Knaresborough, Nidderdale – Off the Beaten Track

Update September 2014: New photographs have been added at the end of this article.

York is an internationally recognised tourist destination, Leeds is well-known as the 24 hour city and the spa town of Harrogate is a popular conference centre. Close by is the picturesque but little known town of Knaresborough. Make time to visit this ancient market town sitting on the River Nidd; you won’t be disappointed.

View from Knaresborough Castle

It is easy to get to Knaresborough by road, being just 4 miles west of the A1(M). It’s equally easy by rail, as Knaresborough sits on the scenic Leeds-Harrogate-York line.

The market place at the centre of the town has several fine, old buildings, including a Chemist Shop that is reputed to be the oldest in England;  it was first used as a pharmacy around 1720.

Ancient walkways and cobbled alleys lead from the market place, past an ugly, new police station – pity it can’t be moved – to the ruins of Knaresborough Castle, set in well-tended gardens. The castle remains date back to the 14th Century and it is said that Richard II was imprisoned in the keep.

Remains of Knaresborough
Remains of Knaresborough Castle

The surprise comes as you walk around to the front of the castle. The land suddenly drops away into the valley of the River Nidd, giving magnificent views over the lower town and the railway viaduct.

From the castle you can stroll down steep, winding paths to a riverside walk and the Bebra Gardens below the castle.

The pathway along the opposite bank leads to Mother Shipton’s Cave. It is reputed that the soothsayer Mother Shipton (1488-1561) was born in the cave, but the attraction to tourists since 1630 has been the petrifying powers of the water which flows over the cave entrance. This so-called Petrifying Well can convert an object, like a hat, to stone within a few months.

Brimham Rocks looking over Nidderdale
Brimham Rocks looking over Nidderdale

I remember being taken to this site when very young and finding it quite mysterious and scary. As a Senior I can now marvel at the science involved. And I now get a 20% Senior discount on the entry charges!

Whilst in the area, don’t miss out on some of outstanding heritage sites nearby.

Head ten miles up the River Nidd to Brimham Rocks, a group of balancing rock formations up to 100 ft high. They afford panoramic views of Nidderdale. It is a National Trust managed site that is open throughout the year, dawn till dusk. There is no charge for admission, but parking is payable if you are not an NT member.

Fountains Abbey from the high path
Fountains Abbey from the high path

Just a few miles NE of Brimham Rocks, and crossing over to Wensleydale, brings you to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The abbey remains are some of the best preserved Cistercian monastic ruins in England, set in the attractive River Skell valley.

Walking down the valley from the abbey takes you through the Georgian landscaped water garden, with statues, follies and a tunnel. The high path gives spectacular views back towards Fountains Abbey.

Conveniently placed near the end of the walk is a tea room which serves excellent hot chocolate, particularly appreciated by me on the cold frosty day when I last visited. Nearby is a Deer Park which dates back to medieval times.

Relaxing in the Deer Park
Relaxing in the Deer Park

The site is maintained by English Heritage, but owned by the National Trust; members of both organisations get free entry. It is one of the few major heritage sites that is open almost every day of the year; see my article English Heritage and the National Trust – Winter openings?

See: English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to join? for more information about these two heritage organisations.

Update September 2014

Senior Travel Expert’s Photo Editor, Snapper John Esser, has just visited Knaresborough, Brimham Rocks and Fountains Abbey.  Below are some of his stylish photographs, including the key to what really happened to ET:

Knaresborough Market Place - Ye Oldest Chemist Shop in England
Knaresborough Market Place – Ye Oldest Chemist Shop in England
River Nidd at Knaresborough
River Nidd at Knaresborough
Remnant of the Tour de France near Knaresborough Castle
Remnant of the Tour de France in Knaresborough
ET Gone Home to Brimham Rocks
ET Gone Home to Brimham Rocks
Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey

John stayed at the Holiday Inn in Harrogate.  It’s in an excellent location, convenient for restaurants and shops and the staff were pleasant and helpful. However the bathroom was tired and in need of a facelift and access to free internet was a hassle.