Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2012/34 posted by hidden europe on

Where were we? Ah, yes... Contemplating the western horizon as October slipped into November. So we travelled west, just as we promised. We saw white horses and chalk downland, slipping through geology to reach a land of gorgeous place names. We sped by Huish Episcopi, skirted Burrow Mump and Dawlish Warren eventually to reach the Tamar. Brunel's mighty bridge escorted us to another land. 'Kernow a'gas dynergh' reads the sign on the railway platform at Saltash. 'Welcome to Cornwall'.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Where were we? Ah, yes... Contemplating the western horizon as October slipped into November. So we travelled west, just as we promised. We saw white horses and chalk downland, slipping through geology to reach a land of gorgeous place names. We sped by Huish Episcopi, skirted Burrow Mump and Dawlish Warren eventually to reach the Tamar.

Brunel's mighty bridge escorted us to another land. Kernow a'gas dynergh reads the sign on the railway platform at Saltash. Welcome to Cornwall.

Another hour, with a change of trains at Liskeard, and we arrived at a remote railway platform by Lametton Mill in a deep valley. The tiny station on the branch line to Looe has a wonderfully evocative name: St Keyne Wishing Well Halt.

Station names don't come much better than that. In more practical lands, the railway authorities would simply have called the station Lametton Mill. Not in Cornwall, a county and Royal Duchy where there is still space for a touch of romance in place names. Trains still pause at Lostwithiel and Luxulyan. And, as we found last week, upon request to the guard the train to Looe will stop at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt.

Lametton Mill itself is a handsome enough building, late eighteenth century we'd say. We dawdled through deep Cornish lanes, a chill November damp in the air, making our way up the western flank of the valley in search of St Keyne and her wishing well. There were solid Cornish farmhouses, the last of the season's fuchsia and - a little incongruously - a large vineyard.

We could so easily have missed the well. A ribbon of water runs over a muddy lane, barely wide enough for one vehicle, and there to the left, tucked away amid the vegetation, is a well. Someone has had the good sense to leave inscriptions explaining the significance of this peculiar well, which evidently serves no community. Its purpose is more cunning.

St Keyne was by all accounts a pious woman who lived hereabouts some 1500 years ago. She was apparently good at slaying dragons, a talent that no doubt came in handy in the East Looe Valley in the late fifth century. And she cast a spell upon the well, such that when a newly-wed couple walk together to drink of its water, she or he who takes the first sip secures the perpetual upper hand in the matrimonial relationship.

The story of St Keyne can certainly be traced back well into history, but it was a late Victorian idea to tidy up the well and make it into a local curiosity. Nowadays it is all rather overgrown. But change is in the offing. A large country house just a minute or two south from the well is being refurbished and is due to open next year as a resort and spa hotel. "Aiming at the honeymoon trade," said a farm hand whom we met by the well.

So even St Keyne and her well are being appropriated in the name of commerce. Our advice: take wellies, a good map and think twice before drinking at the well. The water didn't look too clean.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.