Knaresborough Evening Ramble

3.8 miles (6 kilometre) ramble by the River Nidd. January, clear. Solo.

I once read a debate online: what’s the difference between walking, hiking and rambling? The best answer was ‘bragging rights’, because as we all know walkers go rambling, ramblers go hiking and hikers post about it on Instagram. Today I’ve stolen a day away from work and I’m in Yorkshire by the banks of the River Nidd. I have a couple of hours before sundown so I’m off for a ramble. But don’t worry, by the time it gets to social media it’ll be an expedition.

I was so hungry when I got off the train I headed straight for a café on the riverside, down an old stone staircase called Gallons Steps. Actually there was a plastic barrier at the top but I ignored that and went down anyway as it was clearly an unmissable snicket. It leads eventually to Marigolds Café and an excellent home made victoria sponge. It’s a sharp, bright winter late afternoon, there’s a woodstove burning inside and a perfect view back to the railway viaduct straddling Nidd Gorge.

The afternoon is clear and the view of my route looks pretty decent too. The more I walk later in the day the more I think I should do much more of it. I’ve never been an early riser.

On the far bank is Mother Shipton’s Cave, which has the dubious honour of being England’s oldest tourist attraction, having been fleecing the punters since 1630. It has a petrifying well, where at all times of the year hang tiny teddies which are slowly ‘turned to stone’ under the dripping sulphate and carbonate. Small children are petrified of it. Sadly as it’s well worth the £33 per car fee, it’s closed until March, but having been there many times I can tell you the museum is sublime, as it contains petrified items such as Debbie McGee’s rabbit, Agatha Christie’s handbag and, the pièce de resistance, Bobby Davro’s sock.

You can learn all about 15th century Mother Shipton, mysogynistically referred to in her lifetime as ‘hag face’ and later as ‘witch’ (obviously), and her wise woman herbs. The credulous can also learn about her appalling hit rate in prognostication, none of which was ever documented in her lifetime and involved the prediction of the river Ouse flooding (happens most years), something vague about Cardinal Wolsey being a peacock, and not forgetting of course, ‘The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one’ published by some bloke in 1862 who later admitted to having made it up. (Something which it might have been useful to know as a child when it was transposed to 1981 and I spent weeks thinking everything in my life, including the cat, was going to die imminently).

The castle in summertime

I’m walking on roads along the river bank under the castle and beside the deep cut of the sandstone gorge, full of weathered holes which I hope are full of birds and bats. You can make a detour up to the castle as there’s a path up but I don’t think I’ve ever been. Paying to visit ruins wasn’t really what we did growing up. We preferred free days out (Mother Shipton’s Cave excepted). I can hear treecreepers (thanks ChirpOMatic) and suddenly there’s a silky black cormorant arrowing down the river. The man passing me tells me the cormorant lives up in the big tree and he takes a walk each evening as far as the tree, which is as good a reason as any to take a walk.

Cut into the rock is Our Lady of the Crag Chapel, a tiny medieval shrine which dates from 1408. The story goes that it was excavated by a mason in thanks for his son being saved from a falling rock. It’s open on sundays in Summer. Further along is a cave cut into the steep bank below, known as St. Robert’s cave. He was a medieval hermit who lived here for 30 years. In 1216 King John came to visit followed by hoards of pilgrims; it is not recorded what the hermit thought of all the visitors but presumably he had no objection to the 40 acres of farmland the king gave him.

Soon after I cross Grimbald Bridge to the other bank of the river Nidd. The word Nidd is probably Celtic, maybe earlier, sharing a lexical past with other European rivers from the proto-indo-European –nedi meaning river. Grimbald is Anglo-Saxon and means fierce, brave and bold. I assume there was a lot of trouble on this bridge back in the day, but today it’s quiet enough except for some gunshots in the distance. Hopefully someone is missing rabbits. This side of the bank is rough and muddy, as it takes me through Birkham wood and back towards town.

I’m treading over gnarly tree roots which seem to be struggling to keep the bank where it ought to be. It’s much quieter on this side, in fact I don’t see anyone, not even in the deserted static caravan park near the bridge. I keep an eye on the skies as I’ve read it’s a good place to see birds murmurating, but no joy this evening. Just peaceful pathways, a lot of mud and a dusk chorus. It’s a slow way back under Gallow Hill. Hmm Gallow Hill, nothing to be concerned about there, being in a gorge in the twilight, surrounded by the ghosts of medieval hermits and soothsayers.

I emerge from the woods onto a busy road which will take me back through the market square and town centre. There in the distance, as if lighting the way, is a cosy looking pub. Now I might have mentioned, I might not, that my mother was a witch, and it’s just possible I have inherited prophesying because before I get close I make a prediction. A prediction that will startle men’s wits to stone with its accuracy. I have foretold it, I know the name of this inn: it will be The Mother Shipton. Obviously.

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Walk info

The walk is straightforward but if you prefer the GPX is here. There are plenty of places for refreshments along the way. Knaresborough is not short of pubs and cafés. I began and ended at the station as I was staying at The Mitre. It’s also a very easy train journey from York or Leeds.

12 responses to “Knaresborough Evening Ramble”

  1. Enjoyable and interesting read, the opening sounds like the walking forum I’m on with a long and completely pointless debate about walking/hiking/trekking terminology! Evening walks are lovely, a time to reflect on the day. Think I would give that museum a miss though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s one of those endless debates. Maybe we should invent wambliking

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that’s a word!


  2. That looks an interesting place, though the cave would scare me I think. Bobby Davros sock. Shudder! 😃 I think bizarrely there is actually a breed of moth called the Mother Shipton Moth. Are there still ravens at Knaresbrough Castle?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s absolutely true, the mother shipton moth has markings which (if you squint a bit) look like two hags. I forgot to mention that, thanks! I’ve not heard of the ravens, I intended to visit finally but it was shut :/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There was a very vocal raven called Isabella. Perhaps she is still around, was about 5 years ago we visited.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. How brilliant. Next time i’ll go look for Isabella

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so interesting, I would love to visit these places! So much history. 🇬🇧❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the picture of that Inn. That would be a place I’d love to visit. Not being a walker, rambler, or hiker, I had never considered there would be such lively debate about the definitions of each. The Petrifying Well…first I have heard of it. I’m curious as to how that came into being.


  5. What a lovely read about a lovely walk. Im going to share this with my sister Pippa who has just moved to Settle.


    1. Camped many times in Settle. She’s not far from Dent too which is one of my favourite places, particularly in June with all the hay meadows.


  6. This is an amazing place I could visit. Thanks Anita

    Liked by 1 person

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