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Knaresborough: A Charming Town with Unique Attractions

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Knaresborough, pronounced as (/ˈnɛərzbərə/ NAIRZ-bər-ə), is a charming market and spa town nestled within the scenic landscapes of North Yorkshire, England. Situated three miles (approximately five kilometres) to the east of Harrogate, it was part of the Borough of Harrogate until April 2023.

Historical Significance:

Knaresborough has a rich history dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086 when it was known as Chenaresburg, signifying “Cenheard’s fortress.” Originally situated in the wapentake of Burghshire, it later adopted the name Claro Wapentake in the 12th century. The town’s heritage is closely tied to Knaresborough Castle, a Norman stronghold, which played a pivotal role in its growth.

Around 1100, Knaresborough began to flourish as it provided a market for the region and attracted traders servicing the castle. The parish church, St John’s, was established during this period. The town’s earliest recorded Lord was Serlo de Burgh in 1115 when he held the Honour of Knaresborough from the King.

Knaresborough, noted in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Chenaresburg, signifying “Cenheard’s fortress in the wapentake of Burghshire,” underwent a transformation to Claro Wapentake in the 12th century. The Norman-built Knaresborough Castle, established around 1100, played a pivotal role in the town’s expansion, fostering a market that attracted traders to cater to the castle’s needs. Concurrently, the parish church, St John’s, emerged, and the earliest recorded Lord of Knaresborough, Serlo de Burgh, held the Honour of Knaresborough from the King around 1115.

In 1158, Hugh de Morville acquired the Honour of Knaresborough and later became infamous for his involvement in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket. However, he forfeited the lands in 1173, not for the Becket incident but for his role in the rebellion of Henry the Young King. Knaresborough

The Stuteville family took over the Honour of Knaresborough until King John claimed it for himself in 1205 after the Stuteville line was broken. The town’s first market, mentioned in 1206, received a Royal Charter from Edward II in 1310. The castle, witness to rebel occupations and Scottish invasions, gained significance in regional administration after Queen Philippa was granted the Honour in 1328.

Following the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, Knaresborough Castle faced a siege during the English Civil War. Although it fell, Parliament’s order for destruction in 1646 was carried out in 1648, mainly by citizens looting the stone, leaving a mark on the town’s architecture.

The railway era commenced in 1848 with the opening of the railway station, replaced in 1851. Knaresborough’s railway connection to Boroughbridge persisted until 1950, with complete dismantling in 1964. Today, the town stands as a testament to its rich historical tapestry, from Norman fortresses to medieval markets and railway developments.


Notable Events:

One of the most significant historical events tied to Knaresborough is the involvement of Hugh de Morville. In 1158, he was granted the Honour of Knaresborough, becoming constable of the town and one of the four knights involved in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. These knights sought refuge in Knaresborough Castle. Hugh de Morville’s lands were forfeited in 1173, not for the murder of Thomas Becket, but for his association with the rebellion of Henry the Young King.

The Honour of Knaresborough then passed through various hands, including the Stuteville family and, eventually, King John himself. Knaresborough has a distinction as the place where the first Maundy Money was distributed by King John in 1210.


Market Heritage:

While a market was mentioned in 1206, it was not until 1310, during the reign of Edward II, that Knaresborough was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market. To this day, a market is held every Wednesday in the market square, maintaining a tradition that has spanned centuries.

Cultural and Community Life:

Knaresborough has a vibrant cultural and community scene, with events like the annual Bed Race, which has been organized since 1966 by the Knaresborough Lions Club. The town also hosts a parkrun at Conyngham Hall, providing an opportunity for locals and visitors to enjoy the beautiful surroundings while staying active.

The town’s historical charm has attracted filmmakers, with Knaresborough being used as a backdrop in TV series like “The New Statesman” and the 2019 American television film “A Very British Christmas.”

Knaresborough Castle:

Perched atop a cliff overlooking the picturesque River Nidd, Knaresborough Castle has a storied past. The original castle dates back to the 12th century, and remnants such as the East Gate, King’s Tower, and Court House, harken back to the 14th century. Visitors can explore the Castle dungeon, view a garde robe, and even take a journey through the sally port, a hidden escape route beneath the Castle walls.

Knaresborough’s history, market traditions, and captivating Castle continue to make it a place of significance and a delightful destination for visitors and residents alike.

Knaresborough Christmas Market: The first weekend in December brings a festive atmosphere to Knaresborough’s Marketplace. Visitors can explore stalls filled with seasonal produce and holiday goods. The two-day event offers seasonal entertainment, culminating in a dazzling firework display at the Castle.

Fright Night: For those seeking spooky thrills, Knaresborough hosts an annual Halloween event known as Fright Night. Ghouls and zombies take to the streets, and those brave enough can follow hidden clues to unravel the mysteries of the night.


Mother Shipton’s Cave: One of England’s oldest tourist attractions, this site is steeped in history. Mother Shipton, an English prophetess, was born in a cave next to the River Nidd in Knaresborough. She made uncannily accurate predictions in her time, including the Great Fire of London in 1666. You can explore the petrifying well, visit the cave, browse the museum, and gift shop, or simply enjoy a leisurely woodland walk. Plan your visit at

Wednesday Market: Knaresborough’s Wednesday market is a bustling hub of activity. It offers a wide variety of fresh produce, cheeses, local goods, clothing, health foods, plants, and more. It is a great place to experience the lively Marketplace.

Wood Sculptures on Abbey Road: While walking along Abbey Road by the River Nidd, you will encounter stunning wood carvings by the renowned Tommy Craggs, a chainsaw sculptor from the North East. Look out for intricate sculptures like the dragon and kingfisher, among others.

Ye Oldest Chemist Shoppe in England: Reputedly the oldest chemist shop in England, this establishment, dating back to the 1720s, now houses the Lavender Tearooms. Here, you can find a range of confectionery, herbal remedies, and gifts.

Jacob Smith Park (JSP): This 30-acre park is a cherished space in Knaresborough, generously bequeathed to the community by Winifred Jacob Smith MBE. It offers a serene escape from the bustle of life, promoting mental and physical well-being. JSP is a wildlife haven, a recreational area, and a site of historical significance. It encourages a deep connection with nature and community.

Knaresborough Castle: The history of Knaresborough is rich and varied. The castle, initially built around 1100, stands on a cliff overlooking the river Nidd. It has a storied past, from being used as a refuge for those involved in the assassination of Thomas Becket to its association with various royal figures. The castle, now in ruins, is open to the public and offers tours, including a glimpse into its dungeons and the Courtroom Museum.


Knaresborough Castle Ravens: For two decades, Knaresborough Castle has been home to ravens, with the famous Raven Izabella even becoming an internet sensation due to her Yorkshire accent. These charming birds have captivated visitors from around the world and have become an integral part of the castle’s history.

A Lancastrian Castle in Yorkshire: Knaresborough Castle is a royal castle, with a history that ties back to the English monarchy and the Duchy of Lancaster. It is a reminder of the fascinating interplay of history and geography.

Knaresborough’s history is intertwined with these attractions, offering a blend of ancient and modern experiences for visitors to enjoy.

Knaresborough boasts a rich tapestry of history and fascinating characters that have left an indelible mark on this charming town. The story begins with the establishment of the present parish church, St John’s, around 1115 when Serlo de Burgh held the Honour of Knaresborough from the King. However, the true allure of Knaresborough lies in the colourful personalities that have called it home.

One such figure is Blind Jack, a man who, despite losing his vision, became a pioneer road builder in the 1900s and can still be found today, sitting on a bench in the Market Square. Knaresborough’s public art trail tells the stories of renowned individuals like Guy Fawkes and King John. Notably, Hugh de Morville, who was granted the Honour of Knaresborough in 1158, played a dark role in history as the leader of the group of knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The four knights sought refuge in Knaresborough’s castle. While Hugh de Morville eventually forfeited his lands, it was not due to his involvement in the murder of Thomas Becket but for his “complicity in the rebellion of Henry the Young King.”

The Honour of Knaresborough passed through various hands, including the Stuteville family and King John himself. It was King John who, in 1210, distributed the first Maundy Money in Knaresborough. Knaresborough Forest, extending south of the town, was a favourite hunting ground for the king.

Despite the town’s historical significance, it was not until 1310 that Edward II granted Knaresborough a Royal Charter to hold a market. To this day, a market is held every Wednesday in the bustling market square. The town’s history is punctuated by events like the occupation of the castle by rebels in Edward II’s reign and the later destruction of parts of the town and parish church by Scots invaders.

Knaresborough’s connection to royalty continued when Queen Philippa was granted the “Castle, Town, Forest and Honour of Knaresborough” by Edward III. The castle has since remained part of the Duchy of Lancaster. In more recent history, the railway age arrived in 1848 with the opening of a railway station. The town’s heritage also includes John Metcalf, known as Blind Jack, who, despite losing his sight at a young age, became a pioneering road builder, violinist, and tour guide.

One of Knaresborough’s most famous attractions is Old Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well, which has been intriguing tourists since the 17th century, including a visit from Henry VIII. Ripley Castle and Deer Park offer more historical wonders for visitors, and a leisurely boat ride on the river Nidd allows you to appreciate the town’s historic architecture and the impressive viaduct.

Today, Knaresborough continues to captivate visitors with the remains of its castle, which are open to the public. The castle grounds provide a scenic backdrop for leisure activities, such as bowling and putting, as well as cultural events like the annual FEVA (Festival of Visual Arts and Entertainment). The town has modern amenities, including supermarkets, restaurants, and shops, concentrated around the High Street, Marketplace, and Castle Courtyard. The town’s educational institutions, including King James’ School and local libraries, cater to the needs of its residents.

Knaresborough’s vibrant community life extends to its sports clubs, including Knaresborough Town F.C., Knaresborough Rugby Club, and two cricket clubs, each contributing to the town’s lively atmosphere. And let us not forget the famous Knaresborough Bed Race, a beloved event that has been held since 1966, drawing participants and spectators from near and far.

n 2014, Knaresborough had the privilege of hosting Stage 2 of the Tour de France, cementing its place in the annals of sports history. Today, Knaresborough continues to be a town that seamlessly blends its rich past with a vibrant present, making it a unique and engaging destination for all.

Some of the Shops in Knaresborough

  1. Delicatessen Cheesemonger Sandwich Shop
    • Phone: 01423 865027
    • Location: 3 Market Place, Knaresborough HG5 8AL
    • A charming family-owned delicatessen, cheesemonger, and sandwich shop nestled in the heart of Knaresborough. We pride ourselves on offering freshly made, locally sourced produce. Additionally, we provide outside catering and delivery services.
  2. Castlegate Books
    • Phone: 01423 862222
    • Location: 13 Market Place, Knaresborough, HG5 8AL
    • An independent bookshop in Knaresborough, offering a delightful selection of new books both in-store and online. We proudly sell and redeem national book tokens and feature a curated collection of greetings cards.
  3. Jil Long Hairdressing
    • Phone: 0794 4397301
    • Location: 1 Green Dragon Yard, Knaresborough HG5 8AU
    • For Ladies, Gents, and Children’s Haircutting, full-color services, weddings, straightening, and perms, visit us conveniently located in the center of Knaresborough. Take advantage of our services while enjoying nearby cafes and art galleries.
  4. Donkeys Years Antiques
    • Phone: 01423 869564
    • Location: 9 Silver Street, Knaresborough, HG5 8AJ
    • A popular destination for locals, tourists, and trade buyers, Donkeys Years Antiques is a two-floor shop in the heart of Knaresborough. Explore a diverse selection of antiques, vintage items, jewelry, decor, and gifts from over 40 individual businesses.
  5. The Clothing Store of Knaresborough
    • Phone: 01423 861552
    • Location: 58 High Street, Knaresborough, HG5 0EA
    • Experience a spacious and relaxed shopping atmosphere for ladies’ and men’s fashion on the High Street. Specializing in ladies’ Italian Clothing ranging from sizes 8 to 32.
  6. The Wine Shop
    • Phone: 01423 869949
    • Location: 18 Market Place, Knaresborough, HG5 8AG
    • Explore a vast selection of wines, beers, and spirits, with a focus on Yorkshire gins and craft ales. Choose from over 150 gins, 100 malt whiskies, and 130 Yorkshire ales.
    • Explore Knaresborough
  7. Zigzag Cards and Gifts
    • Phone: 01423 866909
    • Location: 27b High Street, Knaresborough, HG5 0ET
    • A delightful card and gift shop featuring Ashleigh and Burwood Fragrance Oil burners. Our collection ranges from traditional florals to the whimsically fun Rosie Made A Thing and Dandelion Stationery.
  8. The Crystal Buddha, Mind Body & Spirit Shop
    • Phone: 07767321388
    • Location: 20 High St, Knaresborough HG5 0EQ
    • Discover a stunning selection of precious and semi-precious gemstone jewelry set in sterling silver, ethically crafted for The Crystal Buddha.
  9. Harriet’s Ladies Clothing
    • Phone: 01423 863375
    • Location: 11 Market Pl, Knaresborough HG5 8AL
    • A dedicated ladies’ clothing shop in the heart of Knaresborough, England. Explore our curated collection of stylish and fashionable clothing.
      Explore Knaresborough

Upcoming Events

A myriad of year-round activities in the charming town of Knaresborough. Nestled at the center of the town, the marketplace offers a delightful spot for tea enthusiasts and those craving delicious home-baked treats. Wednesdays transform the marketplace into a bustling scene, adorned with stalls offering a diverse array of produce, whole foods, plants, flowers, and more at the ever-popular Knaresborough Market.

Explore the base of the town’s cliffs, where a sun-soaked promenade awaits, creating a coastal ambiance despite being miles away from the sea. This picturesque location is perfect for savoring an ice cream or partaking in the quintessentially English pastime of ‘simply mucking about in boats.’

For nature lovers, the Nidd Gorge, located just upstream of the town, provides a breathtaking wooded landscape rich in wildlife. Embark on a two-hour ramble in the woods this winter, discovering the historical significance of this woodland managed by the Woodland Trust for both people and wildlife.

Key information for the woodland ramble:

  • Free event, but booking is essential
  • Parking at Nidd Gorge Car Park (Ripley Road, what3words: ramp.magazine.topmost)
  • Grid reference: SE3301458460
  • Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome
  • Some trail sections have steep steps and non-surfaced paths
  • No on-site toilet facilities; nearest public toilets in Knaresborough
  • Under 18’s must be accompanied by a parent or guardian
  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear for a woodland walk
  • Queries? Email

For cycling enthusiasts, embark on the Beryl Burton Cycle Way, a Sustrans route offering a traffic-free journey to Harrogate, Bilton, and Ripley. Enjoy stunning views from the Nidd Valley Viaduct, idyllic paths through fields, and occasional pub stops along the way.

Save the date for the spectacular Knaresborough Bed Race on Saturday, June 8, 2024. This iconic event, held annually since 1966 (excluding 2020 and 2021), combines a pageant of decorated beds, passengers, and runners with a challenging athletic contest covering a 2.4-mile course. Organized by volunteers from the Knaresborough Lions, the Bed Race raises funds for local charitable and community needs.

The race takes teams through parkland, Nidd Gorge, Castle Ings, the town center, High Street, Bond End, and High Bridge, culminating in a 30-yard swim through the icy waters of the River Nidd. The event, born in Knaresborough, has become a global phenomenon, entertaining audiences and supporting worthwhile causes worldwide. Don’t miss the unforgettable spectacle of bed racing in Knaresborough!


Knaresborough Castle


Location: Castle Yard, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire HG5 8AS Phone: 01423 556188

Opening Hours –  April to October – Wednesday to Sunday: 10:00 to 16:00 November to March – Wed, Sat & Sun: 10:00 to 16:00

Overview: Perched on a cliff overlooking the picturesque River Nidd, Knaresborough Castle stands as a testament to Norman architecture, dating back to its initial construction by an unnamed Norman baron in c. 1100. Evolving with time, the castle has adapted to changing military needs, fashion trends, and historic events throughout the centuries.

Current Ownership and Access: Managed by North Yorkshire Council and owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, Knaresborough Castle welcomes visitors year-round, providing breathtaking views of the town and its scenic surroundings. The castle grounds also host a captivating museum that narrates the intriguing history of this fortress.

Historical Significance: Built strategically on the cliffs above River Nidd, Knaresborough Castle initially took the form of a motte-and-bailey structure before expanding to include a keep and other fortifications. Enduring numerous sieges, it became a refuge for historical figures such as Hugh de Moreville after the assassination of Thomas Becket and played a pivotal role in the English Civil War.

Royal Residences and Notable Owners: Having served as a royal residence for English monarchs like King John, Henry II, Edward I, and Edward II, the castle became property of the Duchy of Lancaster. During the English Civil War, Knaresborough Castle backed the Royalist cause and witnessed a siege in 1644, resulting in partial demolition ordered by Parliament in 1648.

Courtroom Museum: Within the castle grounds, the Courtroom Museum unveils the rich history of Knaresborough. Exhibits cover the castle’s construction, its royal connections, and its role in the English Civil War. The museum boasts an original Tudor courtroom, offering a glimpse into the legal proceedings of the 16th century.

Discover the captivating story of Knaresborough Castle and its place in history at this iconic site overlooking the River Nidd.

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