Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Clorach Wells

Clorach wellsOne of the sites I most frequently receive inquiries about is Clorach, near Llanerchymedd. It is one of the most enduring and endearing stories associated with the early saints in North Wales. That of how the founders of the two great Anglesey monasteries, at Penmon in the south east and on Holy Island in the north west, would regularly trek across the island to meet at this central point to chat and set the world to rights.

The story tells us that Seiriol walking westwards in the morning and eastwards in the evening always had his back to the sun and thus never got a tan (regardless of how he spent the rest of his time). Cybi on the other hand always walked towards the sun.

The account has been set in verse by both Matthew Arnold and also by Sir John Morris Jones We give the first verse of the latter’s work here.

Seiriol Wyn a Chybi Felyn
Cyfarfyddent, fel mae’r son,
Beunydd wrth Ffynhonnau Clorach
Yng Nghanolbarth Mon
Seiriol the fair and Cybi the tawny
Met as it is said
Daily by the well of Clorach
In the centre of Anglesey

At the point where they met were two strongly flowing wells directly opposite to each other, one on either side of the road. These wells have had a reputation as an important site which is documented  back into at least the 18th century and probably long long before that.

The Rev John Skinner was shown and sketched the two wells during his 1802 tour of Anglesey, noting that both were enclosed in a reservoir of stonework. He doesn’t comment on any customs of the wells, other than repeating the story that they were the meeting place of the two saints. He does record being told that they were close to the former nunnery of St Claire which he locates about 1/4 mile to the north of the wells. There does not appear to be any other record of this nunnery having existed.

Carreg LleidrSkinner, and all subsequent visitors, also make particular reference to the nearby Thief Stone, Carreg Leidr (Leidr y Frydog),  a standing stone in a field close to the wells. Legend tells that this represents a man who stole the chained Bible from the nearby church, and was turned to stone as a result of his deed. The square protuberance at the top being the Bible still in his hands. The legend frees him to run three times around the field each Christmas Eve before returning to his station.

The wells are mentioned, though not described by William Cathrall in his 1828 History of North Wales where he notes that the two are remarkable not for their healing powers but for their history in relation to the two saints. Although Angharad Llwyd in 1833 notes that the wells are still held in high estimation she doesn’t refer to any particular virtues of the waters.

The earliest reference to healing attributes that I’ve seen occurs in The Lives of the British Saints which states that people would formerly visit the wells for cures for various diseases .  Francis Jones’s Holy Wells of Wales includes a reference to an 1893 document  which states that Ffynnon Seiriol would be visited in the dead of night  in the nineteenth century  and water would be taken to cure sick people. There does not appear to be a record of any  specific complaints for which the waters were used.

The Gruffydds’ book adds to this the tradition that the spot was considered a good place for couples to meet up to reconcile differences following an argument.Thus we are left to consider whether the healing beliefs of the wells arose as a new custom during the 19th century, or whether it had always existed and was ignored by, or just unknown to the earlier historians. An article by Miss E M Fussell (1921) doesn’t help. She discusses bathing in the well by sufferers from rheumatism and the floating of handkerchiefs in the well for divination.   I tend to believe that she has confused this well with either Cybi ‘s well at Llangybi in Caernarfonshire or a closer one in Holyhead, both of which had traditions of divination.  Of course it is always possible that traditions migrated from one well to another over time and were indeed practised here too.

The pair of wells were reduced to the single well we see today in around 1840 when the road was realigned and the bridge, Pont Clorach, built over the stream here. At this time, the well to the north of the road, that of St Seiriol, was lost under the bridge foundations. St Cybi’s remained untouched on the southern side of the bridge.Clorach wells

There remains some difference of opinion as to whether the one remaining well is that of Cybi or Seiriol. Most mapping and reference sources however identify it as Cybi’s after Skinner’s eighteenth century sketch which labels the wells and marks Cybi’s on the southern side of the road. On the other hand Baring-Gould and Fisher, followed by Francis Jones, suggests that it is Seiriol’s well rather than Cybi’s that has survived.

So this is what we see today; the old stone structure repaired and topped with brick, covered by a concrete and iron lid to keep out the cattle.  The Gruffydds record that it was in use as a local water supply up until the 1950s when piped water arrived in the area. Overgrown  now and apparently the inside walls have collapsed blocking access to the spring, although it still produces water that flows out from beneath into the surrounding ground.

Clorach wells

There is another well dedicated to Cybi about 3 miles to the west, and there has been tradition in this area that this well marks the Saints’ meeting point rather than the Clorach wells.

Clorach should probably be an iconic destination in any tour of the historical religious sites on Anglesey, but quite clearly it is a huge anticlimax as many people before me have discovered. Whatever the travel writers and historians of the early Victorian period said about the local importance of the springs wasn’t heard by the bridge builders. It is hard to tell whether their accounts of the high esteem in which the wells were held was exaggerated, whether even by their time it was receding from memory, or whether even then as so often today progress needs to take precedence over history and the bridge was built regardless of the history it was destroying.

Clorach wells

In the bare midst of Anglesey they show
Two springs which close by one another play;
And, “Thirteen hundred years agone,” they say,
“Two saints met often where those waters flow.

Extracts from
Seiriol Wyn a Chybi Felyn by Sir John Morris Jones (1864 – 1929)
East and West by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd (1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru. Cyfrol 2.
Angharad Llwyd (1833)  A History of the Island of Mona
John Skinner (1802) A Ten Day Tour Through Anglesey
William Cathrell (1828) The History of North Wales
Sabine Baring Gould and John Fisher (1907) The Lives of the British Saints.
Francis Jones (1954) The Holy Wells of Wales
Miss E M Fussell (1921) Some Aspects of Monasticism in Anglesey in Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society.


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Ffynnon Badrig, Llanbadrig

llanbadrig churchSt Patrick’s church at Llanbadrig stands high on the cliff tops looking out across the Irish Sea and the Wylfa power station near Cemaes. A wedding was just finishing as I arrived and I waited as guests released mauve helium balloons which floated away along the cliff top path.

The guests and I were clearly lucky this July day, Angharad Llwyd described very different weather conditions at the church:

The church is built most inconveniently upon a cliff washed by the Irish sea, and so near the sea that during the prevalence of northerly or north-westerly winds, the waves break over it with such violence, as to interrupt, and frequently to prevent the performance of divine service, and even the funeral service has been unavoidably deferred for several days, during the continuance of those winds, at which times the church is altogether inaccessible.[1]

llanbadrig church

St Patricks has popularly always been associated with the Irish patron saint, its feast day occurs on March 17th. One story has it that he was shipwrecked on the small rocky outcrop known as Middle Mouse or Ynys Badrig, a hundred yards or so offshore. He managed to swim ashore where he found a welcoming cave and spring of fresh water. Thanking God for his unlikely survival he founded this church on the spot. The more mundane though probably more realistic alternative is that this was the bay from which he set sail on his journey to Ireland.

More usual now is to attribute its founding instead to Padrig ab Alfryd of Arfon. Francis Jones in his Holy Wells of Wales attributes the well to this saint, following the line of Baring Gould and Fisher’s Lives of the British Saints. Bartrum’s 1993 Welsh Classical Dictionary also gives Padrig ab Alfryd as the church’s titular saint. [2,3,4] Padrig was a member of Cybi’s community at nearby Holyhead.

Deborah Crawford [5] has recently put up a very spirited and convincing argument for the reassociation of the site with the Irish apostle. I tend to think that this is the correct attribution, although it is not my purpose here to take sides.

The well and cave are on the headland between the church and the sea. Neither is particularly easy to access. A study of ten years or so ago looked at the potential of including reference to the well on the local tourist trail, but nothing seems to have come of it, probably on safety grounds, and the vicar, as he locked up the church after the wedding, warned me to take care getting down there.

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

Having dealt with the likes of Ffynnon Fair by Aberdaron, however, Ffynnon Badrig offered few problems. A steeply sloping track close to the stile leads down to the rocks around Patricks cave, Ogof Padrig. On the way down you should look out for the imprints of the saint’s feet in the rock, I don’t think I spotted them. The cave might have provided a welcome refuge from the storm, but filled with massive boulders it does not look like a place that any saint would want to live in for long.

There is though that important fresh water spring. Possibly more than one, since pools of fresh water are dotted around the area, flowing through channels in the rocks down to the sea. There is one large pool formed in a rocky cleft on the path, visible from the top, as you climb down. This is fed from a small spring in the rocks. This I initially take to be Ffynnon Badrig. There are some accounts place it below the cave and there may be a spring within the case itself although i couldn’t see any evidence of it below the large rocks on the cave floor. There are certainly substantial volumes of fresh water running in pools and streams in front of the cave.

Is one specific pool then Ffynnon Badrig? There is no evidence or record of any structure having existed that might point to specific use. I suspect that in its modern interpretation it is the body of fresh water in its entirety that forms Ffynnon Badrig, whether the source of this is a single spring or two or more springs drawing from the same subterranean source.

This is a view of the large pool at the foot of the pathway

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

This is water from the springs below the cave which flow down towards the cliff edge and into the sea. from existing documentation I believe that this body of water best represents Ffynnon Badrig.

ffynnon badrig, llanbadrig

Ffynnon Badrig was well known in older times. The Gruffydd’s [6] tell us that its water was once in demand for treating the disorders of children and that it was bottled and sold in fairs and markets across Anglesey. It was also claimed to be effective for rheumatism and toothache.

The Gruffydd’s book also suggests that there is a second Ffynnon Badrig in the east of the parish near Northwen. I have tried tracking down this spring but as yet have been unable to pinpoint it.

[1] Angharad Llwyd(1833) . The History of the Isle of Mona, Ruthin
[2] Francis Jones(1954) . Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff UP.
[3] S Baring Gould and J Fisher (1908) Lives of the British Saints
[4] Peter Bartrum (1993) Welsh Classical Dictionary. National Library of Wales
[5] Deborah Crawford (2014) The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication. E-Keltoi 8 (57-95)
[6] Eirlys and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd (1999) Ffynhonnau Cymru.  Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst

Ogof Badrig


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Ffynnon Iestyn, Llaniestyn

St Iestyn’s Well

st iestyn This was a second visit to Llaniestyn, both on particularly gloomy, wet days, though I’m sure this is coincidence and not characteristic of the place.

Llaniestyn is a small, sparse parish close to Llanddona in the south eastern corner of Anglesey. Iestyn, its patron, is said to have been a nephew of local hero Cybi, and a brother to Saint Cyngar. A second parish is dedicated to him on the Llŷn Peninsula and he was also active further south, in Cornwall and Brittany. Some commentators suggest that he is the same saint as Justin or Just. His feast day is celebrated on October 10th.

The main item of note in the church is a striking 14th century relief of Iestyn, in the distant past it was thought to be his grave slab, but its date shows that it couldn’t be. It used to lie flat by the altar, but which is now upright on one of the walls. The parish was once a part of the lands of the priory at Llanfaes. Angharad Llwyd describes a stained glass depiction of St Catherine here in the early 19th century, but there is no evidence of it now, or any other recollection of it.

Iestyn’s well is rarely referred to in any of the descriptions of the parish. The only account that I have found is that in Jones’ Holy Wells of Wales,[1] which is repeated in the Gruffydd’s Fynhonnau Cymru [2]. They record that water from the well was taken into the church for use in baptisms; and also that the local population refused to drink from the well believing the water to be cursed. This may be due to the local tradition of taking corpse pennies, the coins use to close the eyes of the dead, and throwing them into the well following a funeral.

I have been given two potential locations for the well. Jones places it nearby in the corner of a field on Tyddyn Uchaf land; the Gruffydds qualify this by stating that it is to the north of the church. The most obvious location for this is marked on the map as a well beside the drive to the house now known as Tan-y-fynwent. Access to this location is very clearly unwelcome as shown below. I just assume that this is to prevent the unwary from falling victim to the curse.

ff iestyn

There is another spring in the corner of a Tyddyn Uchaf field to the east, this too was inaccessible, and probably to far away from paths to be a prime candidate.

An alternative site that has been given is a well within a thicket to the east of the church. This is much closer to the road from Llanddona, but would have been accessible if the thicket has not been so dense in the past. Brambles and undergrowth restricted access, but the well is shown below.

ff iestyn

Maybe this was the well, and maybe the curse is still active. Certainly for the rest of the day after taking these pictures my camera refused to work.

This has to be a work in progress type of post, questions about Ffynnon Iestyn remain open, and I’m sure further visits will be required. Maybe next time it won’t be quite so rainy.

ff iestyn

[1] and [2] – see references page