I suppose I have known of the existence of sacred wells, holy wells, healing wells or however else they may be referred to over time. In the past I have lived in Northumberland. Firstly close to Hadrian’s Wall, where I would often walk up to Carrawburgh Roman Fort, the site of Coventina’s Well, a well resorted to throughout the Roman occupation, where finds of coins and other tributes showed the spiritual importance of the well, dedicated to Coventina, the Romano-British goddess of wells and springs. For a while I lived in a village nearer to Hexham, which has its own well, St Mary’s Well, which is still flowing in a field beside the church, and which has undergone considerable renovation itself since the time I was there. I would past it several times a week, knowing its name and location but little about its history.
However, it wasn’t until following a fairly random day out in 2009, which took in St Winefride’s Well at Holywell and Sara’s Well near Derwen, that I actually did a bit of research and realised that such a vast number of these wells once existed; some still active, others lost in all but old history books. This effectively began an interest in tracking down as many of these wells in the local area as I could.
So I suppose, my Well Hopper project started as a day out with a purpose and grew into a fascination.I am by no means a trained historian, so although my primary interest in the sites is in terms of history and folklore I do not have ready access to research materials. Thus in many ways I have to approach these sites in the manner of a casual, though informed, visitor and see the wells through those eyes.
In any work like this the internet can be both a blessing and a curse. It provides us with a very ready reference source. Sites like Coflein and Archwilio and Megalithic Portal are great for quick research, even on the go, but googling many wells throws up a heap of information, much of which is often copied from other web sites and equally often wrong. It is very tempting for anyone to do a half an hour on line research and write up your findings. As result another source of information appears on the internet, so often repeating existing errors and mistakes to the point that they become “fact” just by weight of evidence. I have to admit upfront that I can be as guilty as anyone.
Just seeing how quickly “false” stories can develop, mutate and become accepted fact in a couple of years on the internet is a sobering example, and just shows how over a millennium of stories being passed from generation to generation it is inevitable that we lose track of the associations made with the well at different phases in history, so when the accounts came to be first formally recorded, for the most part in Victorian times we are already getting a very garbled and partial account, one coloured by the interests of that generation.
Of course the stories match the changing uses of the well – whatever they may have been, and I only speculate from community water source to healing well to cold water swimming pool to water source. Many wells have had a range of different uses over time, and what we see is just a snapshot in time reflecting whatever their most recent use was.
The name Well Hopper I think demonstrates the purpose, and lack of purpose, of the journey. I do tend to hop around the wells of North Wales, from Bangor to Wrexham and back again with little semblance of sense or reason. I wouldn’t like to be accused of cherry picking though, of course we visit the picturesque and the notable, but we don’t ignore those wells that are little more than mud pools or nothing more than dots on old maps. We try to cover the whole spectrum and record what is there.
So overall the intention is to provide a pictorial and descriptive record of the Holy Wells across North Wales. To show what remains today, and to try to explain what was there in the past. The entry for each well may be considered as a work in progress, I will edit them as I find more information, thus at the top of the main page I list those which have recently been added or changed.
Feedback is very important. I can research these wells through published documents, but so much of the folklore is known and remembered only by people who have been brought up close to the wells, or have family stories going back across the generations. Most importantly my research, whilst done with the best intentions, clearly can be fallible. I would love it if this website could become a place where people can share memories of these sites, and contribute to keeping stories, which otherwise are being quickly forgotten, alive. Comments which may be signed or anonymous can be left at the end of each entry, or I can be contacted directly through a message on the contact page. I endeavour to respond to all replies as soon as possible.
All photographs used were taken for the blog unless otherwise credited.