Duloe Holy Well (St Cuby's Well)
Duloe Holy Well (St Cuby's Well)

On the slope of a small valley below the village of Duloe, half hidden by trees, stands an ancient holy well dedicated to St Cuby, or Cybi. Cuby was a 6th century Cornish saint, and by tradition was the son of a King of Cornwall. Cuby was raised as a Christian and at an early age went on a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem.

The experience convinced him to enter the priesthood, and he was anointed as a bishop. On his return to Cornwall he discovered that his father had died and he was now king. He refused the crown, and instead travelled throughout Cornwall, preaching Christianity and establishing churches. One of those churches was at Duloe. Cuby travelled to south Wales, where he continued his mission and founded numerous churches.

It is easy to dismiss stories of early Celtic saints as a mixture of fantasy and half-truths, but that would be a mistake. St Cuby's church, about 350 yards up the hill at the top of the valley, stands within a raised, curvilinear churchyard, the style used for early Christian 'lans', or holy enclosures. Though the building is medieval, the site itself is of ancient origins.

The inner chamber and well
The inner chamber and well

The same can be said for the holy well. It is surmounted by a 15th century wellhead, but inside the wellhead ancient stone steps go down into a clear pool, fed by an underground spring. One obvious suggestion is that the pool may have been used for baptism by immersion. The wellhead was altered and had to be partially rebuilt when the B3254 road was built in 1822.

The well is approached through an outer cell, with a stone bench to the eft as you enter. A roundheaded arch leads to the inner chamber, which is formed or corbeled walks under a slate roof. Water trickles down the the end wall into a square basin, then flows out through a tunnel which eventually leads into the stream in the valley below.

We do not know how old the stone basin and steps are, but it would not be surprising if they dated to the time when St Cuby preached at Duloe. It is very plausible that he created a pool for baptising his converts, using the spring that emerged a short distance from his new church at the head of the valley.

A stone cross atop the wellhead
A stone cross atop the wellhead

The wellhouse projects out from a bank by the west side of the road to Sandplace. It is roughly square, about 1.8 metres high and 1.9 metres across, with heavy slabs of rubble stone overlapping to form a corbelled roof under a large capping slab. The well shaft is over 0.5 metres deep, and is irregularly shaped, with a curving side. The doorway opening is on the ESE, reached over a modern lintel. You can see remnants of an old timber door, and in front of the well are remains of an old pump area.

Unlike some holy wells that have been barred for the ubiquitous 'health and safety reasons', the Duloe well is open, and you can walk inside the chamber and use the old stone bench on one side to sit and soak up the atmosphere. When we visited the water was incredibly clear - and very cold.

For many years there was an ancient stone basin, or font bowl, in the outer chamber of the well. The basin was carved with figures of griffins and a dolphin. These figures have been described as pagan, and English Heritage suggests that it may pre-date the welhouse and have been used for pre-Christian ritual.

Local legend predicted ill-fortune for anyone meddling with the basin. According to the stories someone sent a team of oxen to drag the basin away but one of the oxen fell down dead. In the 1820s a drunken workman rolled the basin down the hill and it didn't come to rest for 2 miles. It came to a stop in the garden of an old woman, who reported later that she heard piskies laughing over it all night long. In 1863 the squire of Trenant Park wanted to move it into his gardens, but he could find no workmen willing to move it unless he offered them a pension if they fell during the operation.

In 1959 the font bowl was placed in St Cuby's church at Duloe, where it can be seen today.

The stone basin/font in St Cuby's Church, Duloe
The stone basin/font in St Cuby's Church, Duloe

Visiting

Finding the holy well is not easy. I drove up and down the road between Duloe and Sandplace twice before I spotted it beside the road. That didn't help me much, for there is no safe place to stop along the road, and the busy traffic combined with no roadside verge makes it very dangerous to park in the village and walk down to the well.

Luckily, there is another way, as I discovered by accident. Turn off the Sandplace road (B3254) into the grounds of Duloe Manor, and park by the visitor centre. Ask politely for directions to the holy well. When I visited the receptionist kindly gave me a small map of the grounds and marked out the route for me. Not only that but she gave me a wind-up torch so I could see the well interior.

To get to the well you have to walk past Duloe Manor and cross the grounds, heading downhill across the slope, past the tennis courts, to a belt of trees at the bottom of the property. It does take dexterity and a disregard for brambles and undergrowth, but you can see the stone wellhead in the trees at the bottom of the slope.

Please do not attempt to visit the well from the road itself; it simply isn't safe. It takes about 5 minutes walk to reach the well from the visitor centre and it is much safer. Despite the fact that it is so close to the busy road, it is an extremly atmospheric place, with a wonderful sense of antiquity.

About Duloe Holy Well
Address: B3254, Duloe, Cornwall, England
Attraction Type: Prehistoric Site
Location: On the B3254 between Duloe and Sandplace. Access by permission, through the grounds of Duloe Manor.
Location map
OS: SX240579
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Duloe Stone Circle - 0.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Duloe, St Cuby's Church - 0.4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Looe, St Nicholas Church - 3.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Looe Old Guildhall Museum & Gaol - 3.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Looe Bay - 4 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating

Porfell Wildlife Park - 4.2 miles (Family Attraction) Heritage Rating

Boconnoc - 6.1 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Golitha Falls - 6.7 miles (Countryside) Heritage Rating



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Nearest Tourist Information Centre ('as the crow flies')

South East Cornwall Discovery Centre
Tourist Information Centre
Millpool
West Looe
Cornwall
England
PL13 2AF
Tel: 0904 049 8229 calls charged
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