Heber’s Ghyll Chalybeate, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0988 4692

Getting Here

Hebers Ghyll chalybeate

Walk from Ilkley up the Wells Roads as if you’re going to the White Wells, but keep following the road along, keeping to the moorside (don’t go up Panorama Drive).  A few hundred yards up, crossing the small bridge over the gorse-scattered stream, take the footpath to your right and walk along the moor-bottom, parallel to the rich houses.  Keep walking, past the reservoir (don’t go up the slope on the newly created path) and cross the small wooden bridge.  Once over the other side, head through the gate and walk along the rocky footpath into the woods.  Less than 100 yards down where the first seat is, there’s a slow-running blood of water oozing out from the rocks.

Archaeology & History

At the top of this bit of old woodland, out of rocks near the top of the trees, emerges another of Yorkshire thousands of chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs of water, on the very edge of Ilkley Moor.  Collyer and Turner (1885) mentioned its discovery in 1883, but gave no further details.  Searching for this place on one of my countless moorland ambles as a child, I found its waters oozing slowly from betwixt moss-enriched rocks on the west side of the stream.  If you look for it in the dry season though, there is little to see.  It is best seen later in the year, after heavy rains, although the waters are pretty slow running and have that distinct “off” taste (an attribute well-known of chalybeates —taste ‘em and see!).  The only real account of this little-known healing well was told in an early edition of the Leeds Mercury (1883), shortly after its rediscovery, in which we were told:

“Our Ilkley correspondent says the existence of a chalybeate spring has lately been discovered there, and from its valuable medicinal properties will prove a valuable adjunct in the future development of this health resort.  The water from the spring (which is situated near to the Panorama Rocks, in what is known as Hebers Gill, or Briery Wood) has been submitted to Mr F.M. Rimmington…of Bradford for analysis and his report is of a most favourable character.  The data shows that the water is remarkable for the smallness of the amount of its saline constituents, and (so far as the analyst has been able to discover by reference to published analysis of either English or Continental chalybeate springs), there is not one comparable to it: whilst its ferruginous element is equal to the majority of such waters and, in Mr Remmington’s opinion, as large as is desirable for medicinal effect.  The spa that most resembles the one under notice is that of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, which is derived from exactly the same geological formation (millstone grit), the total solid constituents of this water being 13½ grains to the gallon.  The report adds that, “The use of this class of waters as medical agents has, from remote periods, been found efficacious in those states of debility denominated anemia,” and “the value of this class of spa water as a safe and natural remedy can scarcely be overestimated.”  From the foregoing it will be seen that an important discovery has been made…”

This once important spring of water — that would have been known and used by our prehistoric ancestors living on the moors above — is nowadays but a shadow of its former self.  The water tables drop annually as a result of moorland drainage and other poor land management and we only see a small trickle of water emerging from the mossy rocks these days…

…to be continued…

References:

Anonymous, “Important Discovery at Ilkley,” in Leeds Mercury, August 18, 1883.
Bennett, Paul, Healing Wells and Springs of Ilkley Moor, unpublished: Hebden Bridge 1995.
Collyer, Robert & Turner, J.H., Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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About megalithix

Occultist, prehistorian and independent archaeological researcher, specializing in prehistoric rock art, Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age sites, and the animistic cosmologies of pre-Christian & traditional cultures.
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