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Tracking the Holy wells of Devon

The six Holy well sites in Devon featured on this page
The six Holy well sites in Devon featured on this page

This page is an introduction to a few of Devon's Holy wells - a little known side of Devon's history.

You'll need a car and a sturdy pair of boots - and a taste for the mysterious.

Devon is home to thousands of natural wells and springs - but just a few are recognised as having Holy properties.

There are many different stories behind Holy wells - some are thought to possess the power of healing, some to grant wishes or good fortune and some are simply a place of veneration.

Where to begin - map ref SX754694:

St Gadula's Well, Ashburton
St Gadula's Well, Ashburton

Starting at Ashburton the tour begins with St Gadula's Well on the edge of the town.

It is located beside the old Totnes Road, and is marked by an ancient cross which stands adjacent to the well.

The origin of the well is sketchy, but it is thought the waters had healing properties - especially for the eyes.

The name St Gadula is thought to be a variation on St Gudwall - or St Wulvella - celebrated at Gulval in Cornwall.

Stidwell - map ref SX735 729

The view from the well at Stidwell
The view from the well at Stidwell

Take the road leading out of Ashburton towards Buckland-in-the-Moor. Just before you enter the village - in fact just before the Buckland-in-the-Moor road sign - you'll need to find a place to stop.

The climb to the well is steep and the track is narrow. From the road - just opposite a disused kissing gate - head up to the right.

It's easy to find as the track runs alongside a sturdy granite stone wall - the boundary between the parishes of Ashburton and Buckland-in-the-Moor.

Once you have passed through a five-barred gate (and just as you're beginning to think you've made a terrible mistake - it's very steep) the wall curves abruptly to the left.

This is the site of Stidwell - just to the right of the wall. There is little to suggest that the well exists, except for some ragged rushes lurking in the undergrowth. But the views on a clear day are breathtaking.

Golden Well, Bovey Tracey - map ref SX820786

The Golden Well, Bovey Tracey
The Golden Well, Bovey Tracey

The Golden Well is easily reached from the centre of Bovey Tracey, following the main road up through the town to the Church of St Peter and St Paul's.

The Golden Well has a remarkable story attached to it - including an appearance by some golden frogs!

The story goes that the humble priest of the parish church - St Mary's as it was then - returned home at the end of the day to find a visitor.

The pious priest and his wife shared their meagre supper with the visitor, ensuring she was cared for and sheltered.

The visitor was, of course, St Mary. In return for his kindness, she bestowed good fortune on the priest and his family for generations to come.

And the frogs? St Mary turned the frogs in the spring gold to ensure that her promise would always be remembered.

Leech Wells, Totnes - map ref SX800601

Leech Well at Totnes
Leech Well at Totnes

This is one of the few wells in the county that is still recognised by locals as possessing healing qualities.

From the Leech Wells car park head up towards the Kingsbridge Inn. Immediately to the left of the pub is a narrow lane that leads down to Leech Wells.

There are three springs - one for healing, one for good luck and one simply as a place of veneration. Ribbons or "clouties" are hung above the wells as a mark of respect.

Traditionally these clouties would have been strips of material torn from the clothes of the sick or injured, in the hope that the water would provide healing.

Lidwell - map ref SX923758

The start of the walk at Lidwell
The view at the start of the walk to Lidwell

Lidwell is an isolated spring, beside a derelict parish church not far north of Bishopsteignton. It's one of the few wells in the county that is said to bring bad luck.

Legend has it that the priest of Lidwell lured passers-by to the chapel before robbing and murdering them - and then dumping their bodies in the well.

Head for The Teignmouth Golf Course (National Trust parking at sx918765) which is the nearest landmark of note.

To the left there are views of the coast and to the right the golf course. Take the path to the left and follow the route southwards.

Take the right fork as the path becomes steeper and continue to a stile. Lidwell Farm is nestled into the valley, but in the foreground is the derelict Lidwell Chapel.

Abbotskerswell - map ref SX856687

The well at Abbotskerswell
The well at Abbotskerwell

The well in Abbotskerswell is one of only five wells in the county that are recorded in the Domesday book.

The well is close to the Butchers Inn.

Follow the bridleway to the right of the pub which runs along side a narrow stream.

The well is sheltered by a black wooden door. Have a peak inside and you'll see the spring water flowing into the stream.

There are dozens of other Holy wells in the county - this tour is just to whet your appetite. For more information and local history visit the Devon Holy Wells website.

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