Christmas 2013: The real thing - or will you fake it?

Blackburn Citizen: James Begley with his trees James Begley with his trees

AS families across the country feel the pinch, some Christmas traditions formerly taken for granted are now considered a luxury.

But in East Lancashire’s rural outposts, Christmas tree farms thrive by offering a variety of firs, pines and spruces.

We spoke to two businesses doing their best to maintain tradition.

James Begley branched out into the Christmas tree trade by accident, almost out of desperation.

James, 59, runs The Christmas Barn in Barrowford with his wife Brenda, 56. He said an urgent need to ‘diversify’ led him to start selling Nordmann firs at their 60-acre Higher Park Hill Farm 12 years ago.

“We were unlucky in that the M65 came right through the farm in the 1980s. We lost land, then there was foot and mouth and BSE,” he said.

“We had a livery yard for horses and we were in dairy, bottling milk, but we gave it up. Christmas trees were a diversification project for us.

“It’s proved to be very successful and it’s kept the farm ticking over.”

The Begleys, aided by their son, Sam, import trees, mainly from mid-Wales. Each winter they receive around 600 Nordmann firs, Fraser firs and lodgepole pines, ranging from four feet in height to 20 feet.

“Some people seem to know exactly what they want, but we get lots of customers who have never bought a real tree before,” said James.

“Customers come from all over. We have people from Settle, Keighley and Manchester every year – the M65 has been useful in that respect!

“We have families who come here year after year. The youngsters remember it, it’s a special visit for them.”

While the Begleys concentrate on November and December, for some Christmas tree sellers it’s a year-round job.

Chris Day, 41, runs the British Christmas Tree Company from his parents’ Mead Croft farm in Clitheroe Road, Whalley.

His firm has grown some of its own trees for 20 years. They take up to eight years to come to fruition, and any trees imported come from within the UK.

But despite shifting around 1,000 trees each winter, Chris insists it’s not a safe trade.

“They are luxury items now, which is difficult. Christmas trees used to be a by-product of the forestry industry, but now the whole thing is very professional.

“Fortunately we haven’t noticed much a difference in sales, despite places like Ikea or B&Q selling them cheaper. ”

For both men, there is no doubt as to most customers’ main reason for buying a real Christmas tree – the smell.

Chris said: “When you’re eating your Christmas dinner and you’ve got the tree adding to all of those scents, that’s what Christmas is about.”

Mr Begley agrees. “The gorgeous fragrance of a fresh tree is unbeatable. You don’t need plug-in fresheners with a real tree around.”

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