I watched curiously as I joined a handful of people assembled around the well dressing at Monyash in June. The blessing of the wells was led by Reverand Adele Barker and Reverand Andrew Parker. The ceremony started with a welcome and opening prayer followed by a hymn, a bible reading, prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. Then finally the blessing of the well.
Then the group followed to a second well across the road outside the school where there was a similar ceremony.
And that was it; quite brief and fairly low key. I hadn’t known what to expect but, truthfully, I had expected more of an event. But, on reflection, I had witnessed something of great value, something quite unique, because well dressings and the blessing of the wells are an important part of our great heritage.
The actual well dressings were stunning – this year’s design showcasing the Coronation of King Charles. I couldn’t help but wonder at all the work that must have gone into preparing and constructing this magnificent sculpture. And how members of the local community had come together to use their great skills, as they do every year.
So, yesterday I visited my second well dressing at Chadkirk. This was very different in that it was an event lasting from noon throughout the afternoon. Apart from the formal well blessing, inside the ancient Chadkirk Chapel, they were serving drinks, cake, and scones with jam and cream. Outside, the Stockport Silver Band performed as did Stockport Morris Dancers and then Stockport Ukelele Players. There were stalls selling a range of goods from locally grown plants, second-hand books, cards, paintings, and crafts to Chadkirk Comfrey Oil and Chadkirk Elderflower Cordial. And a Viking re-creation stand. An overflow car park had been opened in a farmer’s field and the event was really well attended.
Bishop Graham Dow performed the blessing, then the Mayor of Stockport, Councillor Graham Greenhalgh, addressed the audience and formally opened the well dressing.
But although the event was far bigger than the Monyash event, they both had one thing in common – a stunning well dressing which had been the result of a lot of hard work by local people who had come together to create it. And this year’s theme – the Chadkirk meadow field which had been created on the Chadkirk Estate to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.
My curiosity had been aroused because, having hiked in the Peak District for many years, I’ve seen them in various villages and gazed in awe at what I was looking at. So, last year in Hartington, I came across the one depicting Queen Elizabeth with Paddington Bear. Before that, I’d seen the Dambusters scene in Eyam, the Jelly Babies and Circus in Great Longstone and so on.
How these superb intricate mosaics are created using natural materials such as leaves, moss, flower petals and beans on a bed of clay, is beyond my comprehension.
And, when I was creating (and hiking) the Peak Way route, I stumbled across the well dressing in Rowsley commemorating 50 years of the Peak District National Park. So, I photographed it with the camera on my phone, and you’ll find it on page 73 of my guide book ‘Walking the Peak Way’.
Well dressing has been around for centuries and although there have been various speculative suggestions about its origin, there is no conclusive evidence, and it remains a mystery. Whatever the reason though, I for one applaud local communities for keeping this tradition alive, and for the enjoyment they give to us passing them.
If you’re interested, you can visit the website www.welldressing.com which gives the dates of the well dressing ceremonies. Eleven of these are on the Peak Way route so you might be lucky enough to encounter one of these when you walk it.