Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Rhedyw, Llanllyfni

St hedyw Church LlanllyfniAfter a forced, unexpectedly long, hiatus we are back on the road; the road today being the A487 from Bangor to Fishguard which has already led us past our previous well at Llanfair-Is-Gaer. The wide sweep of the Llanllyfni bypass as it crosses the River Llyfnwy passes close to the site of Ffynnon Rhedyw, the one well in Wales dedicated to Saint Rhedyw; the authors of the Lives of the British Saints suggest that he should be more correctly named Gredfyw. He is said to have been a brother to other local saints Tegai, Llechid and Trillo.

His church is some 300 yards to the north of the well, it was locked both times that I tried to visit but Hughes and North suggest that I missed little, writing that most of the earlier church was destroyed during restoration and reconstruction in the late eighteenth  and nineteenth centuries.  The earlier church contained a raised stone close to the altar known as Bedd Rhedyw, now apparently lost; while within the parish there was another stone, Eisteddfa Redyw, beside which the prints of both his horse’s hoof and his own thumb could be seen. All these remains show the power of the belief in St Gredfyw that there must once have been in the locality.

Sadly, his well, like these other venerated sites, has survived similarly poorly. However this could have been so very different. In 2005 the Daily Post and the BBC News website carried a story covering plans to restore this “pagan well” as a tourist attraction. It was to be linked to the church by a new path and accompanied by a notice board providing information on the well’s background. These plans seem to have rumbled on for a few years, but evidently came to nothing. At this time I can only speculate on the reasons why – maybe it proved difficult to obtain access, maybe when investigated the remaining structure was not sufficient or too difficult to conserve, or maybe other projects took its place. It would be interesting to know, since lessons may be learned for similar projects.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

A description of the well’s remains from around 1920 is provided by Hughes and North. They saw a rectangular basin with two steps down on both the north western and south western sides. The remained evidence of an enclosing wall formed of stone slabs. The enclosure was entered from the north west and the well within the enclosure was close to the entrance. The mention of the well in Lives of the British Saints suggests that the enclosure may once have been a building.

The report of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments visit in 1960 describes remains similar to those observed in 1920. Their description is of a rectangular basin two feet deep and eight feet wide by ten feet long to contain the water, with steps for access; the whole area being enclosed by the remains of a wall of boulders and slabs up to two feet thick. At this time they noted that the outflow had been adapted for the use of livestock.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

How long this survived in this form I have been unable to determine, though it’s degradation must have occurred within living memory for many people. The next account I have is drawn from an assessment made in 1993 in conjunction with the planning of the bypass. By this time it is clear that very little sign of the structures described 30 years earlier could be identified. Although one may speculate how much of the 1960 description was clearly visible and how much was conjecture based on earlier reports and evidence on the ground. I have not seen any pictures from 1960.

A site investigation in 2010 found a similar lack of evidence, although it had a somewhat positive conclusion that some structures may remain beneath the rubble, noting that the interior is very wet with around 0.2m of grass and water over a hard base.

My visits show a similar lack of visible remains. A rectangular depression in the landscape is still clearly evident and there remains a great volume of scattered loose stone which clearly must have once formed the structures. There is still one large rectangular slab set into the ground at the southern end of the enclosure, with the water, which was once collected and carried to the church for use in baptism, still rising and forming a strong stream at the northern end which flows down towards the river.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

So here we have another example of a substantial well structure fife timely obliterated within the last hundred years. It would be interesting to learn what happened to the rescue attempt, but I assume it came just too late to save the well.

Ffynnon Rhedyw Llanllyfni

Baring Gould S and J  Fisher (1908) Lives of the British Saints
GAT Report  75 (1993) A487 Penygroes/Llanllyfni Bypass Archaeological Assessment
Hopewell D and G Smith (2010) Prehistoric and Roman Sites Monument Evaluation.  Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Hughes H and H North(1924) Old Churches of Snowdonia

Ffynnon Rhedyw SH46805195

 


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Ffynnon Cefn Lleithfan, Bryncroes

ffynnon cefn lleithfan bryncroesFfynnon Cefn Lleithfan is unfortunately a little uninspiring once you find it.

Rather than any thought of picturesqueness its main interest is the traditions that are associated with it, showing the lengths to which ancestors were prepared to go to rid themselves of warts. It lies on Mynydd Rhiw with views down towards Bardsey Island and the long curving beach at Porth Neigwl.

I say once you find it; it took me three visits. The first time I was way off track and ended up cautiously creeping through a field with “warning bull in field” on the gates. The owner assured me it was quite friendly. Second time I was so close but managed to miss it, so it took a third attempt to track down this unappealing block of concrete.

ffynnon cefn lleithfan bryncroes

Beneath the rectangle of concrete there appear to be rough stone walls. Apparently when it was open it lay within a walled enclosure with stone steps leading down into the water. A pipe at the front allows the spring to drain and form a steady stream flowing down the hillside towards the road.  Some 15 yards behind this features lies another spring, which is encased in a cylinder of concrete with a stone cover which can be removed to show that this is full of water (pictured below).

ffynnon cefn lleithfan bryncroes

Then of course there’s the tradition, and for this story we cite Professor Rhys’s account given him by the local folklorist Myrddin Fardd. .The well’s claim to fame was that it could be used to remove warts. However to ensure success one had to approach the process in complete silence. The wart was to be bathed at the well with a rag or cloth which had grease on it. The cloth was then to be carefully hidden under a stone by the well.. Once done you should leave the well without once turning or looking back. Clearly many loopholes were there, left open, should the cure appear to fail.

The location of the well Is taken from the research into the wells of Llŷn carried out by Elfed Gruffydd..

ffynnon cefn lleithfan bryncroes

Rhys, John (1901) Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx.

Wellhopper acknowledges information from the AONB Team at Gwynedd CC which helped to find Ffynnon Cefn Lleithfan

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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

 

SH19252792


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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.

IMG_6079

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.

IMG_6086

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.

IMG_6070

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 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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Ffynnon Ddeiniol, Llanfor

St Deiniol Church LlanforLlanfor is a small settlement clustered around its church on the right hand side of the road just before you enter Bala from Corwen. The church, dedicated to St Deiniol has been closed since the 1990s. I understood that it had recently been sold when I first visited early last year, but nothing appears to have changed there since then so maybe I was mistaken. It has also, at some times, borne a second dedication to a shadowy little known St Mor. It is more than probable that this is due to a misinterpretation of the name Llanfor which appears more likely to be a corruption of its earlier more usual name Llanfawr.

The well associated with the church lies around 40 yards to the north east, beside a footpath accessible from the rear of the churchyard which runs back west parallel to the road. This path is supposed to be the remnant of the medieval route into the village.

Lhuyd, at the end of the seventeenth century, recorded the spring as Ffynnon Ddeiniol, though by the start of the twentieth century the Royal Commission reported that this name was all but forgotten and that it was generally identified as the old well of the parish. It was then surrounded within a rough stone enclosure some 3 feet by 2 feet 3 inches. It can now be seen within a small, three sided construction of stone, brick and concrete roofed over with a large stone or slate.

ffynnon Deiniol, Llanfor

The field in which the well stood was known as Cae’r ysgubor. In recent years the area around the well has been incorporated within the garden of the house at the foot of the hill. The Royal Commission stated that the stream from the spring once flowed through the churchyard. When we first visited the area around the spring had been landscaped and the stream flowed downhill for about 20 yards before forming an ornamental pond. On this visit we found the area around the spring much more overgrown with the pond drained and abandoned. With no one around it wasn’t possible to get a closer look.

A substantial brick built feature close to the spring raises the possibility that at some time it may have been tapped for a water supply.

ffynnon Deiniol, Llanfor