I was the only one there – it was calm and quiet and peaceful – I could hear the sound of the spring bubbling up from the stones and rippling the pool. Apart from a handyman varnishing a bench (whose presence, I have to admit, I mildly resented) I was alone with my thoughts and my contemplation.
I moved outside to sit by the pool in a patch of sunlight. I dipped in my fingers to test how cold it was – it was cold! Bathing – according to the leaflet – is “strictly at the following times: 9:00am-10:00am and 4:00pm-4:45pm.”
There was a chain across the steps into the outer pool and the gate to the inner pool was padlocked. I already knew this as I had read the website before I even set off from Torquay and had planned to make two visits to the well.
As I sat, some kids were running down the pavement shouting and laughing. One of them threw a towel over the railings and climbed over, punching the air victoriously as the others looked on. They continued on and he climbed back over to join them.
A few minutes past and I was aware of a noisy throng – among them, the lad who had climbed the fence! Two young children appeared yelling back to the others: “IT’S HERE!!!! IT’S HERE!!! OVER HERE! COME AND SEE!!” They were SO excited to find a pool of water. Soon there was a very loud and excited gaggle of people – 16 children (I counted) four dads and three mums and a new-born baby. The kids could not constrain themselves and were stripping off – some had trunks – some were just down to their pants – and they were teetering on the edge – having felt how cold it was – they were SO excited. I had given one of my inner curmudgeonly sighs at my little oasis of peace and tranquillity having been so violently and loudly shattered – but I found myself smiling as their joy and excitement was infectious. It was a group of Irish families – they knew where they were – they had come for the water and the well. The dads (not the mums) were all keen to go in and being more bashful than the kids were looking for somewhere to change into their trunks. One followed the example of the older kids and retreated into the inner well complex – the other two sloped off to the toilets…
Two kids had tentatively inched down the steps before running back screaming at the coldness of the water – but then one of the older kids had jumped straight in – and soon they were all in – splashing, screaming, gasping.
By now I was really enjoying the spectacle – the sheer abandonment of the joy! One of the dads had found his way around the gate into the inner pool and the others were just arriving back poolside trying to overcome their fear of the cold…
The place seemed alive where before it had been quiet, but dead. It seemed to me that if this was a healing spring – a pool of living water for God to bless his people – then this is exactly how it should be – it should be loaud and noisy and splashy and water should be everywhere – it is not to be rationed – this spring really gushes – it fills three pools and overflows – it dosn’t stop… water was now splashed all over the sides… it was a joy to watch.
And then a woman’s voice on the tannoy.. “WILL YOU GET OUT OF THERE. YOU SHOULDN’T BE IN THERE. YOU MUST RESPECT THIS PLACE. OUT! OUT OF THERE. YOU SHOULD RESPECT THIS PLACE. IT IS NOT A SWIMMING POOL IT IS A PLACE OF HEALING…” (pause) “IF YOU DISRESPECT HER PLACE SHE WILL CURSE YOU.”
And then a man appears to reinforce the tannoy woman – he looks very cross and stern and orders the dad out of the inner pool telling him that he mustn’t disrespect this place. The dad insists he was not disrespecting the place. He is told that they can go in the outer pool – but no swimming or splashing – they must walk around the edge prayerfully and immerse themselves praying their intentions to God. He leaves.
I still can’t really believe what I have heard. “IF YOU DISRESPECT HER PLACE SHE WILL CURSE YOU!”
The family stays for a while – the kid are still excitable – I’m not sure they heard tannoy woman. The dads walk around the inner pool, wading through the inner water – immerse themselves and cross themselves…
eventually they leave – and it is quiet again – the man continues varnishing the bench, the water in the outside stills until once again you can see clearly to the bottom. Now there is a plaster there. Maybe, despite the well custodians, someone was healed today?