Mother Shipton's Cave - England's Oldest Tourist Attraction


Mother Shipton's Cave - England's Oldest Tourist Attraction

Mother Shipton's Cave and well in North Yorkshire is the oldest tourist attraction to charge a fee in England, and has been open as such since 1630.

The Cave is in Knaresborough, an attractive spa town not far from Harrogate. It is approached along a picturesque mile-long walk along the River Nidd.

The place is associated with the legendary prophetess Mother Shipton (c. 1488–1561), born Ursula Southeil, and reportedly the wife of Toby Shipton. According to legend, she was born in the cave.

Mother Shipton has sometimes been described as a witch and is associated with folklore involving the origin of the Rollright Stones of Oxfordshire. It is said that a king and his men transformed to stone after failing her test. William Camden reported an account of this in a rhyming version in 1610.

The first known edition of her prophecies was printed in 1641, eighty years after her reported death, and more than a decade after the Cave had opened to fee-paying visitors.

Shipton was said to be hideously ugly, and that she had married Toby Shipton, a local carpenter, near York in 1512, and told fortunes and made predictions throughout her life.

She is said to have foretold the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

In a possible reference to her existence, in 1537 Yorkshire, while Catholic people were rebelling against the dissolution of Catholic monasteries, Henry VIII wrote a letter to the Duke of Norfolk where he refers to a "witch of York". It is believed that this letter is the earliest reference to the real Mother Shipton who would have been prophesying about Henry VIII at this time. In 1666, Samuel Pepysr ecorded in his diaries that, whilst surveying the damage to London caused by the 1666 Great Fire in the company of the Royal family, he heard them discuss Mother Shipton's prophecy of the event.

Next to the cave is the Petrifying Well, a unique geological phenomenon. Over hundreds of years, curiosity has drawn millions of visitors to the well to see cascading water turn everyday objects to stone - as if by magic - but in fact due to the deposition of minerals from the mineral-rich waters.

Around the cave is Mother Shipton's park, a remnant of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough with some of the oldest, tallest beech trees in the country.

Further reading

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