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An eye-catching Yorkshire market town with some fascinating stories

Whilst Harrogate is North Yorkshire's most famous market town, neighbouring Knaresborough has got just as many interesting sights and stories and is well worth a visit.
If you're travelling by train you'll be treated to an eye-catching view before you even arrive. Just before the station, the line crosses over the River Nidd via an arched stone viaduct. This beautiful Victorian structure was first opened in 1851. It should have been finished three years earlier, but initially building attempts went badly wrong. Just as it was nearing completion, the entire structure collapsed into the river! When the viaduct was finally opened, some architects criticised it strongly. They said that it completely ruined Knaresborough's beauty. Since then though, there has been a complete reversal of opinion. The grand stone viaduct is now considered to be Knaresborough's prettiest and most iconic sight.

The River Nidd and Viaduct
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
The best view of the structure is from Knaresborough's other landmark - the castle. In medieval times this was an important northern stronghold, but it met its doom during the 17th century Civil War. The castle was conquered by parliamentary troops, and almost completely dismantled. Many of the houses built at that time used the leftover stone from the destroyed walls.

Knaresborough Castle
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
Thankfully though, some parts of the castle are still standing. The ruined walls and towers are open to the public all year round. You can also see the old secret tunnels, hidden underground. When Knaresborough was under siege, soldiers would use these tunnels to sneakily leave the castle and attack their opponents.
Just upstream from the castle and viaduct is the entrance to Mother Shipton's Cave, another of Knaresborough's famous sights. This was the birthplace of a woman called Ursula Southeil, who could supposedly see into the future. She made many prophecies, and the local townsfolk were shocked when they all came true. Ursula later became known as Mother Shipton, and she had a legendary, yet terrifying reputation. Some said she was a child of the Devil. Her most famous prophecy predicted the Great Fire of London, despite the fact that it happened over 100 years after her death. Back then Mother Shipton and her powers were taken quite seriously. Even the Royal Family were heard discussing her prophecies, as they watched their capital city burn to the ground.

Mother Shipton's Cave
Photo chris
Mother Shipton's fame means that her birthplace was popular with tourists from very early on in British history. In fact, this is supposedly "England's oldest attraction". Next to the cave is a bizarre geological oddity called the Petrifying Well. Any object placed into its waters is slowly but surely turned to stone. In ancient times, the locals thought this was a cursed, evil place. Now though, through the magic of science, we know the well's secret. Its waters have an extremely high mineral content, which leaves a stone-like residue on anything it touches. Over time, this creates the "petrifying" effect.

The Petrifying Well
Photo Auz
The well's unusual power is certainly strange but, amazingly, it's not the weirdest thing in town. That honour must surely go to the annual Knaresborough Bed Race. This bizarre event is just what it sounds like. Groups of challengers design their own wheeled beds, and race them furiously across the town. No-one can really remember who came up with the idea, or how on earth they managed to do so. Nevertheless, the race has been going on for 44 years so far, and it seems to be getting more popular as it goes!
Visitor Information
Knaresborough Castle is open from 10:30am to 5pm from Easter to September. Entry costs around £4. Castle Yard, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, HG5 8AS. Tel: 01423 556 188
Mother Shipton's Cave is open daily February to October from 10am to 5.30pm (weekends only and reduced hours in February and March). Entry costs around £7. Prophecy Lodge, High Bridge, Knaresborough, HG5 8DD. Tel: 01423 864 600

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