For several hundred years the ancient parish of St Winwaloe was called St Neot’s. When, after the council of Whitby, the Romanised church sought to assume its authority over the indigenous religion of what we now call Britain, one of the vehicles of the insidious invasion was the replacement of the reverence for the venerable ancestors of the old tradition with more acceptable and less controversial doyens of the new. The Celtic Christians had other ideas - and while their views and their customs were be physically suppressed, they proved tenacious in their dedication to their own heritage. While St Winwaloe was airbrushed out of the formal records of the Poundstock area, he never quite disappeared - and, perhaps fittingly in a more enlightened age, he has quite recently been restored as the patron saint of the parish.
We were grateful to our friend Terry Faull, not only for bringing us to this fascinating cluster of ecclesiastical structures, but for getting us into the Gildhouse just in time to miss the somewhat unexpected break in the unusually long dry spell. While the rain pattered on the roof of this sympathetically-restored 15th century masterpiece, local historian, Tim Dingle, provided us with an entertaining and comprehensive introduction to the building. Once duly inducted, the TDs dispersed in time-honoured fashion to investigate its nooks and crannies.
The first priority for some was to examine the various phases of the construction and reconfiguration of the site. Having been variously a feasting hall, a poor house, a school and a stable, there were plenty of walls, hearths and doorways to dowse. Others looked at the chequered social history of the building - the rooms of the impoverished families, the remanences of former inhabitants, and the traces of the activities undertaken in the different parts of the house.
Interestingly, several people received a ‘no’ response when asking for permission to dowse in certain rooms. Others found the more energetic ‘below stairs’ part of the building to be rather uncomfortable dowsing, with a suggestion of birth, death - even murder. The Gildhouse has clearly given shelter to a wide range of activities over many centuries, and the energetic traces tell their own complex story.
Underlying the wonderfully-preserved mediaeval foundation of the Gildhouse, we were able to sense a much longer history of activity on the site. A wide tell-tale ley surges through the heart of the house, perhaps indicating one reason for choosing this site for an earlier phase of occupation. The ley was unusual in that it dowsed as being a line of consciousness, yet it had some of the characteristics of more geologically-generated lines of force. There were plenty of earth energy and water lines to follow and, at a spot where Alan Neal felt encouraged to dowse, he was subsequently able to capture orbs of light on his digital camera.
There is a lot here to keep the dowser interested - and the Gildhouse is open to the public on Wednesdays, so feel free to pay it a visit, take tea and try to untangle some of these mysteries of its former occupants for yourselves.
If the Gildhouse hosts the main ley in the area, the nearby church contains the other signature energies of the classic sacred site - crossing water and energy lines. We were able to engage in our, now familiar, sport of ‘find the previous site(s) of the font’, which in this church now sits quietly in a neutral corner of the nave.
The rood screen was again kindly opened for us by Tim - and we were able to dowse for the place where Assistant Curate William Penfound was murdered after a service by a group of armed local men in December 1357. The spirit of the victim seems thankfully to have passed over long ago, but the aggression and negativity exuded by the assailants lives on as disturbed energy, many centuries later.
After lunch, and during a break in the showers, Terry took us on a short walk across the fields to the Holy Well of St Winwaloe. Now neatly restored with a Victorian well housing, enclosure wall and path, this ancient structure sits on crossing energy and water lines and has a ley running through it - making it the most energetically important of the three locations. Today, it is hidden behind a hedge, in a damp wooded glade, across an unmarked field - yet this is a precious jewel of local history, which really deserves more attention and protection.
While we were there, the energy spiral centred on the well increased by several feet in diameter and it is hard to come to any other conclusion that there was some form of interaction between the dowsers and the essence of the site. Although there were a few faded posies from previous well-wishers, the long grass surrounding the access indicated that it had not received many visitors lately - and it was perhaps responding to the positive intent of a sudden influx of affable and interested pilgrims.
The water in the well, although clouded with run-off, still dowsed as being drinkable ‘holy’ water and (as far as I know!) those that imbibed felt no ill effects. Ben, the dog, certainly seemed to enjoy it. Some took samples for their own use back home, either in healing tinctures for people, or for their plants.
After over seven years of outings by the TDs, it still seems astonishing that a cluster of building of such obvious national significance can be brought to our attention ‘out of the blue’. Doubtless there is good dowsing to be had all over the world, but we do seem to be particularly fortunate with having such a range and quality of places within a reasonable range of the Tamar valley.
The rain may have dampened the dust, but not our enthusiasm for such a super site.
Many thanks indeed to Terry for guiding us around Poundstock - and to Tim Dingle for opening up for us and for giving us the benefit of his local knowledge.
Terry Faull’s latest book Ten Walks in the Tamar Valley is about to be published by Halsgrove Books. His previous book Secrets of the Hidden Source - in search of Devon’s ancient and holy wells is also a Halsgrove book.