Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

The first time I visited the White Spring, the truth is I didn’t know its significance or meaning but I think I might have sensed something, for the place made a huge impression in my memory. Set at the foot of the Tor in Glastonbury, the building itself was once a reservoir for water for the town, filling from one of the two springs that well up from the earth there. The Red Spring, on the other side of the road, is now surrounded by the beautiful gardens of the Chalice Well trust, though an outlet in the lane means anyone can collect the water at any time of day or night. The Chalice Well is where Joseph of Arimathea is said to have concealed the cup of Christ and the waters run red to this day. The water is high in iron and has long been drunk as a health cure; miracles have been ascribed to it. (it appears briefly at the end of Strangers and Pilgrims too) 

But the White Spring has been the poor relation of this famous wellspring. When I first visited, the building had been converted into a cafe, with a few tiny shops selling themed gifts. Water ran through the stone floor in a channel and on a hot day, such as the one we first went, not far off twenty years ago, dangling your feet in the cool refreshing water was a treat as you ate and drank. A couple of small shrines peppered the edges of the cafe, and candles and incense burned, but it was still only a cafe.

When I visited again in future years, it was shut. I found out the cafe had closed down, and the building was locked up and deserted, though people did still congregate in the tiny garden, where the water ran from a pipe outlet from the spring. On our first visit, there had been a man in this garden, who had with him wild creatures who stayed with him for love of him: an owl, a fox and a stoat, I believe. I never saw him; someone on the camp-site said he was there but by the time I got there, he was gone.

Each time I’ve been back, I’ve gone to look, a feeling of longing and sadness tugging my heart as I find it locked and silent.

But this time, it was not.

I’d known from reading their website that the spring was now open again, though the hours depended entirely on volunteers. I’d forgotten to check when it would be open before we headed to Glastonbury for a four day silent retreat. Serendipity was on my side that day, though. We’d been up to the top of the Tor, where the wind made me giddy and dizzy, and we took the shortly route down and found ourselves in Well House Lane, to find the White Spring was open.

There’s a notice as you go in, informing you of the no photos or filming rule, and various other guidelines. I’m glad you can’t take pictures because it would be intrusive and it might well undermine the breath-taking atmosphere of the place.

And I do mean breath-taking. When I came out, I had to remind myself that the building was just an old reservoir tank, built for nothing more than holding clean fresh spring water. You walk in, down some steps, and are transported to…somewhere else. It feels like an ancient temple or cave, the air filled with the scent of water, incense, candles and damp stones, echoing to the murmur of whispers and of water trickling. Candles burn on every surface, the reflections of the flames twinkling in the water of the pools. For there are several pools, including one huge deep one that (I believe) is about four feet six inches deep. You are allowed to bathe but you must inform the guardian first. If you bathe naked, you must be considerate of other visitors. One woman went in fully clothed, and with great dignity; I lacked the courage to do so. Shrines abound, to various deities, but mostly to the Mother, in her many guises.

A woman sobbed next to me as she made an offering in front of of a small shrine to a goddess figure I was sure was for child-bearing. Her partner comforted her silently, with a hand on her shoulder. People spoke, but in hushed respectful voices, and did not linger. You could not linger. The power was too overwhelming, emanating from the flow of the waters and the voices just below the threshold of hearing.

I emerged, blinking hard, into the bright sunlight of the lane, my face wet from my scanty baptism of hands splashed over face and head and heart, and took a long drink from the water spilling endlessly from the pipe on the outside of the well-house. There was refreshment and a tiny restoration; that I could sense a something here, though I could not easily name or quantify it, is a step forward, even if only a tiny one.

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14 thoughts on “Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

  1. We went to Chalice Spring years ago – but it looked different to your pictures … it was the early 2000’s I am pretty sure … I can’t remember it too accurately, but it was a well in the ground with a cover …odd … I am more inclined to think your pictures are the real thing, and that it went through a change when they made it look more commercialised. There certainly was a tourist/visitor shop there, and a similar garden, with the Tree.

    • I think you will have gone to the Red Spring, the Chalice Well gardens. I’ve got a post to write on that but there’s other posts here on it. There’s also some pictures I shall put on FB and tag you.

    • That is the chalice well gardens a beautiful tourist spot. The white Spring lays across the road. Maybe she will lift her veil when you return. She is a beauti mistress. Albeit with a slight sting!

  2. I’ve been to the White Spring in June this year, around the time of the Summer Solstice, and everything you describe in this article I felt was absolutely true. There’s an amazing atmosphere in that little unassuming reservoir building, and I think it has been transformed into something beautiful. My favourite shrine was that to the Lord of the Wild Wood, but the was a special atmosphere around the others as well. I met a man outside who told me a great deal about the history of the well, he was dressed in ethno-style clothing and had a dog with him – within a minute, he was gone and no one else had seen him! So maybe the well does indeed have a guardian; in any case, it is a very special place.

    • It is a strange and wonderful place, and I do suspect it has a guardian who is not quite of this world. The first time we ever visited Glastonbury, we camped at St Anne’s, which is no longer a campsite; around 3am, I needed the loo, got up and wandered to the loo block, but on the return I found myself entirely enveloped in mist and the strongest of feelings that if I knew the right words, I could part those mists and go to Avalon. I stood there getting cold and damp and couldn’t find the words and the moment passed but I did write that experience into a novel (Strangers and Pilgrims) and hope that one day I may know the words.

  3. I’m going to Glastonbury next week – very much looking forward! White Spring was always closed when I was there, can’t wait to explore! Thanks for this /|\

  4. Pingback: Sunday Post – 28th August | Brainfluff

  5. Thank you for this Viv, I went to Glastonbury yesterday, having moved across to North Somerset, and it gave me something very beautiful to reflect on. I think, interestingly, for me, where I was able to find most connection was in the water outside as it ran across the courtyard in the little deep crevice and round the labyrinth…anyway, it was a wonderful experience.

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