Tradition says that after landing on the coast at Llanfair, south of Harlech, St Mary walked across the hills towards Hafod-y-Llyn. On her journey she became thirsty and stopped to drink from a small spring. In doing so, she left the imprint of her knees on a rock beside the spring. Ever since the spring never failed to produce pure fresh water.
After drinking at the well Mary continued her progress up the hillside. Her sandal became loose and she rested her foot on a stone to refasten the shoe. The imprint of her shoe was left on the stone as well as the impression of her thumb.
On reaching the lake, Hafod-y-Llyn, she and her maidens cooled off by bathing in the waters. Ever since yellow water lilies have appeared there in her memory. Beyond Hafod-y-Llyn her trail goes cold, although there are other supposed footprints and sites named for Mary in the district.
Some of this we get from an information leaflet provided in the church, it even includes a photograph of the footprint, though fails to say where or when the picture was taken. I asked the lady who looks after the keys, but she didn’t know either. She had an idea that it might be alongside a footpath running eastwards from the old vicarage. There were many stones along that route that bore marks that could resemble the photo in the church, all formed by lichen on the stones, but no signs of a spring along the way.
Most records however point towards a different location, to the south of the vicarage by Uwch Glan farm and this is where the footprint can still be faintly seen, as shown in the header to this piece. A purse of coins and fragments of a Latin prayer were once found buried close to the stone, dated to the early twentieth century, they suggest that the traditional ritual use of sites such as this devoted to Mary survived until at least then.
The search of the well is equally tricky. There are a number of springs scattered around the hillside, which you see beside the footpath that leads from the village towards Uwch Glan. Some are obvious and easy to spot, while others are hidden in the undergrowth. So it is possibly easy to see why previous writers have been wrong in their assumptions and so important to set the record straight; the memory of the wells have been kept alive within the community, details of which have been provided by the owner of Uwch Glan farm.
The Royal Commission in 1914 described the well as being
… at the top of hill east of the parish church just below Uwchllan farm. The water rises in a sunken reservoir 27 by 21 inches, but the well is now neglected and overgrown with vegetation.
In 1936 the well was described by Richards and Lloyd as being covered with slabs and earth, dug into the green slope with a number of well-built steps leading down to it. They noted that a more ancient well in ruinous conditions was described as being covered in briars and down the hill towards the church.
It is unclear today exactly what was seen by the Commission’s Inspector. The coordinates they provide seen to lead us to a farm well (above), a stone lined underground chamber with steps leading down into it. This is definitely the well described by Richards and Lloyd. These are the sources of most errors made today, since this is definitely not St Mary’s well, rather it is the well that used to provide water to the farm itself, initially by hand, and later directly via a pump installed within the chamber. Eventually mains water was brought to the farm and this well fell into disuse as it is seen now.
Recent notes given on the Coflein website (the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales) continue to wrongly assume that this is Ffynnon Fair.
Further down the path leading from Uwch Glan to the village, it is fairly easy to find another well, possibly more in line with the 1914 report. This lies immediately beside the footpath and is ringed around by large stones. However, this turns out to be a more recent creation, used to provide water to cattle in the adjoining fields. Water from one of the sources on the hillside was also piped to a slate tank in the village below and used as a water source for the community prior to the provision of a mains water supply. No evidence of this tank remains.
At this point, however, the true Ffynnon Fair is hidden in the undergrowth to the left. It is best reached these days by scrambling down a step bank from a little higher up on the track.
The spring emerges strongly from between two rocks, the top appears to have collapsed, and may have been supported by a brick lintel at some time in its history. It pools in front of the well, deep in mud and sludge, so it is not possible to determine whether any basin had once been there in support of any previous documentation.
That the site is known, if only locally, appears without doubt, judging by the amount of broken glass scattered around it is visited regularly. Though for what purpose, it is unclear.
Ffynnon Fair at Llanfair has proved a most elusive well, it took three visits to find, and but for the help of David Roberts I don’t think I would ever found it. There is a lesson to be learned from my failed attempts, and from the misleading accounts left by previous explorers. You can’t always believe what you read, even when the source purports to be an expert. Wells like Ffynnon Fair here at Llanfair have been lost at a rapid rate over the last century, some from being filled in and closed up, some from just having all knowledge of their whereabouts vanishing from the public conscious. Hopefully the most recent accounts will help this Ffynnon Fair to survive a little longer.
Richards, R and R G Lloyd (1936) The Church of St Mary, Llanfair-Juxta-Harlech. Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol 91 pp 283-293.
Bord, Janet (2023) personal communication
Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (1921) Merioneth.
Ffynnon Fair, Llanfair SH57882900
Just found this information about Fynnon Mair, Llanfair, but there is a massive error of description that have lead to the wrong location and the correct facts should taken down before they are lost. The well described was the well for Uwch Glan Farm as I was brought up on this well water and I should know local history. The late Dr Lewis Lloyd would say the same.