It appears that Ffynnon Asa, one of several wells which are dedicated to St Asaph, has been a victim of its tremendous success. No quiet, secluded spring here. Some four million gallons of water flows from the hillside, bountiful volumes which could not be ignored in the emerging industrial landscape of the late 19th century.
As a result, Ffynnon Asa is a well whose history can be divided into two eras – before and after industrial exploitation. It is likely that before it was turned into a reservoir, it was as spectacular as other famous wells in the area, possibly even St Winefride’s Well at Holywell. Gerald of Wales describes,
‘a spring not far from Ruthlan, in the province of Tegengel, which not only regularly ebbs and flows like the sea, twice in twenty-four hours, but at other times frequently rises and falls both by night and day. Trogus Pompeius says, "that there is a town of the Garamantes, where there is a spring which is hot and cold alternately by day and night.'
It was thought that Gerald was describing Ffynnon Leinw at Cilcain in Flintshire, despite the well, impressive as it is being a fair distance from the sea. It is possible that he was actually describing Ffynnon Asa.
At the end of the 17th century, Edward Lhuyd’s correspondent, a Richard Perry, states that the well, ‘had sett neat pillars’, which would suggest that its believed cures for nervous disorders and rheumatism were much sought after, if someone had gone to the trouble to develop a building around it.. However, he also managed to disprove the theory that it was tidal, since he watched the well for some nine hours.
Dr Johnson, who’s tour of North Wales with Hester Thrale in 1774 was considered something of a disappointment by him, describes how the well at the end of 18th century was once, ‘covered with a building that has now disappeared’. Thomas Pennant whose tour of Wales in 1778 describes the well as, ‘inclosed with stone, in a polygonal form and had formerly its votaries, like that of St Wenefrede’. This is likely to reflect the landowners efforts to give the well an antiquated feel to encourage tourism, and suggests the intriguing possibility of a much more developed site.
However, by 1910 and the visit of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, it seems the tremendous flow had been harnessed, specifically to power industry in the area and supply the townships of Dyserth, Melidan and Prestatyn with water. Their description of a small modern reservoir some 9-10 feet wide makes clear the transformation of the well from a curative, holy well to a practical solution to an ever increasing demand for fresh water and industrial power. That industrial heritage can be seen all over the area of the well, most notably with the remains of the water wheel at Felin Fawr. In fact, such was the demand for the waters of Ffynnon Asa, that diversion of the flow led to the much visited waterfall running dry for a time. It was reinstated at the end of the 19th century, since tourism became almost as important as industry.
The astonishing strength of Ffynnon Asa powered a number of mill wheels, some of which can be seen on the walk to what was once the well, along the Offa's Dyke Path.
Today the well is fenced off, locked away and buried beneath warning signs against trespass. It is well worth a visit, if for no other reason to witness the importance of holy wells through time, to see how a well met the needs of a community, throughout the ages. The views afforded of the North Wales coast are also well worth seeing.