Knaresborough Castle keep
A sizable town just outside Harrogate, Knaresborough sits beside the River Nidd. The most prominent older building is the 14th century castle, a grim keep where Richard II was imprisoned in 1399. Nearby is Mother Shipton's Wishing Well, associated with the mythical figure of a 16th century prophetess whose name is also tied to a nearby cave.
The Yorkshire tourist board, who might be forgiven for indulging in a little hyperbole, call Knaresborough 'the Ultimate Holiday Destination'. While that title is open for debate, there's o doubting that Knaresborough has a lot to offer, including a wealth of historic buildings and a history going back to at least the 5th century.

Knaresborough Castle

Around the year 1100 a Norman baron erected a fortification on top of a high cliff over the River Nidd. Henry I strengthened the fortifications around 1130. In the aftermath of the assassination of Thomas Becket in 1170 one of the killers, Hugh de Morville, took temporary refuge in the castle. De Morville forfeited the castle 3 years later for his role in a rebellion by Prince Henry against his father the king.

King John added to the fortifications from 1205, and was given to hunt in nearby Knaresborough Forest. It was here in 1210 that John gave the first Maundy Money. The custom of giving small silver coins to elderly people still takes place on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

In the early 14th century Edward I and II rebuilt the castle and erected the great stone keep. Edward II gave the town a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market, a custom that still continues today. It is thought that the unfortunate Richard II was briefly kept as a prisoner at Knaresborough Castle.

The castle was captured by Parliament in the Civil War and slighted to make it unusable for military purposes. Stones from the castle were used to built many buildings around the town. The castle is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and operated by Harrogate Borough Council. The grounds are used as a public park, and the castle interior is open to the public for a small admission fee.

Knaresborough Viaduct and the River Nidd (c) TJBlackwell
Knaresborough Viaduct and the River Nidd
(c) TJBlackwell
Aside from the castle keep, perhaps the most iconic sight in Knaresborough is the Victorian railway viaduct that spans the River Nidd. The viaduct was built in 1851 to carry a branch line of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway. The bridge is 78 feet above the water and is supported on 4 arches spanning 56'9" each. The architect was engineer Thomas Grainger, who wanted to design a structure in keeping with the character of the town's historic buildings.

Mother Shipton

There are several popular caves within easy distance of the town centre. The most famous is Mother Shipton's Cave, named for Ursula Southeil (c. 1488–1561), a soothsayer, or prophetess, who is said to have been born in the cave. According to tradition Mother Shipton was said to be terrifyingly ugly. More importantly, she foretold the end of the world and the coming of the motor car. Unfortunately for tradition, Mother Shipton's most popular prophecies were not published until long after her death, and many were the work of Charles Hindley, who wrote a highly imaginative book of Mother Shipton's sayings in 1862.

Visitors can enter the caves, as wel las its neighbours the House in the Rock and St Roberts Cave. Just outside Mother Shipton's Cave is the Dropping Well, a remarkable petrifying well that turns anything to stone. The well was known to ancient settlers, and to the Romans, but the first written record comes from 1538.

Water flows from an underground lake, over a high cliff, and drops into a deep pool. The calcium content of the water is so high that it quickly forms deposits on any item left in the pool or in the stream of water, turning it to solid limestone. The range of items left by visitors to be petrified is amazing, from hats and boots to kitchen utensils and pilgrims' offerings. One petrified object is a handbag left by mystery writer Agatha Christie.

In the market place is Ye Oldest Chemists Shop in England, established around 1720 by an apothecary named John Beckwith. The shop became well known under the ownership of WP Lawrence and his son Edmund, who together operated it from 1884-1965. It is no longer a pharmacy, finally going out of business in 1997 after over 275 years dispensing remedies to locals, and is now a popular cafe. Look for the blue plaque erected on the exterior of the building by the Knaresborough Civic Society in 2006.