The aim of this blog from the beginning has been to throw some light onto the lesser known places, stories and people of this fascinating county. And today was one of those days when I felt particularly blessed to have been born here. Cornwall is overflowing with legends and mysterious traditions – some of which are just being rediscovered.
In the 1980s an ancient well was uncovered close to Men-an-tol, hidden in the undergrowth just off the track that leads from that famous ancient monument to the Nine Maidens Downs. In fact it was so I am told discovered by Craig Weatherhill when he literally fell in it!
Venton Bebilbell, (also known as Fenton Bebilbell) which translates as ‘well of the little people’, had been practically forgotten since it was last mentioned by the historian A K Hamilton Jenkin in the 1930s but these days this ancient site is finding a new place in people’s lives.
Hamilton Jenkin recorded many unusual Cornish customs in his books but wrote that this particular well in Morvah parish was used by the local children on a Good Friday to baptise their dolls (dolly dunking!). It is likely that these little christenings hark back to some much older ancient tradition with the toys being used to represent the magical spirits that guarded the well. Like so many others the tradition was forgotten and Venton Bebilbell disappeared beneath the underground of this wild area of West Penwith.
But for the past 13 years a local group Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites have been reviving the Good Friday tradition. I joined this jolly group of people to make the walk to the well to give it some annual TLC and to watch them ‘dunk their dolls’!
After a few minutes clearing the undergrowth with the spring sunshine on ours backs, trying not to fall in as we pulling away the weeds, a few people brought their dolls or other items to be blessed. Cheryl Straffon then said a few words of thanks and we all shared a sip of mead and a bite of a butter bun. Heaven!
The well itself is a magical spot, tucked away in a dip in the landscape, not far from Men-an-tol and the Nine Maidens Circle. This clear, bubbling spring is actually the source of the river Newlyn and bursting with life. In the warm sun I spotted perturbed toads and newts wondering what on earth was disturbing their peace and quiet!
Really wonderful! This could quite easily become another annual tradition for me!
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