You may ask, “What does it take to own, and run, a maize maze?” The answer, according to Tom Pearcy, owner of York Maze—one of the world’s biggest maize mazes—is this: farming know-how, entrepreneurial flair, and an enduring, lifelong interest in crop circles.
We talk to Tom about his inspiration for opening the maze, how he chooses the theme each year, and what he has planned for the year ahead.
An “A-maize-ing Crop-ortunity”
Tom Pearcy comes from a farming family. Growing up, he wanted to be a farmer. And before opening York Maze, he was running his own farm in Suffolk. But then, in 1997, he came across a sign that intrigued him, a sign that read “maize maze.”
Ignorant to the concept of a maze of maize, Tom followed the sign. He commented: “I had no idea what it meant; so I followed the sign to find a farmer sat in a caravan next to a cornfield. He had hardly any customers—and he said that he wouldn’t do it again—but it planted a seed within me that grew into York Maze five years later.”
In 2002, Tom had an opportunity to open a corn maze near York. And in view of his encounter five years earlier, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. “I’ve always had an artistic side, tempting me to creative pursuits, and an interest in crop circles,” he remarked; “so when I saw a ‘crop-ortunity’ to open a corn maze, I couldn’t resist.”
Outwardly, the difference between owning a farm and owning a maize maze is only slight. But under the surface, the two businesses couldn’t be further apart. Tom said: “I don’t think you could find more polar opposite businesses!” He added: “Farmers spend most of their time alone in a tractor, whereas running a maze is forward-facing: you need to meet customers, market your product, and set your own prices. I’ve had a lot to learn!”
Making the Maize Maze
York Maze has a new theme every year. This year’s theme celebrates the Mr. Men and Little Miss 50th anniversary, and Tom has tasked visitors with finding six characters from the popular children’s books hidden amid the maze. Previous themes include Lion King, Star Wars, Roald Dahl, Yorkshire Legends, and many more.
Asked how he decides on a yearly theme, Tom said: “I try to find something that’s relevant or celebrating an anniversary. But it also needs to be accompanied by an image that works as a maze—something that will look good from above, too.”
Tom himself creates the design for the mazes. His design is uploaded to a satellite navigation device; and then—once the maize has grown to around 6 inches in height—a tractor and cultivator are used to create the maze. He said: “It’s pretty nerve-wracking: you only get one chance to get it right, and it’s done at such a scale that you have no idea if what you’re doing is right until you fly over.”
Tom explained that once the maize is over one foot tall it “generally looks after itself.” He added, though, that there is a considerable amount of daily maintenance work once the maze is open, due to people breaking the plants. “They are surprisingly fragile and if we don’t keep on top of it, the field starts to look like a hurricane has been through.”
Once summer is over, the crop goes to Tom’s neighbours’ Jersey cows.
This Year’s Maze, and the Year Ahead
Tom is looking forward to welcoming back everyone who wanted to come to the maze last year, but couldn’t when it was closed due to Covid. He said: “We’re looking forward to showing visitors our fantastic new theme this year, celebrating the Mr. Men and Little Miss 50th anniversary.”
Apart from the Maze, Tom’s favourite attractions are the new Crowmania trailer ride and the House of Cornfusion. “They’re both attractions I created,” he said, “and there is nothing like them anywhere else in the country.” This year, there is also a special end-of-the-day show called Cornival to look forward to. (Tom said “it’s a-maize-ing!”)
Looking to the future, the team are hoping that their award-winning Hallowscream and Hallowtween events will go ahead in the autumn.
Tickets will be on sale very soon. Tom added: “We are considering various other exciting plans—so watch this space!”
Tom’s main goal in the year ahead, though, he told us, is simply to enjoy what he does!
York Maze is open daily from Saturday 17 July to Monday 6 September.
This is only seven weeks and, to manage visitor numbers, tickets are limited.
Book online at www.yorkmaze.co.uk.