Duloe Holy Well (St Cuby's Well)
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Possibly established by St Cuby in the 6th century
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 'llans', or holy enclosures. Though the building is medieval, the site itself is of ancient origins.
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 left 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 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.
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 wellhouse 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 two 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.
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 extremely atmospheric place, with a wonderful sense of antiquity.
Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.
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.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Duloe Stone Circle - 0.4 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Duloe, St Cuby's Church - 0.4 miles (Historic Church)
Looe, St Nicholas Church - 3.1 miles (Historic Church)
Looe Old Guildhall Museum & Gaol - 3.1 miles (Museum)
Looe Bay - 4 miles (Countryside)
Porfell Wildlife Park - 4.2 miles (Family Attraction)
Boconnoc - 6.1 miles (Historic House)
Golitha Falls - 6.7 miles (Countryside)
Nearest Accommodation to Duloe Holy Well: