Gawton’s Well, Knypersley, Staffordshire (photos)

In which Gawton’s Well fails to cure my rosacea, but the grove lifts my spirits

Knypersley Pool from the dam

Knypersley Pool from the dam


I recently made a spur of the moment trip to Greenway Bank Country Park, near Biddulph. It’s been many years since I was last there and I couldn’t resist calling in when I was in the area.

The 114-acre country park used to be part of the landscaped grounds of Knypersley Hall and includes a castellated folly known as the Warder’s Tower, masses of squirrels and the peaceful Serpentine Pool (which feeds the neighbouring reservoir Knypersley Pool), as well as a possible dolmen and the mysterious Gawton’s Well.

My first mistake was parking at the visitors’ centre car park instead of the one beside the pool, my second was setting off at 3pm with the light already starting to fail and the third was not wearing wellies.

Greenway Bank Country Park sign

Greenway Bank Country Park sign (I’m trying not to think about all those missing apostrophes)

I whizzed round the Serpentine Pool expecting to come to the Warder’s Tower any minute and probably failing to appreciate much of the beauty around me. When I finally reached it, I panted up the steps for a cursory look before ploughing ahead to find the well. I hadn’t realised that the Landmark Trust‘s plans to restore the Tower had fallen through due to bats roosting in the building and it seemed in a bit of a sorry state.

Taking a left fork I squelched through mud until I spotted an inviting gap in a low stone wall, through which you enter an oval grove of yew trees. The incredible atmosphere in this sanctuary-like glade more than made up for the muddy feet and aching legs.

Gawton's Well grove

Gawton’s Well grove

The air was so still in the grove, no sounds except the trickling of water flowing into a series of stone basins and cascading into a stream.  And it was dark – but not gloomy – with the overhanging branches forming a natural ceiling.

Gawton's Well basins

Gawton’s Well basins

Gawton's Well stream

Gawton’s Well stream

On the trees around the spring were hanging dozens of “clooties” and tributes to lost loved ones, including a photo album full of memories of one particular chap, Frederick Brammer, who passed away in April 2014. I’d love to know more about the people remembered here and what made the place so special to them and their families.

Gawton's Well clooties

Gawton’s Well clooties

Tribute at Gawton's Well

Tribute at Gawton’s Well

Frederick Brammer's photo album at Gawton's Well

Frederick Brammer’s photo album at Gawton’s Well

Legend has it that the well was used for healing – Gawton was said to be a resident hermit cured of a skin disease by the waters.

The Biddulph Museum website (which also describes the site as a “Druid Grove”) tells this story:

Gawton / Gorton was one of the servants of Knypersley Hall when he became ill with the plague. Due to everyone thinking they would fall ill he was forced to leave. He left and went to live in a cave (Gawton’s Stone) near Knypersley pool.

Nearby was a spring which is known as Gawton’s Well which is where he bathed every day. He also used the spring for his drinking water. The spring was believed to have the power to heal skin diseases by the locals and apparently cured Gawton of the plague.

Even though he was now healed he continued to stay at the cave and lived there till his death.

I tried washing my face in the water but it didn’t help my rosacea (although this report suggests it may help with eczema!).

I could have spent a long time absorbing the energy of this magical place but I was very conscious that dusk was approaching and decided to save visiting Gawton’s Stone – variously described as a dolmen, natural formation or Victorian folly, depending on where you look – for another day.

Unusual sign on the dam - mole infestation!

Unusual sign on the dam – mole infestation!

I crossed the dam and walked back on the other side of the Serpentine Pool feeling spiritually uplifted and full of energy. There was hardly anyone around and it felt like another world.

The grave of Knypersley Estate Cairn terrier, Gene

The grave of Knypersley Estate Cairn terrier, Gene

This site was named the most spiritual place in Staffordshire in a 2003 BBC poll and it’s  worth taking the trouble to find and experience it.

Greenway Bank Country Park sunset

Greenway Bank Country Park sunset

My Grandpa

Some time ago, I was at a workshop with about 11 colleagues. We were asked who our heroes or role models were, and not one of us – not one! – could think of an answer. Put on the spot, the only person I could think of was Myleene Klass, and much as I admire Myleene – she is lovely and clever and pretty and talented after all – I knew that I did not want to go on the record as saying that the ex-Hear’say singer was my hero, no matter how nice and glossy her hair is.

The question of why none of us could think of a hero or role model preyed on my mind. Now, if I could go back to that seminar room, I would say, without hesitation, that my role model is my Grandpa, Ted Hay, who passed away peacefully today at the age of 93.

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

The best way to describe him is that he was a gentleman, and a gentle man. He belonged to the age where people still wrote letters, lovely handwritten letters with beautiful cursive penmanship, which filled pages and pages with news and observations about the world around us. His letters helped me fight off the homesickness that struck when I first moved abroad, the words bringing me closer to my loved ones. I come across these letters every so often and always marvel at the love within them. In an age where e-mails can be dashed off in seconds, a letter is still something to be treasured. If my Grandpa enjoyed a show at the theatre, he wrote to thank them. If someone gave him good service somewhere, he wrote to express his gratitude. I still remember (probably getting on for 30 years later) writing a letter with him to the BBC thanking them for screening the cartoon The Blue Danube (of course, you can just get it on YouTube now!), which had delighted me. Every year I make the resolution to write more letters but I never manage it – I really must try harder. I’ll do it for him.

My Grandpa could probably have told me exactly when it was that we wrote that letter to the BBC – every day he kept a diary of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you wanted to know what he had for breakfast on a particular day 19 years ago he could probably have found out! But there are gems in there too, full of happy memories. When I was planning my wedding six years ago, Grandpa was able to look back and give a round-up of the weather on April 21 through the years. His forecast for the day was, of course, spot on. Since March last year I have also been writing up my days in a five-year diary, just like Grandpa’s.

He was enthusiastic about everything, from his weekly art class to the handmade cards he made for every special occasion, from gardening to jokes, from Tom and Jerry to the Vicar of Dibley. It was wonderful to watch him with my younger cousins and know that we used to do the same things when I was their age, like growing vegetables together or having story time. He may have been slower, but the twinkle in his eye was just the same. And seeing him gleefully banging a metal tray with a wooden spoon to the delight of my baby son, the next generation, was a real treat.

Little anecdotes – that the fact that my Grandpa’s former girlfriend desperately tried to win him back after he proposed to my Grandma – really help to remind me that my grandparents were young once too and I find it fascinating. My grandparents were married for almost 70 years and complemented each other in every way. I only hope that my husband and I will be able to emulate them, an inspiration, two halves of the same whole.

You should not have underestimated the will of this gentle man – his strong beliefs lead him to be a conscientious objector during the war, along with his brothers. His brothers served time in jail for their stance, and he said he wished had done the same rather than work on the ambulances. Even in the chaos of wartime London, my Grandpa’s aim was to protect and conserve life. A Methodist lay preacher, he stood by the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, in the face of what must have resulted in great social stigmatisation. He didn’t talk about it, and neither did we. Nor did we really talk about the fact that he planned to leave his body to medical research, until it had to be discussed. Even now that he is no longer with us his care for others continues.

Grandpa claimed the only “heroic” event in his life was when he was a six-year-old page boy at his cousin’s wedding dressed in a white satin suit. The dressmaker – either by design or accident – left a row of pins in the trousers and everyone thought Grandpa was such a good boy to stand so still, although the truth was he had no choice.

But Grandpa, as far as I am concerned you were a hero through and through. If I can try to live up to your standards and be even half the person you were, I will have done well. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Blind sculptor Cliff Vawda (Staffordshire County Magazine)

Staffordshire County December 2007

I interviewed blind sculptor Cliff Vawda for the December 2007 edition of Staffordshire County Magazine.

Among many other works of art, Cliff, who lost his sight at the age of 18, had created a charming ceramic nativity scene which was on display in Lichfield Cathedral.

He was an interesting and inspiring man and I was sorry to learn that he sadly died last year.

Very often people start out with a negative attitude when faced with a situation. They’ll say ‘it can’t be done’ but the principle I have always adopted is never to say something can’t be done. Maybe you’ll find out later that it isn’t possible, but you should never start out by saying so.

View a PDF of my interview with Cliff Vawda, The Story of the Nativity, here.