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Train on the railway viaduct at Knaresborough

Knaresborough is a historic market town on the river Nidd, with a population of 15,398. This map shows the centre of Knaresborough:

Map of the centre of Knaresborough

Knaresborough: name & history

Knaresborough Castle

Knaresborough already existed at the time of the Domesday Book (1086), where it was referred to as 'Chenaresburg', meaning Cenheard's fortress. 

Knaresborough Castle dates from Norman times - it was built around 1100. It features in one of the best-known episodes in the history of England. Hugh de Morville, who held the Honour of Knaresborough, was the leader of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury (29th December 1170). After the deed, the knights fled to Knaresborough, and hid in the castle.

The Honour of Knaresborough passed to King John in 1205, and the Royal Forest of Knaresborough was one of his favourite hunting grounds. The castle still belongs to the Crown, through the Duchy of Lancaster.

In 1310, Knaresborough was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market. A market continues to be held, every Wednesday.

Knaresborough market place

Knaresborough market place, by Hedgehog Cycling

During the English Civil War, after the battle of Marston Moor, Royalist-held Knaresborough Castle was beseiged by Parliamentary forces. It fell in 1646, and was destroyed in 1648, largely by local citizens taking 'castle stone' to build their own houses.

The railway came to Knaresborough in October 1848, initially to a station on Hay Park Lane. This was because the first attempt to build a viaduct over the Nidd failed, when the near-complete arches collapsed into the river on 11th March 1848. The current viaduct was completed in October 1851, and it took the Leeds & Thirsk Railway to the current station.

Knaresborough station

Knaresborough station, by Hedgehog Cycling

Knaresborough: sights & attractions

Knaresborough is a compact and distinctive town, and well worth a visit. The town and the castle are up to the north east of the river Nidd; there are a number of sights and attractions down by the river, too.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: Knaresborough market

Blind Jack statue, Knaresborough market place

Blind Jack statue, Knaresborough market place, by Hedgehog Cycling

The market place is the centre of Knaresborough. Knaresborough market has been held every Wednesday since 1310. The Town Crier appears at 11am and 1pm.

In the market place is a statue of Blind Jack, on a bench. Otherwise known as John Metcalf, Blind Jack of Knaresborough (1717-1810) lost his sight at age 6. He is known as the first professional road builder of the Industrial Revolution, and he laid about 180 miles of turnpike road in the north of England.

He also played the fiddle, traded horses, played cards, and worked as a guide to visitors because he knew his local area so well. He is buried in the church yard of All Saints, Spofforth.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: Knaresborough castle

Knaresborough castle

Knaresborough Castle is built on a cliff above the river Nidd. It was erected about 1100 by a Norman baron, and largely dismantled in 1648. It is owned by the Crown as part of the holdings of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it is open to the public, as a public park, with a bowling green and a putting green in the summer.

Flower bed at Knaresborough Castle

Flower bed at Knaresborough Castle, by Hedgehog Cycling

You can walk around the ruins of the castle for free. However, there's paying entrance to the Courthouse Museum, and the ticket includes entry into the King's Tower. See details of the visit of the museum and castle.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: Mother Shipton's cave

Mother Shipton's cave, Knaresborough

Mother Shipton's cave is said to be England's oldest visitor attraction, open since 1630 (but not 24/7). The key points of interest are the petrifying well, and the cave where Mother Shipton, or Ursula Southeil (1488-1561), was born. 

You pay to enter the park containing Mother Shipton's cave at High Bridge, Knaresborough. (The adult rate in summer 2016 is £6; there's also a pedestrian only entrance at the other end of the park, at Low Bridge). According to Mother Shipton's prophecy, 'The world shall end when the High Bridge is thrice fallen.' It has fallen once so far, so if it falls once more that's ok, but twice more is not. 

The park is along the right bank of the river Nidd, and is a remnant of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough. It was sold by King Charles I to Sir Charles Slingsby in 1630. Charles Slingsby's grandson Sir Henry Slingsby landscaped the park, and created paths known as Sir Henry Slingsby's Long Walk. Many of the well-to-do people taking the cure at Harrogate spa stayed in Knaresborough, and they would stroll on the Long Walk in the afternoons.

The park has three picnic areas, and two children's play areas, including an adventure playground. At the far end of the park is Beech Avenue, where the beech trees planted by Sir Henry Slingsby in 1739 are some of the oldest and tallest in the country.

Mother Shipton's cave

Mother Shipton's cave, by Bill Henderson, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the points of interest in the park is Mother Shipton's cave. Ursula Southeil, or Sontheil, was born in this cave in 1488, during a thunderstorm, to her mother Agatha, who was just 15 at the time. Ursula was raised by her mother in the cave for 2 years, until the Abbott of Beverley sent Ursula to live with a family, and Agatha to a nunnery far away.

Ursula grew up around Knaresborough. She had a large, crooked nose, a bent back, and twisted legs, and as a result of being teased, she was quite solitary. She studied the plants in Knaresborough Forest, and made potions and remedies. She met and married Tobias Shipton, a carpenter from York, and kept his name after he died.

Shipton found she had a gift for foretelling the future, and she made a living as Knaresborough's Prophetess. She died in 1561, aged 73, and it's not known if she saw that coming.

The first book of her prophecies was published in 1641. It contained some mainly regional predictions. A more famous edition of Mother Shipton's prophecies was published in 1862, and it contained predictions in rhyming couplets, including of the end of the world in 1881; this book was written (and made up by) Charles Hindley.

Petrifying Well, Mother Shipton's cave

The Petrifying Well, by Auz, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Perhaps the star attraction of the park is the petrifying well, which can turn everyday objects to stone over a period of 3-5 months. (It used to be called 'the dropping well'.) It was known for turning objects to stone, and was already very popular when Sir Charles Slingsby started charging people to see it in 1630. Today, at any given time, there are a number of items like teddy bears being petrified. You can buy a stone teddy bear from the shop if you really want to (£35).

At the back of the petrifying well is the wishing well, fed by the same waters. It's traditional to make a wish here. You can buy wishing well water from the shop if you really want to (£3).

The Historia Museum has petrified items donated by celebrities. There's a toothbrush given by Shane McGowan of the Pogues, and comedian Lee Mack's strimmer, which was earlier rejected by the Lancaster Gardening Implements Museum. (Not really).

Knaresborough sights and attractions: rowing boat hire

Boat hire on the river Nidd in Knaresborough

One of the nicest things to do in Knaresborough is to hire a rowing boat. Boat hire is on the left bank of the Nidd on a largely traffic-free road called Waterside. Boats are available from Blenkhorn's Boats (red and green), and Marigold cafe & boating (blue and white boats).

Blenkhorn's boat hire, Knaresborough

There are three cafés on Waterside - Marigold Café, the Black Mulberry, and the Riverside Café. As a rule of thumb, the closer you are to the water, the more expensive the coffee and cakes.

It's a nice walk or cycle along Waterside, because there's filtering, which means that it's not a through road for traffic. You arrive at Low Bridge, Knaresborough, where there's a pub at either end of the bridge - the Half Moon, and the Dropping Well Inn.

Low Bridge, Knaresborough

Low Bridge, Knaresborough, by Hedgehog Cycling

You can continue by the river beyond Low Bridge, on Abbey Road. Again, it's filtered, rather than a through road, which means it's great for walking or cycling. There are some minor sights along Abbey Road - the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, the House in the Rock, and St Robert's cave.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, Knaresborough

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, by Hedgehog Cycling

The Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, Knaresborough, is a little chapel built into the sandstone river cliff of the Nidd by John the Mason in 1408. It's open to the public on Sundays from 2 to 4pm.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: the House in the Rock

House in the Rock, Knaresborough

House in the Rock, Knaresborough, by Hedgehog Cycling

The House in the Rock (or Fort Montague) is higher up the river cliff than the chapel. It was built by Thomas Hill, a linen weaver, from 1770. Over 16 years, he dug out the rock of the cliff, from the foot at Abbey Road, to Crag Top, to create a split-level house. He used the stone extracted to build a front wall. The castellations were added later, and at that time, the dwelling was named Fort Montague at the request of the Duchess of Buccleugh, who had helped pay for it.

According to Knaresborough.co.uk, the house was open to visitors until 1994, and lived in by descendants of Thomas Hill until 1996. It may open again in the future.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: St Robert's cave

Further down Abbey Road, close to the junction with Wetherby Road, is St Robert's cave. Robert of Knaresborough (1160-1218) was a hermit who lived here. He was the son of Touk Flower, mayor of York, and he sought a life of solitude. Initially, he shared the cave by the Nidd with a knight who was hiding from King Richard I, but after the death of the king, Robert had the cave to himself.

Robert's favourite form of charity was to redeem men from prison.

Knaresborough sights and attractions: the Nidd Gorge

The Nidd Gorge from the Nidd Viaduct

Nidd Gorge from the Nidd Viaduct, by Hedgehog Cycling

North west of High Bridge, going upstream, is the Nidd Gorge. Steep, wooded slopes rise from the river Nidd, and this unspoilt area is full of wildlife. It's a great place for a woodland walk along the footpaths.

Knaresborough: photos

These are some photos of Knaresborough (toggle right and left):


Knaresborough: the Great Knaresborough Bed Race

The Great Knaresborough Bed Race is held on the second Saturday in June in each year. Teams push beds along a course around Knaresborough, and cross the river Nidd. An estimated 30,000 people watched in 2013.


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Beryl Burton cycleway

Beryl Burton cycleway

The Beryl Burton cycleway is a traffic-free cycle and foot path between Bilton Village Farm and the Nidd at High Bridge, Knaresborough. Read about the Beryl Burton cycleway.

A guide to Harrogate

Hotel du Vin & Cambridge Crescent, Harrogate

Harrogate is a prosperous town in North Yorkshire, with a population of around 75,000. Its mineral springs were discovered in the 1500s, and it grew into a spa town in the 1600s and 1700s. It attracts visitors to its spa heritage (for example, the Royal Pump Rooms museum), to Betty's tea rooms, or just to enjoy the wide open spaces of The Stray. Harrogate also has an International Conference Centre. Read about Harrogate.

Mother Shipton's cave, Knaresborough Railway viaduct at KnaresboroughBlenkhorn's boat hire, Knaresborough

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