Cornwall is a magical land steeped in history and intrigue – from the wilds of myth-laden moorland to hidden coves whispering tales of pirates and merfolk, Cornwall has more than its fair share of secrets waiting to be discovered.
We are fortunate to have one of the most remarkable hidden natural wonders in the UK located just a short stroll from us here at Trevornick. Over the years, many have tried to uncover the hidden wonders of Holywell Bay, and we are regularly asked how to find the Holy Well and St Cuthbert’s Cave. Lean in close, we have legends to tell and secrets to share…
The Legend of St Cuthbert’s Cave and the Holy Well
It is said that beautiful Holywell Bay gets its name from a sacred well whose waters are reputed to have miraculous healing properties. This hidden spectacle is often missed by the many visitors to Holywell who are unaware of the secrets which lie within the caves at the Northern end of the beach. But why is it so wrapped in mystery, and what is the legend of the holy well?
Around 995 AD, Saint Cuthbert’s body was brought to the area by monks in an attempt to prevent Danish invaders from seizing it. The saint’s holy remains touched the water in the well during the monks’ departure by boat, creating the legend that the waters have healing powers.
Legend of the holy well spread far and wide, and it is reported that in Medieval times thousands of people would pilgrimage from distant lands to experience the salvation of these holy waters. Mothers would bring their sick children to the cave and dip them in the mineral-laden natural spring that descends through the surreal, multi-coloured grotto inside the cave. Old manuscripts depict scenes of walking sticks being left at the mouth of the cave once the sick and lame had been healed. John Cardell Oliver’s “Guide to Newquay” from 1877 provides us with a vibrant description of the cave and its holy legend:
“This well has Nature only for its architect, no mark of man’s hand being seen in its construction; a pink enamelled basin, filled by drippings from the stalactitic roof, forms a picture of which it is difficult to describe the loveliness. What wonder, then, that the simple folk around should endow it with mystic virtues? ”
Since then, many of the tales and legends of the holy well have been lost in the swirling sands of time, yet locals and historians still hold it in high regard as one of the UK’s most incredible natural wonders. So how do you find the holy well, and where on the beach is St Cuthbert’s Cave?
How to Find the Holy Well and St Cuthbert’s Cave
On leaving Trevornick, you can access Holywell Bay Beach via the dramatic sand dunes. St Cuthbert’s Cave is accessed from the northeast end of the beach, so walk across the golden sands and soak in the views before you arrive at St Cuthbert’s Well. Any explorers keen to find the cave and see the sacred holy well must make sure that they only try to do so on a low outgoing tide because once the tide turns, waves sweep into the cave and will soon fill it, leaving you cut off from the main beach.
At the cave’s entrance, you’ll find small (slippery!) steps carved into the side of the rock hundreds of years ago. These are now barely distinguishable after being worn by centuries of feet climbing up into the cave and the movement of the tides, but will still give you access to the cave if you have good walking boots. Whilst the cave entrance from the beach does not seem very large, if you follow the steps inside, the cave soon opens up to reveal a colourful ceiling and limestone pools.
The kaleidoscopic nature of the impressive rock formations will evoke awe in all who visit – the white, blue, red, green and purple walls are formed by mineral-laden freshwater seeping and dripping down, forming stalactites which are full of calcium and have an icy, glassy feel.
Once inside you can almost hear the whispers of days gone by and can easily imagine why our ancestors found this cave and its waters to have a holy, mystical presence. Just make sure you take a flashlight as the cave is as dark and wild as you’d hope – you’ll love exploring the harder-to-reach corners of the grotto with your torch beam.
Revealing secrets of our ancestral past, St Cuthbert’s Cave and the holy well really are a ‘must see’ when visiting this corner of Cornwall. If you’ve visited the holy well and have some incredible photos to share with us, why not do so over on Facebook and Instagram? We love hearing about your adventures and can’t wait to see them!