WISE woman, prophetess, soothsayer and witch are all descriptions ascribed to Ursula Sontheil, the famously hideous 16th century recluse said to have predicted The Great Fire of London and the defeat of the Spanish Armada among other things.
In rhyming couplets.
Though many of her alleged prophesies – iron ships, horseless carriages, the end of the world – were likely invented by an unscrupulous late-Victorian publisher, Knaresborough nonetheless trades high on tourists drawn to the cave where she was born. Nearby is the famous petrifying well, which is hung with a host of everyday objects which slowly turn to stone in the cascading water.
You’ll see her image all around the town; her statue in the market square is close to that of road builder Blind Jack Metcalfe, another famous son of Knaresborough. A footpath to the cave starts at the side of the Mother Shipton Inn, a low whitewashed building which stands beside Low Bridge on the southern fringes of the town centre. It has recently reopened after a £200,000 refurbishment by owners Admiral Taverns which has seen it improved and decorated throughout to lose its slightly faded, jaded feel. It has a new kitchen, new roof – and a whole renewed commitment to great beer.
Images of Mother Shipton are everywhere to be seen, including a large portrait above an ancient stone fireplace hung with bellows, pokers, pots and pans, as though you had walked right into her scullery.
Stepping through the front door, you enter a small snug to the right, where an L-shaped bar offers four cask ales - John Smith’s, Hobgoblin and two from Theakston’s on this visit. a nest of little rooms open off from here, including a lower dining area with views over the River Nidd. After picking up our drinks, we’re offered a place by the fire, which sounds a fine idea on a chilly November evening, but it turns out that the fire hasn’t actually been lit, so we opt to sit beside the radiator instead.
The room we’ve chosen is to the left of the main door and has been brought back into use after being abandoned some time ago. Its dramatic beamed ceilings, bare brick and chandeliers help create a quite atmospheric place to spend time; around the walls are old prints, maps, watercolours of wildlife and sketches of local scenes. Floral wing chairs nestle either side of a wood burning stove.
The refit certainly seems to have attracted a healthy number of customers, drinkers and diners are spread around in roughly equal measure – a large party at one long table in the dining room seems to be drinking to the success of the venture, rather enthusiastically.
Judging by the quality of the food it should do really well. I start with succulent scallops which are bathing in a big-tasting sweet green pea sauce liberally dashed with chunks of black pudding and topped with crispy Parma ham – and presented in a style which many decent high-end restaurants would be proud of. My partner sings the praises of the rich and creamy duck liver and orange parfait, but she’s not for sharing.
She follows this with a slab of sirloin steak, while I go for the pie of the day, a castle-shaped construction with bottom, sides and top of browned crusty pastry and packed with big chunks of steak and kidney in a rich ale gravy and served with a colourful bowl of vegetables. All this made for an excellent dinner, washed down with some great beer, and finally fulfilling one of Mother Shipton’s lesser known prophesies:
In twenty hundred and seventeen, Taverner will visit – and be very keen.
Address: Low Bridge, Knaresborough Type: Lively community pub with quality dining
Hosts: Tony Robb and Samantha Small
Opening Hours: 4pm-midnight Mon, noon-midnight Tues-Sun
Beers: John Smith’s Bitter, Hobgoblin Gold, Theakston’s Masham Ale and Theakston’s Best plus Amstel, Kronenbourg and Moretti lagers
Wine: Good selection
Food: Excellent a la carte menu of quality pub meals, plus a changing list of specials. Food served noon-9pm Tues-Sat and noon-7pm Sun
Children: Welcomed. Kids’ meals available
Disabled: Slightly tricky access and a number of split-level areas
Beer Garden: Attractive riverside area
Parking: Small area to the side
Phone: 01423 865638