THE steam rising from Ecclesall Woods signalled the return of a Sheffield Christmas tradition.
Miniature trains were running again, and for many families, it is part and parcel of the run-up to the big day.
For the past two Sundays, they have been riding on up to ten steam, diesel and electric engines thanks to the Sheffield and District Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.
Running the two tracks - one elevated - around the woods off Abbeydale Road South is the most high profile of their work, and there were big family turnouts on both weekends for their Santa Specials.
“It was fantastic,” said committee member Mick Savage. “If the first Sunday gets a good turnout because it is fine then the second Sunday doesn’t usually have a high attendance. But it was very good this time.
“There was a Christmassy atmosphere, and everybody was enjoying it. We tried to give them more for their money. We haven’t put the fee up for four years. We have a sort of exit pool and people seemed happy with the experience.”
When open days are held on other Sundays, a charge of £1 is made for each train ride. For the pre-Christmas runs, admission of £7 offers unlimited rides, a gift and refreshments.
All proceeds are ploughed back into the society, which is over 100 years old and is dedicated to promoting its hobby through building and operating steam and other types of powered models - by invention, experimentation and tool making. It has links with model engineers in the UK and abroad.
It has been based in a old council tree nursery in Ecclesall Woods since moving from Chelsea Road, Nether Edge, in 1978.
Driven by a love of trains and engineering, volunteers continue to develop the site - a carriage shed is currently under construction - although there is no room to extend the track because of land ownership issues.
Running the railway is only part of the society’s activities. Enthusiasts work on everything from stationary and traction engines to clocks and boats, holding workdays and organising talks.
Most members are retired - “but we have a good contingent of younger lads,” said Mick, who has steam in his blood.
“I had a couple of uncles who were steam engine drivers and an uncle who made miniature steam locos.
“I like building steam engines - I’m building one now - and running a miniature railway is what really interests me. We enjoy the public runs because we think it gives pleasure to families. We think we give good value.”
All members who carry the public on their trains have passed the appropriate driving test, and there is now a gap until they are in action again. The next open day is on Sunday, March 3.
So far they have been fortunate with the weather for the Santa Specials. “We have never been stopped yet, although we have finished early. A couple of years ago we dug through two feet of snow. The atmosphere was fabulous.”
lMick Savage can be contacted on 236 9002.