DAY 22: Third Day in York/A Day in Knaresborough

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It was a beautiful day this time; A rarity. Took a recommendation from my friend and visited a place called Knaresborough. It’s an historic market town 25-minutes Northeast of York. It’s anything but a tourist destination. I definitely stood out in my camera backpack and headphones.

Strolled through Bebra Park first. Had a small kid’s pool at the base of the gardens with parents and their children having a good time. A large World War I stone memorial for fallen troops from the area. Guy Fawkes, the famed terrorist who lead the failed Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I and who you will recognize as the basis for the protagonist's mask and ideals in Alan Moore's popular graphic novel, "V for Vendetta", was born in Knaresborough. They had an exhibit with a wax sculpture of him depicting him in his prison cell.

The most interesting place in Knaresborough is the oldest tourist attraction in England, known as the Mother Shipton Cave. Mother Shipton was a clairvoyant and prophetess from 1488 to 1561 who supposedly predicted her own death up to the absolute second it happened. Apparently many of the predictions she made came to fruition at some point or another, with many others still not understood and awaiting legitimacy. This attraction was 380 years old. The first portion of it focuses on the Petrifying Well. Various items such as masks, teddy bears, and antiques hung from wire beneath the water. Fully encrusted in stone. Even an entire bicycle was left there for this purpose. It takes roughly three months for an object to become fully immersed in stone.

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Up the stairs to the right nearby was Mother Shipton’s cave where it’s written she was born. All that was inside were spiderwebs, a replica of a screaming bat hanging from the ceiling and then a stone statue of Mother Shipton. She was tucked in the rear of the cave, lit by harsh artificial incandescents above her head. I ran my hand over hers. Absorbed the feeling of the cold rough stone. Is it inhibiting or freeing to know one’s own death? Knowing your days are numbered and knowing what that number is… Did that knowledge haunt her or free her? And could that prediction be changed if she so chose? I wonder if it made her a pessimist or an optimist. I had so many questions for her, none of which would’ve concerned the future; Only how her abilities made her feel.

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I left in search of another cave in the area called Robert’s Cave but to no avail. I only found a closed church and a high wall. Perhaps I missed it. Generally I spent my time walking the countryside and taking in the greenery. Breathing clean air. I left for the train station and headed back into York. My friend and I were planning to meet with two of his own friends in town.

My York-friend offered insight into the social norms of British culture and the general attitude of the people, which he referred to as having a “stiff upper lip”. Brits don’t expose their emotions even if something is bothering them to the point of insanity. And their jokes cut deep. Once you’re close with a group of British friends, it’s a social normal to be quite personal in your jokes. It was an adjustment for my friend when he first moved here from the United States because he’s a warm, honest and out-spoken individual who isn’t afraid to reveal vulnerability to people he enjoys being around. But in England that’s similar to revealing your hand midway through a poker game. People think higher of you the less they know about your feelings, in other words.

We went out for burgers and everyone at the table was either actively pursuing their PhD or had come close to finishing and didn’t. Gentlemen learning to be proper researchers. Human beings who can offer new ideas and thoughts to humanity through their own knowledge and extensive independent research. Their “teachers” have to do a tightrope walk of helping them out just enough to fill in the gaps that they, the “student”, don’t quite understand, that aren’t open to much interpretation. These gentlemen wanted to offer the world new, unique perspectives for a living and they can’t have their hands held by teachers.

After the meal we had beers at a local pub, then my York-friend and I headed back to his place. We chatted for hours. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that sort of nonjudgmental, genuinely honest dialog with someone. About anything. Truly the opposite end of the spectrum from the isolation that comes with traveling alone through unfamiliar territory. The detour to York was a necessity. Thankful that people like my friend and his girlfriend exist: genuinely good, highly-intelligent and honest human beings.


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