Water in its many forms has always been a powerful attactor for me. Each of the elements, in their wild state, can exhibit awesome powers, but the strength and majesty of water keeps pulling me in. So last weekend, a free day saw me once again drawn to the sea.
Recently I have taken an interest in the remaining holy wells in Britain. I was relatively unaware of their existence until I visited Holywell in Flintshire last year, but since then I bought Francis Jones’s book The Holy Wells of Wales, still the Bible on the subject, and have set off on my own quest to discover these wells, middle ages revivals or pre-Christian survivals.
So this weekend on Anglesey, to St Seriol’s Well at Penmon. At the ruins of Penmon Priory there was little to mark the spot, other than a heavily built man doing good business from £2.50 car park tickets. Most visitors seemed to ignore the well, choosing a peremptory five minute inspection of the Priory ruins before moving on to the coffee shop. The well was five minutes’ walk away, and took the form of a small square paved hole in the ground, from which the water bubbled up and overflowed. A stone bench surrounded the well on three sides and a brick built chamber covered it. The stone work apparently medieval, the brick Victorian. The well held the now obligatory offerings of miscellaneous loose change, we seem unable these days to see a water source today without feeling obliged to fling unspent euros or pennies into it. Apparently in the past, at some wells it was pins, so maybe some folk memories still survive.
A few withered flowers and burnt out candles completed the offerings providing evidence that, to some at least, the well still offered hope, and even despite the bank holiday crowds outside the well chamber retained a sense of reverie. I sat there several minutes in silence, before moving past the stones reputed to be the ruins of St Seriol’s chamber and back to the car.
From there to Abergwyngregyn, the starting point for another watery target, Aber falls. Not realising there was a car park closer to the falls, I parked in the village and set out on foot. The result being an extra mile’s climb, but a saving of £2 on yet another parking fee. The falls were a little more than two miles from the car, and once through the village, the track climbed through woodland and then out onto rocky moorland in the foothills of Snowdonia. Despite the constant stream of visitors I very quickly managed to feel alone on the mountain track alongside the racing stream fed by the falls. In the warm spring sunshine approaching the cliffs it was easy to imagine Emily St Aubert, walking through the Alpine foothills, every turning in the path brought new vistas of rocky outcrops and foamy fast flowing streams, and Mrs Radcliffe’s opinion “how infinitely inferior all the splendour of art is to the sublimity of nature” sprang to mind.
The falls could be seen in the distance as I approached, so I was prepared for the sight, but even still, as I finally reached the foot of the fall I was able to stand many minutes in silence and awe of the sheer force of the water plunging in a white foam over the cliff edge, and to imagine how this sight and remained so constant over the centuries; whether St Seriol himself had stood her and marvelled at nature’s finery. A mist of spray hung in the air and reflected in the sunlight. Waterfalls have an unbelievable strength; I have spent three days marvelling at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, seeing the falls in the early morning and during the heat of the day, and never tired of contemplating the immense volumes of water that pour over that chasm, whether watched or not, century after century
Both well and fall were hard to leave, one still and silent, one raging and violent, both inspired me with a sense of awe that spring day. Water, in its many forms is a majestic and powerful element.