2. The House Martin & the Holy Well

2. The House Martin & the Holy Well

August 2017




After a drizzly start the sky was clearing as myself and Dan, the dog,
started up Titterstone Clee Hill or, according to one seventeenth
century map, Stitterstone Hill, one of the Clee Hills, (Housman’s
‘Blue Remembered Hills’ of Shropshire). Shropshire is blessed
with a number of Holy Wells and I wanted to visit John the Baptist’s
Well at Hope Bagot, on the other side of the hill. But, as the car
started to climb up the hill we came across a grounded House Martin
in the middle of the road. He was easy to catch, which is never a
good sign, and he couldn’t take off so we took him over to our friends
at Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Much Wenlock.


This is one of the countries busiest wildlife rescue centres giving kindness and care to injured wildlife. Anyway, this little chap was very unhappy to remain in the bag I tried to use as a makeshift carrier and being tiny he could wriggle through tiny openings so eventually I let him sit beside me on the passenger seat where he appeared less stressed. It was a long drive to Much Wenlock on the other side of the county which gave me plenty of time to muse of the fate of much of our wildlife and the kindness of those who strive to help it. Finally we arrived at Cuan, wished him well and left him
in caring hands.



So it was late afternoon when we reached Hope Bagot and by this time
warm and sunny, ‘full’ of August: little green fields, rowan, red
and bright, pretty rolling hills and plenty of oak and hawthorn. The
farming is not intensive in this area so there are a lot of wild
flowers and wildlife. The village of Hope Bagot nestles on the side
of a hill and the church is on a mound in the village. At the top of
the mound is a massive yew tree into which Dan disappeared and I
realised that he had run through a ‘portal’, an ancient doorway,
made from the drooping old branches and screening this extraordinary
tree from full view! Inside it was cool and green with an atmosphere
of hidden history and the foot fall of time past. The yew tree and
the well have apparently been dated at 1600 yrs old. A few clouties,
a green man and bits of plastic dressed the ancient tree. There was a
notice asking politely for folk not to climb on the tree because ‘I
am very old’ but people clearly did given the height of some of the
items placed! I wondered why people would risk damaging this tree
after clearly coming to see and maybe even revere it? Behind, at the
bottom of the tree and down a bank was the well, seemingly dry at the
moment, much to Dan’s disappointment!




The well, surrounded by cool fern and mosses, has been in use for
centuries and was once reputed to be good for curing sore eyes. There
are rumours that this may be a very ancient place so let us see what
the folklore tells us… There is a local story that ‘phantom bells
of a lost monastery’ can be heard in ‘Monks Field’ near the
village on clear nights and that the monastery was situated above the
church where five paths meet. In fact, there is an old holloway lined
with yew trees where Monks Field is suppose to be, near Dark Lane.
The foot paths can be seen clearly on the OS map! There is also a
record that a Bishop visiting the priory at Bromfield, the other side
of Ludlow, was ‘benighted’ and sought reference at a nunnery at
Hope Bagot.



The archaeological evidence also gives us clues. The church is dedicated
to St John, the current building dating from the 12th
century and is Grade 1 listed. Curiously, at the base of the church
tower there are two medieval millstones. It is recorded that they
were deodand for the death of Valentine the Miller after one killed him in an accident in 1292! It is also recorded that between 1896 – 1906,
when the Elan valley pipeline was put in to bring residence fresh
water from a new reservoir in Wales, foundations were found nearby,
at the end of Dark Lane, and assumed to belong to the nunnery/
monastery. Curiously, there are two stone heads which have been
cemented into the wall around the porch of the church. They seem
strangely out of keeping with the church and they are thought by some
to be pre-Roman but I have had difficulty finding evidence of this.
There are several Iron Age hill forts in this area and numerous
Bronze age sites across the Clee Hills. The Cornovii tribe once
lived in these hills who later occupied Wroxeter following the Roman
conquest and the sacking of their headquarters on the Wrekin, a hill
near Telford. It is curious that someone chose to use these, perhaps,
remnants of pagan worship and ritual as decoration for a later
Christian church but I like the idea of a continuity of reverence for
this special place. Certainly there is some evidence that the summit
of Titterstone Clee was once used for ritual purposes.




In the church, someone had written in the visitors book that they had
found their visit ‘magical’ and it is! The atmosphere here is
peaceful and thoughtful. The church and its environs is a named
sanctuary for wildlife and wild flowers. As farming is not very
intensive in the surrounding area this is echoed in the surrounding
countryside. The yews, the running water, the stone heads, the peace
and the suggestion of sanctuary and worship for hundreds if not
thousands of years all suggest that others have long thought so to!
As me and Dan sat on a bench in the sunshine my thoughts turned back
to the little house martin and other wildlife in desperate need of
sanctuary from our machines and chaos. Hopefully our friend will
recover and soar over the towering trees of this sanctuary and find
his way to Africa……


Update on the housemartin: he did recovered, his feathers recovering and he was released by the hospital at summers end to return to his winter home…

Cuan Wildlife rescue.
More information at www.cuanwildliferescue.org.uk

Deodand can be traced back to the 11th
century under Englsih common law and means that if an item or animal
is responsible for a person’s death it is forfeit to the crown. It
was abolished in the mid 19th

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