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St Robert's Cave (Knaresborough, North Yorkshire)

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Address: Abbey Road, Knaresborough.

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      06.08.2010 18:22
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      The home of a 12th century hermit

      When my mother found out that I was planning a day trip to North Yorkshire (Ripon, Harrogate and Knaresborough) she said, "Have you been to the Hermit's Cave?" I hadn't and what's more I hadn't even heard of such a place but a quick Google search soon verified that it seemed worthy of a visit. Officially known as St Robert's Cave this is an attraction on the outskirts of the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, it is often referred to as the "Hermit's Cave" because St Robert lived here as a hermit during the 12th century. I'm ashamed to say I knew virtually nothing about St Robert but I would soon discover that he is locally very famous in these parts, in fact he almost has legendary status. Robert Fleur (or Flower) was the son of the mayor of York. He joined St Gile's Priory and lived his early adult years as a monk. Nothing remains today of St Gile's Priory but it stood on the banks of the River Nidd about a mile out of Knaresborough town centre quite close to where the cave is situated. After leaving the priory Robert lived as a hermit in this cave until his death in 1218. He was 58 years old when he died and had lived in the cave for about 30 years where he had acquired a reputation as a "healer" and he also offered spiritual guidance. As word of his "gifts" spread people began to flock to the cave to be cured of all sorts of ailments. Amongst his most notable clients was King John who visited him on several different occasions. After Robert's death the cave became a place of pilgrimage and the scene of several alleged miracles. There is no charge to visit the cave and it is open at all times but it not particularly easy to reach other than by walking along the river from the town centre. There is a road that runs part of the way but then it has a barrier across it and vehicular access beyond that point is for local residents only. If you do walk from the town along the river be sure to look out for two other features along the route. The first of these is the "House on the Rock", which as its name suggests is a house built into the rock face high above the river and close by the "Chapel in the Rock", which you've probably guessed is a small church built into the same rock face. Anyway I digress so back to Saint Robert's Cave. Once you approach the cave there is a large sign at the side of the road and a gate that leads you down a short but very narrow twisting path towards the river. It certainly wouldn't be suitable for the infirm and when I visited there was water running down this path and it was quite slippy. It isn't until you reach the bottom of this path that you get your first glimpse of the cave. The entrance is very narrow and looks like a keyhole cut into the rock but it is possible to walk right up to it and go inside. The interior though small was actually larger than I originally imagined and the area closest to the entrance where daylight penetrated was almost perfectly round in shape. It was about 10 metres wide and must have made quite a cosy dwelling eight centuries ago. I scrambled right inside but it was so dark it was impossible to see far beyond the entrance. I felt my way along the back wall and then remembered that I had a torch on my mobile phone so I headed back to towards the entrance and the daylight. In fact once the whole cave was illuminated it wasn't much larger than the area you can see with the naked eye but there was another smaller narrower room - a bedroom perhaps? Actually when I scrambled back outside and read the information board outside I actually learned that this smaller room was used as chapel. To be honest there isn't actually a great deal to see here and I probably only hung around about 10 minutes but it is a lovely walk along the river to get there and for that reason alone I'd recommend a visit here to others. The cave itself is also unusual enough to have that novelty appeal so all in all I was glad that I paid it a visit.

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