Sunday, 11 October 2020

the Goddess of the Waters


As long as waters run

The hills relaxed long shoulders as the weight lifted.

And She woke as the ice melted,


I am writing this blog while on Orkney. Writing about Buxton’s waters on these rainswept islands feels a bit strange. Here the water tells its stories with wild seas and racing tides, through white swans settling on shimmering lochs and the deep, heaving movement of waves in sea-caves. Buxton’s water runs quieter, through limestone caves, in seasonal courses through the dales. Buxton water tells its stories in moorland seeps and springs, in quiet pools and clear rivers where trout quiver against the stream and dippers bob on stones.


But there are holy wells in both places: stone-lined, stone-capped, places of power, of reverence and of good clean water. Here on Orkney those wells reveal strange depths, chamber under chamber like man-made caves under the fields (look at Mine Howe and the well at the Broch of Gurness) while in Buxton our wells connect us to our own limestone caves and we can still step into that subterranean mystery and rest in the dark where a flickering candle reflects off cold cave water.


Water runs through Buxton, in rivers through the town, in ancient wells, mostly stopped and lost now, in the history of the town. From Aquae Arnemetiae itself (Waters of the Goddess Arnemetia: the Roman name for the town) to the 18th and 19th Century taking of the waters and remedial baths, to today and Nestlé bottling Buxton water and shipping it round the world while the Crescent Hotel reopens offering spa treatments and access to the ancient waters that it stands over (but also drop into the Pump House Visitor Centre or the Cavendish Arcade for a sense of what taking the waters might have been like).


Cross my palm with silver, lady,

Cross my palm with copper,

Cross my heart with happiness

And I’ll share this water with you.


There is a story there about our relationship with water that runs back ‘way before a Roman town to lost Neolithic settlements and a temple reportedly just there. The ruins of a Roman temple were, of course, over there, on The Slopes, until the 18th century at least. We instantly become part of that ancient story: the water that we sip from St Ann’s Well in the centre of town has taken some 5,000 years to percolate through the hills and seep through limestone layers to run out into our palms and cups and thirsty bottles. We drink Neolithic rain.


Film: As long as waters run




That story, that continuity lies within the next of my Buxton Museumand Art Gallery story-films. Arnemetia, the Romans called her, Arnemecta she was before that to the local Britons, something else again to older peoples…..Did she quietly persist, goddess or temple guard or the old woman who dipped a cup of water for you from the wells so you did not muddy your ground-sweeping crinoline? Is she still here? The spirit of the waters, watching her wells…so that for us stopping by St Anne’s Well or walking through Poole’s Cavern or even finding Dale Head on Axe Edge we touch a lineage that runs unbroken through thousands of years of people living here in these hills. A treasure based not on gold and jewels but on life and those life-giving waters and a reminder of our connection to and debt to these hills and their waters


Reflecting that same legacy of waters, we have several watery films in the museum collection.

There is As long as waters run, above.


There is also:

 The Magic of Water by Aidan Rhode



And then there is the memories of water project that you could add your own thoughts to...