Reginald Farrer

Nature Boy: Ingleborough Cave Commemorates Area’s Most Famous Son

by Northern Life


Ingleborough Cave
Reginald Farrer as a young boy
Photo: Farrer Collection

One of the real must-see attractions of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the dramatic limestone spectacle of Ingleborough Cave. Thousands of visitors flock to the area each year, taking the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail in order to tick off some of the county’s most beautiful and iconic natural landmarks.

As well as the cave, there is Gaping Gill, the UK’s most famous pothole and a staggering nearly 100 metres deep, the limestone gorge of Trow Gill and Ingleborough, the formidable mountain that acts as the third and final summit of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for many an eager and weary participant.

With all this natural beauty on show, it is no wonder that locals should grow up with a keen thirst for all things to do with the Great Outdoors. And that was certainly true of Reginald Farrer. Born in 1880 and brought up in Clapham, the village nearest to the cave, his family still own the Ingleborough estate. Reginald went on to become a world renowned writer, plant collector and botanist. He developed an interest in plants that could survive in rocky and harsh environments, little wonder considering the limestone landscapes he was treated to on his doorstep as a child. In fact, Farrer brought exotic mountain plants back from his travels around
the globe and introduced them to the estate at Ingleborough Hall.

The Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail is dedicated to this former famous inhabitant of the area and events are being planned for 2020 to commemorate 100 years since his death. With this in mind, let’s look into the life of this Yorkshire globetrotter and find out more about the legacy that will be celebrated in this most beautiful part of the world this year.

The Farrer family settled in Clapham, nestled between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Forest of Bowland, in the 18th century, establishing themselves as major landowners. Their Ingleborough Estate expands in all directions around the village, taking in moors, fields, farms to this day.

Reginald was born in 1880 and, due to undergoing multiple operations on a cleft palate in his youth for which he was branded ‘a weakly lad’, he was educated at home at Ingleborough Hall, giving him ample time to explore the rugged and breathtaking scenery around his family’s home. At ten-years-old, his botany career had already begun and by 14 he had created his own rock garden in a disused quarry. Oxford University beckoned, where he honed his skills and developed a thirst for international travel that he looked to quench as soon as he graduated in 1902.


On a quest to discover new Alpine species, he trekked to mountainous areas of Europe as well as east Asia, including Korea, China and Japan. Some of the fruits of these adventures can be seen along the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail, including rhododendrons and viburnum. If you are planning a trip to Farrer’s boyhood home this year, between late April and early June is typically the best time to see the rhododendrons in their full glory.

Reginald Farrer’s work earned him the nickname The Patron Saint of Alpine Growing and he formed a series of strong opinions about their display from his regular journeys around the planet. These informed his many books about the topic, a host of which are still regarded as important tomes to this day. His most successful book was My Rock Garden, which was published in 1907
and remained in print continuously for four decades, long after he passed away in 1920.

Even as he climbed the lofty heights of the mountain ranges of Italy, France and Switzerland, and ventured to far-off lands such as Ceylon and Tibet, which would have seemed like another planet to most of Farrer’s compatriots at the time, he always had his mind focused on the UK and, most importantly, Yorkshire.

He was inspired by the idea that he could introduce the specimens he found way up in the highlands of these mysterious far flung destinations to the gardens of Britain. He founded the Craven Nursery with some of the samples that returned with him from his travels. Its speciality was to sell Asian alpines from its premises in his beloved Clapham and did so successfully until the financial crash of the 1920s.

Farrer left diaries filled with joyous recollections of flowers and plants that he had come across during his work. On a primula in full bloom, he wrote, “the rapture of these moments! …I was so flustered with delight that I could only sit and chew on the cud of it.” Now, there is a man who loves his life’s work.

This is why his descendents and many others aside will commemorate the 100th anniversary of his passing during 2020. To keep alive the memory of someone who changed the look of this gorgeous part of the world in his own small way. Someone who was inspired to learn more about the sorts of plants from the other side of the world that would complement this place of outstanding natural beauty and who wanted to share his discoveries with the world.

A series of events, including a Commemoration Day on Saturday 17th October, marking the exact 100th anniversary of Reginald Farrer’s death, a Reginald themed garden party at his childhood home of Ingleborough Hall, and a talk with Alasdair Moore from the Gardens of Heligan, had been planned for 2020, but due to the COVID pandemic they have had to be postponed. The organisers hope to rearrange for 2021, so join the mailing list on Ingleborough Caves website to stay tuned.

If you decide to combine a trip to the Reginald Farrer events with the gruelling, but exhilarating challenge of climbing the Yorkshire Three Peaks, another Clapham institution has developed an excellent way to mark your achievement and help contribute to the upkeep of these stunning natural delights. Glencroft Countrywear has created a limited edition Three Peaks lambswool scarf, woven in a traditional Yorkshire woollen mill from 100% lambswool and with all profits from sales going to the Yorkshire Dales Three Peaks Project. This supports the maintenance of paths and combats erosion on Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent.

This part of the world is a mustvisit for anyone who loves getting acquainted with the natural worlds. The renowned fell walker and guidebook illustrator, Alfred Wainwright, described this route up Ingleborough from Clapham village and through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail as “the finest of all, a classic”. And that has not diminished over the years; Ingleborough Cave, the Nature Trail and surrounding areas have been awarded the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for an amazing sixth year running. Reginald Farrer would be proud.