Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon

Ripon’s tribal origins

Ripon is a small but fascinating cathedral city. It was formerly in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but now, along with the other former West Riding towns of Harrogate and Knaresborough, it is located in the county of North Yorkshire. Ripon was situated in the West Riding Wapentake called Claro, which is named from a hill near Coneythorpe to the east of Knaresborough.

Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral © David Simpson

Like the Yorkshire Ridings, Wapentakes are administrative districts of Viking origin, however this Wapentake didn’t use the name Claro until around 1166 and had previously been known as the Wapentake of Burghshire. The burgh in question was Aldborough, which was presumably its meeting place and this may have moved to the hill near Coneythorpe in the twelfth century.

The name Ripon itself  is first recorded in Anglo-Saxon times and has what is known as a ‘folk name’ which means that it is a name of tribal origin, referring to a people or tribe who settled in the area. This is quite common for counties and regions but rare for the names of villages, towns or cities, which usually take their names from a single individual or from neighbouring natural and geographical features.

Records of the name Ripon include Hrypis and Hripis in 715 AD, Inhrypam in 730, Onripum in 890, Rypum in 1030 and Ripun in the Domesday Book of 1089. Ripon, may have been a place of importance before the building of the first monastery which predates the present cathedral and was perhaps a central meeting place for the Hrype tribe, from which it takes its name.

Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral © David Simpson

The origin of this Anglo-Saxon tribal name and its exact tribal boundaries are unknown, but in later medieval times much of the surrounding district was called Riponshire and it it may have encompassed these lands. It has however been suggested that the tribal area may have covered Yorkshire and the East Midlands though this would seem to stretch the imagination a little.

Nearby Ripley almost certainly means the woodland of the Hyrppes and a place called Ribston may have been a boundary stone. Repton in Derbyshire derives from ‘Hyrpa dun’ that is thought to mean the hill of the Hyrpe tribe, providing possible evidence for settlement further afield but perhaps there was another tribe of the same name.

Ripon and St. Wilfrid

An Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded at Ripon in 657 AD by Alfrith, ruler of the Northumbrian province of Deira and son of the Northumbrian King called Oswy. At first the monastery was settled by monks from Melrose in north Northumbria (it’s now in Scotland) but when the Northumbrians converted from Celtic to Roman Christianity, the monks refused to change their ways. They were evicted and in 671 AD when St Wilfrid, the Bishop of York was given the monastery he became the abbot.

Wilfrid was one of the most influential figures of his time and was the man largely responsible for persuading the North of England to convert from Celtic Christianity to Roman Christianity. The key event in this change was the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD at which Wilfrid played the major role. In that same year Wilfrid was made Bishop of Lindisfarne but this island was firmly set in its Celtic ways so Wilfrid transferred the Bishopric exclusively to York.

Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral © David Simpson

Around 672 AD Wilfrid commenced the building of a new minster church at Ripon on a different site to the earlier monastery. Stonemasons, glaziers and plasterers were employed from Italy and France to build the church.

Wilfrid wished to emulate the basilicas of Rome in the building of his church. He also tried to copy the European styles in his abbey at Hexham in Tynedale, Northumberland which was built two years later.

In 692 AD Wilfrid, by now Bishop of Hexham, was banished from Northumbria after refusing to allow the creation of a new bishopric based at Ripon. John of Beverley became the new Bishop of Hexham but Wilfrid was later allowed to return. He died at the age of 75 while visiting his monastery at Oundle in Northamptonshire but was buried at Ripon.

St Wilfrid’s return from exile is still celebrated at Ripon each July and August in a special procession. Known as the Feast of St Wilfrid, the ceremony originated in a grant made by King Henry I to Thomas, Archbishop of York in 1108.

Ripon Cathedral from the market place
Ripon Cathedral from the market place © David Simpson

Ripon Cathedral

Ripon’s minster church, built by St Wilfrid was granted the privilege of sanctuary by King Athelstan in 934 AD and its status would have continued to grow if it were not for its destruction, probably at the hands of the Vikings in 950 AD. All that remains of St Wilfrid’s church today is the Anglo-Saxon crypt, very similar to another Anglo-Saxon crypt that remains at Hexham Abbey.

Shortly after Ripon’s minster was destroyed, a new church was built, this one lasting until its destruction by the Normans some time after 1066. The Normans began building a new church in 1080 under the authority of Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux. Further reconstruction took place a century later in 1181 under Roger de Ponte l’Eveque, who rebuilt the church in the Norman Transitional style. The cathedral as we see it today is largely his work.

Ripon did not actually become a cathedral (from the Latin cathedra – seat of a Bishop) until 1836 when the diocese of Ripon was created. Stretching from Leeds to the south bank of the River Tees in Teesdale. Ripon was the first diocese to be created since the Reformation.

The Ripon Hornblower

Ripon is located on the River Skell which joins the River Ure on the eastern outskirts of the city. It is the Ure that forms the valley of Wensleydale in its upland stretches but Ripon itself is not regarded as part of Wensleydale.

Ripon is centred around a large rectangular market square, surrounded by Georgian buildings. Here we find a Town Hall of 1801, designed by James Wyatt and a 90ft obelisk of 1703 erected by John Aislabie the then mayor of Ripon who built it in place of an earlier market cross.

Ripon market place © David Simpson

Ripon’s most famous medieval building, apart from the cathedral is the Wakeman’s House in the market square. It is no longer the home of the Wakeman of Ripon, but the Wakeman’s traditional duty of blowing the horn or ‘Setting the Watch’ is still carried out in Ripon – a tradition that has continued for 1,100 years.

At 9pm every evening, a man wearing a three cornered, triangular hat blows a large curved horn in the market place at the obelisk. In historic times the blowing of the horn signified that the care of the town’s folk was now in the hands of the wakeman – a kind of night-watchman. The services of the wakeman had to be paid for and if any person was robbed during the night, the wakeman would have to compensate them for their loss, providing they had paid for his service.

The street-names of Ripon are very typical of northern medieval towns. Many of the streets have names ending in ‘gate’, an old northern word for a street. Thus we have Kirkgate leading from the market place to the cathedral, Agnesgate, St Marygate, Allhallowgate and Blossomgate along with High and Low Skellgate which lead down to the River Skell.

Kirkgate, Ripon
Kirkgate, Ripon © David Simpson

Norton Conyers Hall

The charming Norton Conyers Hall is situated four miles north of Ripon near the pretty village of Wath where the property can be found less than a mile to the east of the River Ure. It is a handsome house with medieval roots and a Dutch gabled exterior. It has been the home of the Graham family for almost 400 years.

Norton Conyers is essentially a late Medieval structure with Tudor and Stuart additions and contains furniture of the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Historically the house was the seat of a family called Norton whose numbers included Richard Norton, a Chief Justice of England in the late fourteenth century. In 1569 a descendant of Richard, a Sir Richard Norton supported the Rising of the North, which was a Catholic rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately for Norton, the rising was a complete disaster and Norton and his two sons were executed on the orders of the Queen.

The Norton Conyers estate passed to the Musgraves and then to the Graham family in 1624. In 1644 Sir Richard Graham, a Royalist of Norton Conyers fought at Marston Moor and somehow managed to return to his beloved home on horseback suffering some twenty-six battle wounds. He would only live the last remaining hour of his life at Norton Conyers and following his death the troops of Cromwell are said to have decimated the house.

In 1679 the house played host to a more welcome guest when the Duke of York, the future King James II, came to stay at the house.

Another famous guest, who came here in 1839, was the author Charlotte Brontë who was inspired by the Norton Conyers legend of a mad aunt being incarcerated in the attic. She later immortalised Norton Conyers as Thornfield Hall in her novel Jane Eyre in which the mad aunt appeared as Mrs Rochester.

The name Norton derives from the Anglo-Saxon words meaning north farm and is probably named from its situation north of Ripon. The Norton family took their name from the settlement but the Conyers element which also occurs in the name of Hutton Conyers (Hutton means high farm) derives from a family surname.

The Conyers family held land in the area between 1099 and 1133 and took their surname from either Cogners or Coignieres in France. Members of the family came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest when William the Conqueror appointed one Roger de Conyers as a Constable of Durham Castle in the North East of England.

Sometime in the twelfth century the Conyers family were granted the manor of Sockburn on Tees on the borders of Durham and Yorkshire. Here the family was associated with the slaying of a legendary beast called the Sockburn Worm. It provided inspiration for the Jabberwock poem of Lewis Carroll who lived in that area. Lewis Carroll’s father was a Rector at Croft on Tees and was a canon at Ripon Cathedral. Some of the peculiar misericords in the pews of Ripon Cathedral are said to have inspired such characters as Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll

Wath and the Thornborough Henges

Wath, just north of Norton Conyers is a pretty village of one main street with the typical characteristics of those North Yorkshire villages found in the Vales of York and Mowbray. The name Wath is Viking and means ‘ford’ probably from the crossing of a small stream here. Other villages with Viking names in the vicinity include Melmerby (meaning farm of the sandy field) and Baldersby which throws up visions of the Norse god Balder.

Man was living in the vicinity of Wath long before the Vikings however. Heading less than two miles north west of Wath in the direction of Masham we reach the villages of Thornborough and Nosterfield. Here we find the enigmatic Thornborough Henges which are arguably the most important prehistoric monument between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.

They are comprised of three huge circular henges aligned by a large cursus – two parallel ditches that stretch almost a mile. They have a slight kink in the shape so that the whole layout appears to resemble the three stars of Orion’s belt. When viewed from aerial photographs, it is an awe-inspiring site.

The henges are thought to be Neolithic and Bronze Age in origin dating back perhaps as far as 3500 BC or at the very least to 2500 BC

Masham, Swinton Park and a Druid’s Temple

Masham is situated to the west of the River Ure about five miles north west of Ripon and is a rather tiny town that is little bigger than a village in size. It does however have an extraordinarily large market place. A market was granted here in the thirteenth century and its popularity and size were probably encouraged by the proximity of Fountains Abbey whose monks wished to trade their extensive agricultural produce.

Masham’s name is pronounced ‘Mas-am’ without a ‘sh’ sound and this often causes confusion for visitors. The town can trace its origins back to Anglo-Saxon times when it was Maessa’s homestead and further evidence of the Anglo-Saxon presence is indicated by an Anglo-Saxon cross at the local church. The church itself may have its roots in those times but is mostly of Norman origin.

Today the name of Masham is synonymous with brewing, as this place is home to two famous breweries. It is perhaps most famously known for the Theakstons Brewery. This was established in 1827 by a Robert Theakston and a John Wood at the Black Bull Inn at Masham in 1827.

In the 1890s Theakstons began brewing Theakston’s Old Peculier which is still one of the most popular brands today. Theakston’s other brewery is the Black Sheep Brewery which has more recent origins. It was established by Paul Theakston in 1991.

A mile to the south west of Masham is the impressive battlemented stately home called Swinton Park which is now a luxury hotel. Set in a two hundred acre park it was built by Sir Abstrupus Danby in 1695 and rebuilt in the 1760s by the architect John Carr or York. The Danby family came into possession of the land here in 1517 which had previously belonged to the Scrope family. In 1882 Swinton became the property of the Cunliffe-Lister family.

About two miles south west of Swinton Park we find a remarkable feature hidden in the woodland. Here is a complete Stonehenge, though a little smaller than the Wiltshire monument of that name. However unlike Stonehenge or the impressive Thornborough Henges that lie to the east of Masham this is fake and folly.

Built in 1820 the henge was the concept of William of Danby of Swinton who employed local men to construct it at during a period when Britain was suffering severe unemployment. He paid the workers a shilling a day for their efforts.

Markenfield Hall

Markenfield Hall three miles to the south of Ripon is an historic house described as one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets, but is only open to the public on limited occasions.

It is reached from the A61 Ripon to Harrogate Road along a side road called Hell Wath Lane. It is only a mile to the south east of Fountains Abbey but there is no direct road route between the two.

The collective buildings of the hall almost form a quadrangle positioned around a large courtyard green, but what makes the whole site impressive is its situation within an island formed by a surrounding moat. It is a rather notable house that deserves to be better known.

Parts of the building, namely the Great Hall, date back as far as 1280, though the building’s recorded history commences in 1310. In that year King Edward II granted John De Markenfield a licence to fortify the house. The De Markenfields were a family of prominence who fought at Agincourt, Bosworth and Flodden but as with the Nortons of Norton Conyers, their involvement in the Catholic rising known as the Rising of the North in 1569, brought about their downfall.

Executions of those involved took place across the north but the Markenfields were fortunate to escape and fled abroad.

Subsequent owners of the property took little interest in its welfare and rarely visited. Fortunately, in 1761 it was purchased by Sir Fletcher Norton, a descendent of the Markenfields and the property found that it was loved once again. Descendants of the family still own the property to this day. Please note that this is a private property and visitors should check the details of the very occasional opening times in advance.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey lies along the valley of the River Skell about two miles west of Ripon. It was founded by a group of thirteen Benedictine monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York. These monks thought that the regime at St Mary’s was not strict enough and wished for a more austere way of living.

Disagreements with the abbey at St Mary had brought them into conflict with the abbot there, but the monks had the support of Thurstan, the Archbishop of York who invited the monks to his collegiate church at Ripon to celebrate Christmas in the year 1132 .

Fountains Abbey © David Simpson

Two days later on December 27 he led them to some waste ground in the valley of the River Skell west of Ripon. Here an abbey was established and a prior called Richard was appointed abbot. The abbey was named Fountains Abbey because of the springs of water that existed in the area.

The following year, the abbey adopted the Cistercian way of life and although they struggled in poverty during the early years, the retirement there of Hugh, the Dean of York in 1135, brought considerable wealth to the abbey.

Fountains Abbey lived in prosperity for much of its history and owned vast areas of land across western Yorkshire as far west as Pen-y-Ghent high in the Pennines.

Much of the land around Ripon and in the lower Ure valley was in the possession of Fountains Abbey, although further up the valley in Wensleydale land belonged to Jervaulx Abbey. Much of the prosperity at these abbeys was based on the trading of wool and lead, utilising two of the Yorkshire Dales’ most abundant resources.

Days of prosperity came to an end with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 and the last abbot, Marmaduke Bradley was given a pension for his enforced retirement. His predecessor, William Thirsk, who had been the abbot of Fountains from 1526-1536 was not so lucky, he was executed by King Henry at Tyburn for plotting against the monarch, along with his friend Adam de Sedbergh, who was the last abbot of Jervaulx.

The ruins of Fountains Abbey are extensive and are one of the most visited properties belonging to the National Trust. The beauty of the ruins is enhanced by their location in the grounds of the Studley Royal Estate. Covering 650 acres of park, woodland and ornamental gardens, Studley Royal is a place of great beauty.

Laid out in the eighteenth century by John Aislabie, the grounds were located around Studley Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1946. This hall should not be confused with Fountains Hall which lies closer to Fountains Abbey gatehouse. This particular hall was built in 1611 by Sir Stephen Proctor who used building materials taken from the abbey.

Newby Hall

The beautiful Newby Hall is situated three miles south east of Ripon near the northern bank of the River Ure where it heads towards the neighbouring town of Boroughbridge. Close by is the village of Skelton on Ure.

Newby is a Viking name meaning the new farm or settlement and was recorded in the 1170s as Neubi. By the 1400s it belonged to a family called Nubie who took their name from the place. Little is known of the property after that time until the seventeenth century when the manor belonged to the Crossland family.

The Crosslands included a Sir Jordan Crossland, a Governor of Scarborough Castle in the reign of Charles II. Sir Jordan’s son sold Newby to Sir Edward Blackett, who became an MP for Ripon later in the century. In 1697 the Blacketts rebuilt the house, seemingly with the assistance of Sir Christopher Wren. This new house was built in a new location a little further from the river and the older property was demolished.

In 1748 Newby was sold to the Weddell family and a William Weddell employed the services of the Yorkshire architect John Carr in the 1760s. Carr seems to have added two wings to the property but by 1767 the famed architect Robert Adam was being employed to construct the galleries.

In 1792 Newby passed to Weddell‘s cousin, Thomas Philip Robinson, who became the 3rd Lord Grantham and he undertook further work on the property.

Grantham’s daughter, Mary, married into the Vyner famiy of Lincolnshire and through her Newby passed to Vyners during the early nineteenth century. It was Mary who instigated the construction of the impressive church in the grounds of the hall. The Compton family who presently own Newby Hall are direct descendants of the Vyners.

Monument to the Battle of Boroughbridge at Aldborough © David Simpson

Aldborough, Boroughbridge and the Devil’s Arrows

Aldborough and Boroughbridge are situated on the Roman Road called Dere Street near the banks of the River Ure about six miles south east of Ripon. Boroughbridge is named from the bridge across the River Ure here.

In 1322 a battle was fought just to the immediate north side of the bridge between the supporters of Thomas the Earl of Lancaster who had rebelled against King Edward II and Royalist supporters of the king led by Sir Andrew Harclay.  It was a decisive Royalist victory and Lancaster was subsequently beheaded at Pontefract Castle, following a trial. A monument to the battle which once stood in the market place at Boroughbridge can be see in in the nearby village of Aldborough.

Plaque commemorating the Battle of Boroughbridge © David Simpson

The ‘borough’ part of Boroughbridge’s name relates to the ancient nearby village of Aldborough means the ‘old burgh’ or the old fortified place and was the site of a Celtic stronghold and later a Roman town called Isurium Brigantum.

The original settlement of the great northern Celtic tribe called the Brigantes was located half way between Aldborough and Boroughbridge. Interestingly the largest fortification of the Brigantes was located in a more northerly part of Yorkshire at Stanwick near a place called Aldbrough (note the slightly different spelling). That Aldbrough is correctly called Aldbrough St. John from its church and is just to the north west of Scotch Corner.

The church at the Aldborough near Boroughbridge is dedicated to St Andrew and is fourteenth century replacing an earlier Norman church that was destroyed by Scottish raiders around 1318.  The Norman church stood on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church which in turn is thought to have stood  on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Mercury.  Some of the stones in the tower are Roman and there is a relief carving of Mercury set into the church wall.  Anothyer interesting feature, within  the church, is the life-size brass memorial of local knight, Sir William de Aldeburg, dating from 1360.

Church of St Andrew at Aldborough
Church of St Andrew at Aldborough on the site of a Roman temple © David Simpson

The Romans established a settlement at the Boroughbridge Aldbororough, to form trade links and encourage civilisation within the ranks of the Brigantian tribe. It became a township of the Romans and was the home of the 9th legion.

By 150 AD this Roman settlement had grown into Isurium Brigantum – a civilian township – the cantonial civitas (city) of the Brigantes and the most northerly tribal centre in Roman Britain. In 1997 a museum was opened here dedicated to the history of the site.

Aldborough near Boroughbridge
Aldborough near Boroughbridge © David Simpson

The great antiquity of the Aldborough area is further demonstrated by the presence of the famous Devil’s Arrows at neighbouring Boroughbridge. Here are three (there were originally four) prehistoric monoliths or menhirs, 18 feet, 21 feet and 22 feet in height, each with a depth of 5 ft.

The type of stone they are made with was probably brought from the Knaresborough area. In legend the Devil’s Arrows are said to have been made by the Devil’s rope, scraping the ground when he tried to hang his grandmother. It is thought that the stones actually served some sort of ceremonial purpose and date from the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.

Knaresborough and the River Nidd
Knaresborough and the River Nidd viewed from the castle © David Simpson

Knaresborough town and castle

Knaresborough was, perhaps, originally a Knar – a stump situated on a ‘burgh’ or fortified site though it is rather a prosaic beginning for a town with such an interesting history. The town is situated in a deep and beautiful gorge formed by the River Nidd, about a mile to the east of Harrogate. The gorge is overlooked by the ruins of Knaresborough Castle which was built in Norman times by a baron called Serlo de Burg.

The castle was rebuilt in the fourteenth century and the ruins of today date from that period. Many famous people are associated with Knaresborough Castle including King Richard II who was imprisoned here in 1399 prior to his imprisonment and murder at Pontefract castle.

Knaresborough Castle
Knaresborough Castle © David Simpson

Over two centuries before, the murderers of Thomas a Becket used Knaresborough Castle as their hiding place for three years. The castle’s life came to an end in 1646 during the Civil War when this Royalist stronghold was destroyed by Parliamentarian troops.

Knaresborough is a market town centred on a market place where a market has been held on a Wednesday since at least 1310, although an earlier market was recorded in 1206. Today the market place is most famous as the home of England’s oldest chemist shop (a pharmacy) which started trading in 1720, when a John Beckwith was the apothecary.

Knaresborough old chemist's shop
Knaresborough old chemist’s shop © David Simpson

Some claim that chemist’s started trading here as early as the thirteenth century. Sadly, however (according to the plaque provided by Knaresborough Civic Society in 2006) the shop has not served as a pharmacy since 1997.

Mother Shipton’s Cave

Knaresborough’s most famous resident of all time was undoubtedly Mother Shipton, the famous ‘witch’ of Yorkshire who was born in a cave in Knaresborough in 1488 during a violent thunder storm.

Mother Shipton’s original name was Ursula Southeil and her mother, Agatha, died giving birth to Ursula. The birth was said to be accompanied by eerie screams, though some may think that not so unusual.

Throughout her childhood Ursula was associated with mysterious events, such as furniture moving up and down stairs of its own accord. Later she married Tony Shipton near York in 1512 and became well known as a fortune teller. Her crooked facial features frightened many – though presumably not Tony – and she was often thought to be a witch.

Sculpture of Old Mother Shipton in Knaresborough market place
Sculpture of Old Mother Shipton in Knaresborough market place © David Simpson

Mother Shipton is associated with many famous predictions and is said to have foretold the Great Fire of London and the defeat of the Spanish Armada as well as the invention of telegraphs and trains, although these last two predictions are now thought to have been fabricated in the nineteenth century:

Carriages without horses shall go
and accidents fill the world with woe
Around the world thoughts shall fly,
in the twinkling of an eye.
Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat.

Even if you don’t believe in witches or Mother Shipton’s prophecies, you cannot deny the magic power of the petrifying well near Mother Shipton’s cave which can turn things to stone. Objects, most notably Teddy bears and dolls are hung up inside the cave and the limestone drenched water from the petrifying well gradually turns the objects to stone with its sediment .

St. Robert’s Cave

Apart from Mother Shipton and the murderers of Thomas a Becket , a number of other famous folk are associated with Knaresborough. Guy Fawkes once lived here, Edward III visited here, Oliver Cromwell slept in a Royal fishing lodge here and Richard II was imprisoned here.

Other Knaresborough notables included William Slingsby (died 1634), the founder of Harrogate’s spa who is commemorated in Knaresborough’s church and Blind Jack Metcalfe (1717-1810) a violinist, pioneering civil engineer, road surveyor, forest guide and smuggler.

Blind Jack Metcalfe
Blind Jack Metcalfe sculptor in Knaresborough © David Simpson market place

Saint Robert’s chapel, which was carved into a rock face alongside the River Nidd in 1408 commemorates Robert Flower (1116-1218), a hermit who lived in the cave there. He reputedly had a gift for healing. In a later century a shoemaker was murdered by a schoolmaster in St Robert’s Cave, adding yet more to the superstition that surrounds this area.

A strange, larger than life carving on the cave of a knight drawing a sword is said to be a representation of Robert. The body of the figure has a medieval appearance but his moustached Edwardian appearance looks like it may have been added in the nineteenth century. Next door to the cave is a famous Knaresborough folly known as the House in the Rock.

Knaresborough’s growth beyond its medieval core was stimulated by the development of the textile industry though Knaresborough never developed to the extent of other Yorkshire wool towns further to the south and it is still essentially an historic market town. Mills were recorded here as early as thirteenth century and a cotton mill was here in 1791 later converted into a flax mill known as Castle Mill.

Knaresborough Viaduct
Knaresborough Viaduct and the River Nidd © David Simpson

Today Knaresborough is a place of great beauty with the castle towering high above the River Nidd and the elegant railway viaduct of 1851. The viaduct, with its castellated features replaced an earlier viaduct that collapsed into the River Nidd upon completion in 1848.

Nidderdale and Pateley Bridge

Nidd, the river of Knaresborough gives its name to Nidderdale and is a Celtic river name thought to mean ‘brilliant’. Several pecuiar place-names can be found in the Nidderdale area including Kettlesing, Kettlesing Bottom, Birstwith, Blubberhouses, Burnt Yates and Bedlam.

The extraordinary Brimham Rocks are a particularly interesting feature of the lower Nidderdale area. They form an impressive park of natural stone formations, nature’s very own sculpture park nestled amongst the bracken and heather high up on a hill overlooking the Vale of York.

The rocks, some 20 feet high, have been carved by the forces of nature alone through various weathering processes and form many strange and mysterious shapes that capture the imagination. They have intriguing names like the Druid’s Writing Desk, Dancing Bear, Flowerpot, Blackmsith’s Anvil, Lover’s Leap, The Idol, The Eagle and the Sphinx.

There are many other impressive natural features in the Nidderdale area including How Stean Gorge in Upper Nidderdale. This is a deep ravine sometimes known as Yorkshire’s Little Switzerland. Then we have the Stump Cross Caverns west of Pateley Bridge that are half way between Nidderdale and Wharfedale. Here fossilized bones of large animals like bison have been found that lived here 200,000 years ago.

The little town of Pateley Bridge with its Georgian houses is the capital of the upper part of the dale and is home to the award winning Nidderdale Museum. Pateley Bridge has been a market town since the fourteenth century and was once a centre for flax and linen making. Above the town are the ruins of a medieval church dedicated to St Mary.

Ripley Castle

The B6165 road follows the Nidd valley south from Nidderdale to Knaresborough and Harrogate, and passes close to Ripley Castle on the Harrogate to Ripon road. The castle has been the home of the Ingilby family since the 1320s and nearby Ripley village was an estate village laid out by William Amcotts Ingilby in the 1820s.

Ripley’s residents have included Henry Ingilby, a tax collector for King Edward III. Another Ingilby resident was a Francis Ingilby, who like many other prominent family members in the Ripon area couldn’t resist being involved in a Catholic plot against the monarchy. He was executed in 1586.

A Royal visitor came to Ripley in the form of King James I who stayed in the castle in 1603. Only two years later the Ingilbys were amongst the notables involved in the Gunpowder Plot with which another prominent Yorkshireman, Guy Fawkes, is most closely associated.

Harrogate Spa

Harrogate’s name derives from Har-low-Gata meaning Grey-Hill-Road and of course the name Harlow is still nominally remembered at Harrogate in the beautiful Harlow Carr gardens. The fame of Harrogate as a spa town can be attributed to one William Slingsby who discovered spring waters, similar to those he had tasted abroad, in a well at Harrogate called Tewitt well.

Today a dome marks the site of the well within the large open space at the centre of Harrogate known as the Stray. The Harrogate Stray is one of the many pleasant features of this lovely town and covers some 200 acres. It was created by an act of Parliament in 1770.

Harrogate ultimately owes its modern grandeur to William Slingsby and his spa. Before his time, the place was merely a village close to the historic town of Knaresborough. Today Harrogate is much bigger than its historic neighbour across the River Nidd to the east and Knaresborough is now part of the administrative district called Harrogate Borough Council.

A Victorian illustration of Harrogate

Harrogate, the spa town, famous for its sulphur and iron rich waters increased in popularity during the eighteenth century when a physician called Timothy Bight claimed the spa water at Harrogate had healing properties. It was claimed that the waters of Harrogate could cure almost anything, including nervous tension, gout, rheumatism and lumbago.

The Tewitt Well at Harrogate can be found on the Stray along with a number of other wells, notably the seventeenth century St John’s Well. This particular well was named after a church, later replaced by Christ’s Church in Church Square. The well was discovered by a Dr Michael Stanhope and featured in his publication Cures without care in 1627.

Other wells at Harrogate include the Magnesia Well which was discovered in 1895. It is located in Harrogate’s valley gardens along with many other mineral wells. Perhaps the most famous of Harrogate’s wells was a sulphur well known as the Stinking Spaw. It is incorporated into The Royal Pump Room, which is now a Harrogate museum. The pump room dates back to 1842 and the present museum depicts the history of Harrogate as a spa town.

Wetherby and Spofforth

Notable places around Harrogate include Wetherby to the south which today is principally known as the location of a major junction on the A1 or Great North Road. Historically it seems that Wetherby was a Viking settlement as all Yorkshire places that end in the letters ‘by’ were once Scandinavian manors or farms, usually of Danish origin. Wether is the name given to a castrated ram. Wetherby is officially part of the City of Leeds.

Boston Spa to the south of Wetherby on the road to Tadcaster takes its name from the mineral spring founded here in 1744 by John Shires. The town is noted for its Georgian houses but as a spa town it never seems to have achieved the same popularity as Harrogate.

Boston Spa and Wetherby’s local river is the River Wharfe which flows through the countryside here east towards Tadcaster and then beyond to join the Ouse near Selby. The whole of this region is lowland country within the Vale of York. The actual dale of Wharfedale lies in the Pennines further to the west.

Yorkshire has its share of unusual place-names and one such name is Folifoot between Wetherby and Harrogate. This is apparently where the sport of fighting wild horses (foals) took place in Viking times. Horse fighting was certainly noted as a pastime carried out by the Vikings. The name can be translated as ‘foal fight’.

Spofforth near Folifoot is the site of Spofforth Castle, now a ruin but it is famous as the birthplace of Harry Hotspur Percy who was immortalised by Shakespeare. Hotspur and the Percies were more closely associated with the county of Northumberland. Spofforth Castle was built in 1308 by Henry Percy. The grave of the eighteenth century smuggler Blind Jack Metcalfe can be seen in Spofforth church.

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