A Holy Well is a spring or small body of water which is associated with the Cornish saint to which is was dedicated. Many believe these sacred spots have the power to cure illnesses and even that they hold divine power. Searching for holy wells in Cornwall offers the opportunity to explore Cornwall’s rugged and rural landscape, escape the tourist spots and admire these peaceful, untouched sanctuaries in all their glory.
The fact that Cornwall is blessed with more than its fair share of spiritually holy well and other sites is no geographical coincidence. It is only at these distant places, furthest from what is considered to be real and important, that ideas like those contained deep within these ancient well pools are remembered and manage to survive.
Get out and discover some of Cornwall’s holy wells for yourself. Map references are included, as locations can be hidden or remote.
The Well at Holywell Bay, near Newquay: SW 764 602
One of the most remarkable sites anywhere in the British Isles, the holy well at Holywell Bay – set in one of the dark caves on the south west corner of Kelsey Head – is only accessible at low tide. Once there, steps in the rock wall, always slippery with seaweed and mosses, lead to a magnificent series of calcareous basins, filled with clear fresh cascading waters, surrounded by (when lit) rocks of rainbow colours.
St Keyne’s Holy Well, near Liskeard: SX 241 579
Keyne was one of the many beautiful daughters of the Welsh King Brychan, all of whom became either saints or martyrs. Her well is best remembered for its water’s ability to determine who will ‘wear the trousers’ in a marriage, giving a woman the rare chance, in those days, of “being equal to her lord and master” by first drinking from its waters immediately after the marriage ceremony.
The Fairy Well, above Carbis Bay, nr St Ives: SW 536 387
A strong belief in ‘the little people’ was once commonplace throughout Cornwall, as in all Celtic countries. The evocative Fairy Well, overlooking the great sweep of Carbis Bay, retains all of its original powers. Its waters, seeping through the overhanging rock into a calm pool, are decorated with tokens of remembrance, peace and healing, eventually tumbling over the cliff face towards the sea.
Wishes will be granted here, it is said … as long as they are not spoken aloud!
St Clether Holy Well and Chapel: SX 203 847
Like many sites, St Clether has a rich history dating to Celtic times. The chapel is linked to the holy well itself, as the water runs through the building and underneath the granite altar. Major restoration work was carried out here in the early 1900s, when the chapel was rebuilt from a pile of stonework.
St Guidel’s Holy Well, Menacuddle, near St Austell: SX 013 535
This is a truly magical site, sitting as it does at the foot of a grove of ancient trees and rhododendron bushes, beside a waterfall and river which runs white with the powder from the china clay industry which once so dominated this area.
The beautiful Gothic well chapel is now completely clothed in ivy and lichen, giving it the impression of emerging naturally from, or perhaps slowly returning to, the earth.