Mother Shipton's Cave and the Petrifying Well – Knaresborough, England - Atlas Obscura

Mother Shipton's Cave and the Petrifying Well

Once thought to be the mysterious work of a witchy prophetess, a well with unusual properties turns objects into "stone". 


Mother Shipton was said to be a witch and an oracle, predicting doomsday horrors and disasters that were to befall the Tudor reign, with each morbid forecast recited in prose.

Allegedly born as Ursula Southhell in a cave in the forests of Knaresborough, she was associated with all kinds of tragic events and dark doings in the area, including the bewitchment of a nearby well that turned objects into stone.

“The world to an end shall come In eighteen hundred and eighty one.”

-Mother Shipton

Taking the post-humous credit and blame for many strange happenings throughout the UK, Australia and the U.S. throughout the 17th, 18th, and even the 19th centuries, Mother Shipton left quite a legacy. Besides several published editions of her prophecies, her name graces pubs and her effigy and statues are used by fortune tellers. A moth whose wings appear to bear the image of a hag’s face was named after her, and a caricature of her is believed to be one of the first adaptations of the British Pantomime dame.(A sort of British drag act.)

One of the mystical secrets of Mother Shipton has been solved by modern science. The well nearby her dwelling that petrified objects left in its waters has been something of a visitor’s attraction since 1630, making it one of the oldest tourist spots in England. Once thought to be the work of witchcraft, it’s now known that the water that can turn thing like teddy bears, hats and other random items into “stone” within 3 to 5 months is due to the natural process of evaporation and an unusually high mineral content.

Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well now has a gift shop, a picnic area, a wishing well, and of course a walk along the river to see the items, consisting mostly of children’s toys, hung beneath the soothsayer’s petrifying waters.

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