Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


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Ffynnon Beris, Nant Peris

St Peris’s Well
Nant Peris lies in the Llanberis Pass on the slopes of Snowdon. This is the original settlement of St Peris, before the lure of slate mining drew the population down the hill to the village of Llanberis on the shore of Llyn Padarn.

St Peris remains an enigma. Legend has it that he was a Cardinal in Rome, but his name is as little known there as it is in Wales. Baring-Gould and Fisher, struggling to find a genealogy for him suggest that he may have been one of the sons of Hedig ab Glannog who, having lost their lands by the Lavan Sands to flood took up sainthood as an alternative career, first at Bangor on Dee and later at Bardsey Island. This would make him a brother of Celynin whose church and well are found further east at Llangelynin. Peris’s name is remembered only in this area, where the church at Nant Peris and another at Llangian is named after him.

Nant Peris. Photo Wellhopper

His well is a couple of hundred yards to the north east of the church, lying at the base of a small rocky outcrop in the garden of Tynyffynnon, the house that was the traditional home of the well guardian.

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It remains well kept, the present construction dating probably from the seventeenth century. A small stone lined basin, about four feet square, with stone benches all around it, and a dry stone wall surrounding, built up to ground level behind the well. On the back wall three niches are formed within the stone work to hold offerings.

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Water flows out under the wall towards the south of the well, forming a small stream across the garden, large stones are tumbled over the point where the water flows out, possibly evidence of former building, although it is said that the well itself was never roofed.

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The well was traditionally resorted to for healing and was said to be effective for rickety children and scrofulous and rheumatic people who drank the water or bathed in the well. Two fish were kept in the well. If they emerged during bathing then the cure would be successful, if they remained hidden in the stone work then the visit would be in vain. Needless to say, those seeking a cure learned to try to tempt the fish out with pieces of bread sprinkled on the water before bathing.

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The well was clearly popular and widely resorted to before the mid eighteenth century. Offerings from visitors were placed in a box inside the church, and at the end of each year the amount collected was sufficient to pay the Parish Clerk’s salary. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century its use for healing had significantly declined although the traditions of the well were remembered in a more adulterated fashion. In 1778 Pennant wrote on his visit to Nant Peris

“Here is to be seen the well of the saint, inclosed with a wall. The Sybil of the place attends, and divines your fortune by the appearance or non-appearance of a little fish, which lurks in some of its holes” [1]

In 1851 Catherall wrote

“A poor woman who lives in a cottage near the spring has a few pence given to her by strangers for showing one or two large trout which she feeds in the well.” [2]

A terrier of 1814 also notes the decline

There is also an alms box in the church, the key of which is kept by the wardens and into which the 6d and 4d pieces were formerly put very frequently by persons who either bathed their children or came themselves for the purpose in St Peris’s Well. These small offerings to the Saint amounted at the end of the year to a considerable sum, but at present they are very trifling.” [3]

The tradition of the fish was, however, maintained into the twentieth century. The practice was that two fish should be maintained in the well, a tradition said to date back to the time of Peris himself. When one fish died, the remaining fish lived alone in the well until it in turn died, whereupon two new fish were introduced.

Baring Gould and Fisher state that the fish might be expected to live for up to 50 years and that two new fish were added to the well in 1896

“The last of the two fish put into the well about fifty years previously died in August 1896. It had been blind for some time. It measured 17 inches and was buried in the garden adjoining the well.” [4]

The fish were passionately guarded by the villagers, when once a fish was stolen from the well the perpetrator was hounded and forced to return it.

I don’t believe that there are any fish there today. I haven’t seen any reference made to them and certainly, perhaps unluckily, none were seen during our visit.

We were unable to visit the church, it was locked and there was no information on where to find a key. The only signs of life being the sheep retained to keep the church yard neat and tidy.

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St Peris’s Day is celebrated on December 11th.

We would like to thank the present occupant of Tynyfynnon, no longer a Sybil collecting pieces of silver, who gave us permission to visit the well.

[1] Thomas Pennant (1778) Tours in Wales
[2] Catherall (1851) Wanderings in North Wales
[3] quoted in Baring Gould and Fisher(1908) Lives of the British Saints
[4] Baring Gould and Fisher(1908) Lives of the British Saints

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Ffynnon Fair, Bryncroes

St Mary’s Well
Ffynnon Fair lies at the centre of the small community of Bryncroes close to Bottwnog towards the tip of the Lleyn peninsula. So central indeed that we found we had actually parked right beside it after driving down the small single track lane into the village, even before having pulled out the map to look for it.

 The well is marked by a small sign, the same construction as that at nearby Ffynnon Aelrhiw, suggesting a coordinated campaign to label the wells of the area is underway.

Ffynnon Fair itself is a small rectangular basin, stone paving slabs around the sides and surrounded on three sides by a small stone bench. The stonework around the well dates probably to the seventeenth century. This in turn is surrounded by a low stone wall. It is directly beside the road, and is accessed by a couple of steps leading downwards. Water rises inside the basin, forming a pool a couple of inches deep before passing out through a gulley under the paving, forming a fast flowing stream. The stream flows downhill some twenty yards or so before joining up with a larger stream at the bottom of the field.

The whole site has been substantially restored in recent years and is well maintained.

There is very little known about the history of Ffynnon Fair, or of any specific rituals or cures carried out at the well. There are records of a chapel, Ty Fair, having stood beside it at some period of its history, of which no traces now remain. It is possible that it has been a stopping off place on a pilgrimage route,

It must be said that the well, although well kept, and sited on a smooth lawn, has a feeling of sterility. It lacks the sense of place or awe that the more remote, more abandoned wells attract, and its lack of recorded history leaves it with very little to interest the visitor.


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Ffynnon Aelrhiw, Rhiw

    Update: October 2014

aelrhiw gateThe original post below reports on our visit during the summer of 2012. The well was virtually inaccessible at the time as described below. However in Summer 2014 the valiant efforts of Keep Wales Tidy volunteers cleared the well completely of weeds and bramble so that it could once again be seen. By the time I returned last month however, nature was once again beginning to take control. It is an important lesson to take, that many of these sites can, with a little hard work, be made accessible once again, but it doesn’t last for ever, we have to be ever vigilant for those weeds are simply waiting there, watching for another chance to strike.

The original post remains, with new pictures of the cleared well below.

St Aelrhiw’s Well
Those I have bored regularly on the topic of wells will be more than willing to believe that inside every bramble bush there is a holy well just waiting to be found.

 In the case of Ffynnon Aelrhiw this theory actually holds true. Not only do the brambles conceal it, but the path leading to it consists of mud, deep enough to suck the unsuspecting pilgrim knee deep into its clutches. Seeking a cure was never supposed to be easy.

We were led to believe before our visit that Ffynnon Aelrhiw had been restored. It does have a neat little fence around it, and a smart little signpost recording its name. It also appears on a number of websites advertising the tourist attractions of the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. However any tourist who attempts to visit may be sorely disappointed. How the well has let itself go over recent years!

 The photos presented here serve only to demonstrate how far nature has once again reclaimed the well rather that to show off its fascinating historic detail. We must return during the winter to see if anything more is visible when the leaves die off.

Ffynnon Aelrhiw

Ffynnon Aelrhiw was one of the final stopping off places on the pilgrim’s route to Bardsey Island. On the day on which we visited the peninsula was shrouded in a thick fog, though normally the pilgrims would be able to see the sea from the well and know that the end of their journey was but a few miles off.

Records of the well from its better days describe it as being around ten feet square. It is paved around the basin with stone seats surrounding it on three sides. Coflein suggests the paving dates from the 17th century. The whole is surrounded by a stone wall, with an entrance marked by a tall white standing stone at one end.  It appears that the spring is still active as it seems to be the source of a vigorous stream that flows southwards across the fields from the well. In the past this stream was used to feed a water mill located above Plas yn Rhiw. [1] A sketch of the well as it should appear is given on the website of Cymdeithas Ffynhonnau Cymru

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It was noted for curing afflictions of the skin. It was particularly efficacious for a particular ailment known as Man Aeliw, an ideal marketing ploy here, name a condition and provide a cure.

Ffynnon Aelrhiw lies around 100 yards to the south west of the Church at Rhiw. We found a more direct route from church to well through a field gate opposite the church which avoided all the mud. Like Cerrigceinwen before, we found the church was for sale, a veritable bargain at £95000, although in this case the well wasn’t included in the price. As prospective purchasers we were a little disconcerted by the warning note on the gate advising the visitor to be aware of nesting adders in the church yard, “those who enter do so at their own risk.”

St Aelrhiw Church

The church, dedicated to St Aelrhiw is relatively recent, the building dating from the 18th century, although occupying the site of an earlier building. Baring Gould fails to identify a St Aelrhiw in any of the Welsh genealogies. He instead puts forward a suggestion that the name might be a corruption of Y Ddelw Fyw – the Living Image, which occurs on a number of Welsh calendars with the feast day of September 9th, which coincides with the feast day of St Aelrhiw celebrated at Rhiw.
[1] Gwynedd Archaelogical Trust

Ffynnon Aelrhiw
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aFfynnon Aelrhiw


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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.