FAMILIES were left wondering whether Santa had ridden into Swindon on a model train, as the Richard Jefferies Museum celebrated Christmas.

The Coate Water museum laid on crafts, cake and shadow puppet theatre for youngsters at the sell-out event.

Parents praised the day for offering an alternative to “neon” grottos elsewhere.

Organiser Mike Pringle said: “You name it we’re doing it. We wanted to do a Christmas event that was a bit different to the standard.”

The whole house and grounds was taken over by the event.

In the woods, engine drivers from the North Wilts Model Engineering Society dressed in their best hi-visibility jackets and Christmas hats to take visitors around the tracks on two sit-on trains.

Inside the house, a grotto gave children a chance to draw their own angels

An art sale offered “Bah Humbug” punk tree decorations, paintings of landmarks around the town and stunning hand-carved wooden spoons.,

And, at the very top of the house, children queued for a chance to see Santa, heavily padded against the December chill.

Speaking to the Adver, “Santa” said of the museum: “It’s a hive of activity all year round and I’m very happy to come down from Lapland.”

Jill Carter was helping children draw angels and write their Christmas wish letters in the grotto room.

The artist had created an “alternative” nativity scene especially for the event, including “Wise Women” and a papier-mache shepherd complete with painted-on sunglasses.

She said the grotto, where children were not handed plastic toys, was “about encouraging the imagination”.

Outside, families crowded into the museum’s barn for a retelling with shadow puppets of Clement Moore’s classic poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas.

Organisers said that they had sold out of tickets for the event and expected at least 140 to descend on the museum despite the drizzle.

Parents praised the Christmas festival.

Gemma Grainger, 33, whose baby boy was dressed in an elf jumper for the afternoon, said: “It’s good – it’s quiet and there are no queues.”

Kirsty Mattock, 34, said her girls had enjoyed the outdoor train ride and spotting squirrels: “It’s just nice to do something different.”

Kate Daniels, 38, added: “It’s a bit more traditional. There’s a really lovely community spirit around here. It feels really ‘Swindon’.”

Organiser Mike Pringle said that the Christmas event was still a far cry to how nature writer Richard Jefferies would have celebrated it in the 1800s.

“There was a lot of rural poverty around this area then,” he said.