A small waterfall – Pistyll y Galchog – which tumbles to the roadside, disappearing into a culvert, part of which is diverted through an old metal pipe into a roadside trough, marks the hidden location of Ffynnon y Galchog, on the left of the single track road that leads from Ruthin to Efenechtyd. The only descriptions we have of the well are by Elias Owen, an antiquarian and avid collector of and writer on folklore who was rector of Efenechtyd from 1881 to 1892. During this time he watched and documented various changes that took place at his local well.
Visiting the site today is more like an adventure into industrial archaeology rather than well folklore, rusty, unopenable, iron gates lead the way to vast brick built buildings covering reservoirs of water, with the missing doors it is difficult to determine whether this water still supplies local farms or is now disused.
In 1880 Owen recorded that the spring rose into a stone and mortar bath some twelve feet by eight feet. There were six well-worn steps on the eastern side down into the bath which had a depth of around five feet, the spring rose in the southern corner of the bath. Even in 1880 the well was falling into disuse, Owen noted that
…the sides were overgrown with ivy and with bramble, ferns and other plants. The bottom of the well is covered with mud, and decayed tree branches. Two thriving large trees have taken root in the walls.
The well was known to have been frequented by people suffering from rheumatism and sprains and had at one time been popular, even in 1880 bathers were still frequenting the bath. Elderly residents remembered seeing crutches hung around the bath in the earlier part of the nineteenth century belonging to people who claimed no longer to need them after visiting the bath. A small private room had been built by the roadside by Frederick West MP of Ruthin Castle, on whose land the well stood, for the convenience of bathers at the well. Bathers would hold the affected limb under the waterfall as it cascaded into this lower room. He also provided the roadside horse trough, fed from the spring, which we see today. The remains of the room can still be seen at the roadside behind the trough. The water was said to be cold in summer and sometimes smoked in winter.
Prior to the development of Ruthin’s waterworks, the well had been a source of “sparkling clear water” for nearby Llanfwrog and the neighbourhood, in 1880 local people still took drinking water from the spring. Owen recounts a tale of an elderly Ruthin gentleman who’s “sense of taste was so acute” that any attempt by his servant to give him water from any other source was soon detected.
In July 1881 the North Wales Express reported that a number of residents of Ruthin were organising a campaign to have a public bath developed at the site of this “well known” spring. It noted that in former years people from all parts of the country would visit the spring for the cure of rheumatism, broken bones and divers other complaints. Old inhabitants said that they had seen scores returning home completely cured of their different ailments, even in recent years a resident of Ruabon had visited the well with a sprained arm which, after several days of treatment in the water was restored to full working order.
This call for an extension of bathing facilities appeared to come to nothing. Around 1885 West’s son Colonel Cornwallis-West extended the site to develop a reservoir to store water to supply the castle. This was built away from the bath in such a manner that the bath and its water supply were undisturbed. I would assume that the stone reservoir below represents the remains of this early reservoir. Owen notes that while the reservoir was being built the remains of an earlier oblong building were discovered, which he assumed to be either the house of a well custodian or an earlier changing room for users of the spring.
It is recorded that the upper bath was paved over some time before 1902.
Clearly local love of the spring continued. A song in praise of the spring was composed and printed in Y Gwyliedydd in 1885. To be sung to the tune of Hen wlad fy nhadau (Land of our Fathers) it begins
Hen bistyll y Galchog sy’n loyw a glan
A’I ddyfroedd grisialaidd yn murmur eu can
A’I enw a gerir gan gleifon y wlad
Mae ynddo wiw foddion iachad
Pwy, pwy na cha’dd yno wella ei glwy?
Am wir iachad mae gobaith y wlad
Yn nyfroedd yr hen bistyll mad.
Old Pistyll y Galchog that is bright and clean / And its crystalline waters murmur their song/ And its name is spread by the patients of the land/ It has worthy healing powers/
Who, who wasn’t there to cure their disease/ For true healing is the hope of the land/ In the waters of the good old spring/
It would appear from the buildings on the site that well into the twentieth century the spring served as an important local water supply. A number of more recent brick walled and metal roofed buildings house vast reservoirs which remain fed by the spring and are still full of water. I could not determine whether they still form a water supply for any significant number of dwellings, the state of the access gate and the lack of doors on the buildings suggest that they are of less importance these days.
No sign remains of the stone bathing pool described by Owen as representing the spring of Ffynnon y Galchog remains. From the plans it would have been close to the small brick enclosures seen close to the gate, to the right of the picture below. Either under these or under a earth covered stone structure immediately behind them.
It is clear from the volume of water in these buildings as well as the force of water that emerges and flows down the hillside that this remains a strong spring. Apart from Owen’s account, no other information appears to exist regarding the well.
Owen, Rev Elias (1880) Holy Wells in and Around the Vale of Clwyd. The Ruthin Illustrated Magazine, May 1880
Owen, Rev Elias. Holy Wells of North Wales, unpublished manuscript at the National Library of Wales.
North Wales Express July 22nd 1881. Jottings from Ruthin. – Retrieved from Welsh Newspapers Archive. National Library of Wales.
Y Gwyliedydd April 22nd 1885. Pistyll y Galchog, Ruthin by Rhydfab. – Retrieved from Welsh Newspapers Archive. National Library of Wales.
Denbighshire Free Press – letter 22nd November 1902 – Retrieved from Welsh Newspapers Archive. National Library of Wales.
Ffynnon y Galchog SJ 1118 5709