Joined: 07 May 2009
|Posted: Sun May 17, 2009 4:06 pm Post subject: Another Cornish well : THE SECRET OF HOLYWELL BAY
|If you dip into the latest magazine produced by the National Trust, you will find an article extolling the virtues of Holywell Bay on the northern shores of Cornwall. There was great excitement that the beach had been chosen to double as an exotic location for the latest James Bond film. What they failed to mention was that Holywell Bay hides one of the most beautiful sacred wells in the whole of Cornwall.
The cave where it lies can only be reached at low tide and the well itself is so inaccessible that even intrepid cave explorers might miss the place which gave the bay its name. Certainly the majority of tourists who flock to the long, sandy beach and foam flecked Atlantic breakers have no idea what lies at the furthest point, where cliffs rise majestically into the air and puffins and plump seagulls perch on ledges to surprise unwary walkers who lean over the edge to catch their first glimpse of the beach.
To reach the beach from the public car park at the bottom of the village, you first have to wade through the cold water of the flowing river as it makes its way to the sea. Then you have the choice of climbing the shifting sand of the dunes or to walk around. Once on the beach, tiny shale cuts into bare feet until you reach the supposed ease of open sand. Then the real trouble starts, for the sand is soft and you can sink downward up to six inches as you make your way across the flats towards the cave. It is a mile from the car park across the beach to its furthest point, a mile to remember that any journey to a holy site is a pilgrimage and the walker should not expect an easy time.
The sight of rock pools nestling in the curve of the cliff takes one’s breath away; such stillness and peace amidst the turmoil of life. The breakers quietly kiss the sand behind you, their ferocity tamed for such a small moment, the sound a reminder of how little time you have to find the well.
The cave is flanked by large boulders and small pools. The encrusted barnacles are sharp on your feet, but you climb over them anyway in your eagerness to reach the cave mouth. On the left hand side you can see streams of green and rust flowing out of the rocks. It is only as you venture closure that you realise there are steps cut into the colours. Steps carved out hundreds of years ago and worn smooth by the processions of small feet as local mothers brought their ailing children to be dragged around the sacred well at the time when the veil between the real and spirit world was at its thinnest. In the darkness of the cave’s womb, they would be passed from the darkness into the light in order that their afflictions could be cured.
The steps here are treacherous, the green algae and iron oxide coating the stone with a slippery film. As you venture further and turn the corner into the cave itself, it is hard not to gasp at the beauty ahead of you. The steps now fade from deep red through pink into the purest white and turn into round pools of calcite for you to wade through to reach the highest point.
Another opening beckons you into total darkness and unless you have brought a torch, you will not see the tiny sacred freshwater pool fed from spring water trickling through the rocks above. It is truly a place of the Mother and her mysteries, somewhere you will want to crouch and wonder or merely empty your mind and give yourself up from the cares of the world.
As much as you might wish, time here does not stand still. Care has to be taken that you do not become cut off by the approaching tide. Carefully you make your way down through the pools and shallows, clutching at the rocks to stop your feet from sliding under you as you reach the steps and finally make it down to the surety of sand and boulders.
Then another mile back across the beach, windblown and flushed by the magick of your visit, hugging to yourself the secret knowledge that Holywell Bay shares only with those who force themselves beyond sense and safety. Perhaps you take with you a shell or some grains of sand to remind you of your quest, but the memory will lie forever in your deepest mind. This is a sacred place.
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