One foot in farming for Knowles family's modern Ingbirchworth outfit

Robert Knowles pictured on his farm Ingfield Farm, Ingbirchworth. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Robert Knowles pictured on his farm Ingfield Farm, Ingbirchworth. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Twenty breeding ewes, a couple of alpacas and a pair of llamas aren’t exactly the livestock farming numbers that used to be resident at Ingfield Farm in Ingbirchworth between Holmfirth and Penistone, but the sheep at least allow Robert Knowles to keep one foot in the farming world.

The Knowles family has farmed here since the 19th century when Robert’s great grandfather Charles William Knowles bought two farms – Ingfield and Willow Farm – for his two sons.

Robert’s grandfather Henry started at Willow but then swapped with his brother.

Today, Ingfield Farm is better known as a caravan and camping site with 50 pitches, wonderful views, excellent walks and a pleasant family holiday in the countryside.

Robert points out he has swapped mucking out for cleaning out toilets, while his mum, Cynthia, looks after the bookings.

“I’ve always wanted to farm and I’d be a farmer tomorrow,” says Robert. “I worked on it as a child, picking potatoes and rounding up sheep, when we had 140 acres and had cereals, cows and sheep.

“It went down to around 80 acres due to death duties and mortgage payments. I came back here after I was made redundant from my job as a steel fixer in a construction company in 2009.

“The site has grown ever since and last year was our best yet, particularly helped by the good weather.

“When I’d left school there wasn’t enough here on the farm. That’s why I had to get another job.

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“I still enjoy my livestock and the idea when I came back home was to get the caravan and camping going bigger than we had been and then hopefully build the farm back up, but it’s not working out that way as the site has taken over.

“‘We started a site in 1980 when a chap who had taken on a few caravans was retiring and asked if dad wanted to take on his trade.

“We had a five-caravan site at first and then it got to the point where everyone wanted to come.

“Dad had said, just before he died from cancer, that mum and I should put in to upgrade to a bigger site and it took off. Last year was phenomenal.

“People like a cheap break, but most of all they like a break in the countryside and although we are not far from Barnsley people like to come even just a few miles to get away. We have one customer who lives just up in the village.

“He says that he comes here because if he was at home he would find something to do whereas here he can relax and if he’s forgotten something he’s only two minutes away.

“We’ve spent quite a bit on new toilets and showers and we have 40 electric hook-ups. I remember when dad was alive we’d have countless cables running out of the barn.

“Our visitors include a lot from Barnsley and Wakefield who just want to get away without going too far from home, but we also have people from America, who don’t understand how drystone walls stay up, and from Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

“They generally find us, book in for one day but end up stopping for two, and then go off up to Scotland.

“On their way back down they stop here again. They love the views. We also have four reservoirs nearby, so it is great for walking and dog walking.

“There is a big dog culture in Britain now and sometimes it seems as though we have more dogs on the site than we have people.

“That’s led to us keeping the hens in a separate area rather than letting them wander the camping field as they used to.

“‘The site has taken over our lives. It would be nice to increase the sheep numbers from the twenty Texel and Charollais X breeding ewes that we lamb in March and April but realistically that’s not going to happen any time soon.

“We now rent out much of the farmland to a farmer who takes silage from it.

“It’s all grass now as we gave up with cereals about four years ago after one of those summers that never happened and harvest was in October.

“We upped our game with the site to save the farm and we have some great people who keep coming back time after time and who have become great friends.

“I met my wife, Donna, through her mother staying with us and we have two boys – Tom, 15, and Stefan. I’d known Donna years before. We married last year in the Lake District. I also have two daughters from my previous marriage.”

Cynthia wasn’t from farming stock. She was a legal secretary in Holmfirth, Penistone and subsequently Huddersfield until she retired over 20 years ago.

She also helped her husband, Gordon, on the farm but remembers one time when they fell out.

“I had to do my share on the farm. I couldn’t drive but my husband once made me go harrowing on the tractor. I’d never done it before, but I got on and then he’s shouting at me telling me not to look here and look there.

“So, I got off in a mad ‘hig’ and said ‘right, you do it then!’ I sat under the wall and he walked home. When he’d gone I got on and did it.”

Cynthia and Robert now work alongside each other and are looking forward to next weekend when Penistone Show takes place on Saturday.

“We used to show tups and my father and uncle showed Shire horses,” says Robert.

“Donna does a lot of craft work including needlework for the show. Penistone Show is good for our trade coming when it does because it is usually quietening off in September towards the end of our season.

“The Transpennine Way that runs along here goes straight to the showground. Once we’ve everyone booked in, I’ll probably pop down.”