One of the joys of living in an old country is that down every lane you can find a site rich with history or folklore. Yesterday, in pouring rain in Flintshire we discovered a small overgrown pond known locally as Pwll-yr-Wrach, or the Witch’s Pool.
The pool is reputedly the haunt of elves, fairies and any other supernatural being. Local folklorist Richard Holland writes:
Clear, still and peaceful on a summer’s day, this pool has a sinister reputation. According to legend, strange beings live beneath its waters. One early winter’s morning in 1852, a farm labourer is said to have suffered a fatal encounter with one of these beings.
John Roberts had just stepped out of his cottage door to begin his day’s work when he found his path blocked by an unfamiliar youth. He spoke to the boy but, on receiving no response, he tried to brush past him. The youth grabbed Roberts and in an instant the terrified man found himself hurtling through the air.
In just a few seconds they reached the shore of Pwll-yr-Wrach and his unearthly captor forced Roberts’s face to a few inches above the surface of the water and held him there in an iron grip.
Struggling, Roberts heard a cock crow from a nearby farm and suddenly found himself released. The boy stood above him, eyeing him passively.
"When the cuckoo sings its first note on Flint Mountain I shall come again to fetch you," said the boy, and then he vanished.
John Roberts died the following May. He had been carrying out some building repairs at Penyglyn on the Mountain when a wall fell and crushed him. A young woman who had witnessed the accident said that it happened just as she noted a cuckoo come to rest on a nearby tree.
She added that when the body was being carried away to Roberts’s home, the cuckoo had followed, singing from tree to tree all the way to his front door…
It is suggested that the current, widely repeated, version of the story is taken from the 1910 novel Howell Gwynedd by Gwilym Bellys, although it clearly does find some basis in fact. It is reported that a builder was crushed by a falling wall in the 1850s, although some accounts suggest it was actually John Robert’s father.
There are a number of suggestions around for why the pool gained its name. Bellys’ novel links the pool with a witch called Malid Malwod, however Bellys mixes up dates and people, moving them in time and describes Mali’s relationship with Robin Ddu, an Anglesey poet and "wizard" who, apart from this story, has no links with Flint.
Another story suggests that once when Henry VII was hunting in the area and one of his soldiers drowned an old woman in the pond believing she was a witch, and yet another that a tree beside the pool was once used for hanging witches.
However, the evidence is that, although witch hunts, accusations and trials occurred all over Britain, and there were probably occasional accusations made and summary justice taken in most counties, there are few records of accusations of witchcraft in Flintshire and little evidence of organised trials in the area. Wrach also translates as “hag”, and if the pool is named after an old woman who once lived close by then that is probably a sufficient explanation. As soon as a site gains such a name superstitions are bound to become attached.
The little pond is a gloomy spot, apparently very deep and despite the fact that these days the roar of traffic from the nearby A55 is never too distant, it remains the perfect setting for superstition and mystery. Attached to the oak tree overhanging the pool are flowers and a verse, apparently a tribute, to a local woman who died in 2005, which are regularly refreshed and renewed by her husband.
Pwll-yr-Wrach, Flint Mountain.