gift. So began the creation of the Reindeer Centre.
Set in 40 acres, as a result of a successful breeding programme the farm now has 90 reindeer. Being herbivores they graze all day and in the evenings have access to a large barn, where they are fed specifically balanced pellets. This, plus hay and straw and permanent access to fresh water, fulfils their needs.
Sandra says: "Reindeer are laid back and gentle which makes them easy to look after and delightful to be around."
What began as a dream has grown and developed and today this family run business is popular with visitors at designated opening periods throughout the year, but it is Christmas that remains very special.
The grotto experience, which this year opened on 16 November, is open every day until Christmas Eve. When the children arrive they choose whether to go to the Winter Wonderland play barn first or visit Father Christmas.
The fake snow in the barn is very popular with adults and children who enjoy playing snowballs; the large sandpit area, which contains a wooden fort, also gets a lot of use. The small bouncy castle in the soft play area is set up to be fun and safe for the under-fives and is much loved.
Paying a visit to Santa is a one-to-one experience and each child is given time to chat about their Christmas list with Santa and his helpers. They then receive a present before walking through the 150ft grotto which incorporates animated characters depicting seven different Christmas scenes. Twinkling lights help to set a magical scene.
As if this wasn't enough, the centre also has other farm animals, including sheep, goats, llamas and donkeys - and very amusing meerkats. The popular reptile area has a wide variety of species including bearded dragons, iguanas and giant tortoises.
Did you know?
Reindeer (from the Old Norse word 'hreinin' which means 'horned animal') were used for their meat, milk and skins by communities in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Alaska, Mongolia, Greenland, China, Canada and many other parts of the north for hundreds of years.
Today Laplanders continue to herd reindeer. They are excellent draught animals and are used for this purpose today. During the Second World War the Russians used them to help transport injured soldiers.
Reindeers' association with Santa is said to have begun with the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, written by the American Dr Clement Clarke Moore in 1822.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.'
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.'
The names given to the reindeer, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, still resonate today but the most famous of all - Rudolph, aka Santa's ninth helper - didn't make his appearance until 1938.
That in itself is a heartwarming story: nearly-destitute, Bob May, an advertisement copy writer, wrote the book for his four-year-old daughter whose mother was dying from cancer.
The copyright was bought by Bob's employers, Montgomery Ward, and the book went on to achieve remarkable success.
A few years later his employers returned the copyright to Bob in a genuine gesture of what Christmas really is about. Bob became a millionaire but more was to follow; his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, a successful songwriter, set the story to music and Gene Autry was the first to be persuaded to make a record.
The rest is history. Bing Crosby, famous for his recording of A White Christmas, is said to have turned down the opportunity to be the first to record Rudolph!
Although excellent swimmers, reindeer sadly cannot fly but they are very fast and can cover the ground at up to 50 miles an hour. And they really do have red noses. Scientists discovered that reindeer have a large network of capillaries that carry blood through their noses, so helping to keep them warm and incidentally making their noses a cheery Christmas red.
Get in touch
The Reindeer Centre, Capralama Farm, Pluckley Road, Bethersden TN26 3EQ
01233 659338, www.reindeercentre.co.uk