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Big news and a regular dose of magical inspiration for family days out at Stockeld Park!

The Stockeld Story – How it all began part I

Since first opening in the Christmas of 2006, the Adventure Park at Stockeld Park has welcomed some two million people through its doors. In that time the park has grown beyond all recognition, garnering many headlines, awards and one Guinness World Record along the way!

This is the story of how it all began…

When you walk through the main entrance to what is now the shop, you are entering what used to be a riding school, the floor covered with sand, the walls lined with old mirrors and the rafters full of pigeons and other roosting birds. Generations of children learned to ride their horses there, and the school hosted dignitaries as renowned as Princess Anne, daughter of the Queen.

Step out of the shop and onto the carparking field and here you are standing on the green of what was once Sicklinghall Cricket Club, a local village team that now plays as part of the Wetherby League.

In those days, if you wanted to buy a tea or coffee or delicious bun at Stockeld Park, you had to head up to the main house itself, where a tearoom ran for many years out of the mansion’s sprawling subterranean cellar. The café also hosted a shoe-shining service, where the shoes and boots of the family living in the mansion house were lowered down for cleaning and taken back up again using an old winch and pulley!

The lake around which the Enchanted Forest now runs was not open to public access, and nor was a single light to be found. Instead the water was set about by some half a dozen dens, used for duck flighting when the season was right.

So then, much has changed! But why did the Adventure Park first come to be? Many of you who have visited Stockeld over the years, and even lots of you who haven’t, will be aware that Stockeld Park grows Christmas Trees. Lots of them. In fact, more than 10 per cent of the 2,000-acre Stockeld Estate is given over to growing almost half-a-million Christmas Trees, an area the equivalent of 100 full-sized professional football fields. And it is not just Christmas Trees grown on the Estate; Stockeld is also home to several working farms to this day.

Before the Adventure Park opened its doors, anyone who wanted to buy a Stockeld Christmas Tree had to do so from the central court of the old stable yard, part of a complex of buildings that sits adjacent to the mansion house. Farming was going through a bad patch and Stockeld was keen to sell more trees, but how?

The first move came in 2004, when the decision was taken to move the Christmas Tree outlet from the stable yard to the riding school. Peter Grant, the Park’s owner, acquired a plastic floor to cover the surface, and the following year a small wooden chalet was erected inside the arena to serve as the Park’s first Christmas shop. The little shop proved very popular, and sowed the seeds in the minds of the park’s creators for something more substantial.

When Peter and his wife Susie first told their friends of their ambition to build an outdoor attraction in Yorkshire in the middle of winter, their friends told them they must be mad. “Outside? In England? In mid-winter?!” The Government clearly agreed, and the rural diversification grant that Peter and Susie applied for to support the project was duly refused. The decision was taken to go ahead anyway, but the delay from the grant application had taken so long that there was only a matter of weeks before Christmas to get anything built.

Planning permission had been granted for an extension to the riding school, in which now sits the main café, and a small skating rink adjacent. Construction began in September under the supervision of Henry, one of Peter and Susie’s five children, whose professional qualifications for the task could be listed as none whatsoever. Anyone familiar with the children’s story Mrs Wobble the Waitress, in which she decides to turn her house into a café in just a day or so, will be able to picture the scene! In six weeks, Peter and Susie, working with a superb local builder called Tony Mann, managed to design, build, fit and finish a café, shop and skate hand-out booth all in one building. The rink itself was originally not ice but plastic, inspiration from a visit to the UK’s only other plastic rink at the time on Mumbles Pier in South Wales.

Doors opened on 14th November 2006, amidst great uncertainty and trepidation about how many people, if any at all, would come. There had been no focus groups or professional marketing campaign, and it was the fear of many, and the belief of more than a few, that the whole enterprise was doomed from the start. Peter, however, was certain it would be a success. What followed was to prove him right beyond his wildest imaginings. That first Christmas, more than 20,000 people turned up…

Look out for part 2 of how it all began next week!

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