Explore the atmospheric ancient sacred well at Madron or “Boswarthen Celtic chapel and well” as the sign reads and you will plunge back through the centuries into the ancient heart of Celtic Cornwall.
The Madron well and chapel are scheduled ancient monuments, set deep in a mossy woodland upon the Land’s End Peninsula, in an atmospheric place where time almost seems to have stood still.
Our visit to explore Madron sacred well and chapel
The weather was changing as we arrived and the wind was already starting to sough through the trees. We walked deeper into the woods and followed the path slowly down to the valley.
It was pure instinct that made me turn sharply left from the well defined path and a narrow twisting path, signed by a bright ribbon that drew me deeper into the woods, through the torturously twisted trees. I was certain somehow that the Holy well was nearby.
Charles, (whose knee is troubling him these days) called after me that he would wait on the main track, so I was alone as I clambered over moss covered trunks. I would advise Wellies if you visit – the dark peaty soils that formed the woodland floor here still yielded under to my feet, even after months of drought!
The wind fell silent in the depth of the woods and I became aware of a family behind me taking the same meandering path to an unknown destination. Finally after a last turn in the route, more ribbons caught me eye. This time they heralded a dark, silent, stone flagged pool, that lay below me now glistening serenely in a deep depression in the earth.
Archaeologist think that maybe the well would have had a beehive type roof and certainly the Holy Well at Sancreed is more enclosed.
As I crouched by the pool I was joined by a small family “Did you bring an offering” the lady asked me. Shame faced I starting patting my pockets and found them to be quite empty. I contemplated the only loose fabric I had in the form of a frayed cuff on my much loved sweat shirt and decided I wasn’t quite ready to part with it yet. Maybe I will go back there again one day, taking with me a bright ribbon for the well though.
This is how I met the witch in the woods and I must admit I listened intently as she explained the healing ritual to her family. Later as we chatted I showed her the photo I had taken as her gold dress glowed gloriously beside the dark pool She offered her sons services to take a snap of me beside the pool…..
What a talented young man! I love the reflections that he captured in the water and I was so pleased to have a photo of to show to you, to prove that I was actually was there as well as writing the blog! A very big thank you!
As we chatted Charles appeared just as quietly, apparently he had become bored of waiting for me! As he was met by two enthusiastic women he made quick search of his sceptical pockets (for by now he had little choice!) and he unearthed an old fabric napkin. I slipped and slithered back down to the deep dark water to soak the fabric before bringing it back to Charles to bind around his knee
“Now sit down and take a minute to think about what you want this to achieve”
From a chance meeting with a witch also visiting Madron Well
As the family retraced their steps back through the woods, we were alone by the healing waters. Charles leapt up as soon as he could decently could do so (I did say he was sceptical!) and handed me the scrap of fabric, which I in turn twisted the piece to make a ribbon and tied it to the tree branch just above the water.
The offering tree near the Chapel
We returned to the well trodden path and walked on to the main offering tree. this tree is quite near to the ruins of the early chapel and overhangs the stream
We found the tree easily beside the main path, full of brightly fluttering ribbons or Clouties*. There were also poignant messages and remembrances for loved ones carefully written on cards or even scraps of paper. Do remember it is extremely bad luck to take anything from these special places.
*Clouties Cloughties, Clooties and Clotties
These scraps of fabric are called clouties or cloughties in Devon and Cornwall. Whilst the Scots call them clooties in Scotland and clotties in Ireland. There is a tradition amongst the Celtic peoples tying pieces of clothing or ribbons to sacred trees and wells. These can be offerings to the earth gods or to ask for healing.
Healing rituals for sacred Wells
Traditionally a piece of cloth would be torn from clothing before being immersed in the water and then placed on the affected part.It was then tied around the tree branch to rot. As the fabric disintegrated, so the ailment would be dispersed by the magic from the well. Sadly these day, people often leave synthetic fabrics which will not biodegrade and allow the magic to work but do not remove them it is bad luck!
There are different sorts of clouties!
- You can usually tell the difference in the clouties –
- The smart bright ribbons are a placed by supplicants that make wishes or prayers.
- The ragged fabrics ones are those that have been left to disintegrate in the hope of healing.
- Normally each well has its own magic and use but these days the boundaries have become blurred,.
- Madron is associated with healing in both Christian and Pagan cultures.
Other ancient healing places nearby
There are other places of healing, still preserved in the Ancient sites to visit in West Cornwall notably the Men-an-Tol holed stone further along the Madron to Morvah road.
Madron Well Chapel
Just beyond the ritual tree there is a small roofless building possibly built in the 12th century and dedicated to St Madern It may stand on the site of a pre Christian building.
Within the roofless stone walls there is an altar stone thought to date from the 12th Century, with an indent for a statue or portable altar and stone benches set along the wall. Each time I have visited this chapel over the years there has always been fresh flowers set upon the altar.
Water from the holy well would have originally run into the font via a leat for baptisms and healing. It is thought by some, that the course of the stream dictated that the doorway is placed on the north side, whilst others more ominously say a North door is “The Devil’s door” – perhaps pointing towards pre Christian origins Read more about the Chapel
As we left this lovely place, peacefully set under the luminous light filtering through the trees, we could hear tractors racing in the fields beyond, bringing in the last of the hay harvest and then the firsts rain drops started to fall.
The meaning of the name Madron
Madron well and chapel are dedicated to the pre-Christian goddess Madern or Maddern, a goddesses associated with springs and wells. Madern is probably a corruption of the Celtic mother goddess Modron.
Sacred sites were often adopted for Christian use and early pilgrims would have also travelled to Madron for healing throughout the medieval period
Directions to Madron Well and Chapel
The Chapel and well is signposted “Boswarthan Celtic Chapel and Well” Just outside of Madron on the B3312. There is a neat little parking area at the end of the tarmac road. The footpath leads away to the left, broad and well made for disability access.