Holy Wells in West Wales
by Linda Dearden
Having lived in West Wales for ten years and naturally shown an interest in my beautiful environment, I became drawn to its abundant network of wells. I would like to share some of them with you.
Carreg Cennen or Caer Cynan as it was once known, is perched like an eagle’s nest on an isolated and precipitous crag 300 feet above sea level, above the Cennen Valley, lying off the A483 road from Llandeilo to Ammanford. This was undoubtedly a Celtic tribal settlement before the building of the castle. The earliest record of the castle occurs in the Welsh Chronicles of 1248. There is a vaulted passage leading along the top edge of a sheer cliff face, which was built specifically to lead from the castle down to a natural limestone passage. At the bottom of this steep passage, which is about 50 yards long, the visitor encounters this unusual and beautiful well, which mysteriously is found to be on a ledge several feet above the passage floor, in a wall niche. The whole cave in which the well is situated forms a natural grotto. For a minimal fee of 50 pence, a torch can be hired to light the clamber down the passageway. The well has a tradition as a wishing well and bent pins would be thrown in as offerings to the guardians. Many casual visitors comment on the ‘spooky’ atmosphere of the passage and cave. To a more psychic type this is obviously a very powerful site and the well was clearly once revered as a sacred place.
The next site I would like to describe is to be found along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, between the villages of Moylegrove and Newport, near Cardigan. This is a very sacred well which is only known to a few people. It was found by a friend of mine whilst meditating on a rock. He saw a vision in the sky and some shafts of golden light, streaming from the cave which houses the well. It is reached by going to a site known locally as the Witches’ Cauldron. This, as the name suggests, is a natural rock bowl fed by the tide via an underground passage. Its sides are completely sheer, and its depth (at least 200 feet) quite awesome. It is about 50 yards across. It regularly claims human victims. At least two people have lost their lives here in recent. years. The well is to be found by following a very narrow and very dangerous path around the lip of the Cauldron and is actually located in its wall face. A passage way some five yards long leads to a spring well which appears to be rich in iron. On the day I visited it, I was fortunate enough to find some down trodden daisy heads floating on its surface. Obviously a sign of respect. This is a very special place and its natural energy should never be underestimated.
In the nearby village of Moylegrove is to be found a spring well which is currently used by the locals as a source of fresh water. The fact that this village was obviously a sacred grove, and local children still recite and are in awe of legends pertaining to Matilda of the mists, who apparently comes in from the sea, indicate that in ancient times this may have been a site of Goddess worship – Matilda’s Grove.
Five miles from Moylegrove is to be found the medieval township of Newport, perching on the side of the sacred mountain of Carningli, which translates as Mountain of Angels, and here St Brynach, an Irish saint, lived on its peak. He ate no physical sustenance for 40 years, or so the local legend has it. He did however take water from a holy well sited in the nearby Nevern Valley. The well is actually to be found above the spring head of a stream. It is extremely difficult to find and overgrown.
There is a wishing well to be found situated about half way up the west side of Carningli, amidst a rocky cairn. It is not apparent even at close proximity, as it has been hewn out of an enormous boulder and is in the form of a small “cup” about nine inches across. It is fed by an underground spring which strangely seems to be affected by the tides. The well is overhung by an extremely large rock. How and who carved out this fountain ? I feel it could have been a place of Druidic worship. There is a tradition of bent pin offerings.
The next site is to be found above the Gwaun Valley in a village called Llanychaer, which is near Fishguard. It stands in the grounds of a chapel. It is obviously an old healing well which had a stone hooded cover added to it in medieval times. This place has a lovely peaceful and unspoilt feeling.
The most famous well in the Dyfed area is sited at the ancient religious centre of St David’s, with its impressive Cathedral and surprisingly small village. The well is a little outside of the village and is signposted. It is to be found on the cliff tops overlooking St Bride’s Bay, or more properly St Bridget’s Bay. The remains of a stone circle are to be found next to it. This implies that the well pre-dates its dedication to St Non, the reputed mother of St David. This has long been a pilgrimage centre and has connections with the healing of eyesight especially. Does this perhaps include second sight? Catholic pilgrims still came here as late as the war years and on into the 1950’s.
The nearby chapel is very interesting, with its stained glass windows dedicated to St Bridget, St Catherine, St Margaret, and St Non, who are all aspects of the Goddess. This church also has links with Brittany, which was a centre for Druidic wisdom. As one looks out across St Bride’s Bay, the ancient power which makes this site so potent, floods through. The combination of the well, fortunately frequently festooned with its flower offerings, and the ancient stones, along with the power of the sea, assist the seeker to contact natural Dragon energy which sleeps in Dyfed.
Text © Linda Dearden (1986)
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