Monday, March 31, 2014

Starwell or Holy Well Bidderstone

Well, the day before Mother’s Day was a truly horrendous day. Clean, ironed, folded washing put back in the dirty laundry basket, small fibs coming to light, lost passport.  I had obviously had enough of being a mummy. I have to say that the troops did indeed step up to the mark at the eleventh hour and turned everything around. I awoke to lots of gorgeous presents and two hot buttered crumpets.

Twenty years ago I did my teaching practice in Chippenham. I remembered a local spring where if you were willing to plunge your hands into freezing cold water and sieve through the mud at the bottom. I wanted to go back there because I want to use the star shape fossils in a young adult novel I’m planning. The troops were a little uncertain. So off we went in the car complete with dog in the back on a research mission.

 I had printed out the directions;
"East of a spring - they call it a holy well, - where five-pointed stones doe bubble up (Astreites) which doe move in vinegar." (Aubrey 1969, 45) The seventeenth-century Wiltshire antiquarian John Aubrey notes with his characteristic air of scientific enquiry the outstanding feature of this most magical of Wiltshire wells. Holy well is a natural spring rising at a fault line between the cornbrash layer of the Great Oolite and its overlying clay. Blocks of masonry nearby indicate that the well once had a stone surround and drinking trough, but these have apparently been moved aside and now the spring has returned to its natural state, flowing from a hole in a fold in the land.”

Then after a few wrong turns, finally using latitude and longitude, sinking in mud, crossing a small stream we found Starwell or The Holy Well. In the sandy bed of the spring can be found tiny fossils shaped like stars, which are constantly being freed from the fossil-bearing cornbrash by the action of the spring water, which brings them to the surface. These stars are the isolated stem parts, or columnals, of crinoids, the plant-like sea-creatures commonly known as sea lilies. Crinoids are related to starfish, hence the star-like shape of the columnals; and because they are made of calcite, they will indeed (if you can bear to destroy them) effervesce in a dilute acid solution like vinegar.

Once my daughter found the first little star she was on a mission. It was lovely, and we would probably be there still if another family who liked to throw large stones in the water hadn’t shown up.

It was a lovely day. The tension from the day before had faded replaced with lovely memories and I got some of my research done.

1 comment:

  1. This was very cool! I have no words for the rudeness of the other family.