Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Redifael, Penmynydd

ffynnon Redifael, PenmynyddThere are undoubtedly many better things to be doing on a drizzly October morning than splashing around in a muddy field on the trail of a well that is well documented as having been destroyed around 30 years ago. But such is life, and today we found ourselves doing just that at Penmynydd near Llangefni.

Penmynydd, which has also been known as Llanredifel, is the location the only church dedicated to St Gredifael, and until 30 years ago his only well too. Gredifael, whose feast is celebrated on November 13th, is virtually unknown. The Lives of the British Saints suggests with little certainty that he may have arrived in the area with brother Fflewyn in the mid fifth century.

The fifteenth century church of St Gredifael is certainly much more interesting than his well. It is currently undergoing archaeological investigation and restoration with a grant from the Welsh Assembly’s historic buildings fund. It was very disappointing, though probably unsurprising, not to be able to find any way to gain access to the church at the time of our visit.

ffynnon Redifael, Penmynydd

The Lives of the British Saints tells us that Gredifael’s shrine, Bedd Gredifael used to be within the church and that lying on the shrine overnight would produce a cure for the fits. The church also contains important links with the Tudor royal dynasty, containing the tomb of Gronw Tudur, great uncle to Henry VII, The Penmynydd area being an ancestral home of the Tudur family.

The well lay beside a footpath some 100 yards to the south of the church. It is clearly marked on all the Ordnance Survey maps from the late nineteenth century. It was situated within a depression in the middle of a field known as, Cae Gredifael. The Coflein record states that an early photograph shows a rectangular stone basin fed by the spring, and that early mapping shows a small rectangular feature (3m by 1.5m) beside a larger pond. It is unfortunate that no detailed description of the site was recorded by the Ancient Monuments Commission. The location identified from the recorded grid reference is in the centre of the picture below, and the following picture shows the church as viewed from the well.

ffynnon Redifael

 

it is well documented however that it caused difficulties for the farmer in ploughing the field and was thus removed and ploughed over in 1986 with the water being piped away out of the field. Some effort was made in the 1990s towards a campaign to recreate it at the edge of the field, which seems to have come to nothing.

The well had a reputation for being effective in the cure of warts, the remedy being to prick the wart with a pin until it bled and then to wash it in the spring.

ffynnon Redifael, Penmynydd

 

Ffynnon Redifael. SH 5167 7465

St Gredifael’s Church

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Ffynnon Cawrdaf, Abererch

St Cawrdaf AbfererchSt Cawrdaf’s Well
The former parish of Abererch, now included within that of Llannor, extended to the north and west of Pwllheli. The church is dedicated to St Cawrdaf, and his holy well is to be found in a field some half mile to the north west of the church. Parts of the church building date from the fourteenth century, although as with many of the local churches it was substantially reconstructed in the nineteenth century

In the field of Welsh saints where nothing is particularly certain Cawrdaf’s history is murkier and more vague than most. He appears in early stories with links to King Arthur. He was probably a missionary to the area and a disciple of St Seriol, the church at Llangoed on Anglesey, close to Seriol’s monastery, is also dedicated to Cawrdaf

Bartrum mentions that his name appears on the list of “seven happy cousins” alongside Cybi, Beuno, Dewi and Seriol, which must surely be a good company to be in; although once again he points out that some sources omit Cawrdaf from the list including instead alternative happy cousins in his place.. His feast day is celebrated on December 5th.

The well is now enclosed in a small brick building, completely overgrown with brambles which made a close examination of the structure impossible. Myrddin Fardd records that the well was once reputed to cure all ills. The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments reported in 1964 that the building stands on a surround of stone slabs which “may be ancient”. The stones do remain but could only just be glimpsed through the thorns.
Ffynnon Cawrdafb Abererch

The water still flows, however, demonstrated by the steady stream that emerges from the front of the structure flowing across the field before it.

There are two other noted wells in the parish, one supposedly dedicated to Cadarch, who some histories have suggested was Cawrdaf’s brother although others fail to associate in any way with the area; the other is Ffynnon Gwynedd, a well Fardd records to have been used in divination. I was unable to get access to either of these on this visit, but hopefully will have a chance to report on these in future.

Ffynnon Cawrdafb Abererch


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Ffynnon Dudno, Llandudno

St Tudno’s Well
The Great Orme, Y Gogarth, that iconic limestone outcrop that defines Llandudno has been a centre of population and industry for thousands of years. Copper mining was been carried out here during the Bronze Age, It was later occupied by the Romans, and it was here in the seventh century that Tudno founded his church. In the medieval period it was home to a farming community and later the mines were reopened and once again Llandudno became a source of copper.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

A small cave, little more than seven feet square, but with its own spring of fresh water, looking out to sea on the north coast of the Orme is reputed to have been Tudno’s cell; and his church remains, high above this point still isolated from any present day habitation.

Tudno was a Welshman, supposed to have been son of a King of Maes Gwyddino, lands that were flooded and lost in the sixth century and now lie under the sea in Cardigan Bay. On losing their lands he and his brothers took refuge and became monks at the great monastery at Bangor on Dee, and when that was destroyed by the Saxons Tudno, who survived the massacre, fled to form his cell at what has now become known as Llandudno.

The Great Orme was attractive for settlement throughout history as it has a number of strong fresh water springs scattered across it. These would have been invaluable in the mining process as well as providing water to early residents on the hillside. Close to Tudno’s church is Ffynnon Rufeining which can be translated as the Roman’s Well and close to which Roman coins have been found. Another well, some hundred yards from Tudno’s church became known and visited as St Tudno’s Well.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

Llandudno, as it is known today, sprang up, with rapid development, in the mid Victorian period in the age when the advent of rail travel led to an explosion in the development of seaside resorts. The town became fashionable and grew rapidly, linking the former isolated settlements that existed around both the Great and Little Ormes. As the town developed the springs on the Orme were looked to for a ready source of fresh water. In around 1860 a reservoir was dug, the remains of which though now dry can still be seen to the east of St Tudno’s church. A number of springs were diverted to feed this, whilst water from others were piped directly down to the town.

A parliamentary Bill was introduced in 1875 to dissolve the existing Llandudno Gas and Water Company and pass its assets to a new Company. This Bill specifically mentions Tudno’s Well. The assets of the old company included

A line of pipe commencing at the Gogarth Springs and terminating at the junction of streets called or known as Church Walls and Abbey Road in Llandudno.

Whilst the new Company were given the rights to

Take, collect, divert and use all or some of the waters called or known as the Gogarth Springs Ffynnon Powell, Ffynnon Tudno, Ffynnon Llety’r Fadon and of the streams and waters which directly or derivatively flow or proceed into or out of the same respectively.

As a result the flow from St Tudno’s Well would have been significantly reduced, leaving us with the small trickle that we see today.

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This was described by the Royal Commission on Historical and Ancient Monuments in the 1930s, who observed it

… at the foot of steep ground formed by a small level platform in a hillside falling to the east. The water stands in a square basin, three feet each way, in a cleft cut into the steep slope. The basin has a slightly curved back and is walled on all sides except the east with drystone masonry, 3 ft 6 in high forming a revetment to the slope and capped by a massive limestone slab 3 ft 6 in long and 2 ft wide from to back and 6 in thick. The open side of the pool on the east is approached by a stone flagged passage 3 ft long. Some 9 ft in front of the well on level ground is another small pool 4ft by 2ft contained in a modern brick surround.

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This is much how the spring appears today. The brick lined trough in front of the well still full of water from the spring and used as a drinking trough for the animals grazing on the land. The current farmer in the 1990s told visitors from the Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru (Welsh Wells Society) that his cattle preferred the water from St Tudno’s Well to any other. [1]

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Despite its long history, and obvious use as a water source, I have found no description of it being used as a healing well, although undoubtedly it was. It is referred to seldom in the topographical and tourist books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – clearly by that time Llandudno had new excitements to offer.

St Tudno’s feast day is celebrated on 5th June.

Note that Ffynnon Dudno lies on private land and there is no public access to the site. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the well on a very grey, wet and windy day as a part of a group visit organised by the local churches with the permission of the land owner.

Ff Dudno - photo wellhopper

[1] website


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Ffynnon Sadwrn, Llandudno

3329modSt Sadwrn’s Well
Ffynnon Sadwrn lies on a grass verge within a small housing estate in Craigside, below the Little Orme at the eastern extremity of Llandudno. The road leading to it shares its name.

Virtually nothing seems to be known concerning this well, and I have come across no accounts of any uses of the well. It appears in none of the records of ancient or historic monuments, and was missed by Francis Jones in his 1950s survey of Welsh wells. The sole reference appears in Baring Gould and Fisher’s “Lives of the British Saints” in which, at the turn of the twentieth century, they note that:

There is a Ffynnon Sadwrn in a neglected condition, in the parish of Llandudno, situated near Little Orme’s Head. A lane there takes its name from it.

All this is a little curious since Ffynnon Sadwrn appears, with its name, on all the Ordnance Survey maps back to at least 1889, something that many now more well known wells can’t claim.

An account from 1880, reproduced by the Great Orme Exploration Society, notes in passing that:

There is a good spring of water near Bodafon called “Ffynnon Sadwrn”, Saturn’s Well.

Apparently the flow from the spring has been much stronger in the past; it was reduced as a result of drainage work carried out on the Mostyn Estates lands around Bodafon.

Ff Sadwrn - photo Wellhopper

Baring Gould and Fisher identify two Sadwrns. One lived at Henllan near |Denbigh, the church there is dedicated to him, although a well carrying his name at Henllan has now been filled in. This Sadwrn appears in legends of St Winefride and her journey to Gwytherin.

Ff Sadwrn - photo Wellhopper

 A second Sadwrn lived for at least a part of his life on Anglesey. The parish of Llansadwrn there is his foundation, and where he is supposed to have been buried. There is a carved figure in Beaumaris, believed to have been removed from Penmon Priory at its dissolution, thought to represent Sadwrn. He is portrayed as a knight, in a suit of armour, with a sword by his side, a shield on one arm and a pilgrim’s staff in the other. This Sadwrn is referred to as Sadwrn Farchog, the knight, and some legends link him with stories of King Arthur.

 Baring Gould and Fisher distance this Sadwrn from the one at Henllan solely on the basis of the association with Winefride. If we discount this story as later invention, then there is no longer a need to define two Sadwrns, in fact they share the same festival of November 29th. This they have in common with Saturninus, the martyr bishop of Toulouse, suggesting a further scope for confusion. It soon becomes clear that there is no clear identity of the origin of Sadwrn or the reason for a well carrying his dedication here in Llandudno.

Ff Sadwrn - photo Wellhopper

 The well, formerly standing out in open fields, has now been incorporated within the landscaping of the housing estate and appears well maintained. Stone steps lead down to it from the roadside, and cotoneaster has been planted around and over it. The well chamber itself, built into the earth bank, is semi circular, stone around the outside but lined with brick, with a stone roof, giving the appearance of twentieth century reconstruction. There is still water within the well basin, but it no longer represents  a strong spring today. A name board identifying the well usually stands beside it, but this was missing on our visit.

ff Sadwrn - photo wellhopper


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Llanfihangel Din Sylwy

cropped signDin Sylwy is a large limestone outcrop in eastern of Anglesey, lying between the village of Llanddona and the coast. Standing out in the surrounding countryside it is one of the largest hill forts on the island, having been the defensive home of the local Iron Age population and later of the Roman incomers who occupied the site in the third and fourth centuries. Later it was quarried to provide stone to build the Menai Bridge.

 On its western slopes lies the small church of Llanfihangel din Sylwy, St Michael’s. Like a number of small Anglesey churches it is now alone in fields, having been deserted by the community that once surrounded it. The surviving church building is a small simple construction dating from the early fifteenth century, and retaining some of its medieval features although it was largely rebuilt in 1855, an event marked by the date carved roughly into the stone to the left of the doorway. It now hosts just occasional services on summer Sunday mornings and we were unable to see inside during our visit.

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Its main attraction to us was the remains of a well, which lies outside the church gate, some 20 yards up the slope of Din Sylwy. The well too is largely forgotten, although a relatively well worn track led the way, suggesting that some people at least still visit, although some of the local residents we mentioned it to were unaware of its existence.

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We are not aware of any dedication for the well and although it has been marked consistently on OS maps no name is given to it. The Welsh Ancient Monuments record, Coflein, notes helpfully that

“There is no reason to suppose that this was a holy well and no definite evidence that it was not”

Tristam Gray Hulse has reasonably suggested that perhaps it may well be a lost St Michael’s Well following the dedication of the church, and one of a number of such wells across North Wales. This is based purely by association with the church and not with any evidence to support it.

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The well is cut into the hillside. A narrow outlet lined with stone and roofed with two large flat stone slabs. Two small steps descend into the water which was some three feet deep at the bottom of the recess.

This is in itself interesting since the Coflein record also states that

“The spring is said to have been boxed in with stones, although no trace could subsequently be found of this”

That, and the state of preservation of the well suggest that at some time in recent history the well may have been reconstructed to some degree.

Judging by tracks left in branches and leaves on the hillside it is probable that at times the well overflows its tank, the weather had been particularly wet at the time of our visit.

From this well we climbed Din Sylwy and crossed the flat top of the fortress. A vast circular expanse, ringed around by a lip of stone walling has earned the monument the name Bwrdd Arthur – Arthur’s Table. Although the sea is close by it was virtually invisible through the low mist and drizzle which has set in by then.

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On the opposite side of the hill we approached Llanddona beach, famed in local legend as the arrival point of the notorious Llanddona witches, who were reputed to have come ashore here at some unremembered point in history.

Baring Gould [1] surmises that these were probably Irish criminals who had been set adrift from the coast of Ireland in a curricle with no rudder or paddles, this was a traditional punishment; although other legends identify them as being of Spanish descent.

On reaching the shore they begged the local inhabitants for food and water, but the locals feared these strange foreign seafarers and refused trying to force them back into the sea. However, the leader struck the earth with his staff, bringing forth a stream of clear cold water. In fear of this display the locals backed off, and the newcomers were enabled to stay.

They promptly set up home in the area and lived for several generations amongst but separate from the local population. The men lived by smuggling; the legend tells that it was impossible to overcome them, since each carried about with him a black fly tied in a knot of his neckerchief. When their strength failed in a fight they would undo the knots of their cravats, and the flies would fly at the eyes of their opponents and blind them.

Meanwhile, the women survived by witchcraft. They were dreaded, since they would curse anyone who refused them food and if they attended a market no one dared to bid against them.

Baring Gould quotes one such curse

May he wander for ages
And find at each step a stile
And at every stile a fall
And at every fall a broken bone
Not the largest nor the least bone
But the chief neck bone each time

It is probable that, like most of those associated with witchcraft they most likely had a good knowledge of medicinal herbs cures and fortune telling , and were resorted to in times if illness and worry.

They are remembered still in local legends and folk tales of the island. They are also remembered at Ffynnon Oer – the Cold Spring, said to be the spring that they caused to flow on their arrival, and the well around which they made their home.

Ffynnon Oer still flows, and still provides the main water source, now pumped and filtered, for the current occupiers of the house on whose land it flows. Here Bella Fawr, the greatest of the witches, is remembered for the good that she did, rather than for any evil. She is imagined to be a midwife for the local population and a healer, and there are stories that the well was also used for baptisms of those born in the area.

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From Ffynnon Oer we headed south to Llaniestyn close to Llanddona, to search for the church and holy well of St Iestyn. Here is another church largely deserted by its community; and although we think we found the well in a small wood close by, it was so wet and dark by then that it wasn’t possible to take pictures. This site will have to await a return visit and a new posting.

[1] S Baring Gould (1903) A Book of North Wales. Methuen.

We would like to thank the owners of Ff Oer for their time and assistance and allowing us to visit their well


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Ffynnon Dudwen, Llandudwen

St Tudwen’s Well
Ffynnon Dudwen is situated in a field a couple of hundred yards from the little church of Llandudwen around two miles to the east of  Tudweiliog.

In the twentieth century it was generally stated that the well was lost, but efforts by local enthusiasts and Gwynedd Council in recent years have led to the rediscovery and restoration of the well so that it can once again be visited.

Tudwen is said to have been one of the many daughters of Brychan Brycheiniog (alongside Ceinwen and Dwynwen), although she does not appear in the majority of lists of his children. The church at Llandudwen is the only church that bears her name. It is suggested that the church was founded on the site of Tudwen’s grave in the fifth century.

The present church, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, is accessed down a narrow tree lined pathway. The church was once at the centre of a larger community, however population has drifted away from the area, the parish being abolished in 1934 and split between Tudweiliog and Buan. The church is however still active and used regularly for services.

To find the well from the church walk back about 100 yards on the track towards the road, where a new kissing gate has been constructed. Go through the gate and cross an exceedingly boggy field to a second gate. From this gate cross a stile and the well is found marked by a wooden cross.

Historic records of the well described it as having been of a semi circular form, supported at the rear with stonework in the embankment. Site clearance in 2010 enabled the restoration team to identify the basic shape, although little of the original construction remained visible. Since then local craftsmen have been involved in restoring the well and the area surrounding it.

Although fairly overgrown in August on our visit, the rear stone wall is clearly visible, with flatter stones sunk into the ground to form a front lip to the well basin.

Traditionally the well was held in great repute for cures for sore eyes, rheumatism, epilepsy and numbness. Devotes would throw money or pins into the well when seeking cure. Jones (1954) records that in the past clandestine weddings were solemnised at the well and that the water was regularly used for baptism.

St Tudwen’s Day is variously given as October 22nd or October 27th.


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St Mary’s Well, Gallt Melyd (Meliden)

St Mary’s Well / St Melyd’s Well, I was tempted to say “so good they named it twice”, but I think that’s probably pushing things a little to far. It took three visits to finally pin it down, and even when I did it didn’t turn out to be all that exciting.

St Mary’s Well  lies on the boundary between Meliden (Gallt Melyd)  and Gwaenysgor. The church at Meliden is dedicated to St Melyd and that at Gwaenysgor to St Mary Magdalene. The well has carried both the names of St Mary and St Melyd, though as we have found before St Mary’s Well, Ffynnon Fairm often appears to be a generic name for Holy Wells, and the St Melyd dedication probably predates that to St Mary.

The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments visited the site in August 1910 and reported that the well was

“now no more than a hollow, about 4 feet long and two feet high, the bottom formed of water worn stones; but it was stated that the well sometimes contained water.”

With no more recent description than that, we had little to go on in our search for St Mary’s Well. Using the grid reference supplied by the Coflein database, although lacking a GPS to check the precise location on the ground;  and the fact that the large scale OS maps mark a well in approximately that location, we ventured out.

The well is hidden  in Coed yr Esgob (The Bishops Wood), which occupies a steep hillside overlooking Prestatyn. The location marked on the OS Maps is best  accessed from the end of Bishopswood Road, it lies in an area which contains the remains of eighteenth century lead mine workings, one of which is well preserved and may be visited.

The first attempts turned into a wild goose chase involving precarious scrambling about on the sides of s steep hillside risking life and very probably limb. Given that no recent descriptions were available any slightly hollow feature became a candidate.

In response to my original post on the topic, Janet Bord and Tristan Gray Hulse did a little exploring and passed on information from a local resident, which finally led us to the correct location. Even this bears little resemblance to the description of the Royal Commission, and it took two visits to be convinced.
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A short, but steeply climbing path, leads directly from the roadside, accessed by a few steps. It is beside a large, forbidding looking house, which appears to be gradually spreading up the hillside with stone and concrete. The name of the house? St Mary’s – now that should have been a give away.

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The well site is at the top of the track, at the foot of a small rocky outcrop, in a sheltered hollow in the hillside.  It is well hidden behind fallen branches and trees. No signs of water there on any visit I have made, and no evidence to support the Royal Commission conjecture that it sometimes does. Although the inside of the well seems clear of debris as though it is possible washed clear at times.

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St Melyd is believed to be a corruption of the name of Mellitus, an abbot from Rome who was sent to England in the early seventh century to assist St Augustine with his mission. He was the first Bishop of London, consecrated such by Augustine in 604. St Melyd’s day is celebrated on May 9

The church of  St Melyd is down the road towards Dyserth in Meliden itself. The church was firmly locked and there were no signs of how to gain admittance. A large sign dominated the lych gate proclaimed Regulation 17 – detailing what could and couldn’t be placed at gravesides. The fact that this was regulation 17 prompted the question of how many more regulations there were.

The church appears to have been built on a typical circular site, which has since been extended. The church too  appears to have been extended several times, and the majority of the building is Victorian and of little interest.

The church of St Mary Magdalene, on the other side of the hill at Gwaenysgor, is a smaller and much older building. This too was locked on the day we visited.

Please note that since this post was written I have been informed that both churches will normally be open to visitors during the day.

This item was substantially re-written in March 2014.