• By Amanda Blackburn.

Coventry's Reindeer Ride!

When I was a child one of my favourite things about Christmas was going into my home town of Coventry and riding the sleigh ride to go and visit Santa at the North Pole. We used to visit during the Christmas holidays and were always one of the first to arrive for the opening time of 10am. My mum, myself and my older sister used to get up quite early and take the bus into town. My dad was usually at work so he didn't always join us. Whilst we waited for the bus it always seemed so cold and crisp creating winter smells that will always remind me of this special day.

When we arrived at Coventry city centre I remember walking under a little subway and making our way to the co-op shop on Corporation street. The co-op was such a magical shop with so many different things inside, toys, clothes, ornaments, carpets, curtains, electricals, furniture and food, just about all you could need was in the store. The store had its own distinctive smell of fresh evergreens from wreaths and fresh-cut trees and of course the smell of tinsel that I can't describe but it is quite distinctive.

When we were inside the shop I remember my mum holding our hands, reminding us to keep our hands to ourselves and not to break anything. There were so many beautiful ornaments and gifts stacked on high and low-level shelves, as my mother escorted us to the till to purchase our tickets I looked around and wanted to touch, but dared not. We collected our tickets from the lady at the till on the first floor and then made our way following the signs for The North Pole down the windy stairs to the basement where all the toys were kept.

Feeling so excited I looked around the room and there in the corner of the shop was the magical door, hidden behind some long thin sparkly tinsel with a lady stood in a Santa hat waiting to take us on a magical adventure to the North Pole. There was always a queue, even though we had arrived at opening time, my mum has since told me it was usually only 15 minutes, but as a child, it always felt longer to me. As we moved towards the door the lady kindly asked to see our tickets and we went inside.

I can't remember exactly what was through the doors before we got on the sleigh when it was in the basement, I just remember the ride. It was dark inside and we had to sit on little white benches, it was always very warm on board which I always thought was strange as we were flying to the north pole and I thought the North Pole was cold. Whilst waiting on the ride for it to get moving I remember our clothes had tiny white flecks on and our teeth, eyes and anything white glowed, my mum told me it was magical dust that helped fly the sleigh. The lady then shut the door and told us that we could all help the sleigh to get moving by singing along to jingle bells that started to play in the background. I was always a bit shy to sing to start with but when everybody else did I soon joined in.With jingle bells playing we were off and flying through the sky, past our house and my school, watching the beautiful magical white glowing reindeer bobbing up and down and flying us to Father Christmas.

After what seemed quite a while the music came to an end and the ride came to a stop. Were we there yet? feeling extremely excited the lady told us all that we had now arrived at the North Pole and we had to make our way through the door. We were always last out as I had wanted to sit at the front near the reindeer, so once out of the door and down a few little steps we had to form a queue in this small snowy looking corridor. I could hear Father Christmas talking to the other children but I couldn't see him along the corridor. Feeling warm, excited and a little bit anxious to meet the man in red. I waited quietly, what was I going to say to him? would I have to sit on his knee? what present would I get? After all my over thinking we were soon at the front and it was our turn. Father Christmas was sat on a big throne and he was smiling at us, I pushed my sister forward and moved slowly behind her. He asked us our names and we answered smiling, he said that because we had been very good girls he had a present for us. He had two large sacks at either side of him, I assume one sack was for boys and the other for girl's, as there were not really unisex toys back in the day . Father Christmas then reached into one of the sacks and he handed each of us a wrapped present. "Thankyou very much", we both said,as he held one of each of our hands in his. His hands felt big and his gloves felt soft, his twinkling eyes always looked familiar and reminded me of my grandad so I instantly felt safe and comfortable. Father Christmas asked us both what we would like him to bring us on Christmas eve reminding us that he would visit our house once we were fast asleep. My mum always thanked Father Christmas and promised that we would leave him a glass of sherry, a mince pie and some carrots for the reindeer. We then had to say our goodbyes and make our way through another sparkly door. It was simply amazing, the door was magical and it took us back into the shop with all the toys, this always reminded me of the series Mr Benn where he went through a magical door to another world. We were then allowed to unwrap our present and see what was inside. I cannot remember all of the presents that we got over the years but I do remember a dolls milk bottle that made the milk magically disappear when it was tipped upside down. I can also remember a hairdresser set with a battery operated hairdryer, the smell of the air from the hairdryer when the button was pressed will always remind me of father Christmas. We have one at home and I'm often caught smelling it like some weirdo!

The reindeer ride has continued to make wonderful family memories over the years as I have visited every year with my children. Even though technology has moved forward and you can now visit Father Christmas in so many wonderful ways, this is always my children's favourite. We have even visited Father Christmas at Seaworld Florida on the polar express, which was amazing, but the old classic will always be our favourite. My now 6-year-old is very observant and worked out the different door last year, but this year he just went along with the magic and enjoyed every minute. When we visited with our children in the co-op the ride was moved to the first floor and although it was different to me it still had the same magical experience to my children. My daughter says her visits remind her of the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe and the door was like the wardrobe door that took you to Narnia.

Last year the co-op was closed and I was so worried that the ride would have to come to an end, but luckily it was moved to the Transport museum so it can continue to make memories for many years to come!

The ride was a permanent fixture in the Society’s Corporation Street store since 1956.

The Heart of England Co-operative’s sleigh ride entertained children in Coventry for nearly 60 years. Luckily when the co-op was closed last year the ride found a new home and was relocated to Coventry Transport Museum, in Millennium Place, city centre.

Led by Santa and his reindeer, the ride creates the illusion of being flown through the air to Lapland, where children are then greeted by Santa in his grotto. If you have never visited the reindeer ride then I advise to give it a try, The Transport Museum is a great place to visit so you could enjoy a full day out. If you have also experienced the co-op reindeer ride, what was your favourite part, I would love to hear your experiences, please post them in the comments bar below. Thank you again for taking the time to read my blogs! xxxxx


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