On the Helmshore side of Holcombe Moor stands Robin Hood’s Well. It would have been a welcome place for pilgrims to rest and take a drink on their way to Whalley Abbey or Sawley Abbey. This medieval route is marked by the nearby Pilgrims Cross or at least the modern stone that rests in its original place. Later, after the abbeys were dissolved and the pilgrims no longer passed along this path, the well found new users. These would be drovers and packhorse men on their route to Haslingden.
Today the well is in good condition. Water comes out of a central plastic pipe, and a look over the drystone wall, that the well is built into, shows that a modern grid provides access to the spring. Most intriguing of all is the very large, old stone cap. This has many irregular cup shaped marks on it, as if parts of the stone has been scooped out. On the right hand side of the cap stone is a big void, as if this was carved to hold something. The rest of the well looks more modern, with a trough and a central carved opening allowing excess water to drain out down small steps and across the lane.
The question arises – why the name Robin Hood’s Well ? The Robin Hood ballads were becoming popular in the 1400s and the first printed versions appear in the early 1500s. There are stories about the outlaw in Wakefield, Barnsley, Kirklees and of course Nottingham, but not in Lancashire. However, a quick search of the modern day version of Henry Taylor’s The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire lists six other places where there is a Robin Hood’s Well in our region. These are Briercliffe, Downham, Higham, Spotland, Mawdesley and Trawden.
We think that this name did not refer to the famous outlaw, but has morphed into it. It probably derives from Robin Goodfellow, a fairy figure now best known to us as Puck in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Robin Goodfellow is an old name locals gave to a fairy and many rural landmarks had fairies associated with them. Belief in fairies was once widespread, and these same magical folk were also referred to as hobgoblins or boggarts (for instance see our page on Hob Cross here).
Nearby to the well is the Ellen Strange Memorial and Cairn. Below we give a route up to see the well and cairn, and an indication of where you could park.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2018
The site is open access and is at Grid Reference 777 195. The spring is marked on the West Pennine Moor map, although not quite at the precise point (Explorer 287- formerly Explorer 19)
If you’d like to go and see the Robin Hood’s Well and Ellen Strange’s Memorial and Cairn, here’s our suggested route. There is a lay-by for parking on the Helmshore to Holcombe Road, marked on the West Pennine Moor Explorer Map with a ‘P’. Close by this the footpath leads up to Chatterton Close Farm (also marked on the map). Head up the steep footpath to Chatterton Close Farm. This is a National Trust property and is currently boarded up. It has the biggest buttress we’ve seen on a farm building, plus some pretty large ones on the farm walls (click on the photo to enlarge it and have a look – the one on the barn at the end is a giant!) Turn right in front of the farm and follow the well worn path. In a while you will come to an eroded area, but ignore the path on your left that goes up onto the hill , and continue heading in the Helmshore direction. You know you’re close to your destination when you see the path go through a gate to Stake Lane and start to descend towards Helmshore. Head straight through the gate to see Robin Hood’s Well on Stake Lane. (Grid Reference 777 195). Alternatively turn left at this point and go a little way up the side of Beetle Hill to see the Ellen Strange Memorial and Cairn (Grid Reference 778 195).
A longer walk away
Henry Taylor: The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Revised Version, Volume III Blackburn Hundred, Volume Editor A.J.Noble (2004) North West Catholic History Society, Wigan
Henry Taylor: The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Revised Version, Volume IV Salford Hundred, Volume Editor A.J Noble, (2005) North West Catholic History Society, Wigan
Henry Taylor: The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Revised Version, Volume VI Leyland Hundred, Volume Editors J.A. Hilton, A.J Noble, M. Panikkar, W.A. Varney (2007) North West Catholic History Society, Wigan
The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, Jennifer Westwood and Jaqueline Simpson (2005), Penguin Books
Holcombe Moor on site interpretation boards – on the route we’ve described are some boards that give a potted history of the area, plus what to see in terms of wildlife as you go up onto the moor.