Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Well Hopper

Recent changes:
15.04.2014 – St Mordeyrn’s well, Nantglyn re-written
03.04.2014 – Ffynnon Bedr, Llanbedr-y-cennin updated
25.03.2014 – Ffynnon Gwynwy, Llangelynin re-written
11.03.2014 – St Mary’s Well/ St Meyld’s Well, Meliden re-written
31.01.2014 – Ffynnon Beuno, Bala added


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Ffynnon Beuno, Bala

IMG_4335It was a wet, a particularly wet, January Saturday afternoon in Bala. I had driven up to watch my team Cefn Druids take on the mighty Premier League Bala Town in the Welsh Cup, only to find when I arrived that the match had been cancelled. Hardly surprising I suppose given the thunder, rain and hail I had met with on the way.

The one dry place in town was Beuno’s Well. The water no longer bubbles up here, replaced by stone flags and gravel, a victim of health and safety. Still, we are very lucky to have remains to see at all, and all due to the determination and dedication of various groups in the 1990s and early part of this century who saved the well from total destruction.

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I won’t go into details of Beuno’s life here. His mark is stamped heavily across North Wales and we have already given accounts of his wells at Gwyddelwen, Holywell and Clynnog. His specific connection with Bala is a little less clear; one just assumes he passed this way on his travels. To be precise, it is actually the Parish of Llanycil, a community a little further along the lake where the church, now deconsecrated, which was dedicated to Beuno. This historically was the parish in which Bala lay, so the well perhaps technically belongs to Llanycil despite having been subsumed by the urban sprawl of Bala.

Beuno’s well here had a reputation as a healing well, being good for ligaments and bones, for eyes and for the liver, kidneys and bowels depending on whether you bathed in it or drank it. Its fame lasted into the Victorian era when Richard Lloyd Price of Rhiwlas, on whose estate it then lay, jumped into the burgeoning health spas market, bottling and selling St Beuno’s Table Waters, efficacious for the kidneys, and Rhiwlas Sparkling Water. A bottling plant was established briefly in the old Workhouse Building on the High Street. Covering all bases he also operated a nearby whisky distillery.

As the craze for table waters receded, the well fell further into disrepair. In the 1970s the land surrounding the well was sold to builders for housing development. but by luck some covenant prevented the owners including the land the well sat on in the sale. So thus it stayed, a little island in the midst of a housing estate. Although not actually built on, it filled up with builder’s rubble and covered over with spare earth from the works.

For 20 years it remained, a circular wall around it and grassed over. Fighting off various attempts from the householders around it to surreptitiously annex it into their gardens; until attempts began to obtain permission to close off the well legally and remove the restraints on the land use. This came to the attention of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru. They joined with local historical societies and the National Park to save the land and later to reopen the well. After many arguments and counterarguments work began in the early 2000s to excavate the site and reveal the structures below. What was found matched the record of the Royal Commission from 1913

“.. rising in a sunken rectangular enclosure of stone, 12 feet by 9 feet with six steps at one corner. The water is fairly deep and the overflow is copious; where it crossed the main road the roadway was roughly paved, hence the name ‘Pensarn Road.’ There are no traces of buildings over or immediately around the well. The hilly district to the south-west is called Bronydd Beuno.”

The image below belongs to and is linked from the website of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru (link) showing the well during excavation

Once excavated, the structure once again filled with water although it was impossible to tell whether this was from the spring still flowing or from the general level of the local water table. Plans to leave the well as found, however, had to be abandoned. The site was considered dangerous within the housing estate, earth from the building works was piled high against the edges of the well and there was no scope for water to flow out. Consequently the well was refilled and the structure seen today created. The walls are largely new construction on the top of the original structure, with two of the six steps retained to give an idea of what was once there. The whole is filled with gravel and surrounded with paving stones to minimise the need for maintenance.

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So we see here the shadow of a well, a representation and importantly a reminder of what was there; and this is a tribute to those organisations that protect, preserve and rescue these wells. Had people not have stepped in, objected and campaigned when they did, then this site and almost all memories of Ffynnon Beuno at Bala would have been lost within a generation.

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The details of the restoration of the well is taken from the website of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru


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Ffynnon Llechid, Llanllechid

From Llanfairfechan it is little more than a stone’s throw up the valley to Llanllechid. Stone’s throw is possibly appropriate description here, since the old residents of the village would have been quite used to stones flying round.

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The church of St Llechid has such a legend attached to it. The story being that the original plan was to build the church some mile away, close to  the site of the well, but each time the work began the stones miraculously transported themselves overnight to the place where the church now stands. This was repeated daily until the masons got the message that they were building in the wrong place and changed their plans accordingly. This legend is quite common, attached to a number of churches across Wales; indeed we recounted the same story at Capel Garmon not that far away.

The present church, largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, has not been used since 2002, other than as a picnic site – as we found on our visit, surprising two hikers sitting eating on the doorstep.

Llechid came originally from Brittany, one of a family of saints who travelled widely across North Wales. She was sister to Trillo who has a number of churches and wells dedicated to him in the area; as well as of Tegai, Gredifael, Fflwyn and Rhedyw. Llechid’s feast day is given as either December 1st or 2nd.

Llechid’s well stood by the side of the old road from Llanllechid to Aber, about three quarters of a mile from the village. The well was noted as a healing well. Many claimed complete cures using it  to treat skin disorders. Fardd tells us that “…so great was their faith in it that people would call for a drink of its water when at the point of death”. At one time a chapel stood beside it, Capel Llechid known locally as  Yr Hen Eglwys. Hughes and North record that in 1780 the chapel was quite complete, although missing its roof, and that children would use it to play churches. It measured around 16 feet by 8 feet. However, the stone was robbed for building and by the start of the twentieth century only the foundations of one wall remained. baring Gould and Fisher place it near to the fields known as Cae’r Capel and Cae’r Bettws.

The site today is recalled only by the presence of the cottage Cae Ffynnon in the middle of a field on the right hand side of the road. The location was not recorded by the Royal Commission and does not appear on any maps of the last 100 years. Neither can we find a description in any other publications. So the only readily available source is Hughes and North who state that it is “… a few yards to the right of the road, just before you reach a little stream that flows past Cae Ffynnon”.

So, almost certainly putting far too much faith in one single 100 year old guidebook, we walked out of Llanllechid totally expecting to find a clear and obvious spring by the roadside. This approach often ends in disappointment. 

In the end we identified two possibilities. The site in the small copse shown below, which certainly lies close to a little stream. The area was wet, and may well have been aq spring, although recent rain had led to quite a bit of flooding in the area.

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The other alternative is in the field below Cae Ffynnon. A rectangular area grouping of stones seems to shout out – “here is the remains of the chapel, miraculously returned”  although we know  this is long since lost. Beside these is a brick built chamber, again surrounded by water, which, with faith,  may well house a spring.

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Both of these are based on guesswork on a wet day. The maps do show a couple of springs in the area of cae’r Ffynnon, but both are in the middle of fields at some distance from the road. We are certainly in the area of St Llechid’s Well here but by no means certain we identified it , as always, any more accurate information will be gratefully received.

ref
Baring Gould and Fisher(1907) – The Lives of The British Saints
Hughes and North (1924) – The Old Churches of Snowdonia


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Ffynnon Fair, Llanfairfechan

Everything you read about Ffynnon Fair at Llanfairfechan seems to lead back to a single source. By the time it is described in Hughes and North’s Old Churches of Snowdonia in 1924 it had already been lost for 50 years, but their account remains the sole readily accessible reference for the well. No subsequent writer seems to be able to add anything new to the record. North spent a part of his life resident in Llanfairfechan, so maybe he had the story from one of the older locals he met there.

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There is no indication on any of the Victorian OS maps of its location. North tells us that the well stood in a field, nearly opposite to the Rectory drive, in a field known as Cae Ffynnon, in a plantation by the remains of some yew trees. He records that water was taken from the well for use in baptism services in the old church. Articles that were supposed to be bewitched were dipped into the well to remove the enchantment. Bent pins were deposited in the well as an offering.

 The field Cae Ffynnon gives its name to Cae Ffynnon Road, along the western side of which runs a line of trees. Our best estimate of where the well might have been is within the somewhat wider clump of trees opposite what was the Rectory drive, now the entrance to Bryn Castell. Despite even the heavy rain which had fallen over the last few days the ground remained resolutely dry and our collection of bewitched objects had to remain un-dipped.

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From older maps the field seems to have been much bigger in the 1880s, additional field boundaries have been introduced since, and the coppice to the west was wholly within the field at one time, with footpaths marked inside it. Although this agrees less well with North’s comment about being opposite the Rectory drive, this could be an alternative possibility for the site of the well.

It should be noted that some sources quote the date of the well’s closure as 1874. Whether this comes from another more precise record, or whether it is based solely on counting back 50 years from North’s 1924 publication date is uncertain. I have information from one correspondent now in his 80s, with a strong interest in the history of Llanfairfechan,  who once asked his grandmother about the well, her memories would take us back deep into the nineteenth century, but she knew nothing of it.


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Ffynnon Fyw, Mynytho

IMG_3997In a word Ffynnon Fyw was disappointing. If I were ever to start awarding star ratings it might perhaps achieve one single star, although that one would only be because it provides its own picnic table and a sea view.

 Mynytho is a couple of miles to the south west of Abersoch. Prior to my visit I had read much about a recent reconstruction project at Ffynnon Fyw, how it had been cleaned out, repaired and restored to take its place in the tourist booklets and on the visitor trail. Sadly, by the time we arrived in August this year it had been reclaimed by nature and was overgrown to the extent that it was difficult to make out any of the features of the well.

 Sadly, this blog is rapidly becoming a photographic record of the various grasses and ferns that grow profusely on the Llŷn Peninsula, so I shall spare readers a detailed set of pictures this time, restricting myself to just two or three to prove my point.

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 Perhaps however I am wrong to be surprised. Ffynnon Fyw appears to have undergone a succession of failed attempts to reclaim it  over the last hundred years its natural state appears to be ruined and overgrown. In the 1890s folklorist and bard Myrddin Fardd mentions that the well was in reasonable condition after the local landowner had paid for restoration work to be undertaken, although by that time it was mainly used to provide water for animals.

 The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, when they visited to document the well in the 1950s, recorded that

 Ffynnon Fyw was described in 1923 as being in an area about 8 yards square enclosed by walls 6 or 7 ft high, with an entrance near the N end of the W side and stone seats on the inside. The main bath in the S part of the enclosure was about 4yds by 3 yds with steps to the water in the SE and SW corners. A smaller tank for drinking was adjacent on the N. Both were supplied from the spring outside on the S. The structure was restored about 1890 but has become too dilapidated and overgrown for detailed examination Condition: Bad.

 However, in 1959 its fortunes changed when a group of local volunteers was raised  to tackle the well. It was dug out and the walls and internal features were rebuilt. A newspaper article and photograph from the time record the work of the local youths. (small picture source)

 Still, by the 1980s their work had been lost and visitors once again struggle to find the well. Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd record in their book the trouble they had finding the well in 1988 and after having been shown the site by a local man discovered that once again stone benches were dislodged and fallen into the water and parts of the wall were broken down. It was in the early 2000s that a new team set to work once again to repair and restore the well. Detailed pictures of this work can be seen at the Cymdeithas Fynhonnau Cymru website.

 During this period Gwynedd Council  took this and other local wells under their wing, producing a set of consistent signposts and leaflets guiding visitors around the sites. It was this record that had given us hope that the remains of this potentially impressive well might be found in a good state of preservation, leading to the disappointment described above.

 However, should one be surprised? This exploration of the North Wales wells shows a very consistent pattern. Ffynnon Aelrhiw, recently restored, now almost completely hidden; Ffynnon Elen fighting off attempts of restoration and preservation. St Mary Magdalene’s well at Cerrigydrudion, so close to the centre of the village, but seeming to crumble a little more each time we visit. It is only the wells adopted by the local community, such as St Tegla’s at Llandegla, or those in an area where the elements or local conditions preclude the rapid growth of nature, where we can really see the detail of the well. All other attempts at management and preservation can last only as long as the funds and interest of the body responsible.

 Then again, over preservation can ruin the well as much. Ffynnon Fair at Bryncroes and Ffynnon Fyllin at Llanfyllin show what the impact being cared for by some municipal grounds man can be. Concrete and closely cropped grass, litter bins and safety railings preserve the structure of a well whilst at the same time seem to drain the life and character out of the site. Just as the neatly clipped lawns in a CADW castle cannot reproduce the reality of the mud and grime, the feasting and slaughter, and the hustle and the bustle  of the everyday life of the people who once lived and died in the castle in centuries past.

 It is difficult, if not impossible to maintain that fine balance between retaining both the structure and some essence of the character and spirit of the well. To me these wells seem to belong to an era when manicured landscapes were unknown and overgrown was the norm;although constant use and community pride would surely have kept the well itself clear.  Ffynnon Sara at Derwen and Ffynnon Dyfnog at Llanrhaeadr, although both highly landscaped perhaps achieve it; and we hope that proposed new work at Ffynnon Dyfnog does not detract from its natural setting. Ffynnon Wenfaen at Rhocolyn and Ffynnon Digain at Llangernyw succeed, owing their preservation to their location and to the sheep.

 It is clear, especially in this time of budget cuts, that there is no easy solution. Wells such as Ffynnon Fyw are no-one’s particular responsibility and they tend not to be protected monuments. Enthusiasts bubble up occasionally and can work wonders, but enthusiasm wanes, and efforts are soon lost. This is hardly new, so many local historical sites, not just wells, have been lost over the last hundred years or so; some by neglect and others intentionally destroyed, the White Well at Whitewell and St Marcella’s at Denbigh amongst those we have visited recently. It is only inevitably that more will follow.

 In the meantime, despite being so overgrown, the underlying structure of Ffynnon Fyw, thanks to the successive reconstructions appears sound , and thus it has a much better chance than many of surviving into future centuries, and when the next great grass cutter arrives there will at least still be the impressive remains of a once great well to be seen.

 The origins of the name Ffynnon Fyw are unclear. It has been suggested that it is a corruption of Ffynnon Dduw, God’s Well, although there is no clear evidence for this and it is considered unlikely. It is usually translated as the living Well. Baring Gould and Fisher suggest that it was once dedicated to St Curig, and a chapel similarly dedicated, of which no remains can now be found, stood close by.

 It is still possible to see that the well within the walls is paved and split into two sections. The larger pool, provided with steps into the water, was traditionally used for bathing and the smaller pool for drinking.  Stone benches surrounded the water. Fardd writes that in the past a custodian would take care of the well, and for a small fee would show visitors how to use it. It was reported beneficial for childhood complaints, for rheumatism and that it had cured blindness. Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd record the survival of the well’s memory, noting that in 1945 a Birmingham family, having sons missing in the war, visited the well, holding a short service there and making offerings for their safe return.

 In the past, according to Fardd, the local population would congregate around the well for three Sundays in July, holding sports and games, a tradition that died out in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. The picnic table and a discarded football nearby perhaps show that after all not every sign of tradition has dried up.

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 The majority of the information used in this post is taken from the thorough article on Ffynnon Fyw in Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd’s book Ffynhonnau Cymru, volume 2 (1999) The book is in Welsh and any errors or inaccuracies in this piece are wholly due to the vagaries and inadequacy of my own translation.


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Ffynnon Elen, Dolwyddelan

IMG_3932 The name of Elen, or Helen, appears frequently in this part of the world.

There is a well, Ffynnon Helen, up the road near Caernarfon; an old long distance Roman road which passes through the area carries the name Sarn Helen, in the belief that she commissioned its building.

The history of Helen, presumed a local saint, has spread itself far and wide, becoming intertwined with those of other saints and deities from across the Christian and pre Christian world. She is made heroine of one of the later Mabinogion stories, The Dream of Macsen Wledig; and is claimed by wider British mythology, her story becoming confused with that of Helena of Constantinople.  Helen is cited as the alleged discoverer of Christ’s Cross, and actual mother of Constantine, first Christian ruler proclaimed emperor at York, There are more wells dedicated in Britain to St Helen than to any other, non-Biblical saint. [1]

Dolwyddelan lies on the A470 south west of Betws y Coed, under the shadow of its impressive Welsh castle.There was a belief that the name Dolwyddelan itself was derived from Dolydd Elen – Elen’s Meadow. The village more likely owes its name to St Gwyddelan, the Irish associate of Beuno who we met previously at Gwyddelwern and to whom the church here is dedicated. His original chapel was set up on the nearby hillside of Bryn y Bedd in around 600AD.

Despite this, the connections with Helen continue to run deep, a Methodist chapel first established in 1783 bears the name Capel Elen and the hotel beside the well  is called Castell Elen. 

But is the well Ffynnon Elen or is it Ffynnon Elan? The historical record prefers the former. Francis Jones [3] and the Gruffydds [2] both use Elan and both give an alternative dedication to Gwyddelan himself, citing Myrddin Fardd. For no other reason than choosing to follow the larger crowd we have used Elen for now, though we are obviously open to offers to change.

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In recent years the well here has suffered various attacks of nature. Trees growing close to the site were observed some 20 or 30 years ago to be spreading their roots into the well structure, displacing stones and leading to landslips around the well. Recently the most invasive of these trees have been removed to protect and stabilise the well; however problems with access means that the site is difficult to visit and maintain.

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I asked a passer by near the church whether he knew of the well and for directions to it. He immediately directed me to a small, stepped, pathway leading off the main road through the village between the hotel and the next door chapel. This path leads directly up to the well which lies some 50 yards up a steep hill beside the road. As I understand it though, the owners of the land across which the path runs have forbidden its use, it is not marked as a right of way, and although this path appears to have as its sole purpose giving access to the well, indeed North and Hughes state (in 1924) that this path is the access to the well [4], today  the primary access is supposedly through the gardens of the hotel.

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As a result rescue work on the well has been hampered and the site is, during my visit at least, almost totally buried beneath undergrowth and ferns. Beneath all of this it was just possible to make out the remaining stonework and structure, and to note that water still flows into the well, possibly being directed away through blue plastic pipes which cross the site.

Ffynnon Elen has a long history. Legend has it that Roman soldiers used it as a picnicking site, and possible Roman coins have been found close to the well in excavations. Excavation has also shown evidence of a road close to the well suggesting that the road through the village at one time ran much closer to the well.

The Royal Commission visited the well in 1956, recording that it consisted of

“A small rectangular basin now dry, 9ft by 7ft with walls of earth-mortared rubble, on ground sloping steeply to the south. The south wall is 1ft 6 ins thick and 1ft high; the remaining walls are revetments only, that on the north side reaching a height of 4ft; water emerging outside the south wall is now collected in a drinking trough. The name has also been applied to a natural spring about 100 yards to the NW. Condition; ruined and overgrown”

At some period in its history, the well was surrounded by a small stone basin, itself in a rough stone built well house, some nine feet by eight and a half. A narrow pathway ran around the well within the building. A sketch on the information board in the car park for Dolwyddelan Castle shows the shape of the remains of the well in  better days.

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The water entered the well from a spring to the north and flowed away in a stream towards the road to the south. It was noted for its tendency to steam during cold weather. The waters were noted as particularly efficacious for weak children and for paralysed limbs. The Gruffydds record an account of one old woman, sometime in the twentieth century, who feeling weak would ask for water from the well to drink, which she claimed strengthened her. [2]

It is to be hoped that access arrangements can be agreed for the well. Apparently grants have been secured to restore the well and to provide interpretation for the site. Much remains of the basic structure, and water does seem to flow. It would be a great pity if such a monument were to be lost for such a trivial reason.

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[1] Graham Jones (2012) Wells of St Helen: A told and untold story. Paper given to the Well springs conference, Caerleon, September 2012
[2] Eirlys and Ken Gruffydd(1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru vol 2. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
[3] Francis Jones(1954) Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff University Press
[4] Herbert North and Harold Hughes(1924) The Old Churches of Snowdonia, Bangor


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Ffynnon Fair, Uwchmynydd, Aberdaron

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Here we are, beyond Aberdaron at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula, a small inlet, guarded by sharp rocks with a direct view across the sea to Bardsey Island – the journey’s end for many Welsh pilgrims who would have embarked for the final sea crossing to Bardsey, if not from this dangerous and uninviting looking inlet, then from one of the neighbouring bays. Pilgrimages aside, this inlet and many other, scattered around this tip of the peninsula have been home to sailors, fishing boats and the like for centuries; St Mary’s Chapel on the cliffs above stood there as a refuge and place of prayer for them and her well here as a source of water.

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The well is a natural spring, a small rock lined pool in the cliff side, inaccessible at high tide, and easy to mistake for just another rock pool as the sea recedes. In fact, it was only after tasting the saltiness of several rock pools that we finally identified St Mary’s Well itself by the taste of its pure, fresh water. The well is not safely accessible at high tides, some authors have suggested that it is actually wholly under the sea at high water, although others state that this definitely is not normally the case. All I know is that on the occasion of our first visit the tide was much to high to get a chance to see the well, it took a second visit, and a check with the tide tables before setting off, before we found the well.

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It is reached from a grassy car park at Uwchmynydd, in the cleft between Mynydd Gwyddel and Mynydd Mawr, provided there on the hillside above for walkers. It is, initially, half heartedly, signposted from Aberdaron, but the signing gives up half way, and without a map it would be more luck than judgement if you were to find the spot.

Follow the stream down into the inlet, and to its right there are steps carved into the rock that lead the way. At the foot of the steps a climb and scramble across the cliff face to the right for some 20 yards is necessary to reach the well which lies in a small natural triangular basin in the cliff face, lined with grass. There you can perch on the rocks beside the well, watching the waves break below you and beside you.

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The strangeness of a fresh water pool so close to the sea, so inaccessible, has led to legends and customs arising around it over the centuries. There are wells dedicated to St Mary across Wales, however there are few which claim to have been visited by the Lady herself, but here. it  was claimed, she rode across the sea and drank from the well. If you search carefully you are able to find the imprint of her hand where she placed it on the rock beside the well, and elsewhere the imprint of her horse’s hoof.

 One evening, a local girl was wandering by the church, desperately wanting to make a wish. At that point a stranger appeared and told her the powers of the well and what she should do to achieve her desire. The instructions given soon became passed around the youths of the area and the well became a noted wishing well.  Catherall provides one scathing description from his history in the early 19th century

In the time of Popery this well, which was only accessible at low water was much frequented by devotees who superstitiously believed that if they could carry but a mouthful of water, by a circuitous and dangerous path to the summit of the hill their wish, whatever it might be would be surely gratified.

To be sure of the wish being granted the water had to be carried either once or thrice around the church. St Mary’s Chapel (Capel Fair) stood on the flat ground above the inlet. A church used by sailors and fisher families to pray for safety before sailing out into the dangerous channel. Now totally vanished, its description remains from past records and sketches. The Ancient Monuments record indicates it being a rectangular building about 40 feet by 22 feet within an enclosure around 40 yards square. The area being bounded by a field system indicating medieval cultivation. It was reported as being in ruin in the early 18th century and the remains were still visible at the end of the 18th century, being the subject of an etching by Moses Griffiths used to illustrate Pennant’s account of his visit.

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We can’t leave St Mary’s Well without remembering an earlier well hopper, whose fate demonstrates well the perils of visiting this well. Joan Abbott Parry, the daughter of Manchester judge Edward Parry, tried to climb across the rocks to the well on 6th September 1904, a few days before her 16th birthday. Either missing her footing on the cliff edge or being hit by a wave, she was swept out to sea and drowned. A £20 reward was advertised for the recovery of her body, which was eventually buried in the churchyard at Aberdaron. [1]

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Bardsey Island  from St Mary’s Well

[1] Perrin Jim (1997) Spirits of Place, Gomer Press


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Ffynnon Faglan, Llanfaglan

IMG_4173Ffynnon Faglan, St Baglan’s Well, once stood overlooking the Menai Straits a couple of miles south of Caernarfon. It was a well to rival that of St Cybi at nearby Llangybi, indeed saints Baglan and Cybi are said to have met beside it to chew over the gossip of the day. Today, however, nothing remains at the site but a flat, level field grazed by cattle.

Baglan (and there were two St Baglans by the way, this is the north Walian guy rather than the other one commemorated at the village of Baglan near Neath) was one of a family of saints, he founded his cell at what is now Llanfaglan before heading off with St Dyfnog to Bardsey island in the late sixth century. The church dedicated to him stands padlocked in the middle of a field, no more than a stone’s throw from the sea. It is abandoned now and left to the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches charity. It is considered most unusual in that there is no evidence of a road ever having led to it, the sole access being the muddy track through the field. I think that weddings are still occasionally celebrated there so long as the guests are happy to arrive in their wellies.

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St Baglan’s Well, now completely vanished, lay some two hundred yards to the north west of the church, across a small stream and a stile. The tree topped hillock below which it stood can be clearly seen from the church. Rhys in 1893 records that

The two oldest inhabitants, who have always lived in this parish of Llanfaglan, remember the well being used for healing purposes. One told me his mother used to take him to it, when he was a child, for sore eyes, bathe them with the water and the drop in a pin. The other man, when he was young, bathed in it for rheumatism; and until quite lately people used to fetch away the water for medicinal purposes. The latter, who lives near the well at Tan-y-Graig, said that he remembered it being cleaned out about fifty years ago, when two basinfuls of pins were taken out, but no coins of any kind. [1]

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Coed y Ffynnon from St Baglan’s Church

The well was once a significant structure. Rhys states that in terms of its construction it was an imitation, though on a smaller scale, of St Beuno’s Well at Clynnog. A stone built bath measuring around 6 feet by 3 feet was surrounded by a stone wall with seats built into it. There were recesses in the walls on the north and east sides. This description matches that from Hughes and North’s Old Churches of Snowdonia  published in 1924 which suggests that the well was still visible for the first part of the 20th century.

Even by the late nineteenth century however, drainage work in the fields had led to a reduction in the flow of water to the extent that the well was beginning to dry up. It is presumed at this stage the local population began to lose interest. By the time the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments [2] arrived to inspect it in the late 1950s they found

The enclosure, 9 feet by 8 feet 6 inches externally has now been filled for the protection of cattle.

A record from 1970 notes records that

“Two low walls, 4m and 3.5m long set at right angles and bordering a shallow depression is all that now remains of this well.” [3]

Although by 2004 Chris Thomas was only able to describe

“… a hollow in the ground with stones scattered about the perimeter. One stone still left standing has a scooped hollow in the top and is said to have been used for outdoor baptisms. When it rained the baptism was carried out in the church and water brought from the well instead.” [4]

It isn’t until around 2010 that there start to be reports that the landowner seems to have removed all the stone from the site and the last remnants of this once impressive well have vanished. Only the grid reference on the map now gives any clue to where it once stood, at the foot of this small hillock. Its location does live on in the name of the adjacent woodland Coed y Ffynnon – Well Wood. There is a heap of large stones piled up beside an old tree on the hilltop (shown in the little picture at the top of the post) – we just wondered whether these represent the final remains of Ffynnon Faglan?

The picture below shows the well site, which was in the centre of the shot at the base of the hill

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The gradual decline and disappearance of Ffynnon Faglan over the last century from the disruption of the water supply to the infilling and removal of surface evidence is a sad story that has been repeated at a number of once important local landmarks across the country, that through lack of any protection are rapidly fading from view and memory. There are many others that have suffered a similar fate, and many more that will soon follow if more is not done to help them survive.

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[1] John Rhys (1893) Celtic Folklore
[2] Harold Hughes and Herbert North (1924) Old Churches of Snowdonia
[2] RCHAMW – Caernarfonshire – Central
[3] Archwilio  The On line Database for the Welsh Historic Environment Record
[4] Chris Thomas (2004) Sacred Welsh Waters

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