History was forged here, predictions made that none would dare challenge...
Who's heard of Ursula Southill? No? All right, who's heard of Mother Shipton? (more hands shot up there). Right, for an extra point, what's she known for?
Right again. It was her predictions that she became famous for. She was known as a 'sooth-sayer'. She foresaw that "Carriages without horses will go, and accidents will fill the world with woe". Doesn't that send a shiver down the spine? Modern communications:"Around the world thoughts shall fly, in the twinkling of an eye". Phones, Internet etc... Is that enough for you? There might even be something about 9/11 in there somewhere. That got you going, didn't it. Her 'home', Mother Shipton's Cave has been open - with the petrifying well - to the paying public since 1630.
One prediction she made that was really taken seriously was that, should the bridge (the Low Bridge) ever fall into disrepair, it will herald the end of the world. His lordship did not wish to be held answerable for that, whatever other misdemeanours he might have been responsible for! On the strength of her other forecasts, this was indeed a hefty threat to heed. The bridge has been well maintained ever since, naturally.
That's enough for the history punters. We're here for a walk, aren't we. Start at the Conyngham Hall car park entrance, crossing the road and following the street to the right of The World's End. Go under the substantial viaduct built to take the railway in 1851, and follow on along the road, taking the left fork.
On the gillside to your left is Knaresborough Castle, dating mostly from the early 14th Century. Mother Shipton's Cave and Well are across the river from here, over the road bridge. From here, at the Low Bridge, the road rises to the crossroads at the 11/2 mile point. Pass along Abbey Road, by the late 18th Century House in the Rock cut into the crag. To the left here is also the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag originating in 1407/8. The Nidd Gorge widens and the road parts company with the river edge. A little further after it joins the riverside again, watch out to the right for the path down to St Robert's Cave, where a hermit monk died in AD1218. You may wish to take a look into the cave... Pushing on now, go back to the lane and follow it to a 'T'-junction. Take a right turn and cross the bridge.
Here is the two mile point, where you turn right again at the end of the bridge way-signed to Knaresborough Round. Follow the path to a caravan park, keeping the caravans on your left keep on to another way-marked footpath. Pass more caravans and after the first one on the right turn right and the path takes you down to the River Nidd, leaving the woodland. At the right-hand way-marked track where it splits near a house take the left of the gate and take the riverbank. Keep to the path as it follows between walls. It turns into a metalled way before long and leads to a main road where you turn right. Cross the road by the Mother Shipton Inn to the 3 1/2 mile stage.
You have a choice now. You might wish not to pay the 'toll' for the Mother Shipton's Well walk. If so cross the bridge and turn left opposite Abbey Road to follow the way back to the start. Should you wish to see the petrifying well and Mother Shipton's Cave follow to the left of the inn to the pay desk. Follow the path beyond, climb the steps and go down to the well and cave. The dripping water eventually turns objects to limestone. Some items, such as one of Queen Mary's shoes, are in the museum close by. The cave is aptly dark, damp and gloomy (or mysterious if you like). Mother Shipton was born in the cave, her mother having been seduced by his lordship at the castle - who naturally denied the liaison - and they dwelt together until the mother died some time after. The lord of the castle relented and allowed for food supplies to be delivered. He was suitably impressed by her many long-term forecasts, according to the history information at the museum. She died in AD1561, having foreseen the precise time of her own death.
Climb the stairs, following signs for the main entrance and follow the path below the railway viaduct, leaving by the turnstiles. Cross the High Bridge and turn left to the car park, 4 1/2 miles (7.2kms). Easy pace, about 2 1/2 hours' duration.
The first part of the walk, on the north bank of the river runs along surfaced lanes. Following the river crossing there are riverside footpaths that at times will be muddy. The metalled roads on the north side of the river are all accessible. Care is needed on the narrowest sections, however. South of the river and in most of the cave area and car park has no wheelchair access.
Getting there by car: the cave is at the heart of the town, on the A59 from Harrogate, and west of Junction 47 of the A1(M). The public car park is at Conyngham Hall by the High Bridge.
By public transport: Northern Rail's York-Leeds link, alighting at Knaresborough on the east side of the viaduct. Take the Yorkshireexpress X54 Harrogate-York bus (not Sundays/Bank Holidays).
Refreshment can be taken at The General Tarleton on the Boroughbridge Road, Ferrensby, Knaresborough, HG5 0PZ, 01423 320284.
Use the Ordnance Survey Explorer 289, Grid reference SE 344573.
Mother Shipton's Cave, Prophecy Lodge, High Bridge, Knaresborough HG5 8DD, 01423 864600, www.mothershiptonscave.com Open: Feb-Mar, Sat-Sun 10am-4.30pm; Easter-October daily 10am-5.30pm; Nov Sat-Sun 10am-4.30pm; closed Dec-Jan. Admission: adult £6, child £4 (free for under-4's), concessions £5, family £17.
Yorkshire Tourist Board: www.yorkshire.com
The author's name(s) lost down the centuries since the book was first published in 1641, only Mother Shipton's remains constant. Her prophecies had people worried - still do - because by and large they came true, borne out by history. One stands out in particular, that with the demise of the old stone bridge over the River Nidd the world would come to an end. that bridge is surprisingly well looked after since built centuries ago! Well worth a look through it's pages.
A Look Around Knaresborough's Riverside
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
Where to find Knaresborough
A friendly relaxed neighbourhood
If you'd like to go exploring upriver from here...
See also TRAVEL NORTH - 27: Follow The Infant Nidd (Around The Caves And Upper Dale) gives you some more energetic, adventurous walking, great scenery and a few watering holes to rest your weary bones for good Yorkshire fare... and the beer's good! Try out the page and get yourself kitted out - don't forget the camera. Seeing's believing.
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster