Mother Shipton’s Cave

Last Wednesday I took a trip to one of my favourite places, Mother Shipton’s Cave in Knaresborough.  Unfortunately when I got there it was shut for the winter!!  Although disappointed, we had a lovely day out in Knaresborough.   The park itself was once part owned by the late, great Paul Daniels but is now under new ownership.  Previously it was open mostly all year round.  So if you’re considering a visit do what I should have done and check the opening times. Wednesday is market day and there has been a market in the town square since 1310.

The featured image is one I took on one of my previous visits to the Dropping Well, situated within the park.  The park itself is a lovely place teeming with the myth and magic that surrounds the story of Mother Shipton and the seemingly magical properties of the Dropping Well.

Mother Shipton, whose real name was Ursula Sontheil, was a famed healer and prophetess who lived in the North of England in the county of Yorkshire.   She was born to an unmarried mother in 1488.  Her mother Agatha, shunned by the village, found shelter in a cave by the banks of the River Nidd on the outskirts of Knaresborough.  Legend has it that here she gave birth to Ursula in this cave during a violent thunderstorm.

Shortly after Ursula’s birth the abbot of Beverley took pity on her, placing her with a local family.  Agatha was sent to a convent where she died a few years later.  It was said that Ursula was a strange child in both her manner and looks.  She spent much of her time around the cave and began to learn about the flowers, herbs and local woodland.  With this knowledge, she made potions and remedies.

When she was 24 Ursula met and married a young local carpenter by the name of Tobias Shipton but he died two years later.  They had no children.  As well as making potions, Ursula turned her hand to telling fortunes to make a living.  The name Mother Shipton was given to her when she became the oldest woman in the village.  She died at the age of 73 in 1561 possibly in Clifton, a village in the outskirts of York.

She purportedly made many prophecies but it is said that many were embellished over time.  The first book of her prophecies was printed eighty years after her death.  She famously foretold the fall of Cardinal Wolsey and the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

The first written record of Mother Shipton’s life was in a pamphlet written in 1641.  In it she was associated with York and possibly Yorkshire.  On the cover of the pamphlet is an image of her supposed likeness which is nothing like the image of the ugly, hooked nose witch with jutting chin or hump that has been characterised in more recent times. She was possibly in her time considered a respectable woman.

Mother Shipton’s cave at Knaresborough is one of England’s oldest visitor attractions and has been open since 1630.  Within the park near the cave is the petrifying well.  Due to the high mineral content, items placed under the running water are turned into stone.  This is a similar process to how stalactites and stalagmites are formed.

Mother Shipton’s cave is a lovely, magical place to visit, situated along the bank of the river Nidd. There is a charge to enter the park and is shut in the winter months.

On the opposite side of the river (which is not part of the park) you can sit and have a coffee and watch the water flow by.  Up on the cliffs overlooking the river are the remains of Knaresborough castle. Knaresborough itself is a lovely market town with plenty of history.

  • The Source by Ursula James (2011) is a lovely book, part spell book, part fable, in which the author has channelled material via Mother Shipton herself and is a part of my ever growing book collection.
  • The Park website:

  • Portrait of Mother Shipton based on an earlier image and not the ugly image we have become used to:

  • Article from Time Travel Britain

  • Wikisource bio:,_Mother_(DNB00)

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