When I visited Strata Florida Abbey recently I had another destination in mind as well.
I’d left the gorgeous energy of the Abbey and now I turned my sights towards a small village not far from Strata Florida. I was aiming for a holy well.
Dedicated to San Ffraed the well is not marked on the map. I hoped somebody would be about, to ask directions.
The village was deserted! Even though I walked up and down the roads and knocked on a few doors, there wasn’t a soul about. Had the aliens landed?
Just then, puttering down the hill towards me came a small car. It pulled up outside the church and an elderly man, sprucely dressed, climbed out from the driver’s seat. I liked him immediately. “Excuse me”, says I, “Sorry to bother you.”
“No problem at all, dear chap,” he responded.
“Do you live here?…”
“Yes,I do”, he said with a smile, and a hint of pleasure and obvious pride, pointing in the direction of his home.
His wife and another female companion disembarked from the car and came round to join us. All three, lovely warm people.
I continued… “Do you happen to know of a holy well close-by to here?”
The man lifted his hand to cradle his chin. I could tell that he did, but he was having trouble remembering how to get to it. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “What you do…is….” He turned to his wife, “Can you remember the directions to the holy well?” ….”I think that you go…”
“You drive that way,” the lady joined in.
“That’s right,” he said, “and then up a steep-ish hill,” they both chorused…
“Until you get to a road at the top, on your right,” his wife said solo. “Turn there…it’s a narrow road, keep going up the hill and you’ll come to a farm on your right. Be careful though, the Water Board are there, at the road junction…they are digging up the road.”
“Yes, I remember”, said the man. The well is in the back garden.
It was a delight to meet them and it bode well for finding the well. I thanked them and we waved cheery goodbyes… and off I went.
As I approached the turning I could see the collection of vans and workmen; there were a few of them, vans and men taking up half of the narrow road, and one van was sprawled across the even tighter road that I was going to turn into. One of the workmen waved a thumbs-up and smiled, jumped into the van and shifted it out of the way. The rest of the gang nodded hello with warm smiles as I returned them and negotiated the vans to drive past them.
As I entered the tiny road up ahead was a trailer carrying sheep. I couldn’t see if it had a vehicle in front of it but it was stationary. Almost straight away it began to slowly climb the steep slope, which afforded me stunning views over the mountains and valleys. I crept along the windy road behind the trailer until I got to a farm entrance on my right. The trailer continued. I still couldn’t see what was towing it. The farm entrance had a long straight concrete drive and as soon as I drove in the entrance I had doubts that it was the right place. There was nowhere to turn back so I continued on and came to a farm gate; the other side of it was a farmyard. Several vehicles were parked there, plumbers’ vans with names on and farm vehicles. It felt to me that nobody was home though. I got out of the car anyway, just in case I could see someone to ask. On the gate was a sign warning of guard dogs and enter at your own risk. I was now sure this wasn’t the right place. I waited a couple of minutes in case somebody turned up, but no one did. My hand inadvertently dislodged a small stone that had been perched on the top of the gate. There definitely wasn’t anyone home.
I returned to my steed. It seemed like a good time to set my sat nav to home, did that and backed down the drive. I knew that the road home was to the left out of the farm drive but I felt I should turn right…and then the sat nav directed that I turn right as well. I stopped at the junction. Something, or some one was encouraging me to turn right and was using the sat nav to stress that advice. I turned right.
I hadn’t driven far when I noticed the top of the sheep trailer up ahead, behind a hedge. As I got closer I saw that it was another farm entrance; a wide one this time. The trailer, attached to a four-wheel drive, I now knew, was parked up. A small of stature, very spirited and healthy-looking elderly man was sweeping the concrete.
I pulled up in the drive; the man looked up from his brushwork and gave me the biggest grin. I got out of the car and made my way over to him.
“Good afternoon. How can I help you?” he said with the most delightful manner. There was something about him that, well, was holy, or otherworldly, his energy was so vibrant and wonderful.
‘This is the place!’ I heard myself, ‘I just know it is’.
“Good afternoon,” I answered. “You look busy.”
“Ah, just sweeping up this horse feed,” he replied.
“I’m looking for a holy well that I’m told is near here,” I offered…”Do you know where it is?”
His smile broadened and he fluidly gestured with his right hand towards the narrowed entrance to his drive. “You’ve come to the right place. It’s down there, in the back of my daughter’s garden. Come on, I’ll take you down there.”
This was one of those occasions when you just know that you are exactly where you are meant to be and at precisely the right moment…and it felt, for all the world, like I had been expected.
The man climbed into his car and I followed him down to the farmyard where we parked in front of a house.
“Come on,” he says, beckoning me towards him, as he smartly strode into the front garden. A lovely Welsh collie watched me curiously. Round the house we went and into the back garden. He turned and with his body-language full of admiration he pointed to the corner of the garden. “There it is!”
A lovely pile of aged stones, dripping with moss and memories, peeked shyly through her leafy curtains of shrubs and trees as the misty sun dropped sleepily behind her.
She is beautiful.
The man escorted me to the beehive-shaped well obviously delighted by my reaction. His daughter and helpers had inherited the well structure when he bought the farm but it was in a dilapidated state. She determined to repair it and, he told me, every stone was numbered and replaced in its precise former position.
I asked him how long they had been here…and for his name, to properly introduce myself. We shook hands like old friends.
“And what is your name?” he asked. I told him, and added, I’m named after my great-grandfather, Ellis was his surname. I’m told the family came from West Wales, North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, but I don’t know where yet. He was obviously delighted at that info and pointing north-east said, “the Ellis’s farmed for generations on farms just over there. There’s still a few around. One ran a pub in Aberystwyth for years too.” We chatted more and then he said, “I’ll leave you to it then, I’ve got to get the sheep unloaded.”
I stayed for a little while but evening was drawing in and I needed to be somewhere. Before I left I walked down to say thank you again, and goodbye.
“You make sure you come again, he said. “You are welcome any time you like.”
What a wonderful day I’d had, all day long. The lady in reception at the fantastic Strata Florida was so friendly and helpful, the people in the village a joy, and now this lovely man…and a very special ancient little holy well, dedicated to San Ffraed, where once our ancestors, devotees, and pilgrims to Abbeys stopped by.
Did you see the gnome?
Fourth November 2016
A Google-translated page all about the well – I just found this – fascinating. 9th June 2020. I was impressed by the photos of Vladimir Putin lending a hand 🙂
Only a shame that this little well, though dedicated to our heroine, is not on Y Ddraig.