St Winifred’s Well

Hello all. Welcome to my regular guest blogger’s Wednesday post…

I mentioned in last week’s post (8.5.13) our Bank Holiday day out and about all the traffic (which did happen) and the usual expected bad weather (which did not). Where were we going? Well it was to a well – St Winefride’s Well to be precise. (Note here, you were probably expecting to see it spelled St. Winifred’s which is how most people would write it but the site itself, and a number of other sources, use the spelling in my title.) Someone had organised a walk and there were going to be about 8 of us all together.

We got going fairly handily and managed to beat the worst of the outgoing traffic. The well is in Greenfield about half a mile NE of Holywell (pronounced Holly-well) in North Wales. We pulled into the car park right opposite the Well entrance and then one of my passengers (navigator?) said, “I don’t think we’re meeting with the others here. There’s another car park lower down”. Ok, so off we go and yes, about half way down the hill towards the coast, is another car park. We pulled in. We waited. My passenger direction-giver meditated for a few minutes: “What’s the road number of this road we’ve just turned off?”

It didn’t look like it had one. It’s only like a very minor one,” I ventured.

Oh well this isn’t right either!” came the reply. Off we went again further down the hill until we came to the A548 coast road and after turning right we came to car park no.3. “Ooh, there they are”, said my navigator. Then I had to listen while our tale of woe, regarding locating the correct car park, which was somehow down to me of course, was related to the expedition leader. He was standing in his walking gear with the OS map neatly folded in a plastic carrying case on a string round his neck and one of his local history info books in his hand. I hadn’t realised it was like a proper organised walk and thought we were just doing a stroll around the Well itself. Oh well, at least I could relax while someone else did the map/path reading. I’d be the bandit & wild animal look-out covering the rear of the column as we set out on a narrow steeply-angled path out of the car park. It was at this point I realised that when we had driven past the Well we had come quite a long way DOWNHILL! That meant walking would be taking us a fair way UPHILL and me with no oxygen or sub-zero outwear! I was somewhat amazed when, shortly after we started our climb, a guy went past us holding those Arctic ski pole things the professionals use to aid in walking (or skiing) in difficult areas. How hard could this be I wondered? It’s North Wales I thought, not the ascent to camp 4 on the north face of Everest. I couldn’t resist a chuckle seeing him walk past two ladies in their summery clothes pushing prams with little ones in! Bizarre – what’s wrong with this picture sprang to mind?

So on to our walk. The first place of interest on the journey up was the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey. image

It is completely open to the public and as you can see from my pic many were sitting among the ruins on the grass enjoying the sunshine. We stopped and had our sandwiches here as it was around lunch time. image

The abbey had been founded in 1132 by a local earl who brought Benedictine monks from Normandy. Just 66 years prior to this of course those pesky Normans had come over 1066 and beaten King Harold II in 1066. (Sadly, Harold had only been in the king job for 9 months!) That was probably one of the reasons why French monks ended up here. The abbey later became part of the Cistercian order and passed through a couple more changes before ending up under the control of Llywelyn the Great in the 13th century. He was a Prince of Gwynedd which is an area of North Wales. His son Dafydd ap Llywelyn then gave St Winefride’s Well to the abbey.

So, who was St. Winefride? The story goes back hundreds of years even before the Norman Conquest. It is, of course, being over 1300 years old, inevitably bound up in legend but it goes something like this – In around AD 660 a man called Caradoc wanted to date Winefride but she wasn’t interested. He tried and tried but she rejected him. As can happen in these situations Caradog “took the huff” and shortly after took matters into his own hands and came and chopped off Winefride’s head (as you do). Her uncle was called St Beuno and he prayed that she would survive and she did. The re-attaching of her head was a miracle and thereafter the Well became a place of pilgrimage and has remained so to this day. After surviving, Winefride lived as a nun for the next 22 years. The identity of Caradoc is something of a mystery as the name was fairly common around this time but the legend says he was the son of a local prince. Presumably he was used to getting his own way and her rejection was not something he would take lightly. (There is a Caradoc mentioned as being one of the knights at King Arthur’s Round Table but it’s not clear this was the same man.)

When Henry VIII “dissolved” the monasteries in 1536 Basingwerk Abbey was closed. Parts of its structure though were taken to other buildings: the monks’ stalls to Chester, the roof went to two other churches, some of the lead was taken to repair Holt Castle, and one window went to the parish church of St Dyfnog, 18 miles inland, in a small village with a long name – Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch. (The church there was founded in the 6th century.) Why was the window special? It was called the Tree of Jesse window and showed the ancestors of Jesus starting with King David’s father, Jesse of Bethlehem.

A little way past the abbey ruins is the visitor centre. In the next pic, check out the line above where it says Opening Hours (so 4th line up on the English part). How about that?image

We didn’t go in but carried on up the hill. We were soon on to a more path-like route and came to these gates. There was no info at this point to say what they may have been gates to. I could only presume they were possibly for one of the mills situated along the valley although being on two separate paths was a bit of a mystery.image

Then it was past what had been an old flour mill.

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And then a really nice lake. If you look closely you can just about read the old wooden sign – Flour Mill Pool. Not too hard to guess how it got its name!

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There were remains of at least a couple of mills on our route which all had harnessed the power from the nearby stream generated by water wheels. Next along were the ruins of Meadow Mill which was used to produce copper sheets. image

Clearly entrepreneurs during The Industrial Revolution saw the potential of the water flowing down this hillside as is evidenced by the variety of businesses that were created here: flour, copper, wire, cotton and a battery factory which also used water to power their machinery. Sadly though, by the 1960s all had closed.

Then it was more paths and more climbing (=walking as opposed to throwing grappling hooks and pulling ourselves up) uphill. And so we arrived at our destination – The Well. Now this is not as you might be thinking a hole in the ground surrounded by a circular wall of stones with a little roof on over a horizontal bar with a winding handle with a rope and a bucket. No, this is serious architecture of massive proportions. Here’s a pic
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Just to the right you can see part of a yellow structure – this is one of the changing tents for those who wish to bathe in the water. (Nobody did while we were there.) There is also the usual gift shop and loads of story boards to read with info about the place inside the entrance building.

Then it was a case of re-tracing our steps back down the hill to get a cup of tea/coffee and/or ice cream. It was a Bank Holiday so we expected a big queue but it wasn’t too bad. We joined the queue and noticed ahead there seemed to be two destination points: one for the tea/coffee/cakes stuff and one for the ice cream stall. We checked what people were queuing for so we didn’t jump in front. Lady in front of me says she’s waiting for ice cream so I stood behind. Once the 3 others had been served I get to the ice cream counter and ask for my choice. “You need a ticket”, the lady says.

Me: “Where do I get that?”

Lady: “Over there at the other counter.”

Me: “Where those people are queuing?”

And of course it is. I wanted to ask why there’s no sign to say get a ticket first before you come to this counter but I don’t suppose there would have been a reason to satisfy me so I let it pass. I join the other queue for tea/cakes/coffee in order to get a ticket (and pay of course as there was no till at the ice cream counter) to go back and join the first queue for my ice-cream! Hey-ho.

I got my ice-cream and went outside to join the rest of the group. Despite the crowds, they had managed to get a table and had their order ticket for their hot drinks. I finished my ice-cream and they were still waiting. A waitress comes out and shouts, “35”. No-one answers. “2 coffees and 2 teas”, she says. One of our group puts up her hand. “Your ticket says 41”, waitress says but it’s probably ok. She starts to put the cups on the table when someone else comes rushing over – they’re waving their ticket with of course 35 on. She puts the cups back on the tray, apologises and off she goes. The hot drinks members of our group are soon spitting feathers. Eventually a tray arrives at our table and waitress apologises for the wait saying sometimes they just give random numbers out on the orders. Really?

We make our way down the last part of the hill back to the car park. The weather had held and we’d had an enjoyable walk and a bit of history. Our expedition leader said there was another thing, a bit further along the road near Mostyn, we could go and see but you’ll have to wait til next week for episode 2 of the Bank Holiday day out. 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] the climb to St Winefride’s Well and descent to our cars we drove a couple of miles to our next port of call on our day out. Abakhan […]

    Reply

  2. […] the Magna Carta and beats her sink by about 124 years! (If you remember the post from 15.5.13 on St Winifred’s Well, Basingwerk Abbey was also Cistercian & Welsh, from 1132, so pre-dated Valle Crucis by about 70 […]

    Reply

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