Ashwell Spring called Aescawellon by the Saxons, arises from the Green Mantle of the Goddess and its ancient name is taken from the Ash trees which surround it. Rarely can I remember knowing so instantaneously the beauty and healing of a place, and I have bathed in it three times in the three days we have been at our campsite in Ashwell, Hertfordshire. I will miss it greatly as we leave tomorrow for Royston and beyond.
Unbeknown to us, our latest campsite, which has wonderful facilities including disabled showers, is right on the Icknield Way. This is an ancient trackway of Britain featured recently in a documentary by the BBC called ‘The Ancient Pathways of Britain’ with Tony Robinson. It was not our intention on this pilgrimage of the St Mary and St Michael ley lines to explore these old tracks, but they have landed before us and it feels very right. Also the ley lines frequently pass over them and so our Palaeolithic ancestors clearly knew these were good paths to follow. Energy fuel for the feet. The same roads were subsequently used by Celts, Saxons and Romans which perhaps says something of their durability.
We are travelling in Ursula our Bedford Rascal Motorhome who we are both deeply in love with, despite how tricky she is to drive. In the old days though the Ridgeway and Icknield Way would be two of the main paths which were walked in the South of England. Yesterday we visited the St Mary Church in Baldock, where three ancient roads met and the Knights Templar protected pilgrims.
Ashwell spring rises as a small stream that becomes the river Can, and eventually flows to the Wash in Norfolk 65 miles away. This is near where our journey will end at the Shrine of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham. It feels good to connect so strongly with the water here and now be following it to the sea. Blessing songs were sung and a couple, who it turns out are also on our campsite, overheard and said how much they enjoyed it. Its funny to have become a troubadour of sorts from being a not singing person at all in the space of a year.
A sign at the spring says there are a number of flat worms here and crustaceans which are very rare and relics from the ice age. It is wonderful to contemplate that this special water has supported these life forms over aeons of time and my feet have had the pleasure of soaking with them.
Here is what the official sign says:
The name Ashwell comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Aescewellan’, “aesc” meaning ash, “wellan” meaning well or spring.
The water which rises from Ashwell Springs feeds the River Rhee,
one of the main sources of the River Cam, which passes through the
centre of Cambridge. At Ely the River Cam joins the River Ouse and
flows out to sea at the Wash, 65 miles from Ashwell.
This clean water rises from several holes in the natural chalk
surrounding Ashwell village. The average flow is one and a third
million gallons a day (1,300,000 gallons), falling to less than a
million in September and October depending on the drought of the
previous summers. It is at its highest level in March and April.
The natural rate of flow is now affected by the local Water
Authority’s pumping station at Slip End on the other side of Claybush
Hill – south of Ashwell close to the A505 Letchworth to Royston road
This clean, mineral spring water is never more than 52°F