Looking after an historic 2,000 acre estate is no easy matter. Catherine Scott spoke to Susie and Peter Grant about how they have turned part of their home into a Christmas Adventure.
Walking through the Enchanted Wood at Stockeld Park you are transported into a magical world.
The intricately lit angels hovering ethereally above the mirror lake, the blue owls peering down from the tall trees, the wire sculpture lion and unicorns watching your every move, are just part of this Christmas experience.
But this is no Christmas theme park. This is Stockeld Park Farm. The home near Wetherby of the descendants of the Foster family, founders of the Black Dyke Mills.
Stockeld is now the home of Peter and Susie Grant, their four children from previous marriages and their 12-year-old daughter, Phoebe.
The Christmas Adventure is the reality of the couple's dream. What started as farming diversification 20 years ago into growing and selling Christmas Trees, has flourished into an unusual attraction from October to January, complete with an ice rink, the longest artificial Nordic ski trail in Europe, an illuminated maze and a caf.
"It is always a challenge maintaining an estate of this size," says Susie, who married Peter in 1991.
The Grants are a very hands-on couple and looking for solutions to the many problems of maintaining a Georgian home and a 2,000 acre arable farm is something they take very seriously.
"You accrue a lot of skills by looking after an estate like this," says Susie, who admits it is all about teamwork.
"Peter and I complement each other. I am good at design and can visualise how things will come together. That's my strength. Peter is very practical. He's good on the computer as well as being very inventive."
About 20 years ago, when farming started to get really tough, Peter Grant decided to diversify into growing Christmas trees and quickly became one of the biggest growers in the country with more than 500,000 trees.
When they decided to start selling to the public, the couple realised they needed to offer more to attract customers to buy from the estate.
"People are used to buying their trees from garden centres where there are other things on offer, so a couple of years ago we opened a little shop selling baubles and other Christmas items and it seemed to go down well and more people started buying trees."
Then Peter, a bit of a frustrated inventor, suggested they should have an artificial ice rink he had been reading about.
"I wasn't sure, but we went to see the only one in the country which is on a pier in Wales and they were very pleased with it."
The ice rink had its first year at Stockeld last year and proved a roaring success.
The couple had always felt they could develop the woodland on the estate into a Christmas attraction, but Susie says she wanted it to be in keeping with the feeling of the estate. They applied for a grant from DEFRA which they hoped would help to fund their ambitious plans.
"I had always wanted to do something with lights and animals, but it had to be in keeping with where we are. We didn't want illuminated Father Christmases and snowmen, it had to be tasteful."
But Susie soon discovered it wasn't that easy.
"It was unbelievably difficult to find the type of thing I wanted for the woodland. All the things you could buy were very gaudy. And then I read in a newspaper about a sculptor who made wire mesh sheep and dogs for people's gardens."
Susie went to see the sculptor, Barry Sykes, to see whether he could make her vision come true. While Barry had no problem making the animals Susie wanted, she was stuck with the problem of how to light them.
"We tried putting LED lights around them, but that didn't work. And then one of my stepsons suggested painting them with ultra violet paint and light them with a UV light."
The result is 28 glowing wire sculptures, including unicorns, angels, a lion, red dragon, a pack of wolves and a stunning Snow Queen.
But then the couple received a blow. Despite filling out grant forms, DEFRA told them they had run out of money and could not help with the project.
"We had a huge dilemma," says Susie. "Do we forget about it and cut our losses, or just keep going? We decided to be brave."
With help from their sons and their friends, the Enchanted Woodland was illuminated using six miles of cabling and thousands of lights. More illuminated animals, this time LED light sculptures from China, takes the number of sculptures to 100. Young set designers were called upon to create Repunzel's tower, Snow White's cottage and Cinderella's giant pumpkin.
"The great thing is that we have involved a lot of young people in the project," says Susie.
If they had not taken on enough, Peter, a keen skiier, decided he wanted an artificial cross-country ski trail through the Enchanted Wood and not just any ski trail – it is now the longest artificial trail in Europe at 1.4km.
"If we'd been sensible, we would have stopped there, but we aren't sensible," says Susie.
The family decided to create an illuminated maze in the shape of a snowflake, this is in addition to the Christmas shop and ice rink, bar and caf – and, of course, Santa in his grotto.
"It's been a very hard year, and everyone is exhausted, but we are thrilled with what we have created. It has been a wonderful experience working with such a group of young and talented artists to make this a reality," says Susie.
For more information and opening times visit www. thechristmasadventure.co.uk
Set in 2,000 acre estate
480 sq m skating rink
250 pairs of skates
1.2km of synthetic ski carpet
150 pairs of skis
Over six miles of cabling
Over 100 illuminated sculptures
Illuminated maze made from 2,500 yew trees
Maze has over one mile of paths and 12 gates