Alsia Holy Well, near Newlyn Cornwall

Alsia Holy Well

Alsia Holy Well is very well known and documented across the centuries. It's been mentioned in centuries-old, legends and myths, visited by hunteres of holy wells, written about in the infamous Quiller-Couch book of holy wells and the current owner of Alsia Mill and the holy well is keen to open up access, often having local groups visiting.

As the buildings on the site have been renovated to provide holiday accommodation, it's not the surly faces of a farmer's family staring at you from windows wondering what you're doing, but excited holidaymakers enjoying the view.

This holy well isn't a forlorn ancient well, buried deep in the muddy fields of an angry farmer, but is a well noted, loved and cherished holy well that people are welcome to visit. It is, however, probably a 1/4 to 1/2 mile hike along a couple of field boundaries - but don't be put off.

Alsia Holy Well, near Newlyn, Cornwall.
Alsia Holy Well, near Newlyn, Cornwall. | Source

The holy well at Alsia Mill was used in the past as a wishing well, as well as for divining and curing children of illnesses.

Pilgrims used to visit the well during Beltane, 1st May, to seek cures for illnesses and bringing their children to be dipped in the healing waters of the well. The locals were furious about this as it was their drinking water.

Traditionally, pilgrims would need to visit a holy well on three occasions, so one can imagine that the well might have been inundated for the entire month of May with people bringing their children and babies to be dipped in the waters.

This particular Holy Well has some special interest as the well was a popular meeting place for two lovers, Nancy Trenoweth, daughter of the Mill Owner, and Frank Lenine from a few miles further west.

Download their story to read - free from the link to the right.

Or, you can read all about their story in a collection put together by Robert Hunt and entitled "Popular Romances of the West of England, or, The Drolls, Traditions and Superstitions of old Cornwall'.

Mabel Quiller-Couch

Mabel Quiller-Couch undertook one of the most well-known and referenced collection of holy wells in Cornwall, publishing a comprehensive guide to them in 1894.

Mabel Quiller-Couch included a piece on this holy well at Alsia Mill and mentioned the tale of Nancy Trenoweth:

"We know not if "this fount" is still regarded as a holy well; but many years ago we have often heard an aged lady, who was born and bred near Alsia, and was well acquainted with legendary lore and old customes of the district, say that in her younger days the Saint's Well of Alsia was almost as much frequented on the three first Wednesdays in May as the noted well of Chapel Uny. Mothers came from far and near with their weak and rickety children that they might be strengthened by being bathed in its waters.

Moreover, the same old lady to whom we are beholdened for many of the incidents of the legend 'Nancy Trenoweth (the fair daughter of the miller of Alsia)', informed us that it was not unusual for these pilgrimages to be the occasion of a fight between the women of Alsia and the pilgrim mothers, when the good housewives caught the strangers dipping their precious babes into the enclosed part of the well, or the place from which the neighbours drew their drinking water.'

A cross formerly stood near this fountain, and its socketed pedestal was until lately to be seen.

Ancient & Holy Wells of Cornwall: Quiller Couch

The Alsia Well was also one of the wishing or divining sort. Of a summer's evening scores of maidens might be seen around it, eager for their turn to see what sweethearts would be united or parted, which they discovered by the fall of pebbles or pins. As the articles sank near or apart so their future was foretold; and the number of bubbles raised bespoke the number of years before the happy or unhappy issue could befall. Another method of consulting the spirit of the well was by floating bramble leaves on it."

William Bottrell

Another well-known author, who visited the well of St Alsia, was William Bottrell. His writings of around 1870 remarked that this well was very popular on the first three Wednesdays of May when pilgrims from far and wide would visit it to benefit from the curative properties they believed the well provided.

Divination

The well was also famed for having powers of divination and local young women would visit the well to try to foretell their future loves and husband.

To do this, they dropped small pebbles or pins into the water, then waited to see if they sank close together or far apart. They also counted any bubbles that formed, counting these would give them an indication of the number of years they would have to wait before meeting Mr Right. Another method of consulting with the well's resident naiad was to float bramble leaves upon the surface of the water.

Naiads were a form of nymph who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater.

There was a wise old woman often at the well, called Joan of Alsia - she was the grandmother of the unfortunate Nancy who lived at the Mill. She possessed powers of divination and would tell fortunes for the young and predict the end of life for the aged parishioners.

Alsia Mill

The original Mill is one of the oldest buildings in Penwith. It was once the manorial mill of St Buryan, so a very important building. What is on the site now is a 17th century mill, that is being renovated by new owners.

Corn was last ground at the mill in the 1970s. The internal workings are still intact, but the leat has been filled in. Unfortunately, being made of wood,the original wheel has rotted away.

Since 2013 the Mill complex has been converted into holiday accommodation and you can even book to stay there, with a choice of buildings. Renovation of Alsia Mill itself is planned for the next couple of years, so you can stay in the old home of Nancy Trenoweth at some future point!

Alsia Holy Well, Alsia Mill. 6 miles from Newlyn, Cornwall.  Green arrow shows the location of the holy well.
Alsia Holy Well, Alsia Mill. 6 miles from Newlyn, Cornwall. Green arrow shows the location of the holy well. | Source

Landranger Map 203

When you're trapsing round fields, you really need a proper map to show you where field boundaries are, how steeo a route might be (the lines are closer together) and the exact location of what you're looking for.

To get to this well, the best map is the Ordnance Survey Landranger map, number 203.

Look for map reference SW 393251

Satnav

The postcode for satnav for Alsia Mill is TR19 6HG

Location of St Alsia Holy Well

First find Alsia Mill, which is about 6 miles west of Newlyn and Penzance, Cornwall. You can park right outside Alsia Mill entrance. Finding the holy well and getting access to it have been made easier over the years - and now there's even a handy signpost directing you to the spot.

It should be noted that there is an Alsia Farm on the north side of the road and Alsia Mill on the south side of the road. They are about 100 yards/metres apart, just make sure you're at the right one and heading in the right direction. The holy well is to the south of Alsia Mill.

Having parked, walk to the west, where you'll find a stile that takes you over the wall. You should then see the first sign showing you which direction to go in. Go round the field to the far boundary, where you'll see another sign. From this point you'll be going downhill - generally bearing to the right, you'll eventually find a gate, directly behind this is the holy well.

Having gone down the steps, you'll still need to cross two fields to reach the spot. As with most holy wells, high heels aren't suitable footwear as it's in the corner of a field.

Remember: don't be afraid to ask any workers, or the farmer - they've had lots of visitors before, they know there is a holy well on the land and are happy to direct you to it or tell you more about it!

Owner of the Land

These days, the owners of land containing holy wells are much more inviting and friendly than in years gone by. Back then, with few visitors, you might have expected to be met with an angry farmer. Information, maps, locations and signs are now well established about the locations of these fascinating places, dripping with mystery and linking to the spiritual past of this region.

The owner of the land where Alsia Holy Well is situated is Trevor Rogers - and he's written a book which you might be interested to know about, entitled: 'There are Pagans at the Bottom of my Garden' which is published by Alsia Wells Publishing, so unavailable on Amazon at present.

Trevor owns the Alsia Granary, which he has restored into the most beautiful cottage. The book tells the story of how he found Alsia Granary and is a perfect read for any of you who dream of finding and renovating your dream home and escape to the country!

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