The striking cave, near Holywell, north Cornwall, was once considered one of the most mysterious sites in Britain thanks to its multicoloured sea caves – made so by the red, green and yellow stone. The cave attracted huge numbers of visitors from around the world at the height of its popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. But today, many are unaware of the hidden wonders of St Cuthbert’s Cave at Kelsey head.
The multi-coloured grotto like cave houses spring water which has been described as the “elixir of life” in writings from as early as 1877.
The area is named after the cave’s healing waters, pilgrims, cripples and sick people would make their way to the cave to drink from the “holy well”.
The waters were said to contain “life healing” minerals, collected in springwater that trickled through the cave’s natural limestone.
But natural science contributed to the cave’s formation, characteristic colours and fresh spring waters.
The mineral deposits created the eye popping red, green, blue and yellow colour inside the caves.
Small steps carved into the side of the rock hundreds of years ago are now barely visible, and have been worn down by centuries of feet climbing into the mysterious cave.
As rainwater passes through the ground, it turns into a weak carbonic acid from limestone deposits.
The acid dissolves the rock and forms calcium bicarbonate which, mixed in the rainwater, drips down into the cave to create a fresh natural spring.
The spring water has been described as tasting like “cereal milk” and forms shallow pools within the basins, before trickling out from the cave and on to the outside beach.
Unlike other so-called ‘holy wells’ in the UK, the spring water in St Cuthbert’s Cave is washed out twice every day, when the tide comes in and floods the cavern.
Although a relatively unknown and secluded natural attraction in modern times, St Cuthbert’s Cave was once seen as a famed source of healing for the sick and disadvantaged.
John Cardell Oliver’s ‘Guide to Newquay’ from 1877 gave a detailed description of the cave from a bygone era.
Mr Cardell wrote: “It is a somewhat curious place. After passing over a few boulders the mouth of the cave will be reached, where steps will be found leading up to the well.
“This rock-formed cistern is of a duplicate form, consisting of two wells, having a communication existing between them. The supply of water is from above; and this water, being of a calcareous nature, has coated the rock with its earthy deposits, giving to the surrounding walls and to the well itself a variegated appearance of white, green and purple.
“Above and beyond the well will be seen a deep hole extending into the cliff.
“The legend respecting the well is, that in olden times mothers on Ascension Day brought their deformed or sickly children here, and dipped them in, at the same time passing them through the aperture connecting the two cisterns; and thus, it is said, they became healed of their disease or deformity.
“It would seem that other classes also believed virtue to reside in its water; for it is said that the cripples were accustomed to leave their crutches in the hole at the head of the well.
“This well has Nature only for its architect, no mark of man’s hand being seen in its construction; a pink enamelled basin, filled by drippings from the stalactitic roof, forms a picture of which it is difficult to describe the loveliness.
“What wonder, then, that the simple folk around should endow it with mystic virtues?”