St Beuno’s Well, sited upon a small hill overlooking its far more well known and salubrious neighbour, has long been overshadowed by the fame and astonishing power of nearby St Winefride’s Well. But it would seem that St Beuno’s is older than St Winefride’s by some small measure, since it is thought that St Beuno’s Well was the original spot from which Beuno preached. His original chapel was said to have been raised on this spot, although all traces of any building have been lost.
The legend of St Winefride, told many times and with some small variation claims that Winefride fled to Beuno’s chapel here, from Caradoc’s murderous rage - that it was here, before Beuno’s chapel that she was beheaded, that it was from here her head rolled into the little valley below, to the spot where the copious flow of her well first emerged.
A curious thing, to climb to a well - not unheard of, of course, but still...curious.
Despite its designation as a well, it would be more accurate to describe it as a pool, and a sizable one at that. It is reached by climbing a steep flight of steps from the little car park at the base of the hill, through scrub and wood - a curious thing to climb to a well - and one follows a track, once cleared but now surrendering itself again to nature. On reaching the pool, you will be struck by its impressive size. If an early chapel did indeed once stand here, it seems more than likely that the pool was used for baptisms. There does not seem to be any known tradition of cures for specific ailments, which perhaps we might have expected, given its connection to Beuno. There used to be an ancient oak tree by the pool, into which pilgrims would hammer coins as offerings - you might have seen the same elsewhere. Predictably, perhaps, the tree died and was removed in the 1950s. One wonders whether those who removed it had read Baring-Gould and Fisher.
‘All trees growing on land belonging to S. Beuno were deemed sacred, and no one dared cut any of them down lest the saint should kill them or do them some grievous harm.’
S. Baring-Gould & J.Fisher, ‘The Lives of the British Saints’ (London 1907)
Despite its attribution to St. Beuno, it does seem to have been largely dismissed by those outside the near vicinity. This is curious, since Beuno is no minor saint, of course. The Royal Commission visited in 1910, and with a seeming shrug wrote,
‘A pool of water which at present can hardly be considered a well. It is situated beneath a tree in a meadow below Pen dre House, west of Castle Hill. The pool is of irregular shape, and a bank projects into it. Two of its sides are about 8 and 5 yards respectively. It has recently been cleaned out. There is a slight spring.’
It seems the Royal Commission visited at a time when the pool was in a state of some considerable disrepair, and one imagines them climbing the hill in the depths of a soggy autumn to be confronted with an overgrown mass of brambles and scrub. Some years back, however, a considerable amount of work was done to clear the way to the well - part of the Holywell Heritage Trail. In the intervening few years, nature has begun the work of returning the area to a state the Royal Commission would recognise. The wooden framed steps to the site have begun to collapse, and the brambles snake across the tracks in an effort to tripwire you to the floor.
Regardless of the Royal Commission’s assessment, the site has a very real thrum of presence. To stand by it is to be transported back to the time of the birth of the Age of Saints. That’s quite something.