Last day for this Wooster Geologist in Wales … for now

Aberystwyth, Wales — My last full day in Wales with my hosts Tim and Caroline Palmer was again different from every other day in this country. I have had a stimulating diversity of experiences on this short trip. For example, today we visited the Iron Age village reconstruction of Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire (above), which was very new to me. The roundhouses are constructed on the actual archaeological site, with even the posts placed in the ancient postholes.

Some roundhouses are left unfinished to show the post and wattle construction, the walls of which would be later daubed with mud and the characteristic round thatched roof attached.

This is one of the reconstructed rooms, complete with Celtic gear circa 2300 years ago. The village is maintained as a living museum, so fires are kept smoldering for an appropriately smoky interior.

We also spent time in St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Tim gave me a stone-and-history tour inside. A fee was required to take photographs, so I abstain. You’ll just have to imagine Medieval stone effigies, towering pillars, and centuries of stone memorials.

Our last stop was the small and unique St. Lawrence’s Church in Gumfreston. This church was built in the 12th century, likely on a site that had an earlier structure.

Tim, of course, set to work identifying the building stones, using a torch and handlens. He is here examining some sort of stone basin fixed between the porch and church wall. It may have held holy water.

Very near the church is a set of three springs, conveniently labelled “holy wells”. The sacred attribution to these springs goes back much earlier than the church, probably to Celtic times. The church, in fact, holds periodic Celtic Christian “services of light”, and an oak tree overhanging the springs is decorated with ribbons.

A geological question is why the water in these springs has bubbles of gas emanating from below? Is this methane from vegetation? Carbon dioxide? Is it related to a local fault system? There is actually a webpage for the Gumfreston holy wells. It says the waters are rich in carbonic acid, so carbon dioxide the bubbles may be. The site also says, “According to tradition, the uppermost spring is pure water, middle one chalybeate and lower one sulphur although all appear to be chalybeate.” Chalybeate is a new word for me. It means the water contains “salts of iron”. The website also has this classic bit of sympathetic magic: “Traditionally cures such as leg problems were associated with the upper spring due to its shape like a leg, the middle for hands and arms, and the lower for eyes.”

Otto is the Palmer’s delightful Lhasa Apso and our companion on most of our Welsh adventures. This picture was taken just before he jumped into the lower well. We can assume, then, that his eyes are now blessed.

Thank you again to Tim and Caroline Palmer, and Caroline Buttler, for making my time in Wales so enriching, educational, and fun. Just let me know when you want to see the magical sites in Ohio!

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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