by Leo Owen
The picturesque Yorkshire town of Knaresborough is known for its market, featuring in the TV show, The New Statesman and its spa history but is famed locally for its annual charity bed race. This year Knaresborough hosts the 47th race with entrants travelling from as far as Germany and America to compete. Last year the race attracted 25,000 people with contestants dressed in costumes themed around British history.
In honour of the summer games, this year's race has an Olympic nations theme. As is customary, competitors will parade through the High Street in costume before congregating at the castle grounds and Conyngham Hall Field where an all-day fete takes place, including coconut shires, “hoop the duck” and a hog roast donning sunnies. Here, winners of the Best-Dressed and Most Entertaining prizes will be announced. Bed decorations are removed in preparation for the 90 teams' gruelling 3km circuit. After a staggered start, each team of six runners will carry their passenger (normally a small helmeted child enthusiastically waving) uphill, through the streets of Knaresborough and across the River Nidd to the race's muddy conclusion.
The Courthouse Museum, a Medieval chapel, the House In The Rock and several cave dwellings, including that of a 12th-century hermit, are just a few of the town's other attractions. Its most famous tourist site is the cave where Soothsayer Mother Shipton resided and famously foretold the Great Fire Of London. A lush walk with picturesque houses either side of the river leads to the cave where this local celebrity once lived.
The nearby Petrifying Well was first opened to the public in 1630 and was once believed to have healing powers. The well still amazes people today with its mysterious but quite natural “magical ability” to turn objects to stone – among other things, a tennis racket, plastic lobster, tea pot and pair of boots are suspended in its flow.
Surrounded by the Royal Forest once owned by King Charles I, the cave and Petrifying Well are situated inside parklands, including a smaller wishing well, modest museum and picnic and play area. Tourists keen to see the town from a different viewpoint can be spotted leisurely rowing along the river.
During the first weekend of December, a special Edwardian Christmas Fayre stretches from the market square to its surrounding lanes and courtyards, offering a range of regional Yorkshire specialities. An impressive Christmas tree illuminates the square from the Old Market Cross and a grand firework display closes the Fayre and Knaresborough's annual event's calender.
Inside the centre of town, Ye Oldest Chymist Shoppe lives up to its name, having opened in 1720 and traders fill the cobbled market square every Wednesday. Although a market has been held in Knaresborough since 1206, the town was granted an official Royal Charter in 1310 by Edward II.