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 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 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

References

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