Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mother Shipton's Cave

When the Aunties were here, we visited England's oldest visitor's attraction, Mother Shipton's Cave. Mother Shipton was born in a cave along the River Nidd to Agatha Sontheil in 1488. She was called Ursula and was from all accounts a bit of a trickster as a child. She had been teased for being an illegitimate child, and she gave back as good as she got. She married the carpenter Toby Shipton in 1512. She began to make various prophecies about all sorts of things. The most famous one was about the end of the world: "When the world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred and eighty-one." When that failed to happen, the rhyme was re-written with "nineteen hundred and ninety-one." It hasn't been rewritten since. Her other "end of world" prophecy was "The world shall end when the High Bridge has thrice fallen." It's believed to refer to Knaresborough's rail bridge, which has collapsed twice so far. She made many other vague predictions that have been interpreted as coming to pass, including Cardinal Wolsey's fall from grace, the defeat of the Spanish armada, and the Great Fire of London in 1666. She died in 1561.

The site of Mother Shipton's Cave encompasses a large piece of real estate. Much of the site is a long, winding park along the River Nidd. The views of Knaresborough are quite spectacular from here.

Knaresborough with Jacob in the foreground

The famous and picturesque rail bridge in Knaresborough

We did try to get our voices to echo underneath the bridge, but the effect was barely noticeable. Further on we saw more of nature, including Jacob's favorite, a delightful waterfall.

Lucy and Jacob admire the ducks, who in turn admire them

Okay, this may not be a natural waterfall

Even better, along the way the park has not one but two playgrounds where the children could have a good time. The one in the middle of the park has an obstacle course (at least that's what Jacob called it). The one by the entrance (which we actually went to as we left) is more traditional and has a delightful tea shop next to it.

Jacob begins the obstacle course

Lucy at the entrance playground

Jacob and Lucy about to cross the wobbly bridge

Yeah big slide!

We followed a long trail till we came to an unusual waterfall that seemingly fell into the river.

Following the trail

A wet area that drops off into the river?

Sure enough, we walked down a staircase and found the petrifying well and the cave where Mother Shipton was born or used to hang out.

The petrifying well, with many objects strung up for petrification

Close up of petrifying objects

The actual cave, too bad she didn't decorate

The well was a source of great superstition for many years. Leaves and birds that fell into the waters would turn to stone. Not instantly of course, but quick enough that magical powers were often assumed. The well is fed by a natural spring from an underground lake. The water has a high mineral content. Porous objects absorb the water and keep the minerals, eventually turning into rock-encrusted versions of themselves. A popular item to put in the well is a teddy bear, which typically takes six months to be petrified. No magic is required.

Nearby is a museum and gift shop that has some wax figures, including the prophetess from long ago.

Lucy is properly terrified

The museum also had some other items on display, including many petrified objects like John Wayne's hat, Agatha Christie's handbag, and Queen Mary's shoe! Also, wax representations of famous locals like Guy Fawkes and Blind Jack Metcalf are on display. Guy is in a jail cell, Jack is in a bar. The whole museum is fairly small but charming enough. We bought a snack from the shop before heading back to our car.

It was fun to finally get to the oldest tourist trap, I mean, visitor attraction, in England.

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