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Swallowhead Springs

Sacred Well


"Swallow Head" is the name of a very copious spring which rises at a short distance to the south of Silbury, and is very frequently though erroneously called the source of the Kennet; for this mistake Stukeley is responsible, since he wrote:

"There are two heads of the river Kennet: one from a little north-west of Abury, at Monkton, runs southward to Silbury Hill: this affords little water, except in wet seasons. At Silbury Hill it joins the Swallow Head, or true fountain of the Kennet, which the country people call by the old name Cunnit, and it is not a little famous among them. This is a plentiful spring."

...The actual sources are indeed two.. one which rises in Clyffe Pypard field, some four miles to the north-west, and the other in the parish of Broad Hinton, some four miles to the north east of Abury: at the latter village these two streams unite, and flow in one channel to Swallow Head, the very picturesque basin whose springs are generally very abundant, and largely increase the infant river: indeed there are seasons when the two real sources have been known to be dry, and the only water in the Kennet has come from this spring.

Other seasons have occurred within my memory when this, too, has failed, and the dry bed of the Kennet has been planted with potatoes.

I should add that Canon Jones attributes the name 'Swallow Head' to the same source as the Swill in N Wilts and the Swale in Kent and Yorkshire, and quotes Fergusson for the origin of the word from the old German swal, meaning 'swell' or 'whirlpool'. If this is accepted, I can bear witness that the large round pool at Swallow Head oftentimes show considerable commotion of water from the very copious springs which bubble up to the surface.
p175 in Rev. A C Smith's 'Guide to the British and Roman Antiquities of the North Wiltshire Downs' (1884).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th March 2006ce

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