St Winefried’s Well

St Winefried’s well is located at Treffynnon. Tref = settlement; ffynnon = well or spring, so that makes sense. However, the town’s English name, Holywell, shows the reason for its inclusion as one of the seven wonders of Wales.

The spring is said to have risen where St Beuno restored to life his niece, St Winefried, after she was beheaded by a rejected suitor. As such it became a site of pilgrimage, for healing, with many notable visitors, including royalty.

The 15th century building straddles the spring. The lower, open crypt contains the well.

Above is a chapel, which from the other side is at ground level, because of the way it is built against the hillside.

Originally the spring flowed out and away down the valley. The statue stands where the stream once flowed.

Today the water is directed into a bathing pool.

The outflow was measured in the 18th century to be 7.6 million gallons of water per day. So not only was there a tourist industry, based on the pilgrimage site, but there was also thriving manufacturing industry in the short 1½ mile valley from the spring to the sea, with the stream being dammed several times to control its flow.

Close to the fresh spring, St Winefried’s brewery operated until 1930, and further downstream there were up to 19 factories. Metalworking and textiles were the main industries. There was so much activity that a railway branch line was opened in 1869.

The flow of visitors grew through the 19th century. Perhaps the poem was an effective tourist advert. However, at the same time the flow of the stream started to decrease and in 1917 it dried up completely.

This happened because mining, in the hills above the town, had changed the route of the underground stream, directing it away from the spring. Of course it couldn’t be left dry – Holywell’s thriving tourist industry would have vanished too. So another underground stream was channeled in to restore the flow.

Today you can visit the pilgrimage site in Holywell, and further down the valley the industrial site is now a 70 acre country park, the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park.

Llangollen Bridge

Next in my Wonders of Wales series is the bridge in Llangollen.

Nestled within the Dee valley, the town of Llangollen grew up at a point where it was possible to bridge the River Dee.

The rocky river bed at this point channels the river and makes for good foundations.

The river was probably first bridged here in the 12th century, giving access to the site that was to become Valle Crucis Abbey.

The first stone bridge was built in 1282. It was rebuilt several times over the years but some of the bridge of today dates from the 16th century, resulting in its status as a Grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument.

There have been a number of modifications over the years. In the 1860’s a railway was built along the north bank of the river and the bridge was extended with an extra arch to cross the railway line.

Originally traffic consisted of the packhorse. However traffic increased, both in terms of size and amount. Thus the bridge was widened both in 1873 and again in 1968. They did this by reconstructing the upstream side of the bridge. Today’s bridge is nearly three times the width of the original 16th century construction.

Here’s a picture of each side. You can see the differences in the stonework.

Stonework on downstream side
Stonework on upstream side

Llangollen Bridge is still an important routeway. It carries a major road and much traffic across the Afon Dyfrdwy, (River Dee) to join the A5, London to Holyhead road, which follows the valley on the southern side.

Scilly’s Sparkling Seas

Last week we saw how Scilly’s fresh clean air encourages the growth of lichen, (and no doubt is beneficial to the human population too.)

But is it not just the air that is clean and unpolluted.  The sea looks like this:

You can see the sea weed growing up from the bottom; fabulous for diving, to explore shipwrecks and watch marine animals.  But why is the sea so clear?

The islands of the Scilly Isles are rather small.  The largest island, St Mary’s is only 2½ square miles (6½ square kilometres) so when it comes to flowing rivers, this is about as large as you get:

Flowing rivers are usually loaded with sediment, which they dump into the sea, but in Scilly there is only ever a trickle flowing into the sea, so the sea water remains clear.

Scilly’s waters are not always so beautifully clean.  The area is a shipwreck hotspot. The infamous Torrey Canyon oil tanker disaster of 1967 left the beaches covered in crude oil and littered with dead seabirds.  While the container ship Cita (1997) brought all manner of finds to the local beaches including trainers, baby clothes and computer mice.  Follow the links for more information about these events.

Pistyll Rhaeadr

The stream known as Afon Disgynfa rises on the slopes of the Berwyn mountains. It goes from a highland stream to a valley river (Afon Rhaeadr) in seconds, with a drop of over 70m, at Pistyll Rhaeadr.


It is undoubtedly a tourist attraction, though it clearly isn’t Britain’s tallest single drop waterfall, as it drops down in several stages.


There is a natural rock bridge across the stream, between one part and the next.


At the bottom of each vertical drop the water crashes to a halt. The impact, both of the water and of any rocks that are being carried, gouges out the rock immediately below the waterfall, creating a plunge pool.


“Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winifred’s Well,
Llangollen’s Bridge and Gresford’s bells.”

Is Pistyll Rhaeadr worthy of its seven wonders status?

The Changing Valley of the River Wharfe

The River Wharfe flows from Beckermonds to Buckden and beyond.  (If you missed out on the map that went out with my newsletter at the start of this series, send me a message and I’ll email a copy to you.)

At Yockenthwaite

At first its valley slopes down to the river bank, keeping the river in its channel and the channel fairly straight.

Further downstream the sloping valley sides are further apart. The river meanders across a relatively flat area.

If the river channel fills to the top and it overflows, the water will spread out over a large area. This area is called the floodplain.

Have you been to your local river to find your own example of a meander yet?

The Strid

The River Wharfe flows through the beautiful valley of Wharfedale.

On the day that I visited, the river was rather full, due to the recent heavy rain. The river bed was covered all the way across. Many islands were submerged apart from their trees.

So at the section known as The Strid, on the Bolton Abbey estate, you’d perhaps be wondering where all the water has gone.

The River Wharfe goes from being about 9 metres wide to the size of a long stride, in less than 100 metres. So where does all the water go?

If you read my first post in this series , then you may be thinking that the water has disappeared into the ground. That’s kind of right but there is so much water going through that a lot of the ground has actually been washed away.

As the river flows along it carries stones of various sizes. These swirl around in the current and scrape potholes in the river bed, helping to enlarge the natural cracks in the rock.

At The Strid, the narrowing of the channel means that the water is moving very fast. The potholes and cracks have enlarged forming a passage of interconnected caverns.

So where has all the water gone? Well it is still there, in a chasm about 9 metres deep. (That’s about the height of two double-decker buses). It’s as though the river has turned onto its side!

Looks innocent doesn’t it?

But if you fall in you don’t stand a chance. You’d be sucked under (both banks overhang) and thrown against the rocks by the turbulent flow. Many lives have been lost here.

A Wordsworth poem “The Force of Prayer” tells the story of one such tragedy. You can read it here.

If you would like a sheet of notes on the poem, sign up to receive the Blog About Britain newsletter and opt for “Geography worksheets and ideas for further study”.

Where? – 2 – Rivers

Last week we discovered the location of some of the mountains and hills in the British Isles.  Today we’ll take a look at the main rivers.

Print out a blank outline map.  You can use the one below.

The best way to learn where things are is to put them on a map, but if I just give you a completed map, that won’t help much, so grab a blank map and a pencil, find somebody for a bit of competition, and let’s see what you know already.

I’m going to give you a list of the 16 longest rivers in the British Isles.  For each one, have a go at drawing the route on the map and label it.

Hint 1 – You know from last week where the main hills are.  Rivers might start in the hills but they generally won’t cross from one side to the other.

Hint 2 – At the places where the larger rivers flow into the sea, the tide flows up the rivers so the coastline indents.

So these are the 16 longest rivers in the British Isles.  You’ll be doing well if you have even heard of them all.  I had to look some of them up!  But do have a guess.

  1. Shannon (Ireland)
  2. Severn
  3. Thames
  4. Trent
  5. Great Ouse
  6. Wye
  7. Ure – Ouse (begins as the River Ure and changes name to River Ouse, after it is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck, 74 miles from the source)
  8. Barrow (Ireland)
  9. Tay
  10. Suir (Ireland)
  11. Clyde
  12. Spey
  13. Blackwater (Ireland)
  14. Nene
  15. Bann (Northern Ireland)
  16. Tweed

If you are having a competition then score 1 point if you have the river in the right area of the map and 2 points if you’ve got it flowing into the sea at the right place.When you are ready, scroll down past my pictures to find the answers and if you are signed up for worksheets, check your inbox for a map, showing the approximate routes, just needing labels.

River Wye


River Severn
River Severn
River Thames
River Thames
River Thames

And finally the answers. Lines are only approximate. I’ve smoothed out the details of all the twists and turns, which does make some of the rivers look shorter than they actually are.


The Meandering River Wharfe

The River Wharfe has many bends, especially where its valley is wide, and thus lives up to its name, which in Celtic means ‘twisting’.

A river bend is called a meander.

The river is flowing towards the camera on the left and away from the camera on the right. As it comes towards the camera it is heading straight for the bank where I am standing. But the shape of the channel sends it around the bend. This means that the fastest flow, the strongest current, is right below the bank on the outside of the bend. The strong flow easily picks up any loose material and gradually erodes the bank away. So I am actually standing above a bit of a cliff.

Here’s another meander on the River Wharfe.

Now you can see the steep bank on the outside of the bend. The trees at the bottom of the slope look rather unstable, with the water washing away the soil around their roots.

The land on the opposite side from the river cliff is lower and flatter.

Can you find your own example on a river where you live?

Next week I’ll be telling you about a beautiful but sinister spot on the River Wharfe.

Exploring Wharfedale

The River Wharfe begins high on the Pennines in a peaty bog known as Cam Fell.

From here many springs arise, forming streams.

The faint lines show where streams are flowing down the slope. These form Oughtershaw Beck.


This flows on, through a deepening valley, to Beckermonds, an isolated hamlet (that’s a place that is too small to be considered a village). Here Oughtershaw Beck joins with Green Field Beck.

The combined river becomes the River Wharfe.
And then it disappears!

Well ok it depends on how much water there is to start with; how much rain there has been. It may not all disappear but some of it certainly does as there is less water flowing along the next stretch.  It had rained a lot when I was there but this is what can happen.

At Beckermonds, the River Wharfe flows over limestone rock. Limestone has lots of cracks in it and some of the water disappears down these. If the weather has been dry, and the river flow is already low, then the whole River Wharfe can disappear underground. It usually re-emerges about 3km downstream near Yockenthwaite.

‘Wharfe’ is a Celtic word meaning twisting or winding and the River Wharfe certainly does plenty of that. Next week we will take a look at some of the Wharfe’s twisting meanders and discover features that you can look out for on any river.

Meanwhile sign up for the Blog About Britain newsletter and choose ‘Geography worksheets and ideas for further study’ to get a map of the places mentioned in today’s blog.



There’s a lot of water flowing down the Thames and when it passes over a weir you get a sense of how powerful the flow is.

The people of Osney, just west of Oxford, have a community owned project that harnesses the river’s power to supply electricity – enough to power 60 homes.

This is Osney Lock Hydro. Doesn’t look much like a power station does it?

That’s the important power generating bit – a reverse Archimedean screw.

Have you ever used a drill to make a hole? As the drill rotates, the debris from the bottom of the hole is pulled out. Imagine if you could force the debris back in, you would force the drill to rotate back the other way. That’s how the reverse Archimedean screw of the hydro works – the water pushes against the screw as it forces its way through, causing it to rotate. Rotational movement can be used to operate a generator, producing electricity.

The water emerges at the bottom and continues on its way.

The project incorporates a bypass route for fish and the building is roofed with solar panels, so that when the flow is low in the summer the site is likely to still be generating electricity.

You can find out more information on the Osney Lock Hydro website.  You can also book yourself a free tour of the site.

Blog About Britain is going to take a break now for a month. Check back on Jan 1st for the next post. Put yourself on the newsletter list (see below) if you would like an email reminder.