OLD MOTHER SHIPTON’S PETRIFYING WELL
It was a misty, moisty, damp sort of a day when I visited Old Mother Shipton’s Petrifying Well at Knaresborough Arriving in the late afternoon the first thing to come into my line of vision was the low slung bunting, which meant no chance for me to enter their carparks, but fortunately there was one opposite, and even though non of the spaces were long enough for us there was a section adjacent to the river with room for me to pull in. Although it was pretty well out of season I hate disobeying regulations - the spaces for coaches had strict injunctions for anything but coaches to keep out, and the carpark rules said to keep within the parking bays. I was dithering about whether to stop or not when a taxi driver pulled in and said not to worry, so I paid for the spaces I would have taken up had there been any the correct size and unloaded Super Scooter, and it was a good job I did, as the drive down was a pretty long one, but following a most beautiful path beside the river and through a hanging beech wood. The soft dripping stillness of the foggy air hushing the sounds, other than the plops of water from the trees onto the carpet of leaves and beech mast beneath, and the distant echo of voices down the wooded valley.
About halfway along the path I had to abandon Super Scooter and go the rest of the way on foot as there were quite a few steps involved but I felt it was all worth it, having known about The Petrifying Well for so long, and seen television documentaries, even cinema films on the petrified objects there, such as Agatha Christies handbag, John Wayne’s hat, Royal shoes and many more.
Mother Shipton’s story is long and complicated, but it seems in 1488 a pregnant fifteen year old took up residence in the cave just by the well and gave birth to the daughter who was to become Old Mother Shipton. When the child grew she stayed there and gradually tales of her powers spread. Apparently she could prophesy the future and the seemingly magical powers of the petrifying water must have been an added pull, and she became something of a tourist attraction even in those times. In fact reading between the lines it seems that the history of the place has been bound up with the tourist trade in one way or another. I suppose, like me there have always been folk who seek out something a bit out of the ordinary. By the time of her death in 1561 she was known as The Knaresborough Prophetess with many visitors. In 1630 the estate was purchased by Sir Charles Slingsby, and his grandson landscaped the park around 1730 and created the pathways along side the River Nidd and planted the beech trees. Harrogate was becoming well known and people visiting to take the waters called to promenade along the beautiful walks and its future as a tourist attraction was secure.
Further on towards the town is a small museum cum gift shop with a who’s who gallery (well a couple of display cases anyway) dedicated to the rich and famous who have called and left something of theirs to be hung under the dripping limestone rich water until it is coated with sediment and ‘turned to stone’ Many of the early tourists left possesions with the intention of returning to collect their suitably petrified souvenirs and some never did return. The two odd shaped bulges half way up the waterfall are a man's top hat on the left and a lady's bonnet on the right. Nowadays it seems mostly small teddy bears which take a few months to petrify and are then retailed on, but demand must be high as there were non available in the shop to purchase, not that I was a potential customer, but it would have been interesting to touch one.
I would think in the season, on a nice day, the place would be thronging and the charm of the moist and dripping silence I experienced would evaporate. One of the reasons I have stayed on to explore Britain out of season is at least there is some chance of appreciating what there is to see without the usual tourist hordes.