St. Nectan’s Glen & Kieve

An article from my former website, LOOKING INTO THE DARK PLACES, first published 11th October 2001. (A little edited and added to.) Legend and history from tourist information material and conversations.



I specifically went to North Cornwall to revisit St Nectan’s Glen. It is, without a doubt, a most mystical place. Who knows how long it’s enchanting atmosphere and breathtaking beauty have been admired?

A lovely aromatic walk through the ancient glen alongside the tiny, chirpy, Trevillet River takes you along the ancient woodland path that has been walked for at least 1,500 years.

It was around 500AD that St Nectan (Knighton) built his sanctuary above the waterfall here. Before the Celtic saint died, and realising that his simple faith was being ravaged by the marauding Romans, he was carried to the edge of the Kieve (basin) where he launched his bell into the turbulent waters, declaring that his bell would never ring for unbelievers. Legend has it that at times the bell tolls to warn of misfortune to come. Ghostly monks have been witnessed chanting their dirge along the pilgrim path as well as two ghostly grey women, said to be St Nectan’s sisters: that legend says are buried beneath a large flat slab in the river, near the bottom of the water fall. St Nectan himself, is buried in an oak chest somewhere below the falls.

St Nectan’s Kieve was so esteemed that the Crusaders made special pilgrimages to bathe in its waters before leaving for the Holy Lands in the Middle-Ages. Legend also tells us that King Arthur’s knights swore their oaths here before setting off on their quests to find the holy grail.*

*Note added 14th November 2022. Holy Grail’s as chalices, exquisitely elegant in design, have become constant patterning in the Holy Essence (Y Ddraig Ffraed) that I have been helping to restore in SW Wales. Indeed, it is obvious when one thinks about it…the chalice-shaped St. Bride’s Bay, ‘Bae San Ffraed’ in Cumru (Welsh), that She emanates into and out of, is a Holy Grail itself. Inadvertently I also took a photograph, in a cave besides Ffraed’s central flow, of a tiny otherworldly chalice, heart and ddraig:

An otherworldly chalice, ddraig, and heart in a cave on Ffraed’s sacred flow.


Beautiful pictures of the Glen and Falls.


After a timeless ramble through the glen I arrived at the steep, footworn slate steps that wind up to the hermitage at the top of the waterfall. I was in luck, I had the place to myself. I was warmly welcomed by the guardian of St Nectan’s who made me a refreshing cup of tea before I eagerly picked my way reverently down some more foot-polished slate stairs to the bottom of the waterfall. Such beauty. It is truly awe-inspiring!… so much so that the genius artist,and friend of Charles Dickens and other notables of the era, Daniel Maclise, had it as the scene for his famous painting, “Girl at the Waterfall,” which hangs in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Entranced, I took a photograph of the gushing falls tumbling over the twenty-foot kieve and sensed a deep need to meditate in this, ‘the most perfect of place’. Squatting, facing the cascading waters I soon was oblivious to mundane things.

I took 3 more photographs of the waterfall, the kieve and the surrounding cliff walls, wandered along the stream to St Nectan’s sisters’ final resting place, sat a while longer and then reclimbed the steps to the Hermitage.

There is a delightful room, carved into the rock beneath the present buildings, that is said to be the site of St Nectan’s cell. Here, while one sits in this tranquil and private place, one feels somehow, not of this world; not of this time. Presently you will get the feeling that when you do open the door, you will be back in a time, almost forgotten, with the Good St Nectan.



Close by, across the Tintagel to Boscastle road is another place of mystery and magic. Aptly named Rocky Valley, the enchanting River Trevillet flows quickly down through dramatic scenery to spill into the Atlantic Ocean. On the way it passes by some (reputedly) 4,000 year-old rock art, finger labrynths, on cliff walls besides some abandoned mills or hermitages. One of the mazes is identical to one on the Hollywood Stone found in the Wicklow Mountains, and now in the National Museum of Ireland. – Ackroyd Gibson, The Illustrated London News, 9th January, 195?.

A couple of years after my initial visit I wandered down Rocky Valley with some companions. When we had crossed the bridge over the river one of my companions called out, “Look, your name (ELLIS) has been written on the wall!: It had been too, high up, and in my handwriting!

The first time that I visited Rocky Valley, in 1996, I think it was, I saw more than two labyrinth carvings on the rock face, five, as best I can recall. I’ve not found the others since but I think I will again one day.

Rocky Valley labyrinths. Creative commons: Tuxraider reloaded (talk)


The Labyrinths, Arthur’s Stone, St. Nectan’s, Bossiney, Condolden Barrow, Dimilioc, Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel and more

St. Symphorian’s Church


Three photographs (in sequence), taken at St Nectan’s Kieve. Monday 1st October 2001, sometime between 4.00pm and 6.00pm.

Note the stream of the waterfall and how black the background is, yet it was daylight.

Click-click-click photos taken with 35mm film camera. – Ellis C. Taylor


14th November 2022

First published 1st October 2001


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