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One of the quirkier attractions in Yorkshire has to be Mother Shipton’s Cave. The ancient home of a prophetess born in the time of King Henry VII.
In her lifetime, she predicted the fates of two rulers, the Spanish Armada defeat and even the Great Fire of London. Her predictions have been printed in over 50 types of publications.
Just nearby, you’ll find the Petrifying Well that turns everyday objects into stone! It’s England’s oldest ticket attraction that has been welcoming visitors since 1630.
It’s an incredible place that has an air of folklore, magic, and mystery and I would highly recommend you visit.
Here are all the magical things to do in Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well in Knaresborough.
Who was Mother Shipton?
Mother Shipton, also known as Ursula Southeil, is known as England’s most famous prophetess.
Born in Knaresborough in 1488 she has often been described as a witch and most famously associated with the legends of the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. This is where she outwitted a King and managed to turn him and his Knights into stone.
She was a strange-looking child with a crooked nose and was teased by locals. So, she spent most of her time around the cave where she was born.
Ursula eventually married a York carpenter called Tobias Shipton, he died young and they didn’t have any children together. But, she kept his name until her death.
During her lifetime she predicted the fates of several rulers including King Henry VIII, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the invention of iron ships, and even the Great Fire of London in 1666.
She died in 1561 at the ripe old age of 73 but it would be almost a century later until her prophecies were first printed.
Mother Shipton’s predictions and prophecies
Mother Shipton is most famous for her predictions. The first publication of her prophecies wasn’t printed until 80 years after her death in 1641.
The foretellings spread all over the country and even to different centuries. Some are not historically accurate but some most definitely came true.
Even King Henry VIII mentioned a ‘witch of York’ in his missive to the Duke of Norfolk which many believe is him referring to Mother Shipton.
The most famous of Mother Shipton’s predictions include;
- Her own death
- Henry VIII’s victory over France
- Cardinal Wolsey’s position as King Henry VIII’s advisor
- The defeat of the Spanish Armada
- The Great Fire of London
- A terrible storm resulted in a flood of the River Ouse in York
- “The world to an end shall come; in eighteen hundred and eighty-one” – luckily this was not true.
What is Mother Shipton’s Cave?
Mother Shipton’s Cave is the cavern dwelling where Ursula Southeil was born on a night of a thunderstorm to a young 15-year-old girl called Agatha.
According to sources, Agatha had the child out of wedlock and so was forced before the local magistrates. But, she wouldn’t admit who the father of the child was.
Having no family or friends to support her, she lived in a cave in Knaresborough royal forest and raised Ursula there for two years. Eventually, the Abbott of Beverley felt sorry for her and took them both away.
Agatha was eventually sent to a convent and Ursula never saw her mother again.
Ursula spent a lot of time in the cave where she was born. She would create healing remedies as a wise woman but she also had another talent where she was able to predict the future! Many of the local residents would visit her to learn their fortunes.
Today, the cave is a tourist attraction that you can visit in Knaresborough along with the famous petrifying well nearby.
The Petrifying Well
Just next to Mother Shipton’s Cave is the Petrifying Well which is probably the most mysterious part of Knaresborough Royal Forest. It was first recorded by the king’s antiquary in 1538.
This petrifying well is the oldest ticketed attraction in England and has been welcoming visitors since 1630.
Many people believed that the well looked like a giant skull and the water had healing powers but the most mysterious part is the fact that this well can turn everyday objects into stone!
Years ago, people believed that this was caused by witchcraft. But, it is actually due to evaporation and the high mineral content of the water.
Today, you’ll see all sorts of objects hanging off the well and being soaked in the magical waters.
They mostly petrify small teddy bears but they have also turned anything from bikes, parasols, and lampshades into stone.
How to visit Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well
If you wanted to visit the legendary Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well then you can do so in Knaresborough in Yorkshire. This is near the popular spa town of Harrogate.
As England’s oldest ticketed attraction there is plenty to see and do here that makes it worth visiting.
As well as the cave and petrifying well, there is an informative museum. You can also enjoy walks in the park alongside the River Nidd and Knaresborgouh Viaduct plus there is a play park for children.
Things to do in Mother Shipton’s Cave
1. See the objects being petrified
So as you make your way down to the petrifying well, you can get a look at what is currently being petrified in the well!
You’ll find the objects hanging from the cave lip and the water is naturally falling down onto them as part of the petrifying process.
The process to turn a small teddy bear into stone can take between 3-5 months. You can even buy your own petrified teddy bear from the gift shop.
They have petrified all sorts of things in this well including bicycles, umbrellas, and bonnets. Nothing is immune to being turned into stone here!
2. Mother Shipton’s Cave
As you make your way up to Mother Shipton’s Cave, don’t forget to look back and see the skull shape of the petrifying well.
As you make your way into the cavern, you’ll see a small stone statue of Mother Shipton and there is an audio recording inside where you can listen to her life story.
It’s amazing to think that this is where she was born and lived for most of her life in the forest in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Apparently, it’s good luck to touch her hand so make sure to do this while you’re here!
3. Make a wish in the wishing well
Before you leave the cave area, make sure to stop at the wishing well that sits behind the petrifying well.
It has been a centuries-old tradition for visitors to make wishes here in the magical healing waters.
There are some important rules to follow when making a wish so make sure to read these instructions before you do so. For example, you must place your hand in the well and let it naturally dry.
They sell bottles of this magical water in the gift shop as a souvenir if you wanted to take some home with you.
4. Learn more in the Mother Shipton’s Museum
At the very end of the exhibit, you’ll find an informative museum that will tell you more about the story of Mother Shipton and the purifying well.
You’ll find all sorts of props and items that have been petrified from lampshades, bowler hats, milk bottles, and even parasols.
You’ll also see some items that have been donated to be petrified by famous people over the years. From Dame Agatha Christie, Warwick Davis, and even Queen Mary’s shoe from her visit in 1923.
You can learn more about what life was like in the time of Mother Shipton and the fact that being a prophetess and witch was a risky business.
Did you know? Mother Shipton has been mentioned in ‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’! If you’re a Potterhead make sure to read my travel guides.
5. Explore more of Knaresborough Royal Forest
As you make your way to the caves, wells, and museums, you get a wonderful chance to see more of Knaresborough Royal Forest on a short walk through the park.
Here are some more things to do at Mother Shipton’s Cave;
- Learn about coin bashing – Tree Coin bashing, although sometimes frowned upon, is an ancient tradition in the UK. It’s usually something people do to bring them good fortune in the forest. You can have a go yourself while you’re here!
- Playground and Story Book exhibits – Kids will love Mother Shipton’s Cave. There were lots of Alice in Wonderland and storybook features in the park as well as a huge playground.
- Wooden sculpture trail – Throughout the park you’ll find lots of wooden sculptures. Look out for the Green Man and lots of Angels.
- Take in views of the River Nidd and Knaresborough viaduct – What I loved about the walk to Mother Shipton’s Cave were the quiet views of Knaresborough Viaduct and River Nidd. It was a great photo opportunity without the crowds.
6. Have coffee from the Mother Shipton’s Café
In the middle of the attraction, you’ll find a gorgeous mint green food van that is covered in pink flowers and is set beside a giant teapot!
It was honestly one of the cutest setups and I loved having a coffee sitting outside of it. You were surrounded by lots of greenery.
Here, you can order a hot tea or coffee, cold drinks, and some snacks while you visit. It’s great for a pick me up.
There is limited seating by the van but there are plenty of picnic tables in this section by the play park.
Mother Shipton’s Cave opening times
Mother Shipton’s Cave is open from the 1st of April to the 31st of October each year and on select days over Christmas.
The cave is typically open from 10 am – 5.30 pm with the last admission at 4 pm. But, sometimes this changes to a closing time of 4.30 pm with the last admission at 3 pm.
How much is Mother Shipton’s Cave?
The entrance price to Mother Shipton’s Cave depends on whether you’re arriving as a group by car or as a pedestrian.
If you’re arriving in a car, the admission price is £32 per car with a maximum of 5 people in a single car. So, this works out as £6.40 per person.
If you’re on your own or there are only two of you, it’s best to park up nearby and arrive on foot and pay the pedestrian price individually. Adult tickets for pedestrians are £9.50 to £11 depending on the time of year.
Mother Shipton’s Cave parking
If you’re arriving in a big group, you can park up at Mother Shipton’s Cave as part of your entry ticket. A car costs £32 for a maximum of 5 people.
As I was by myself, I decided to park up near Mother Shipton’s Cave and arrive on foot and pay the pedestrian price.
The nearest car park can be found at Conyngham Hall Car Park that’s 90p an hour. It’s then just a five-minute walk away to the cave entrance ticket booth on foot.
Looking for more things to do in Knaresborough?
After your visit to Mother Shipton’s Cave you can continue exploring the River Nidd. You can see the Nidd Gorge or a popular thing to do in the summer months is boating.
You can head to the marketplace and see the ancient market cross, do a bit of shopping or visit the church of St John the Baptist.
There are plenty of houses built on the cliffside here like the Chapel of our Lady of the Crag. Or, you can explore more caverns like St Robert’s Cave.
My favourite view of the whole town can be found on top of the Knaresborough Castle complex. The views from here of Knaresborough Viaduct are picture perfect and you can watch trains passing by.