Nestling against the River Nidd in Knaresborough, you will find a virtually unique phenomenon in Mother Shipton’s Cave. So named due to it being the birth place and home of the most famous resident of the town, Mother Shipton herself. In 1488 a young frightened child of 15 years old had been hauled before the magistrate of the town to name the father of her unborn child. Steadfastly refusing to name the father, and defying the magistrate in the process, young Agatha Sontheil fled to the cave next to the river. She knew the spring would provide her with water and the surrounding woodlands gave a plentiful source of food. During a ferocious thunder storm, Agatha gave birth to a baby girl she named Ursula.
Ursula was not blessed with good looks and her rounded shoulders and twisted back led many to belief that she herself was a witch. Having been raised for most of her childhood by a local family she would often return to her place of birth to escape the constant taunts she would receive and it was here she discovered her gift for predicting events of the future. Her reputation grew to such an extent that even the court of King Henry VIII sent the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Northumberland and Lord D’Arcy to quell her predictions that were beginning to threaten the power of the King. In typical stubborn Yorkshire-woman style, Ursula refused to retract any of her prophecies and hit back by dishing out a few more, especially for the three ‘guests’.
In her mid twenties she married a local Tobias Shipton, a craftsman by trade. However, their marriage was a short one lasting approximately two years. The brevity of the marriage ensured that rumours of witchcraft started to circulate once more.
Despite never having children, Ursula gained the title of ‘mother’ or ‘old mother’, which was commonly used to refer to the oldest woman in a village. Hence the legend of Old Mother Shipton was assured its place in history.
The petrifying well takes approximately three months to turn an item into stone. You will see all manner of items hanging from the line in the dripping waters of the well.
Years ago, it used to be possible to take your own items to be turned to stone, however this is no longer possible due to the overwhelming demand.
Some items are available from the gift shop, but items that have been petrified with a connection to a celebrity can be found in the museum at the end of the walk. The range of items is diverse ranging from Queen Mary’s shoe, to John Craven’s sock and even a hat personally owned by John Wayne.
When visiting the cave ad petrifying well, don’t forget to pay a visit to the wishing well, but make sure you read the instructions carefully. You must dip only your right hand into the water and your hand must be allowed to dry naturally. Do not be tempted to wipe it dry otherwise your wish will not come true.
Unlike other wells, leaving money (which is donated to charities), is not compulsory for your wish to come true.
However, if you dare to remove any money from the well, you are destined to receive nothing but bad luck.
Old Mother Shipton’s cave is set in a beautiful part of the town. It’s riverside walk provides some breath taking views with plenty of places to stop and have that family picnic in comfortable surroundings.
Allow yourself a good three hours to wander through the well kept grounds, view the spring, the petrifying well and along the managed walks. Oh and remember, when you buy a ticket, it is a day ticket. Hang on to it if you nip into the town centre because you can enjoy the river walk all over again from the other direction. Old Mother Shipton’s Cave, a highly recommended attraction.