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Sacred Springs

2 3 for bringing water to isolated areas, and in the mideighteenth century visiting spas became fashionable, with their scientifically proven qualities. Other wells may be just a natural, clear spring through to the ornate majesty of the medieval well house of St Winefrides Well, North Wales. Some holy wells have been fated to eventually supply their healing water to a cattle trough, which has happened to St Candidas Well, in Dorset. There are many fascinating legends attached to holy wells, and spirits and fairies are not always far away. Some wells are haunted by white ladies or ghosts, as seen in Lancashire at Peg o Nells Well, which is haunted by a servant who died there. She died whilst fetching water from the well, when her master wished that she might fall and break her neck. Some spirits are benign, but others are malicious and must be appeased by the performance of a particular ritual at the well. Peg is seen as an evil spirit, who claims a victim every seven years by causing them to drown. Certain trees with particular significance were often planted by wells. Rags were hung in their branches see Madron Well but various items might be pushed into the bark, such as coins, nails or pins. Queen Victoria is said to have placed a silver coin for luck in the tree beside St Mouries Well, on Loch Maree. After years of pilgrims following this tradition the tree finally died. It can also be noted that particular types of tree may be found by wells, such as hazel trees which were the Celtic tree of knowledge, thorn trees, oak, ash and yew. Irish mythology tells of Connlas Well, where nine hazel trees stood as guardians above the well. Each tree dropped a nut into the water that was then eaten by a salmon, which in so doing acquired all the knowledge of the world. In the past pilgrims left many different offerings at the wells and a variety of rituals were followed when the water was used for divination, or for healing a particular condition. For example, at certain wells warts were cured by being bathed then pricked with a pin, which was then bent and thrown in the water. It is not known why the pins were bent, though it has been suggested that it was to exorcise the evil spirit thought to occupy the person. Pins were also left at wells related to childbirth and fertility. Nowadays many offerings are still left, and respect is seen in the formal Derbyshire welldressing ceremonies, which give thanks for the gift of water, and in the degenerated form of the wishing well, where we cast a coin in the water to catch the good fortune given by the well. With chemically cleaned water now pumped to our homes at the turn of a tap it is easy to forget the natural reaction to seeing a crystalclear spring of pure water bubbling out of the ground, cold and refreshing. But Britains holy wells have been more than just a source of clean water, it is the qualities of that water with their magical abilities to heal, to make fertile, to predict the future, to baptise and even to curse that make them unique. This book tells some of the fascinating stories that surround the wells, and shows the variety of delightful sites to be discovered.
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