Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Holy Well of Eastbourne (perhaps)

Back in the days of the old Source magazine paranormal researcher Alan Cleaver wrote a piece for it on holy wells as 'Wormholes in Reality', places where people might slip from one dimension to another. One of the individuals he mentioned was Donald Dent of Exning in Cambridgeshire, the man who allegedly vanished in 1975 after having visited the holy well nearby, and the other was Jessie Earl, the young woman who disappeared from her bedsit in Eastbourne in 1980 near the area called Holywell west of the town centre. There's only one other mention of Donald Dent online which makes me wonder whether he ever existed at all; while poor Ms Earl's body was found nine years later, meaning that her disappearance was entirely explicable, if, as yet, a crime that remains unsolved. Holy wells had nothing to do with either event, or non-event, yet the Holy Well of Eastbourne has remained in my imagination, and in other people's.

My friend Ms Kittywitch has recently moved to Eastbourne where she grew up, and last week I went to visit her new residence, a nice town-centre flat presided over by her ageing Siamese cat. She had to wait in for a parcel, so as the light faded from the day I went alone to find the Holy Well. 

Although eighteenth-century works mention the Well, and the name dates back as far as the 1300s, its actual location was unclear. Then in 2009 a group of local people identified it as a spring dribbling out of the chalk cliff face not far from the Holywell beach huts. It was cleared up, decorated with a wooden name board and a cup for the water, and even blessed by a Catholic priest (there's a video of this event available). It isn't entirely clear that this is the historic site of the original Holy Well, but, as is the manner of these things, that probably matters less than the fact that people treat it as though it was. 

When I found it, a couple of hundred yards beyond the beach huts, the tides had washed a layer of pebbles and shingle up to the foot of the cliff, inundating the big stones placed there to mark the well-basin. The water was no more than a dribble, and the cup and framed account of the well's history had gone, replaced by a rusting supermarket basket on a ledge: I'm not sure what that's supposed to signify. But the white crags make this an unusual well, strangely untamed, even if I certainly don't fancy sampling the water.

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