Elf Wood: Why this Yorkshire couple fell in love with running a Christmas tree farm

Elf Wood is a family institution at Low Crankley.

When a North Yorkshire couple took it on two years ago, having returned from fifteen years in the south of France, they soon realised its emotional attachment to the people of Easingwold.

Husband and wife Andrew Mercer and Emma Pickles had been used to property renovation projects in Uzes and had been anticipating another but instead found themselves with a popular Christmas tree farm and the locally famed wood.

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Andrew, whose father David Mercer had been an agricultural lecturer at the Easingwold satellite centre of Askham Bryan College and had later been a farm manager at Salton, said he suddenly found his life coming full circle back to his teenage years on the farm.

Andrew and Emma Pickles at Dawnay Christmas Tree Farm, The Old Barn, Low Crankley, Easingwold

“Emma and I had thought we would start over again with a new project, as we had done twice in France, which would mean living in muck and dust for the first few years, but then we found The Old Barn here at Low Crankley.

“The deal put to us and others was whoever bought the property also bought and ran Dawnay Christmas Tree Farm that has been here for 40 years, which was started by the Padgett family who are still synonymous with it. Everyone around here still knows their name.

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“Such are the family ties from those who come here every year for their tree and to bring their children that customers had told the previous owners they had better not sell to somebody who wasn’t going to carry on the Christmas tree business.

Andrew and Emma Pickles.

“It turned out we were not just buying a property, and also not just a business, but a lifestyle and what has become an annual festive occasion for all the family.”

Emma said the Christmas trees and Elf Wood has given them more than they could ever have imagined in terms of immediate friendships and a place in the community.

“This has given us instant life. We have been able to get to know people straight away and the thing that is really great is that everyone who comes is happy to be here. Elf Wood is something very special. It is where local people have been bringing their children and grandchildren for years.

“Hearing the happy noise as visitors go through the wood looking at the elf characters and animals is just addictive.

“It can’t help but make you smile and feel as though you are a part of the Christmas spirit. We are told that children used to drive their parents mad at home until they were allowed to come through Elf Wood.

“It’s such an institution no matter what the age. There’s one family that comes to just run around it about five times, as fast as they can. It’s their thing. It’s all about creating memories and now with social media such as Instagram it seems to be getting even bigger.”

Dawnay Christmas Tree Farm, Elf Wood and Emma’s newly timber-floored Christmas Shop with a brand new sign ready for its debut, painted by Andrew, is now all starting to take shape for Andrew and Emma, and locals should have no fear over its future.

Andrew said the Christmas trees are his primary concern, as well as looking after Elf Wood and adding to the experience, and that many of their customers have stuck with the Norway Spruce as their choice of tree rather than the non-drop Nordmann Fir.

“We have 15 acres in total and there are around 3,500-4,000 trees in the three-and-a-half acre plantation opposite The Old Barn, where Elf Wood wraps around it. We plant new trees to replace those that we cut each year and plant around 650 trees a year.

“The traditional Norway Spruce Christmas tree is still very popular. We grow around 50/50 of the Norway Spruce and Nordmann Fir. The reason our customers go for the Norway Spruce is because it smells like a Christmas tree.

“Christmas trees are incredible things. It really is an all-year round concern. As well as planting new trees you also need to be on top of them all the time to make sure they are growing properly.

“The Norway Spruce will typically put up three or four leaders, but when a customer buys a tree they want it to be cone-shaped with one leader.

“We are constantly in the field looking for where those trees are putting up more than one. We shape them up in March and in September we go around to trim them up again.”

One addition that Andrew and Emma have found extremely useful has been a small flock of rare breed Shropshire sheep loaned from Lyn Arrowsmith of nearby Raskelf Rare Breeds.

“The competition the trees have is weeds, thistles, nettles and grasses all wanting to grow up through the Christmas trees and Shropshire sheep are renowned for being Christmas trees’ friends.

“They don’t eat the bark, but they will eat everything else. They will get down on their knees to get under the trees to eat.”

Andrew and Emma have found that the whole of October is devoted to getting everything shipshape for the end of November. Emma said it is all handled by just the two of them.

“The stock for the shop has arrived by then and everything needs pricing up. I make floral arrangements. Andrew makes wreaths.

“We place everything ready for visitors in Elf Wood. Andrew has been making lots of new things for this year. Our customers like to come here for a walk around the field and to tag the tree they have chosen.

“They don’t come just to buy a pre-wrapped tree. We are a destination venue. Customers come to choose a tree, have it cut, wrapped and taken to their car, they go into Elf Wood, look and hopefully buy in the shop, enjoy a coffee or a mulled wine and a mince pie. Our sister-in-law runs a pop-up coffee shop.

“It’s just the best atmosphere. We love it.”