Last spring, I planned a trip to Yorkshire (England) with accommodation in Harrogate. (You can read about my time in Harrogate here.) In the morning of the second day, I visited Mother Shipton's Cave and Petrifying Well. This tourist attraction was first recorded in 1538, but it was known for its petrifying properties much earlier. It is the oldest recordered tourist attraction in England, and it is located in the town of Knaresborough (near Harrogate). To find out more about this Petrifying Well (and what it is) and who Mother Shipton was, keep reading below. I found my visit fascinating, and this story has started so many legends and stories that date to popular culture today.
We arrived just before the attraction opened in the morning. The main gated entrance allows cars to enter to drive through and park along the banks of the River Nidd. The patrifying well and cave is then a short walk through the woodland. The petrifying well can be seen from the river if hiring a boat on the river, but you would have to leave the boat unattended and we wanted to look around and enjoy ourselves. Also, parking is included in the fee and there's quite a lot to see in Knaresborough.
The walk through the woodland is a pleasant one. The beech trees and woodland were planted and sculptured in 1739 and dubbed 'The Long Walk'. It was planted for the visiting gentry. Along the way, there were information boards and sculptures made of wood. I saw many sculptures and faces carved into the wood, and one large fallen log was pounded full of thousands of coins. A close-up is above.
All along the walk, we followed the river and took in excellent views as we climbed the hill. On the other side of the river from here is the Old Mill. It was built in 1791 and was a cotton mill, but a paper mill was located in its place previously. In the early 1811s, it manufactured excellent-quality textiles for the royal family. It closed in 1972, and it was converted into flats.
Finally, we arrived at the top of the hill and above the Petrifying Well itself. The water from a spring on top of the hill (pictured below) has trickled down, creating pools of water on the top before it cascades into a waterfall below. According to the information boards, it has taken 6,000 years to create the petrifying well, and the formation is similar to that of a stalactite that forms in a cave. The 'Dripping Well' was its first name, and it has been famous for centuries. In 1538, it was written about by Henry VIII's staff, who would have been well aware of it and knew of the powers of the water turning items to stone.
The spring on the opposite side og the footpath runs underneath the footpath, and this is where the magic starts. The spring is from an underground lake and travels about a mile away before breaking the surface along a porous layer of rock called 'Aquifer', which contains the minerals (calcite) that are taken with it. The minerals are then deposited, creating this large mound of pools and allowing the water to trickle down into a waterfall, carrying more calcite with it.
On the other side of the mound, the hill descends and splits so that we could walk underneath the mound of rock that we saw above. We looked on in awe at the rock-face and waterfall as it cascaded down onto items that were in various stages of pertification. This, of course, happens over time. The water trickles down and deposits the minerals onto the items hanging in its path and eventually covers them in stone.
The bicycle was the first item to be noticed. I tried to identify other items hanging up too. Many of these had been here for awhile, and some were recent additions. The strands of rope with many items on them were stuffed teddy bears. These are changed regularly and left to turn to stone, and they are sold in the gift shop.
The Petrifying Well was regarded by the townspeople of Knaresborough as a magical place, and they would not go near it for fear of turning to stone. Perhaps someone noticed that items around or near the pool of water had become stone. By the 1600s, the water was examined by someone in the medical field and deemed to carry healing powers.
In 1630, the attraction was sold, and it was opened to the public as the first tourist attraction. Their items were left to be turned to stone, and some items are visible in the shop. Others have become a part of the large rock-face. In the image above, the mounds sticking out from the rock-face were traditional hats or bonnets of the time. The Victorians were obsessed with the Petrifying Well. They would also petrify dead animals. These items became sought-after curiosities.
I identified skates, a sock, a cap, a trophy, a hat, a cup, a watering can, and a lobster. I could not identify all of the items.
After visiting the petrifying well, I walked along the back where there is a small cave and a spring. This is known as the 'wishing well' and visitors make a wish. The well has been credited to making wishes come true. Mine did! The wish must be made properly and according to the instructions. Many people return to make another wish.
After staring at the items being turned to stone, we listened to commentary about Mother Shipton near her cave. In the image below, my back is to the petrifying well, and Mother Shipton's Cave is located on the left. The cave isn't much except a shelter, and it contained a dummy Mother Shipton. Mother Shipton was born in the cave in 1488, and she was named Ursula. The mother had the baby out of wedlock and would never tell anyone who the baby's father was, so she was kicked out of Knaresborough and lived in the cave with her baby and drank from the waters here.
When Ursula aged, she became regarded as a legend and a powerful witch. She is said to have forseen the Great Fire of London in 1666 (as it was recorded in Samuel Pepy's diaries). Many of her prophecies are deemed to have come true, and there's a prophecy that the world will end if the bridge into Knaresborough falls in. (There's actually a pub on the other side of the river called "The World's End" based on this prophecy.)
Mother Shipton was regarded to be hideously ugly, even as a baby. The traditional 'witch' appearance with the pointed chin pointing upward and crooked nose almost meeting her chin actually started with her.
After looking at the cave, I walked down this beech-lined walk to the museum.
Unforunately, some of the beautiful beech trees had been damaged. This one became a wooden angel.
The museum is at the end of the walk. The museum had examples of petrified items and also had sections on local history, including one on Guy Fawkes who lived near Knaresborough. The petrified items on display in the cases were interesting to note as many had famous connections, and others were very old. Below is a parasol dating from the 1890s and made with beautiful lace.
In the case above, the different types of rock around the petrifying well are included. The item near the foreground is a twig that had turned to stone without human help, and people a long time ago would have come across items such as this or a dead animal.
Queen Mary's shoe is pictured above with other items. Also on display in one of the cabinets were items by modern-day celebrities and the souvinir bears. One exhibit shows the bear at different lengths of petrification. After three to five months (depending on the water flow), the bears were totally petrified. This means the waters carry so many minerals.
Have you visited Mother Shipton's Cave or the Petrifying Well? If not, I recommend it.