FATHER Christmas arrived at a Nantwich garden centre in style last week, having swapped his traditional mode of transport for a horse and carriage.

Santa switched his reindeer and sleigh for a replica wagonette carriage pulled by a spotted Appaloosa horse as he arrived at Bridgemere Garden World.

Centre manager Gary Kemp said: "Santa told us he’s resting the reindeer to ensure they are fit and ready to travel the world over and deliver presents for children on Christmas Eve.

“That is why he decided this year to swap Rudolph, Donner, Blitzen and the other reindeer for a horse-powered mode of transport in the run up to December 24 because he has such a lot of ground to cover to see the millions of children who visit his grottos before Christmas.”

The wagonette is based on the traditional horse-drawn Victorian carriages first built in England in the 19th century.

They became fashionable because people believed they were endorsed by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, and remained popular well into the 20th century.

The horse, 15-year-old Hugo, and carriage are owned by John Wilmot, who runs Dalmatian Carriages in Prestbury in Cheshire.

Six-year-old Kirsty Fraser from Nantwich accompanied Santa to the garden centre after winning a competition to be his little helper.

Children aged between six and 11-years-old were asked to write in and explain why they deserved to help Father Christmas and what skills and experience looking after people they could bring to the role.

Gary added: “We thought that Kirsty’s hand written letter was really good.

"She is a lovely youngster who is always lending a hand to her teachers and was very deserving of the prize.

“Kirsty received VIP treatment and accompanied Father Christmas to his grotto.

"She was also the first child inside the grotto – having extra time to spend with Santa.”

Santa will now be in his grotto during the countdown to Christmas. Admission is £5 and includes a present.

Proceeds will be donated to the Royal National Institute of Blind People.