Beautiful decorated lights on poles illuminated the night sky in Alresford last Friday as the town’s first Christmas Lantern Procession ended at the station for the launch of the Watercress Line’s Steam Illuminations trains.

The procession, organised by Stephanie Swann, proved popular with residents. After the first lantern – a green train led by a guard waving his green flag – reached the station, it took more than four minutes for the whole line to file in behind.

Folk band Shantyhead played to greet the marchers, who had started from Perins School at 5.30pm and walked along Jacklyns Lane, West Street and Station Road, with a rolling road closure to help them on their way.

With everyone assembled outside the station, Watercress Line chief executive Rebecca Dalley gave a speech thanking them for taking part in the procession and welcoming them to the launch of Steam Illuminations.

There was time to buy a pizza, pie, Christmas cookie, hot chocolate or mulled wine, and have pictures taken in front of the station’s Christmas tree, before the train arrived bearing the passengers who had enjoyed the first 20-mile trip from Alresford to Alton and back, which had departed at 4.15pm.

Most people were happy to see the train from the other side of the safety fences but some made their way on to the platform for a closer look, including a large group who posed for photos with their lanterns next to the train.

Anyone expecting a quick departure would have been disappointed, as cleaning the train, unloading the leaving passengers, encouraging the new ones to embark and stoking the fire with more coal for the next journey took some time.

But finally, at around 6.55pm, the door to the footplate on Southern engine 506 was closed and a loud blast on the train’s whistle signalled its farewell to the remaining enthusiasts.