Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Different Kinds of Pilgrimage

Holywell, Flintshire

My mother wanted to name me Katherine Elizabeth and call me Katie Beth. That would have been OK - I could see myself as a Katie. My dad, bless him, had other plans. He decided I was a Wendy, and, because he thought it was a nickname for something, came up with Winifred. So, tiny baby girl, in the late 60s, named Winifred. Wendy was unusual enough in California growing up, despite the Beach Boys. There was only one year at school that there was another Wendy in my class (or in the whole school in fact) and she was Chinese (go figure). The only other Winifreds I ran across were in obituaries - elderly Victorian-born ladies going to their eternal rest.

Thanks to baby naming books I've always known I was named after an obscure Welsh saint, but it wasn't until I was in college in England that I learned her story and that her shrine is a small spring, in a tiny town in North Wales. It was in fact due to the Ellis Peters' "Brother Cadfael" books that I became not only resigned to my name, but actually rather fond of it, and have wanted since then to visit Holywell in Wales.

According to legend, St Winifred (or Winefride or Gwenfrewi) was a beautiful, 7th century Welshwoman, who became the object of lust for a Welsh prince named Caradog who, when she rejected his advances and fled from him, cut her head off on the steps of the church, to which she had run for sanctuary. Her uncle, the abbot St Beuno cursed Caradog (who dropped down dead), replaced Winifred's head on her neck and instructed all gathered there to pray for her restoration. Miraculously she came back to life and where her head had fallen sprang up a well of clear water.

She remained more or less obscure until the 12th century when her relics were translated to Shrewsbury Abbey in England (an event chronicled in the Brother Cadfael book "A Morbid Taste For Bones") and a biography was written by Prior Robert of Shrewsbury a few years later. The well had developed a reputation as a place of healing and became, and still is, one of the most popular shrines in Wales. Henry V made the pilgrimage in 1415 before his victory at Agincourt, as did Edward IV before Towton Moor in 1461, and the future Henry VII may have made a secret visit before winning his crown at Bosworth in 1485.The present building,dates from the late 15th century and was probably built on behalf of Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, replacing an earlier structure,

The water is amazing clear, and bone-chillingly cold, even in the height of summer.

David got a picture of me bathing my feet and hands in the water. We weren't there during the official bathing times but I thought I'd dip my poor arthritic extremities in the pool outside. We were lucky enough to be there at noon, when there was a short service in the shrine. We aren't Catholic, so declined to kiss the relic, but the liturgy was moving and there really is a holy feeling about the place.
Perhaps one day I'll be able to go back with my bathing costume and participate in the full experience (if I can endure the icy water!).

Trefriw Woollen Mills, Conwy Valley

David is pretty good about traipsing along with me when I want to stop at potteries, yarn stores, antique shops, etc. On the road to Conwy is a hydro-electric woolen mill/museum I had to stop at, once powered by water wheel, and now by water turbines dating from the 1930s and 40s.
 The working mill museum features the process from fleece to fabric on carding engines, spinning mules, warping mill and Dobcross looms, most of which date back to the 50s or 60s.

The Weaver's Garden outside has specimen plants which provide fibres, natural dyes, textile tools, soaps, and moth repellents.

The spinning machines weren't working due to lack of staff that day, but there was plenty of evidence that spinning was done there.
After dyeing, the wool is wound onto cones and then threaded through this torturous looking device to create the warp for the looms, which you can see below wound around a large drum.
The weft threads were wound from the cones onto bobbins to be used in the shuttles - we actually saw this being done for the one loom that was being used that day.
Below is one of the looms they have on display, with one of their distinctive woven patterns.

There were also displays of historic fabrics and patterns - these were from the 60s and 70s.

The shop in the front of the mill is very large with a great selection of items, including cloth, rugs, blankets and throws woven right there in the mill. I wanted to buy a bedspread but didn't like the colours that were available so I made due with a grey and pink throw, and some purple wool cloth, from which to make David a waistcoat.



  1. Looks like a fun place to visit for inspiration. --Maria R-B

    1. It was Maria. We are seriously thinking about moving to North Wales when we go back to the UK.

    2. That would be awesome, although you're welcome to visit us here too :)


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