Ffynnon y Fuwch Frech – the well of the freckled or speckled cow, in Henllan parish, was first recorded under this name in the late 17th century in Edward Lhuyd’s Parochial Queries. There now appear to be at least two variations on the precise location of the well within the old parish boundaries although this may be an indication of how far and wide the cos, or at least her story, travelled. I found this well at the side of the lane heading west from Rhydgaled towards Llansannan in Conwy, some 400 yards to the west of the old Ebenezer chapel at Rhiw and while the story of the well appears to be firmly rooted in folklore rather than being considered either a holy well or healing well, there is a record of water from the well having been taken to the local Ebenezer chapel for use in baptism.
The well is in a stone lined bath in a bank at the roadside and has been marked and protected by a hinged metal cover, decorated with a picture of the freckled cow.
The tradition surrounding the well was recorded by Elias Owen in the nineteenth century, although he refers to an alternative site for the well near Cefn Bannog in the Clocaenog Forest. He wrote
There are many traditions afloat about a wonderful cow, that supplied whole neighbourhoods with milk, which ceased when wantonly wasted. In some parts of England this is called the Dun Ciow; in Shropshire she becomes the White Cow; in Wales she is Y Fuwch Frech or Y Fuwch Gyfeiliorn. This mystic cow has found a home in many places. One of these is the wild mountain land between Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr and a hamlet called Clawdd Newydd about four miles from Ruthin.
He then went on to repeat the story given to him by the then farmer at Cefn Bannog.
In ages long gone by a wonderful cow had her pasture land on the hill close to the farm, called Cefn Bannog after the mountain ridge so named. It would seem that the cow was carefully looked after, as indicated by the names of places bearing her name. The site of the cow house is still pointed out and retains its name, Preseb y Fuwch Frech – the crib of the Freckled Cow. Close to this place are traces of a small enclosure called Gwal Erw y Fuwch Frech, or the Freckled Cow’s meadow. There is what once was a trackway leading from the ruins of the cow house to a spring called Ffynnon y Fuwch Frech, or the Freckled Cow’s well and it was, tradition says, at this well the cow quenched her thirst. The well is about 150 yards from the cow house. Then there is the feeding ground of the cow called Waen Banawg, which is about half a mile from the cow house. There are traces of walls several feet thick in these places. The spot is a lonely one, but ferns and heather flourish luxuriantly all about this ancient homestead. It is also said that this cow was the mother of the Ychain Banawg, or long horned oxen.
Old people have transmitted from generation to generation the following tale of the Freckled Cow. Whenever any one was in want of milk they went to this cow, and however big the vessel was, they always departed with the pail filled with rich milk, and it made no difference, however often she was milked, she could never be milked dry. This continued for a long time and glad indeed the people were to avail themselves of the inexhaustible supply of milk freely given. At last, a wicked hag filled with envy at people’s prosperity determined to milk the cow dry. For this purpose, she took a riddle with her and milked and milked the cow until at last she could get no more milk from her. Nut sad to say the cow immediately upon this treatment left the country and was never more seen.
Tradition further states that she went straight to a lake four miles off, bellowing as she went, and that she was followed by her two children to Llyn dau ychain – the lake of the two oxen and that she entered the lake and the two long-horned oxen bellowing horribly went one on either side of the lake, and with their mother disappeared within its waters, and none were ever afterwards seen.
Owen records having seen the well in around 1885, when he notes that the well stands by a wall and is in a very neglected state. A few stones surround it, but it is overgrown with grass and presents the appearance of a simple mountain spring. During my visit to Cefn Bannog. I was unable to locate it. The area appears to be much more densely forested than it was in Owen’s time and he doesn’t give good locations for the structures to which he refers. The lake Llyn dau ychain became part of Alwen Reservoir, created in 1911 to serve Birkenhead. An information board portraying the story of the cattle used to stand by the visitor car park but seems to have been removed recently.
Owen, Elias (1885) Rambles over the Denbighshire Hills. Archaeologia Cambrensis October 1885
Owen Elias (1896) Welsh Folklore – A Collection of the Folk-Tales and Legends of North Wales
(this copy of the Fuwch Frech information board is copied from Wicipedia. )
Below: Alwen Reservoir – which has now consumed Llyn Dau Ychain.
Ffynnon y Fuwch Frech, Rhiw OS SH 9767 6466