Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Horseshoe and a Wishing Well

A rare sunny Sunday this winter saw us heading out for what proved to be a stunning walk to 'The Holy Well' also known as Ffynnon Angaeron, situated in a beautiful hidden, wooded valley on the lower slopes of Mynydd Garn Wen. Mynydd Garn Wen is on the South Eastern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park and at 1,394 feet at the OS trig point on the ridge,  is one of the highest ridges in Monmouthshire.

The walk starts from a way marked sign and stile opposite The Horsehoe Inn at Mamhilad which provides good food and drink before or after your walk. If you use the pub you can park in their car park. Walking boots are recommended.

This is a good walk for dogs, but you will need to keep them under close control on a lead in the fields, where there are sheep and possibly other animals grazing. Once you reach the woods they can run free.

Looking from the stile, ahead and to the right, the walk route you will follow runs in a diagonal line down the bank to the stream, through the gate and  between the trees at the bottom and continues the same line across the fields  to where the conifer trees run down to join the other woodland.

Heading down the bank from The Horseshoe, you will come to a stream and a tree with some large stones in front of it - pass these and go through the gate.  

After going through the gate, continue walking in a diagonal line up the  bank and across the fields through two more way marked gates/ stiles, towards the tree line in the distance.

As you walk you will also have a view of The Folly  in the distance up on the Garn Wen ridge to your far left - but due to the bright sunlight from that direction at the time I was unable to photograph it. As we walked we heard and saw buzzards circling overhead.

Looking back towards The Horseshoe in the distance across the fields
Continuing in a diagonal  line across the field, you will eventually reach a mountain stream, which on the day of our walk, was in full flow due to heavy rainfall and could be heard roaring long before we reached it. Turn left when you reach the stream and follow its course until you come to a fence line across the edge of the wood.

When you reach the edge of the wood turn right and ford the stream to the opposite bank where there will be a way marked stile on your left to take you up a small path into the wood.

In January, wellies, although not as comfortable, or as good for walking in as boots, were an advantage for dealing with the very muddy gateways and water soaked fields and also for fording the fast flowing stream - in summer the water level and speed is far less.

When you cross the stile,  follow the path straight up the hillside through the wood keeping the stream on your left. It is safe to let dogs run free once you are up in the wood, but keep in mind that there are sheep in the surrounding fields so you must keep them under control.

Even in winter the thickly wooded valley has a 'wild', 'magical' almost 'jungle' feel to it with a lot of beautiful mosses, ferns and huge trees. An advantage of visiting after prolonged rainfall is the stream is pretty spectacular as it tumbles down the hillside through the wood.

After a fairly short climb passing some magnificent ancient beech trees and moss covered evidence of ruined dwellings and quarrying, which indicate there may have been a small village here many years ago,  you will eventually reach a stile marked 'Holy Well'.

Jez stops for a rest with Dewi and Molly
Climb the stile and continue  straight ahead, for just a few more yards up the path until you get to the well which will be on your left adjacent to the stream.

The stream was running very fast down the hill past the well
'The Holy Well' - Ffynnon Angaeron looks a bit like an old, dilapidated stone fireplace on the edge of the stream. The opening into the well faces the stream. Alongside is a huge stone which you can sit on.

Ffynnon Angaeron - The Holy Well
There are references to Ffynnon Angaeron dating back to the 14th Century when it was called the Ffynnon Rhufeinig meaning ' Roman Well' and Ffynnon Ofuned  meaning 'Wishing Well'. Frances Jones describes the well as a 'pin well'. In Roman times bent pins and brooches were used as votive offerings and thrown into such wells and a secret wish would be made, often with regard to curing an ailment, bringing good luck, marriage, fertility or to ward off evil spirits. When the well was cleaned out in 1890 many bent pins and a brooch were found in it. Aside from its use as a holy or wishing well, Ffynnon Angaeron would also have provided a valuable source of clean drinking water for local people who would have walked to the well daily to collect fresh water. In 1873 there was a major local dispute over rights of access to the well when the land owner Rev Thomas in a fit of pique that some local children were not attending the school he ran, denied access to the families concerned and filled the well in. 

The water running  from the spring into the well  catchment  chamber is very clear and cold
After visiting the well you have the option of retracing your steps back down the hillside as we did (having a 14 year old dog walking with you restricts how far and how steep you can go unfortunately) or,  if you want a longer walk,  you can continue climbing up the path through the wood, which will eventually bring you up onto the Garn Wen ridge. It is worth the walk to the top simply for the panoramic views it offers. Once at the top you then have the choice of turning left and walking for about a mile towards the Garn Wen trig point and from there along to The Folly and after visiting The Folly, returning down the old Roman Road and on to the lane that emerges near The Star Inn and back to The Horseshoe Inn that way (see my earlier blog post for details of a walk to The Folly and The Roman Road). Turning right when you reach the ridge, would take you across to the hillside above The Goose and Cuckoo Inn which sits above the village of Llanover and from there dropping down through the lanes to return to The Horseshoe Inn from the opposite direction.

So... having given alternatives for longer routes, back to the particular walk we did. Having retraced your steps down through the wood, once you reach the bottom of the path, just before you get to the stile, turn right to cross the stream where the two streams merge into one and proceed ahead up the track into the forested area.

Before heading up the forest path drop down the bank to your left to stream level as I did to look at the waterfall emerging from under the path you have crossed. Stunning!!

Walk a few hundred yards up the forest track through the conifers,  before leaving the track and  heading left through the trees for a short distance until you find the fence line with the field.

Bear right along the fence line with the fields on your left until you reach a waymarked stile.

Climb the stile and turn right across the top of the field until you reach another stile. Then retrace your steps to 'The Horseshoe' down across the fields - the views as you emerge from the woods at this point across the Monmouthshire countryside are really wonderful!

I am sensing that doing this beautiful walk with good luck charms in the form of a 'Horseshoe' and a 'Wishing Well' at either end of it is sure to bring me good luck and being only a short distance from where I live, I'll be heading back here again very soon!

How to find The Holy Well

Ffynnon Angaeron - Map Ref: SO298051

The Horseshoe Inn at the start of the walk - directions

Reference Sources

Mysterious Wales - Chris Barber 1982

Exploring Gwent - Chris Barber 1984

The Holy Wells of Wales - Francis Jones - 1954

Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells  Gary R. Varner 2009

Wellsprings Fellowship - Welsh Wells Society

Weatherman Walking - BBC Wales

Megalithic Portal

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