Deeply shrouded in the gloom of departed time is one of the histories connected with Dupath Spring. It was the site of a fierce combat, the scene of heroic enterprise and deeds of noble daring for a lady’s love. – Illustrated Itinerary of Cornwall, Cyrus Redding, 1842
Dupath Well has the largest and most impressive well house in Cornwall. You can find it just a short distance from the town of Callington, tucked away behind farm buildings. This was once a place of pilgrimage. A basin of the venerated spring water is housed inside a beautiful little chapel-like building, or baptistry. It is built entirely of granite. A solid and sturdy looking building, but elegant too. The roof is constructed of enormous slabs with a little bell tower at the apex.
It was built by the Augustinian monks of the nearby St Germans Priory in around 1510. The basin inside is thought to be the remains of an immersion pool for cure-seekers and pilgrims. These waters were once thought to cure whooping cough. However many also came here because of the tragically romantic tale attached to the site.
History waits . . .
The spring rises just outside the doorway and flows inside across the threshold, along a stone gutter and into the basin. You are likely to find coins at the bottom of this pool, offerings that have been left here for hundreds of years.
John Thomas Blight sketched the well in the 1850s and picked up on the sadness of the place. He later wrote that:
The spot has a deserted and neglected appearance. The gloom and solitude which hang over the place harmonise with the legend that is linked with the scene.
When the well was visited a few years later by Mabel and Lillian Quiller-Couch in the 1890s it had fallen into disrepair. They described it as being overrun with ivy and having “grass and weeds growing in clumps from chinks in the roof”.
Luckily for us the well has been much restored, a task begun by Reverend H M Price, an enthusiastic antiquarian. Then continued by the Old Cornwall Society who bought the well from the local farmer for just £100.
But what of love and heroic deeds?
Well, there is a legend of a duel that was fought between two noble men on the spot where the well now stands. One a poor knight called Sir Colan and the other a rich man named Gottlieb. The battle was of course over the affections of a fair maiden. It is said that the beautiful woman (we never learn her name) favoured Colan, who she had known since she was a child. Unfortunately however neither man was to win her hand. Gottlieb died during the duel and Colan soon after of his wounds.
There are various versions of this romantic tale and the names and the outcome of the story often differs. But it is usually the victorious knight who pays to have a well built as an act of atonement for his sins!