Pumpkins on t'Hill: Why Ripponden Christmas Tree Farm expanded to open a pumpkin forest for Halloween

A pumpkin forest is the most recent addition to the ever-expanding market for the squash that is inextricably linked with the rise of Halloween in the calendar, and it is a West Yorkshire family that has come up with the novel idea.

The Mothersdale family have diversified into a pumpkin patch

Jeremy Mothersdale started Ripponden Christmas Tree Farm when he put his first trees in the ground in 2007. He now has 7,000 trees and has built a successful business at Hole Head Farm, Eccles Parlour, near Ripponden.

Jeremy’s daughter Lucy and her partner James Stopford came up with Pumpkins on t’Hill using the Christmas trees together with pumpkins to create a second experience and build on what Lucy describes as the strong community spirit that has grown over the years among those who come down to choose their trees.

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“James and I have been involved with dad’s Christmas trees for a number of years and the pumpkin forest is us bringing our ideas to the table and offering something different. It’s free to come and you just pay for your pumpkin. It really is like our own community when it is Christmastime and this will hopefully add to that.

They have created a pumpkin forest among their plantation

“It’s something we’d had in mind for a while. Last year it seemed the pumpkin world boomed as people were looking for more outdoor activities during the pandemic. We are now offering that something more that makes an additional season for us.

“We researched it by visiting several other pumpkin patches where people were either growing them themselves or buying them in as we are. Some were much more commercial than ours will be. We are focussing on the pumpkins rather than building lots more around it, because of our size, but we are giving people a really nice, pleasurable morning or afternoon out.

“The pumpkins are based down each aisle of the Christmas trees, either side and with the big trees, it is like walking in a forest for the children. We’ve built some scary scarecrows and it’s all about having a bit of fun.”

Lucy said they have tried to create a unique place that offers families a new experience, one that they can enjoy, relax and create memories.

Halloween is expected to be as busy as Christmas

“Apart from country walking and rambling there is nothing else like this in the Ryburn or Calder valleys. Other pumpkin patches are all a good hour away. When families arrive they will choose their wheelbarrow and off they will go down the trail of the pumpkin forest collecting their pumpkins.

“At the beginning of the pumpkin forest we have made a large wooden photo frame with Pumpkins on t’Hill at the top and we’ve put together a gorgeous scene of straw bales and pumpkins stacked where visitors can take part in a nice photo opportunity.

“We have some special activities. On Sunday October 24 we will have a pumpkin carving day which is the only ticket-only event while we are open and is available to book on our Facebook page.

“During half-term week we will have opportunities to paint a pumpkin and pumpkin hoopla and at the two half-term weekends there will be facepainting, but the rest of the time it is a lovely walk through our Christmas trees and picking your pumpkins. It will be great to see our Christmas tree customers at other times of the year and perhaps come up with even more activities among the trees.”

Jeremy left behind a world of transport and distribution to take on Hole Head Farm with his wife Jane in the noughties. He said his business hasn’t had a year of going backwards in income or volume since he started.

“We set up a retail side within a year or two of putting our first trees in the ground, buying in trees while ours grew. It helped with our development, understanding our customers’ needs and how to do retail.

“Ours isn’t a farm in the traditional sense of cereal crops or livestock. It is more a smallholding sat on about five acres of which three and a half are down to trees. This was a grazing field when we came and we let it for horses at first and for Lucy to have a pony.

“I left my previous career in 2006 and we started planting mainly Nordmann Fir trees the following year. We plant around half an acre to an acre every year replacing where the trees have been taken. Whatever has been cut down is replanted the following spring. It’s a mixed species, mixed age plantation, and we don’t just have trees cut down in one specific area.”

Over the past few years demand has outstripped supply. Jeremy said he has had to buy in even more to meet demand. “

Last year people were itching to get at Christmas because of the year we’d all had. Whether it will be quite so explosive this year remains to be seen.”

Pumpkins on t’Hill is open Friday to Sunday 15-17, 22-24 and all week October 25-31.