Tales of the Wellspring
I’ve said that the Wellspring in “Strangers and Pilgrims” is a real place, which it is indeed, and then refused to say where it is. I know this is frustrating, and possibly annoying. I’m not doing this to annoy; the clues to the location are in the text. When you understand this, you will also understand why I can’t tell anyone directly where the Wellspring is. It simply isn’t right. It’d lead you all wrong. It’s like the mystic’s finger pointing at the moon; the fool sees only the finger.
But what I can do is tell you a bit about the background to how I found the Wellspring. Remember this is the mystic’s finger and not the moon itself. You have to see the moon yourself.
I was ten when I first found a holy spring. I had in some ways an idyllic childhood, filled with fields and flowers and streams, and back then in the mid seventies, there was little of the hysteria that makes parents keep their children locked in houses and glued to the TV. Back then my best friend was a girl called Tina. We spent hours after school and during holidays roaming the countryside for miles round, coming home only for meals. One of our favourite locations was a place known as Topham’s field. There’s probably a housing estate there now; I haven’t been back in twenty years. It was a large area of grazing for cattle, on a fairly steeply sloping valley side, and at the bottom, the little River Kym trundled through the countryside, cutting a deep groove through the land. We spent many afternoons fishing and wading and generally messing about in the water. In the spring we used to lie flat in the grass and creep on our elbows and bellies to get close to watch the hares boxing. In the summer we played endless games using the massive felled corpses of elms as spaceships and dens. In the autumn we collected nuts and conkers and hid from rain showers under the trees. Winter time made the mud so thick that even the cattle were taken elsewhere and we’d come along in February, ever hopeful that the wind might have dried the mud enough the make entry possible, but it was usually late March before we could claim our kingdom back.
That summer was the drought year of 1976 and everything was dry and burned by the sun. We drank from cattle troughs when our water bottles were empty. The heat was relentless, and we sought shade beneath anything that stayed still, but then so did the cattle and these areas were peppered with cow-pats. This made sitting anywhere risky, not to mention the smell and the flies. Tina was smaller than me and generally more adventurous and while we were seeking a cool spot away from the cows, she crawled through a rabbit run in some brambles and vanished.
I was a bit alarmed until she crawled back and told me she’d found the perfect place. With more difficulty I followed her back down the rabbit run and when we emerged we found ourselves in another world. That’s what it felt like anyway. We were in a deep bowl of green, the walls of which were mixed bramble and saplings that leaned in and almost cut out the sky. The bowl was almost perfectly circular and the floor was the lushest, greenest grass you can imagine. All the grass in the fields was burned to dry beige so this was amazing. The sound of the summer meadow vanished also; I couldn’t hear the swish of cattle moving through the dry grass, or their contented chewing. I couldn’t even hear the endless song of the million grasshoppers. It was almost silent.
We stood without speaking for a minute or two. A faint sound did begin to register; a soft bubbling noise that came from one side of the dell. The dell was only maybe twenty feet across, and as I went to go and sit on the grass, my sandalled feet discovered it was wet. Not just wet, but boggy. My feet sank into the soft wet grass and into mud below.
That was when I realised we’d found a spring. You’d never know it was there; you couldn’t see into the dell from the outside. We talked for a minute or two about building a proper den here; no other kids would ever be able to find us and we could leave our stuff there all the time.
Suddenly Tina’s face froze and she went white. Before I could ask her what was wrong, she bolted back up the rabbit run and was gone. I shouted but she didn’t answer me. I was cross. I sat down on the bank where the dell curved upwards and then realised I’d found at least one of the points where water reached the surface. In the friable soil of the bank there was a little hollow that kept filling with water that then trickled over and disappeared in the grass below. It wasn’t enough to form a stream as such; it trickled like it had all the time in the world. I leaned in close and I could see the water fleas dancing in the bubbling water.
I felt very happy and I couldn’t understand why Tina had run away. Then I felt as if a shadow had crossed the sun. But the sunshine was as unrelenting as ever beyond the walls of the dell. I felt very cold and suddenly very scared. I could feel someone watching me. The feelings grew rapidly until I too was scrabbling back up the rabbit run, certain to my bones that I simply must get away and never, NEVER go back.
I caught Tina up at the gate to the field, half a mile away.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
And we never did.
We drifted apart after that; another friend claimed more and more of Tina’s time and affections, and the year after that we went to secondary school and were in different classes and made different friends. The gap got bigger and from being inseparable, we lost touch steadily. She still lives in my home-town; I last saw her about twenty years ago. My mum sometimes sees her mum. But we never, ever discussed what happened. I wish we had, but too much time has passed now. She probably doesn’t even remember what occurred that hot sunny day during the heat wave of ’76.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I ever began to get to grips with what I experienced that day and even now I’m not certain. When I was reading Latin at university I came across a description of the god Pan terrifying mortals by menacing them or jumping out at them; the feelings were pretty much what I remember. So for a long while I wondered if Pan had been playing silly buggers and having fun scaring the life out of us. But it doesn’t really add up; why would Pan bother with two pre-teen girls? And it does seem presumptuous to imagine such a deity being even remotely interested in us. I might be a Christian but I do believe such entities exist. Usually they’re not much interested in humans; they only tend to interact with us when we enter their territory.
In my late twenties I began to explore a lot of interesting areas and I discovered that there were more beings that I’d sensed but hadn’t until now understood what they were. Nature spirits is a poor name but it maybe conveys enough: non-human entities that are connected deeply with places like springs, special trees, rivers, mountains and so on. Like humans, they are variable in terms of good and bad, but their primary goal is the protection of whatever natural feature they are tied to. So a tree spirit is to help protect the tree and so on. Sadly they don’t have as much power as they need, or this world would not be in the state it is.
With the wisdom of over thirty years passing, I think now we were warned off. We were on holy ground and we were trespassing. The spirit of that sacred spring didn’t want us there, messing about, making a den and using it like any other place. So, since children are still quite psychically receptive, the spirit scared us away. So much so that even as a young adult I never dared go back. I don’t dare go back now either, in case the whole place has been destroyed. I’d rather keep it as a memory.
I encountered another similar experience when I was sixteen, but that was in the centre of a city and that’s another story….
To be continued….
For all links to Strangers and Pilgrims go to my Strangers and Pilgrims page