To explore the holy wells of Cornwall is a chance to find quiet contemplative places away from the bustle of tourism and daily life. Sancreed or Chapel Downs Holy well is one of the most easily accessed although the setting has been heavily influenced by the Victorian clergyman’s idea of a garden.
Exploring the Sancreed Holy Well
Sancreed Holy well, with an intangible air of mystery, is set under a grove of holly, pine and rhododendron trees. The well would have predated the church of the hamlet by many centuries but sadly a lot of the folklore surrounding it has been forgotten.
Today it is a wonderful opportunity to hunt out the secluded hamlet of Sancreed, walk to the atmospheric well and then explore the church favoured by famous members of the Penzance and Newlyn School of artist
Our visit to Sancreed or St Euny’s sacred Well
The footpath to the well is just across the road from the church. It is here we met the first stumbling block. I asked a man sitting on a bench beside the church how far it was to the well?
“Well there are two. One can’t be visited because it is in a private garden but the one most people go to is a good 25 minutes walk” he confided…….
So bearing in mind Charles’s knee problem, we drove fruitlessly up and down, beyond Sancreed, looking for a footpath. We kept this up for a good twenty minutes before returning to the church to take the marked path.
It is only a five minute walk – ten at the outside. Do give him my regards should he prove to be a Cornish Piskie!
Shadows and mystery
It was therefore with a feeling of relief and achievement when we spotted the first sign of iron railing, looking slightly incongruous in the countryside. Then at long last the shadowy well itself was in front of us, nestling under an overhanging thorn tree decked with ribbons.
Seven steps into the well chamber
An iron rail guided us across the bridge to where the well was cocooned, womb like, deep in a granite chamber. Seven steps led down into subterranean opening in the earth to where the water lay glistening below us. The tiny ferns and lichen clinging to the uneven walls, give this Sancreed Well, a grotto lie feeling but beware the steps are not evenly spaced and can be very slippery.
Ancient sacred waters
Iron Age ritual regarded the spring water as sacred gateways between the worlds of body and spirit. Ancient portals of enlightenment and healing these half forgotten memoires gave way to beliefs in magical healing powers and places of contemplation.
They were later adopted by the churches and there is often a small chapel to be found beside the sites – such as Madron Holy Well. To this day scraps of ribbons or clougies are tied to the trees beside them as offerings and wishes.
Meditation and enlightement
Sancreed Well is thought of now as a place of power, meditation and peace. Observers have remarked that whole groups of people can fall silent there. In the past people would sleep beside the wells for dreams of enlightenment. I was told to hurry up with my sandwiches so didn’t really have time to experience any languid torpor!
Magical woodland glade
The little wooded glade had a magical feel to it with the low late autumn sun slanting through the branches. The summer flowers of Crocosmia lay bronzed and spent around us as we munched our usual picnic and I thought how lovely it will look when the summer comes again. I’ve heard the bluebells will be beautiful here in May and coincidentally, this is considered to be the most powerful month of the year to visit these wells.
A little of Sancreed Holy Well’s history
The well has lain largely forgotten in modern history until cleared by Rev Reginald Bassett Rogers in 1879 along with an adjacent tiny chapel.
The modern survival of Chapel Downs Holy Well, is intrinsically linked to an energetic new vicar, appointed to the church at Sancreed in 1897. He set about a sweeping renovation of the church, collecting holy crosses to restore and rediscovered or reclaimed the well from the undergrowth.
The Medieval Chapel beside the well was formerly recognised as part of the parish – an earlier incumbent – Sir Richard Talvargh (1425) held a licence for two chapels. There was an early mention of Sancreed Well by Nicholas Roscarrow in 1590.
Sancreed Well was again mentioned by the noted historian William Borlaise in 1758
An extract from Borlase’s notes
“In the parish of Sancreed there is a Well whose Water rises in the same kind of soil as Madern Well; and as a witness of its having done remarkable cures, it has a chapel adjoining to it, dedicated to St. Euinus; the ruins of which, consisting of much carved stone, bespeak it to have been formerly of no little note. The Water has the reputation of drying humours, as well as healing wounds and sores……”
William Borlase, in his Natural History of Cornwall, 1758.
Just behind the well there is an early chapel
Chapel Downs Chapel
The Chapel and Well are both grade two ancient monuments although little remains of the late 15th – early 16th century chapel.
There is an interesting carved stone beside the doorway. this was thought to be part of an arch – the dimension are the same as those for the Priests door in nearby Sancreed church.
A local farmer speaks of caring for “St Euny’s Well and Chapel” and he found many carved stones discarded in the stream nearby
A high Christian cross lies beyond the chapel. This is a copy of the medieval cross in Illogan Church.
Explore the area around Sancreed Well
If you have time do explore Sancreed Church beloved of the Penzance and Newlyn School artist and last resting place of Stanhope Forbes. Walk beyond the well and eventually the pathleads to Carn Euny Ancient Settlment – Iron age courtyard houses set around an accessable Fogou.
How to find Sancreed Holy Well
From Penzance by road
- Take the A30 from Penzance westwards towards Land’s End – aprox 3 miles
- From Drift Turn Right beside the Methodist Chaple dirve 1 mile
- Continue passed the Brane sign to Sancreed
- A bus runs from Penzance to St Just via Sancreed every 2 hours excluding weekends, public holiadays and never after 6.00pm
Follow the footpath
Take the footpath from Sancreed’s delightful long low church to the even more ancient Holy or sacred well of Chapel Downs.
- A pleasant path climbs up towards the well.
- Turn right at the style illustrated – it is not much further to the well!