"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 23 September 2016

Yorkshire Holiday - Tuesday, 13th September - Part 2: Mother Shipton's Cave and the Petrifying Well

After walking round Knaresborough and exploring the castle ruins we visited Mother Shipton's Cave and the Petrifying Well - England's oldest visitor attraction.

The park and woodland you walk through alongside the River Nidd is a remnant of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough. In 1630 Charles I sold the land to Sir Charles Slingsby and his family created the park and walks. Trees in the woodland include hornbeam, oak, beech and ash - some are 300 years old.

Apologies for the quality of some of the photos, particularly near the cave and well, it was very dark and gloomy (no wonder it has a reputation of being haunted!) and I was getting very slow shutter speeds.

A mill was constructed in 1791 (no picture neither D or I thought to take one!) replacing a much older paper mill. The weir (do have a photo of this see below!) was built to control and send water to the mill's wheels. The mill was latter converted to spin flax and today has been converted into luxury flats.


Dead tree trunks have been used to carve faces and figures.

The spring which supplies the Petrifying Well with mineral laden water.

The roof of the well

The Petrifying Well is a unique geological phenomenon and millions of people over the centuries have visited the cave to see the water turn objects to "stone". The well was first recorded in 1538 by John Leland (King Henry VIII's antiquary). In the years prior to this people thought the well had healing powers and the ill and dying were brought here to bathe in the pool and drink the water. Sir Charles Slingsby eventually began to charge people for guided tours. Items turn to "stone" due to the very high mineral content of the water. A small teddy bear takes between 3-5 months and larger items up to a year.

As you look back at the well as you walk to Mother Shipton's cave - you might just be able to make out a "Giant's Skull" in the rock - I struggled!!!

The wishing well

Mother Shipton is England's most famous prophetess. She was born over 500 years ago in this cave near the river during a violent thunderstorm. Her real name was Ursula Sontheil. Her mother was only 15 and, because she refused to tell people the name of the baby's father, was banished from the town and took refuge in the cave. Mother and baby lived in the cave for a couple of years until the Abbot of Beverley heard of their plight and tried to help. Ursula was taken in and raised by a local family and, sadly, her mother was sent away to a convent in Nottinghamshire dying a few years later. Ursula returned to the cave often learning about flowers and herbs and how to make healing potions. She married a local carpenter called Tobia Shipton and as she grew older began to have visions and premonitions which came true. She predicted the Great Plague and Fire of London - the latter prophesy being mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary. Mother Shipton died in 1561, aged 73.


After visiting the caves and well we walked along Beech Avenue to the museum. The avenue contains some of the tallest beech trees in the country. Their location in a gorge has allowed them to grow unusually straight. The oldest trees were planted in 1739 by Sir Henry Slingsby and trees lost recently due to disease or old age have been replaced.

The museum contains information on Mother Shipton and

contains various items given over the years by celebrities which have turned to "stone".

I haven't had time to try and identify this fungi growing around beech trees but, knowing the problems I have with fungi id, it is likely to remain unidentified.


I loved this fairy carving.


Metal sculpture of an owl - spotted at the side of the road as you leave Harrogate on the Skipton Road.

A ploughman's for tea :)

We had a tremendous thunderstorm lasting for well over an hour later in the evening. Lightning and thunder were all around the cottage accompanied by torrential rain and strong winds. It was quite a sight!

The next post will include a visit to an abbey, a church and a rather terrifying river feature!

*D - photos taken by David with the Canon SX50 HS


Rosie said...

Looks a weird and wonderful place to visit I've never been there but I always remember as a child being fascinated with the petrifying wells at Matlock Bath. The photos are wonderful and it was interesting to learn more about Mother Shipton and her real life which sounds very sad at times. Love the owl sculpture and the ploughman's lunch looks tasty:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks Rosie - it was a fascinating place if a trifle eerie! Someone else mentioned the petrifying wells at Matlock to me on Twitter - I don't think I've heard of them before - presumably the same geological conditions. It is sad reading about some of her life according to the guide book she was quite an ugly child with a hooked nose, bent back and twisted legs and had to walk with a stick and she was teased by other children :(

I am still hoping one day to see the moth which is named after her! - forgot to mention that in the post!

Wendy said...

I did enjoy reading this. This place does look as though it has an air of enchantment about it. I loved finding out about Mother Shipton, I'd heard of her but didn't know her story. The carvings look great and it's lovely hearing that there are many the old trees there.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thanks so much :) Yes, you are right it did have an air of enchantment about it all. It was so interesting too and the woodlands were very lovely even if they were a bit dark and gloomy!

Toffeeapple said...

It all looks very spooky and unsettling to me. Those poor Teddy Bears! Such a sad story too.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks - yes, I felt sorry for the teddies too! Yes, it was spooky there and very gloomy which I supposed added to the atmosphere!

amanda peters said...

Another lovely town, last few times we have been we have taken a boat out on the water. There are some amazing buildings in the town too. We usually park up top near the castle.
We passes the Owl on our way to Lightwater valley last month.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - thanks so much Amanda - I would have liked to take a boat out (too much to do and too little time!). I couldn't get over the Rackhams/Marshall and Snelgrove type shop my great-aunt Olive had she still been alive would have been in raptures over it!!! :) Glad you saw the owl - we went past it several times and D managed a photo on the last drive past!!!!

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Sorry Amanda - getting confused the Rackhams shop was in Skipton!!! I'd forgotten what post I was replying to your comment! I liked Knaresborough the best of the towns I think. Brian is going to try a water colour painting of the viaduct :)