Garden Portrait: The Chalice Well & Gardens

A place of sanctity,
healing and peace,
to soothe the souls
and revive the spirits.

The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain. The Well and the surrounding gardens are a ‘Living Sanctuary’. In the past it was known as the ‘Red Spring’ or ‘Blood Spring’ on account of the red iron deposits in the water and there are many legends attributed to its waters.

As we were visiting Glastonbury on one of our days out during our late spring holiday in Somerset I wanted to visit this garden on the way to the Tor.  Neither the OH nor I are in the remotest religious, but the thought of a tranquil garden which has been designed with connecting us to nature and the source of life (water) appealed to me.

The gardens may be used for private access for meditations, personal reflections, renewal of vows, remembrance and naming ceremonies out of hours (before 10 am and after 6 pm). There are rules for public visiting that include no smoking, no alcohol, switching off mobiles and remaining fully clothed!

It is probably the most unusual garden that I have visited and maybe one I would have enjoyed more in my younger, hippyish days. I’m afraid I am a lot more cynical now. In fact a group of young ladies who commandeered the various sites during my visit really annoyed me as they carried out their chanting and lighting candles. This did not add to my sense of tranquillity or reflection.

The garden’s landscape naturally rises up from the open space of the lower lawns to the source of the waters in the well head at the top. The idea is that as you follow the water you sense and experience its flow and energy. The cascade, the rill and the pools invite the water to move and flow in ways that delight, inform, calm or provoke inner reflection. Or at least that is what the booklet says. The reality is a small garden with an iron-laden spring running through it.

The well has been associated with healing properties, and after going through what we have these past two years we certainly could do with some of those so I was happy to take a few sips of the iron rich water from the Lion’s Head drinking fountain, which is the only place in the garden safe to drink the water from.  In fact it is best taken in a homeopathic approach:

‘seven drops in a tumbler of water, fruit juice or milk
in times of illness’

It was a hot day, the first of the week and maybe the heat was making me tetchy, maybe I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ but I was frustrated that many of the interesting parts of this garden were teeming with people who had no intention of moving. I appreciate the fact that many come to this garden to meditate and absorb the serenity, but not those who simply get in the way chatting to each other or those not allowing anyone else through to the attractions.

The saving grace was that there are plenty of seats on which to rest and the open meadow at the top of the garden which felt a lot less claustrophobic and which is a perfect spot to have a picnic. Much of the planting is in restful greens and my favourite purples which also helped, but it is not a garden for gardeners. In all honesty I have to conclude that this particular garden left me feeling rather deflated.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve found more touching, spiritual places without the hype. If you believe in the sacredness of the water, if you like meditating with other people, or you want to see other people that do, then it’s for you.

But for me this seems to be one of those places that capitalizes on, indeed monetizes, myth and legend. I felt more peace and tranquillity in the grounds of the nearby Abbey or the Bishop’s Palace Gardens in Wells.

Jo’s Monday Walks

26 thoughts on “Garden Portrait: The Chalice Well & Gardens

  1. Crowds in gardens and on walks in the countryside, exactly what I try to avoid. Nature deserves better!

    We’d never tell though from your beautiful photographs, you must have elbowed them all out of the way perfectly 😉

  2. Can’t win ’em all, chuck! And I know very well that my walk this week wouldn’t be for you or Becky. I wasn’t going to post but I decided I’d still be in October at Christmas, if you know what I mean? I like to keep the walks fairly current rather than delve into the past. You caught me on the hop and I had to pop back and include this in today’s walk. I can just imagine you tutting at the chanting ladies. Have a great week, Jude! And thanks!

    • They were irritating to say the least. Was your walk up very steep then? I have just read Pit’s walk, now that is the sort of thing I find challenging, when there are big boulders or high steps to get up, around. My hip and knee joints are no longer capable of stepping up high.

      • I have good and bad days. My back is sometimes an issue, sometimes knees, and I have become quite timid about going down. Which makes the ups a bit of a worry. We have good friends though and we help each other and share poles if necessary. 🤗💕

        • Going down is harder on the knees, plus I think we get more nervous of falling the older we get. I have been known to freeze and then end up scrambling down hill.

        • Well, the issue of backs and knees resonated with me. I agree with Jude that going downhill seems to be worse. Use it or lose it so the saying goes. Dividing up walks during the day sometimes helps.

  3. I didn’t have much time before a Portuguese lesson this morning, but I have to say that you’ve made this look very appealing, though you were dischuffed with it. Lovely shot of bench and alliums, among others. Better when numbers were rationed due to Covid?

  4. What a beautiful place to visit, and your photographs are a joy to look at. It’s a pity that lovely little places like this can become so popular that it spoils their soul. Your photos make it look so tranquil, but the reality obviously was different.

  5. Seems to me that the main “rule” should be to “please maintain a gentle silence” or “please refrain from speaking aloud.” The only sounds or music in a garden meant for reflections and meditation should come from little song birds. I have enjoy gardens like that in the Deep South.

    • Exactly. It seemed to me that groups carrying out these type of ceremonies should only do so before or after the gardens are open to the public. Then they would not interfere with the enjoyment of others.

  6. The chanting and candle-lighting would have irritated me too – a case of too many visitors spoiling the garden? I prefer to be somewhere a bit quieter. Whatever the problems, your photographs make the garden look lovely!

    • There weren’t actually that many people, but these young women simply took over all the interesting parts of the garden and really irritated me. I did try to capture the essence of the garden, but I’ve felt more peace in other places.

      • Quiet gardens are best for peace! So the young women were destroying what many would have been visiting for – a sad irony!

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