We wandered through the village towards the Abbey ruins and pushed open an iron gate to take another path; through the cemetery, past the gravestones. Here, down a cobbled track, in a dell surrounded by a grove of lime trees, was the sacred well.
Springs and wells have been revered by people for thousands of years and standing here in the Easter sunshine surrounded by birdsong and daffodils and listening to the tranquil sounds of the running water pouring out from the Earth, I knew I was standing somewhere special. For this is St Augustine’s Well in Cerne Abbas. It was once part of the Abbey and previously had a shine built on top of it, but that has been stripped away and all that remains now are the stone channels through which the water flows.
One strange thing about this well are the ribbons which festoon the surrounding trees. I am aware that in some places people dip rags into healing waters and then tie them to nearby trees as healing prayers. Indeed, this well does come with its own batch of folklore attesting to the healing properties of these waters, but I’m not aware of this being a local tradition, and many are ribbons rather than rags.
And so I’m curious. Why do people do this? Is it a healing ritual, are people tying their prayers to the trees, or is it simply a memento of their visit, a bit like graffiti? There are also a fair few ribbons tied to the trees around the abbey ruins, and that makes me think that it might be the latter.
(A bit more information about this well can be found on the Dark Dorset Website.)