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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Monday, 26 October 2015

An Unkindness for Halloween

And so to Mother Shipton's Cave in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, where I've been meaning to go for a long time.  It turns out that Halloween is a great time to visit, because the staff dress up and there are lots of hammy mannequins positioned around the woods which aren't in the least bit creepy until you forget they're there and then suddenly glimpse them and jump.

First though, lunch in the pub over the road - The World's End, so called because Mother Shipton, a witch and prophet who, we are told, lived here in the 15th and 16th centuries, declared the world would end if the bridge over the River Nidd fell for a third time.  (So far, it's happened twice.)
Unlike Daughter the Elder, I'm not a massive fan of kitsch, but there was plenty during the woodland walk to the Cave and Dropping Well to interest me. 
Like some altogether more tasteful carvings made from those much prized beech trees which have had to be felled owing to disease ... 
 ... and Igraine and George Skelton, keeper of the ravens at nearby Knaresborough Castle. Along with two of their charges.  

Although I've often heard - then seen - ravens flying overhead on Dartmoor and in Wales - and even over our local park in Bristol the other day - and have been moved to write several poems as a result, I've rarely had the chance to get that close to one before, and I was stunned by the hugeness of its presence.  It was like being next to a sizeable dog. 

This raven is called Izabella. Here's Graine telling her story in an excerpt from a documentary video by David Steans. 

Also present was this little chap, which I took for an oversized relative of the magpie from a distance, but who is, in fact, a crow-sized African Pied Raven, named Mourdour after the necromancer in Ivanhoe. 

It was very touching to see the close relationship between Igraine and her birds, and when she told of how one of her other ravens, HM Gabriel, had been found dead a month back, we all got rather tearful. 

Here's Daughter the Elder with HM Gabriel back in August, conjoined with a photo of my grandmother, Hilda Hill, because they are so alike.

Then it was time for Mother Shipton's Cave and the famous Dropping Well, the waters of which are so high in minerals that they petrify everything that is left there.  This makes for some rather eerie, nay positively Gothick sights. 

Then it was off to make a wish in the well - dip your right hand in water and keep it there while you make a wish but don't tell anyone and be sure not to wish for money - oh why not! - or harm to befall another and when you take your hand out, don't wipe it on anything but let it dry by itself - and to view the cave where the decidedly unbonny Ursula Southeil aka Mother Shipton is reputed to have been born to a very young, unmarried mother, banished from the town for not divulging the name of her baby's father, in 1488. 

I'm not sure what to make of the phenomenon that is Mother Shipton. It's tempting to see it as simply a very early manifestation of the tourist industry, but the story feels far far older than that to me. 

I kind of like the poetry of what are alleged to be her prophecies:

Then upside down the world shall be
And gold found at the root of tree
All England’s sons that plough the land
Shall oft be seen with Book in hand 
The poor shall now great wisdom know 
Great houses stand in far flung vale 
All covered o’er with snow and hail.

Time to walk back along the river - all Klimtian with the last of the sun, reflecting the pink cliff on the opposite bank, atop which stands the remains of the Castle - to be visited another day.



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