Tag Archives: Well

When is a Well not Well?

15 Jul

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Well 🙂 its not when its ill that’s for sure. The answer is when it is a spring, because a well and a spring are two different things, and despite its name, this is technically not a well at all. We are back in Dorset today, and this is the Lepers’ Well at Lyme Regis.

The Lepers’ Well, Lyme Regis

Leper's Well

The Lepers’ Well, Lyme Regis

The Lepers’ Well is at Lyme Regis in West Dorset and it dates from at least the 14th century and possibly earlier. The well, and a small section of perimeter wall, is all that remains of a medieval Lepers’ Hospital that once stood nearby. Back in the Middle Ages, leprosy had a stigma attached. It was thought to be highly contagious and also believed to be a result of some curse or a punishment for sinful behaviour, so sufferers were outcasts and isolated away from society in places where they could be treated. The hospital and its associated chapel were dedicated to St Mary and the Holy Spirit.

Leper's Well

The Plaque at the Well

Today of course we are more enlightened and know that true leprosy is caused by a bacteria so is less contagious than was originally thought so such places as this were actually unnecessary and perhaps brought about simply by people’s prejudice.

In fact, in some ways, the Lepers’ Well fails on two counts as far as its name goes because not only is it not a well, but it wasn’t exclusively for lepers either as hundreds of years ago any skin disease would have been regarded as leprosy.

Surrounding the well is a small garden and it sits in a delightful position beside the River Lym (aka Lim) that runs for some six kilometres from source to sea. It is this river that gives Lyme Regis its name.

Leper's Well

The River Lym Viewed from the Lepers’ Well Garden

I always enjoy walking up the Lym Valley, following what is almost a causeway between the diminutive river on one side, and the mill leat on the other as this drove the Town Mill that still stands in Lyme Regis. The now gently flowing stream flows quietly past the Lepers’ Well in an altogether different scene than it would have been in the days when the hospital was in place. We can only wonder what this area looked like then.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

 

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St Augustine’s Well……or is it!

25 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

We are continuing with our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ still and I think this is Part 19, and it is another well. It seems that a lot of wells have a lot of folklore written about them as legends and ‘Chinese whispers’ are passed down through the generations, and this one is no exception! So whose well is it? Lets look at the evidence 🙂 !

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine's Well

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine’s Well, as it is known, is in the lovely Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, of ‘Giant’ fame, and tradition has it that it owes its existence to St Augustine of Canterbury, hence the name. It seems that in the 7th century, St Augustine visited Dorset and he was travelling through the Cerne Valley before the current village existed and he met some shepherds. They were thirsty so the saint asked them if they would prefer water or ale to drink, and they, probably realising he was a saintly man, replied that they would prefer the former. The saint duly did what anyone would do and struck the ground with his staff, crying out Cerno El which apparently means ‘I perceive God’, whereupon water flowed from the spot.

Now this may be a correct and true story but the cynical in me thinks that might just be an invented tale, since there are others! I say ‘invented’ because people did do that sort of thing simply to attract visitors 🙂 !

St Augustine's Well

Ribbons Adorn the Tress

The second story in fact doesn’t credit it to St Augustine at all but rather another gentleman known as St Edwold. He was actually royalty, but became a hermit and settled in the area back in the 9th century, and he had a vision where he saw a silver well. He was walking through the Cerne Valley one day and being hungry, he bought bread and water from a shepherd, paying him with silver. The shepherd handed over the bread and brought him to this well to draw water, whereupon the saint immediately recognised the well he had seen in his vision.

Taking this as a sign, he built a hermitage on the site and stayed there until he died. Thus, perhaps this should be called St Edwold’s Well! Or maybe Silver Well, as it seems it was once known. Then again, some say that St Edwold’s Well is in fact a different well all together as there are a number in the area. These things are so confusing…..but that just adds to the intrigue 🙂 !

Fallen and Floating

Autumn Leaves in the Well

We will never know the truth, but we do know that this was recognised as a sacred place and that there was once a chapel built over the top of the well. This was lost in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The well was until comparatively recent times used as drinking water by the villagers, although looking at my picture above, you probably wouldn’t want to try it in autumn with those rotting leaves 🙂 ! Oh, and apparently a 3 feet long eel was found in it not long ago 🙂 !

As with most wells, the water is said the have curative properties and also to aid fertility……which of course is also something that is said about the famous Giant on the hillside about which I blogged recently. It was said too to be beneficial to dip new born babies into the water! It wasn’t only fertility either, as young girls were often encouraged to come here and pray to St Catherine for a husband, turning round three times as they did so.

Oh, and there is another local legend that says if you look into the water over Easter, you will see reflected the faces of those who will die that year.

Path to the Well

The Quiet Tree Lined Path to the Well

Clearly, this is a mysterious and somewhat quirky place, and one that has been regarded for centuries as a holy place. To this day, people still tie written prayers on the surrounding trees. In fact there are 12 lime trees around the well and these are known locally as the twelve apostles.

St Augustine’s Well is a delightful place. It nestles in a hollow beside the graveyard and not far from the old abbey ruins. Peace and tranquility are words that spring to mind as you stroll down the tree lined path that leads to the well itself. This is a well that is perfect for a pilgrimage, or just to sit and meditate beside.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.