Petrifying Pits – Where and How to Turn Everything to Stone

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Petrifying Wells is a very unique destination where you can see toys turn to stone and learn about the haunting folklore of these places.

Ever wanted to petrify your little teddy bear? Well, it turns out a lot of people do, and it’s possible (well, sort of). A petrifying well is a well or other body of water that gives objects the appearance of stone with the high mineral content of the water. It is the same process that creates stalagmites and stalactites in caves.

There are petrifying wells all over the world and it can probably be done in many caves around the world. But the most famous and the one with a particularly interesting past is located in central England – it is also being developed as a tourist attraction.

The haunted process of petrification

Once upon a time in the bad old days (as in Monty Python Holy Grail Witch scene), this process was considered to be the result of magic or sorcery. But of course, like everything in this world, there’s no fun and exciting witchcraft in the real world, just a load of boring and disappointing scientific explanations (although that process is still pretty cool).


Petrification is due to the process of evaporation and deposition of waters with unusually high mineral content. To petrify one’s teddy bear will normally require placing it in the well for a period of months or years until it has sufficiently acquired a pebbly exterior.

Some of the best examples of petrifying wells in England and Ireland are:

Mother Shipton’s Cave: In Knaresborough, England

Matlock bath: In Derbyshire, England

Howth Head: In Ireland

Related: Mayan Calendar Mysteries: Why Would the World End?

The Witch of the Cave by Mother Shipton

Mother Shipton Cave is named after Mother Shipton, who is said to have been a witch and an oracle. She predicted the horrors and apocalyptic catastrophes that were to befall the Tudor monarchy of England. She possessed the magical ability to turn things to stone. How much additional evidence do we need?


Lived: Around 1488–1561

Appearance: An account more than a hundred years after her death claims she was hideously ugly

Her real name was allegedly Ursula Southhell (Southel?…let’s assume that’s a good name for a witch). It is said that she was born in a cave in the forests of Knaresborough and was able to bewitch a well that turned objects into stone. It seems she was much luckier than the hapless “witches” of Salem, which meant their untimely end in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Last name: Real name allegedly Ursula Southhell

Seeking to unravel the mystery of the Mother Shipton cave cave states website:


Mother Shipton is England’s most famous prophetess. She predicted the fate of several rulers during her lifetime and immediately after, as well as the invention of iron ships, the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada..”

She is said to have proclaimed the end of the world in 1881, but it turns out the Mayans knew better and the world actually ended in 2012 – although NASA seems to think otherwise.

She left a considerable legacy and there are a number of pubs bearing her name and fortune tellers using her likeness and statues. Not to mention a moth with something resembling a witch’s face was even named after her (again according to Atlas Obscura).


But now the mystery of how she performed one of her most puzzling acts of sorcery has been solved. The well near her was able to petrify objects is the petrifying well where many toys are currently turned into stone.

The cave and the petrifying well have been a kind of attraction since 1630. The cave site claims it is England’s oldest tourist attraction first recorded in the King’s Antiquary in 1538 and has been visited by millions since 1630. But they don’t seem to know the place very well. England, as the old Roman baths in Bath are much older.

Related: Do England’s Baths Live Up To The Hype? Here’s what you need to know


Visiting Mother Shipton’s cave today

Today, visitors to Mother Shipton’s Cave and Petrifying Well are greeted by a gift shop, a wishing well, a picnic area and lots of things (mostly children’s toys) dangling and busy being turned into stone.

Duration: To Mother Shipton’s cave, it takes about 3-5 months for a small teddy bear

Seasonal opening hours:

As of this writing, they are currently closed until weekends in March.

School vacation: 9.30am-5.30pm (last admission 4pm)

Length of the semester in the week: 10am-4:30pm (last admission 3pm)

Part-time weekends: 10am-5.30pm (last admission 4pm)

Length of term: £26 ($35) per car or £9 ($11) per pedestrian weekdays, £31 ($42) per car or £11 ($13) per weekend pedestrian

While in this part of England, continue the witch-themed tour with a comedy and horror tour on the Necrobus in nearby York.

Next: What Really Happened During The Salem Witch Trials & The Stories Of The Defendants

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