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Mother Shipton's cave and the petrifying well

Mother Shipton’s is a beloved Knaresborough landmark and England’s oldest visitor attraction, open since 1630. A picturesque mile-long walk along the River Nidd features the cave where famous Yorkshire prophetess Mother Shipton was born. Mother Shipton was born Ursula Sontheil in 1488, during the reign of Henry VII.

She was a strange child, both in looks and in nature. Her nose was large and crooked, her back bent and her legs twisted. Just like a witch. She was taunted and teased by the local people and so in time she learnt she was best off on her own. She spent most of her days around the cave where she was born. There she studied the forest, the flowers and herbs and made remedies and potions with them.

As well as making traditional remedies, Mother Shipton had another gift. She could predict the future. It started off with small premonitions but as she practiced, she became more confident and her powers grew. Soon she was known as Knaresborough’s Prophetess, a witch. She made her living telling the future.

When she was twenty-four she met a young man by the name of Tobias Shipton. He was a carpenter from the city of York. Tobias died a few years later, before they had any children, but Ursula kept his name, Shipton. The Mother part followed later, when she was an old woman.

Curiosity has drawn millions of visitors over hundreds of years to see the cascading waters of the Petrifying Well turning items to stone.

People around the world visit to learn about Mother Shipton and the park, a remnant of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough with some of the oldest, tallest beech trees in the country. Many visitors return years after an initial visit, bringing their children and grandchildren.

The attraction welcomes dogs and is proud to be ‘great for all the family’. There’s fun for families in the adventure playground, interactive actors during events, and petrified objects displayed in the museum and gift shop. The target market during term-time is seniors and adults with an interest in history and heritage landscapes. The park is transformed during school holidays, becoming a haven for families and outdoor fun. Mother Shipton’s encourages educational school and group visits, with the option of a guided tour.

The Petrifying Well is England’s oldest visitor attraction. It was first recorded by the king’s antiquary in 1538 and has been visited by millions of people since 1630. It is here that you can watch every day objects turn to stone. Compared with a stalactite or stalagmite, the items petrify very quickly – a small teddy bear takes around 3-5 months.

For many centuries people believed the water had miraculous healing powers. In the early 1600s samples of water were examined by a medical physician. His report concluded that the waters from the well were a miracle cure for “any flux of the body”! Visitors also noticed that the side of the well looked like a giant’s skull. 

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