Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North 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.

SH1421 2613




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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.


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.


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.


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

(SH4294 5044)

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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

(SH 32974225)

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Ffynnon Parc Mawr, Penrhoslligwy

Boston Sulphur Well - Ffynnon Parc MawrThis is a bit of a curiosity. I’ve taken the name Ffynnon Parc Mawr 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. 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

SH 48598602

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Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair

St Mary's LlanfairFrom the coast at Llanfair, south of Harlech, St Mary decided to walk across the hills towards Hafod-y-llyn. On her journey she became thirsty and stopped to drink from a small spring. In doing so, she left the imprint of her foot on a rock beside the spring. Ever since the spring never failed to produce pure fresh water.

We know this from an information leaflet provided in the church there, it even includes a photograph of the footprint, though fails to say where or when the picture was taken. I asked the lady who looks after the keys, but she didn’t know either. She had an idea that it might be alongside a footpath running eastwards from the old vicarage. There were many stones along that route that bore marks that could resemble the photo in the church, all formed by lichen on the stones, but no signs of a spring along the way.

Most records however point towards a different location, to the south of the vicarage by Uwchllan farm.

In 1894 the well was described by Richards and Lloyd in the Transactions of the Cymmrodorion Society as being covered with slabs and earth. They noted that a more ancient well in ruinous conditions was described as being covered in briars and down the hill towards the church.

The Royal Commission in 1914 described the Uwchllan site as being

Top of hill east of church just below Uwchllan farm. Sunken reservoir 27 by 21 inches. Overgrown, church is 260m to south west.

All this background reading then did not prepare me for what I found on reaching the tie identified by the Royal Commission. The feature that we find now at the specified grid reference now is intriguing, A stone lined underground chamber with steps leading down into it, seemingly used for storage or rubbish by the farm.

Ffynnon Fair, llanfairWhether this was dug on the site of the spring since 1914, either coincidentally or to tap the water is not clear. Anyway, after this visit I returned to the Coflein record and read something I’d initially missed (unless it was a very recent addition)

Ffynnon Fair is a sunken well dug into the slope with a number of well built steps leading down into it.

The most recent reference included in the Coflein citation is to a note by N Vousden of RCHAMW made in 2012 which may have been the source of this description.

Ffynnon Fair, llanfair

Now I certainly have problems with this.If the well were such a substantial structure then I would have expected the information in the church, which shows a picture of Mary’s footprint, to also draw attention to the size and nature of the well. And the implication from the story there is that it should be a small surface spring rather than such a deep structure.

The 1894 description of it’s being covered in earth and slabs I suppose could be a loose interpretation of what is there, although it could have been much better described. The 1914 Royal Commission description, on the other hand, if they saw the same site, is just misleading.

Some 10 yards or so further down the field is a small depression with an animal water trough in it, again this may or may not tap into the spring, there was no one around to ask during our visit.

Further down the path leading from Uwchllan to the village I found what was perhaps the other well identified in 1894. This lies immediately beside the path and gave the impression of having recently been cleared out. It is ringed around by large stones and forms a small stream flowing down the hillside beside the path that leads down past the old slate quarry towards the church.

well near Llanfair church

It is quite possible that Ffynnon Fair was originally a surface spring that has been excavated and enlarged at sometime, either before or after 1914 to create a water supply for the farm or neighbouring houses. I post this as a work in progress, there is clearly more work to be done on Ffynnon Fair here.

Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair SH58042913

st mary's llanfair

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Ffynnon Fair, Dolgellau

Ffynnon Fair, dolgellau

Ffynnon Fair, St Mary’s Well, lies fairly close to the town centre in Dolgellau. To find it follow Cader Street out of Eldon Square and then turn left up a steep narrow lane, Love Lane, just after passing a Ffynnon Street on the right. Pass a small hotel called Ffynnon and then the well is signposted for pedestrians along a track on the right hand side.

Ffynnon Fair will be a great disappointment to the pilgrim, “the well that likes to say no”. In that the entrance gate is firmly locked and secured with a bicycle chain.  Normally this would be no hindrance, but the surrounding walls were a little too high and the stone flagged floor surrounding the well looked a little too slippery to attempt to jump in.

Ffynnon Fair, dolgellauWhat we see here dates mainly from the early Victorian period when the well was used as the main water supply for the town. At that time it was walled around with a roof over. Repairs were made in 1850 but soon afterwards alternative water supplies were organised and by 1890 it was in a neglected condition,The Royal Commission visited in 1913. They noted the recent age of the structure but did not describe its condition. They commented that

This is doubtless the well that was associated with the parish church. The name of the well is remembered but no traditions of healing or of popular resort to it appear to have survived.

Ffynnon Fair, dolgellauThere appears to have been talk even then of restoring the well, but nothing came of it until 100 years later when a group organised by the Dolgellau Heritage Society cleared and restored the site., after which the well was placed into the care of the Dolgellau Town council.

Although the Royal Commission were unable to identify any healing tradition associated with the well, the Christmas 2006 edition of Llygad y Ffynnon notes that it was once famous for its ability to improve arthritis, though other sources suggest rheumatism.

A number of sources highlight the fact that two roman coins were found by it and use this as an indication of the longevity of use of the spring. This record appears to be based on a note by Lhuyd in the 1690s who records that several coins were found in the neighbourhood of the well, of which two were in his possession. From this distance in time we cannot really judge what radius he might define as being “in the neighbourhood of the well” or impute that the coins were left, either intentionally or not, by visitors to the well.

Ffynnon Fair, dolgellau

Some 25 yards further along the track, on its right hand side we reach another spring. This appeared as a boggy overgrown piece of land beneath a large tree on the August day we visited. This is Ffynnon Llygaid, the eye spring, which was visited in the past to treat complaints of the eye. This would suggest that in its time it has been a particularly clean water source. Unfortunately this is clearly no longer the case. A number of stones lying around suggest that possibly there may have been some small structure around it, but it is hard to see through the weed and no record that I have seen suggests this.

Ffynnon y Llygaid, dolgellau

Ffynnon Fair,  SH72601755

Ffynnon Llygaid, SH72551757


Llygad y Ffynnon the well is discussed in several issues between summer 2006 and Christmas 2008.

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Ffynnon Oledd, Llanaber

Cerrig Arthur. Photo wellhopper
Were I ever to suffer from rheumatism I think treatment at this well would be one of my last resorts. From a small car park provided to serve walkers to a nearby panoramic viewpoint, quiet, above Barmouth teeming with visitors on a very hot August day, I climbed for almost two hours up into the hills to find this well. Admittedly, the time was somewhat extended by my getting lost a couple of times, but this must still be a good two or three mile walk from the car park. The well is about a mile to the NNE of the farm Sylfaen marked on OS maps, and the route passes through a small stone circle, with two standing stones at the centre, known as  Cerrig Arthur.

It is difficult to determine who the main users of this well would have been.it is hard to imagine rheumatic residents of Barmouth making the journey, although people were much more hardy back then and thought nothing of walking substantial distances. More likely, I suspect, these hillsides were much busier in the past. There are remains of dwellings scattered around, and the several trackways that converge around the well were quite possibly major thoroughfares and driving routes before the A496 was built to speed people along between Barmouth and Dolgellau.

ffynnon Oledd. Photo wellhopper

The well itself is of dry stone construction, built up against and partially into a stone field boundary. There are three steps leading down into the pool from one corner. The pool is some 4 feet long and 3 feet wide, the water was maybe a foot deep, covering a stone bottom to the pool. As can be seen it is overgrown with ferns and pond weed. Water enters from a small gap in the stonework on the western side and flows out through a channel, covered by a very large flat piece of stone on the east. It flows away forming a substantial stream down the hillside towards the farm buildings of Goledd with which it shares its name.

The well, and its believed efficacy for curing rheumatism and scorbutic complaints are noted in the inventory of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments. This information is repeated by Jones in his Holy Wells of Wales (1954), who adds an alternative version of the name without the mutation,  Ffynnon Goledd, citing a piece in Bygones from 1880 as his source.

ffynnon Oledd. Photo wellhopper

ffynnon Oledd. Photo wellhopper

ffynnon Oledd. Photo wellhopper

ffynnon Oledd. Photo wellhopper


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