If you didn't visit Llanrhaiadr on your way to Holywell, it's worth a detour on your way back down the Vale of Clwyd.
St Dyfnog's ‘well’ is really a powerful spring which gushes out of a rocky bank and into a bathing pool. Here St Dyfnog lived in the sixth century, doing penance for his sins by standing under the freezing water, his hair shirt clamped to his body with iron bands. The water was believed to have powerful healing qualities - like most healing wells it was good for skin compaints, but according to some it could cure smallpox, deafness and dumbness. It was still popular in the eighteenth century, when the bathing pool was paved with marble, decorated with carvings and surrounded by bathing rooms.
Llanrhaiadr has several pubs, a row of Georgian almshouses, a pottery and one of the most magnificent churches in the Vale of Clwyd. Like the well, it is dedicated to St Dyfnog, and it was probably built and lavishly decorated with the offerings from pilgrims to the well. Like many Denbighshire churches, it has a double nave. You enter through a fine late medieval porch, under a niche which would probably once have held a statue of the saint. The inside is dominated by the glowing stained glass of the great Jesse window at the east end of the north nave. This depicts the descent of Christ from the royal house of David, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah: 'There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots...'. At the bottom of the window, Jesse lies in a little walled garden with the tree growing out of his loins. (The locals call him ‘Jesse on the telephone’ because of his weary expression and the way he looks for all the world as though he has a mobile clamped to his ear.) Above him, King David plays his harp, and the prophets and kings of Israel rise through the branches of the true vine. Near the top the Virgin and Child lean out of a sunburst, and above them a pelican tears at her breast to feed her young. To the medieval mind this symbolised not just Christ’s sacrifice but also the sacrifice made by the Virgin Mary in rearing her son and giving him up to save the world.
The survival of this glass is a tribute to local determination. During the Civil War of the seventeenth century, the whole window was dismantled, packed away in the parish chest and buried up in the woods. It was replaced after the Restoration, in the 1660s. The stained glass in the south window was not so fortunate, but there are still several recognizable fragments, including part of an Annunciation.
The church also has magnificent hammer-beam roofs and a canopy of honour supported by angels, some of them carrying shields with the Instruments of the Passion, the implements used to crucify Christ. On a bracket near the Jesse window is an eighteenth-century copy of the pelican, and on the south wall is a grandiloquent marble monument to the local squire, Maurice Jones of Llanrhaiadr Hall. (It was his widow, Jane, who built the almshouses.)
The Anvil Pottery is opposite the church, in the old village smithy. The potters keep an eye on the church and help to keep it open. You can get ice creams and soft drinks here, and if you have transport you can stock up on souvenirs.