Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Ddwrdan, Aberdaron

Ffynnon Ddwrdan, AberdaronFfynnon Ddwrdan lies on open farmland, a couple of  hundred yards to the north of the important sixteenth century house Bodwrdda. It. Is surrounded on three sides by a barbed wire fence to keep the sheep out, while on the fourth side is the river Daron into which it drains.

It was described in 1960s in the Royal Commission Report as being

A pool of water which is probably partly artificial in origin, but no masonry is visible.
Condition: fair.

This description still holds good today. The pool covers quite a large area, some 3 yards square. It is very overgrown with weed so it was difficult to determine how much of this area is actually covered by water. However the spring was flowing strongly, draining along a channel of maybe three or four yards into the river.

Ffynnon Ddwrdan, Aberdaron

The spring has clearly been a noted landmark in the past. Ieuen Lleyn wrote in a  short account of a tour of the area in 1799 that he

Went up the river that flows through the valley of Bodwrdda (Bodwrda – good man’s house), perhaps it should be Bodurdan as the well of Durdan isn’t far.

However nothing appears to be recorded in relation to any virtues of the well or of any tradition that might surrounding it.

Ffynnon Ddwrdan, Aberdaron

There is conjecture concerning its naming and any possible dedication too. It might reasonably be assumed that there is a link between the names of the house Bodwrdda and well Dwrdan.   Although the author of the quotation provided above chose to translate “Bodwrdda” as “the house of the good man” he also gave the alternative of “the house of Durden”, linking the house and well. This linkage was generally assumed throughout the  nineteenth century, for example various comments in issues of Archaeologia Cambrensis published in 1846, 1847 and 1849.  A number of  writers have naturally sought to find a connection between the spring and  a local saint, particularly since the well is so close to Bardsey Island and the pilgrimage trail. Jones’s Holy Wells of Wales  includes the spring in his list of wells dedicated to saints.

Baring-Gould and Fisher mention the spring in  their entry on St Dirdan or Durdan He appears to be an Italian who rather than being part of the families of Welsh saints himself, has married into a saintly dynasty, his wife being St Banhadlen, sister of St Non.

Their  main source placing Durdan in the area appears to be by Rees (1853) who identifies him as one of the companions so St Cadfan, supposed founder of the monastic settlement on Bardsey. Baring-Gould and Fisher  note however that this connection is not made in most other sources.  They do note that his name appears in a list of a hundred Welsh saints in an ode to Henry VII.

The spring lies on farmland with no public footpath for access and was visited with permission.

Ffynnon Ddwrdan, Aberdaron

A letter written by Ieuen Lleyn to his friend Dafydd Ddu Eryri in 1799. Sourced from Rhiw History Website
Rees W J  (1853) Lives of the Cambro British Saints
Archaeologia Cambrensis (1846) Arvona Medleva. p63
Sabine Baring-Gould and John Fisher (1907) The Lives of the British Saints
Royal Commission on Historic and Ancient Monuments in Wales (1964) – Inventory of Ancient Monuments in Wales.  Caernarfonshire West

 

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Ffynnon Bryn Fendigaid, Aberffraw

The Anglesey coastal village of Aberffraw appears to have lost more  wells than some villages have ever had.

Today we very briefly examine the remains of Ffynnon Bryn Fendigaid – the spring on the blessed hill. It lay on the sand dunes beside the road heading south from the village towards Malltraeth little more than five miles across the sand from Crochan Dwynwen by Newborough. Both were once noted for resident fish renowned for their ability for fortune telling. The well was also resorted to for cures for all kinds of  ailments.

Ffynnon Bryn Fendigaid’s demise began during the eighteenth century  when local land owner Sir Arthur Owen built a wall around it to keep animals on. This gradually became ruined, although the spring was reopened in 1861. Today, we are led to a brick and concrete structure over the spring which appears to serve no useful purpose. There  is no evidence around to suggest that the spring is still active.

Some 400 yards from this spring was Croes Ladys, the site of a once noted mineral spring. This site I have so far been unable to locate. A couple of hundred yards along the road towards the village lay another Ffynnon Beuno, the church at Aberffraw is also dedicated to Beuno. This spring finally vanished in the 1990s under a new road, more details on this in a future post.

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Source. Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd. Ffynhonnau Cymru, 1999.

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Ffynnon Enddwyn, Llanenddwyn

IMG_5843It is no more than three or four miles as the crow flies across the hill tops between Ffynnon Oledd and Ffynnon Enddwyn, two wells very similar in location and in style and both with a reputation for being beneficial to sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis. They are connected by footpaths across the hilltops, although the day I visited both I chose to drive to from Barmouth to Dyffryn Ardudwy; and whereas reaching Ffynnon Oledd had required an hour’s hike up the hillside, I was then able to drive up the hillside and park within yards of  Ffynnon Enddwyn.

This spring has been taken into the care of the local community council who have placed a name plate by the kissing gate at the roadside leading to the well and also provided a board beside the well outlining its legend. Here we read that

“Tradition says that Saintt Enddwyn was afflicted with a ‘sore disease’. One day, journeying to Trawsfynyedd, she bathed and refreshed herself in the well and was cured. The well was afterwards known as Fynnon Enddwyn. Sick folk from all parts resorted to it to be cured from gland related illnesses, skin diseases, sore eyes, and arthritis. It was a tradition to drink the water, and apply some of the moss that grew beside the well as a plaster. People left their crutches and sticks behind as tokens of their restoration, and others threw pins into the well to ward off evil spirits.”

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Baring Gould and Fisher state, without giving a source, that hundreds of pins were from time to time taken out of the spring.

Thus similarities also exist between the histories of this spring and another nearby well, Ffynnon Fair at Llanfair. In both instances the well is said to have been discovered by the particular saint finding a sudden need for a spring while walking across the hills away from the community to which the well belongs. This may hint at the regularity with which people from this narrow coastal plateau had to trek up into the hills behind which form a chain running up the coast and which are still crisis-crossed with tracks, remnants of communities and home to scattered small settlements.

It is a local tradition to identify Enddwyn as a female saint and  a modern wall hanging in her church at Llanenddwyn shows her standing beside the well. However Baring Gould and Fisher conclude that there is no clear evidence of who Enddwyn was, even with regard to gender.

Enddwyn, the patron of Llanenddwyn, Merionethshire, would appear to be the saint intended by Endwy ab Hywel Farchog ab Hywel Faig ab Emyr Llydaw, mentioned in one entry in the lolo MSS Sometimes the saint is said to have been a female.

Browne Willis (1721) suggests that the dedication of the church was to an unknown St Damian.

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Whoever Enddwyn was, the presence and use of the spring bearing that name is long noted, its 18th century use is identified by. The Royal Commission inspector who in 1913 noted that it was

In mountains about 2 miles from church. Bathing chamber added probably in 18th century. Spring rises in sunken masonry lined chamber ca 3 ft square, flowing into larger enclosure with steps down. Whole surrounded by low wall.

Its use must have survived well into the 19th century. Cathrall (1828) mentions that it was said to be efficacious in scrofulous complaints and Lewis (1849) highlights it in his recording that

The waters of a spring called St. Enddwyn’s Well are thought to be efficacious in the cure of rheumatic affections.

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The well as seen today broadly matches this description. The main stone lined pool is accessed by steps down on the northern side. It is kept filled from a spring which rises some three or four feet away and flows freely through a channel of scattered large stones which one assumes would probably once have formed a better defined channel. Water flows out from the main pool onto the hillside. The spring now seems to attract a regular stream of visitors, the coastal strip is a popular holiday destination and the well features in the tourist information. Its primary attraction must be the views, from its hillside location you can look across the bay, and down the Llyn peninsula towards Abersoch and to Bardsey Island.

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Browne Willis (1721) Survey of Bangor, cited in Baring-Gould and Fisher.
Cathrall, William (1828) The History of North Wales, Manchester
Baring Gould, Sabine and John Fisher (1907) The Lives of the British Saints, London
Royal Commission on Historic and Ancient Monuments in Wales (1921) – Inventory of Ancient Monumnets in Wales. volume 6. Merionethshire
Lewis, Samuel (1849) Topographical Dictionary of Wales


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Ffynnon Armon, Uwchmynydd, Aberdaron

ff Armon, UwchmynyddThese deserted cliff tops, often wind swept and bleak, harbour quite a number of fresh water springs. Close to the water’s edge, below where the church of St Mary once stood is the famous well of St Mary, Ffynnon Fair. Close to the coastal footpath some quarter of a mile or so further along the coast we find the much less well known Ffynnon Armon.

It is difficult to imagine this spot, now a destination for bird watchers and walkers and virtually deserted on our latest visit, once having been a hive of activity, pilgrims and fishermen both used the various inlets as natural harbours from which to set out to sea. On the cliff tops the church, houses and farming occupied the ground. Water and named wells were important to all. Still, it is difficult to understand why a well to St Garmon should feature amongst their number; his connection with the island seems remote in comparison to the other saints connected with the pilgrimage. We have met with three other wells carrying his name across North Wales, and all within communities that are also named after him. Still he remains at best a shadowy figure, with researchers putting forward a variety of possibilities for his history and association with Wales. Maybe there really are more than one original Garmon, and the various Garmon wells are not all named for the same one.

We take the attribution of this well to Garmon from work carried out in the 2000s for the Llyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management team in Gwynedd County Council. I haven’t seen any other documented evidence for the dedication of this well, so we must assume the name is locally handed down knowledge.

ff Armon, Uwchmynydd
The well lies on the hillside close to a precipitous drop down to the sea. One side is marked by a large rock, with a smaller stone to is back. Earlier pictures seemed to indicate more stonework on other sides, although no evidence of this was to be seen during my visit. The centre of the spring was overgrown with reeds, although the water was definitely flowing underneath, my feet sank deep into the pool.

About 20 yards to the north east of the spring, and even closer to the drop into the sea, a curved brick dam has been built. Apparently with the purpose of trapping the outflow from the spring to for, a drinking pool for livestock roaming on the hillside. The presence of this feature has been taken as being indicative of the reliability of the spring during drier weather. In the wet weather around during our visit there were certainly more accessible water sources available.

ff Armon, Uwchmynydd

This Ffynnon Garmon is not one to seek out for its curative powers or to marvel at its construction and survival; but it does make for an exhilarating walk around the cliff tops, especially on the wild and windy December day we made the journey.

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Ffynnon Digwg, Clynnog

IMG_6087_reducedWhile the previous well, Ffynnon Sanctaidd at Pistyll was lacking in stories and history,  Ffynnon  Digwg  makes up for this and has them in abundance. Ffynnon Digwg  lies in the hills at Penarth, close to Aberdesach which in turn is near Clynnog.

We find Ffynnon Digwg beside a footpath leading up the hill from Penarth, at the grid coordinates given in the Historic Environment Record (HER). The Royal Commission inspector, who visited in 1960  described it as a muddy hollow, though on the day we visited a sizeable pool was there. This appears to be fed by a small overgrown spring to the east and a further two springs, one trickling from an old pipe,  that flow a short distance down the hillside from the south. The pool then drains, forming a stream flowing  beside a small copse north of the pool.

In passing we have to note that one recent book makes reference to different spring, now enclosed in brick, closer to pennarth. No source for this attribution is given so we have stuck with the HER version.

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The story of its origin has been linked with another case of St Beuno’s miraculous cures. Tegiwg is supposed to be a daughter of Ynyr, King of Gwent and living at Caerwent A young carpenter from  Aberffraw on Anglesey comes south to work and charms her, telling stories of his riches back home. For some reason all are taken in, and the couple marry with the blessing of Ynyr , and set off on the road back to Aberffraw.

As the journey continues the carpenter starts to worry more and more about Tegiwg’s reaction when she discovers his deceptions, that his rich home back in Aberffraw is nothing more than a poor hut. By the time they reach the north coast of Gwynedd he realises that there is nothing he can do to avoid his shame, and as she sleeps he draws out his sword and cuts off her head.

Local shepherds, however , were close by and seeing what had occurred rushed to Clynnog to inform the Saint.. Beuno arrived on the scene in time to restore the unfortunate  Tegiwg to life.by this time the errant carpenter had fled taking with him horses and the treasures Tegiwg had brought from her father. Some time later, when one of Tegiwg’s brothers , Iddon rode north to find her, she chose to stay with Beuno, devoting her life to the church rather than to return to her home to the south.

Iddon and Beuno travelled north to Aberffraw to retrieve her horses and treasures. On discovering the carpenter Iddon drew his sword and slew him. Iddon was arrested and not released until Beuno restored life to the man. Beuno was rewarded with land at Aberffraw of which he is patron saint, and Iddon was free to return to Gwent.

Clearly the story of Tegiwg has strong echoes of that of Beuno and Gwenffrewi, and it is suggested that the later scenes of Beuno’s intervention were grafted onto an earlier history to enhance his credentials.

At the scene of the occurrence, where her body fell , burst forth the spring that carries a version of her name, Ffynnon Digwg. Tegiwg herself is listed by Baring Gould and Fisher as a saint, although there are no known church dedications ascribed to her, and no festival celebrated.

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A number of additional legends attach to the pool. An ancient hawthorn tree once grew beside the spring, and it was told that  were it ever to be cut down then terrible storms of thunder and lightening would ensue.

There are also various accounts of strange items to be seen below the water, described as things resembling oranges or strange hedgehogs without their spikes. It has been suggested that these are possibly balls of algae stained with iron, a colouring which might also explain the story that Tegiwg’s blood could sometimes be seen in the water.

Another story tells of a rich treasure hidden within the spring. This could only be found by a red haired shepherdess if she were to drink from the spring on three consecutive days in spring.

Fardd  (cited in Jones, Holy Wells of Wales) notes that the well was also called Ffynnon Gwttig or Gyttig and that pins and eggs were offered there and that it had a reputation for the cure of warts.

So, setting out up the hillside from Penarth, expecting to find a muddy hollow, we find a view and a small pool filled to the brim with fascinating stories.

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Thomas C (2005) Sacred Welsh Waters. Homes ( Kindle edition, 2011)

Jones F (1954) Holy Wells of Wales, Cardiff Uni. Press.

Bartrum P(1994)  A Welsh Classical Dictionary, National Library of Wales

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Ffynnon Sanctaidd, Pistyll

ffynnon sanctaidd, pistyllThe Church of St Beuno at Pistyll lies hidden and  almost forgotten just a stone’s throw from the B4417 where cars speed past to Nefyn and beyond. A faded sign still points the way, but it is overshadowed by a newer and much larger sign advertising some nearby holiday homes.

Those who do manage to find this side road are confronted with a  Delightful historic church standing beside the sea, some portions  of it the remaining windowless 12th century walls, though the church was extended eastwards in the 15th century obviously occasionally restored since then. Still, the church remains today without electricity, the occasional summer Sunday services still held being  lit by the remains of large candles on holders mounted along the walls. The church maintains the medieval tradition of spreading rushes as a covering on the stone floor.

eglwys beuno, pistyll

Just as the drivers of today, The  pilgrims of the past too may  have been anxious to get on with the comforts of the monastery at Nefyn and even their final destination at the the tip of the Llŷn now beckoning; but they would have welcomed the relief provided by the monks at Pistyll, where a small hospice developed, after the climb over Bwlch Yr Eifl from Clynnog and Llanaelhaearn.

The well too, seems now to be an afterthought, hardly worth stopping at for the modern traveller after the splendour of that beside Beuno’s previous church at Clynnog.

ffynnon sanctaidd, pistyll

Someone has thoughtfully placed a sign before it,to confirm a name, although for the unknowing passer by it provides nothing to give any clue as to what it was or how it was used.

The well itself is a modern structure, built of brick with heavy stone slabs across the top, half covered by grass. Inside the brick tank, which seems to measure around 3 feet square the  water remains clean and clear.

ffynnon sanctaidd, pistyll

Sadly, just as any original well structure has vanished, so too have the legends and powers of the spring. Even the name could be considered to be in doubt. The signboard and the historical records refer to it merely as Ffynnon Sanctaidd- Holy Well, although some  reports have referred to it as Ffynnon Beuno – which makes some kind of sense, or Ffynnon Beris, which seems to make little sense at all.

All seem to agree though that this was an important well on the old pilgrimage trail, without ever being quite sure why.

On a hot summers day it is probably a location to visit, to see church and well and then to walk the coastal path towards Nefyn or Nant Gwytheyrn , on a wet day in October it is a place to stops at briefly, to tick off on the list, and to wonder what, if anything, has been lost here both on the ground and from memory.

eglwys beuno, pistyll

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Lord Boston’s Sulphur Well, Penrhoslligwy

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc MawrThis is a bit of a curiosity. I originally applied the  name Ffynnon Parc Mawr to this well from a report on the well in the Summer 2004 Newsletter of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru,  which is the only on-line source of information I have found about the spring, however more recent correspondence suggests that this is incorrect and that Ffynnon Parc Mawr lies on Mynydd Bodafon I shall thus stick with the name with which it is more commonly referred to as the Boston Sulphur Well after the name plaque above the door. The well lies just off the A5025 about a mile from  Llanallgo, Anglesey.

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc Mawr

It appears on most maps as a chalybeate well, and from the reddish brown colour of the water in the well and of the mud in the door way it undoubtedly is. Chalybeate springs, high in minerals, particularly iron became very popular in the seventeenth century, and this continued through into the twentieth century. There were a number of noted chalybeate springs across North Wales that were held in high esteem in the nineteenth century and it might appear that the owner of the land this spring lay on, Lord Boston, took an interest in his own spring. Although the main seat of the Lords Boston is in Lincolnshire they own land here and have an estate at Llanidan on Anglesey. A Lord Boston who would have been alive in 1864 and who may have visited the spring is commemorated by a plaque in Penrhoslligwy church.  

The small castellated building with a north facing gothic arched door was given grade 2 listed status in 2002. It was probably originally roofed, with rendered internal walls and would have been protected by a door, of which no trace remains. The internal area is probably around eight feet by four feet, the spring rises at the end away from the door in a square pool underneath a stone topped, brick sided bench. on which to place your clothes and belongings whilst bathing perhaps.The spring then forms a bathing pool occupying about two thirds of the area of the building, it would appear at one time to have been paved around.

The 2004 article suggests that the well had a local reputation for healing, as naturally would a chalybeate well, and that it was known by locals as ‘copper water’. The article goes on to discuss an article by E Neil Baynes in the Proceedings of the Anglesey   Antiquarian Society from 1928 which discusses the use of the well as a cursing well. It describes a cursing ritual involving pins and frogs that was supposed to have been carried out at the well up until the early twentieth century. This is intriguing since in many ways it mirrors the practice carried out at the nearby Ffynnon Eilian on the coast a few miles to the north east. This certainly raises questions as to  whether there is some confusion in the informant’s mind regarding which well is being discussed, whether at some stage in the past stories had become confused or to some extent migrated between neighbouring wells; or even whether there was a more wide spread practice of cursing at wells whereby similar rituals were used and perhaps the well at which they were held was somewhat immaterial.

I tend to go for one of the confusion options, but at what point in history it happened remains to be demonstrated..

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc Mawr

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc Mawr

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc Mawr

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