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.