Barton Springs

Barton Spring

Barton Hills are situated southeast of the village of Barton-le-Clay in the county of Bedfordshire. They are part of the Chilterns and hiking routes are marked on maps at the entrance to the hills. From the foot of the hillside, Barton Springs marks the start of a chalk stream river. During the summer, Dartmoor ponies roam the hills.

A large part of the area is managed by Natural England as a National Nature Reserve. The reserve is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The steep well-grazed slopes are a classic downland habitat, however there were no sheep on the hills from about 1930 until the 1980s and woodland has formed on the hillside to the west of the stream which issues from Barton Springs. The reserve is the main site in Bedfordshire for the pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), and in some years over a thousand flowers are present.

pasque flower

Pasque Flower

Other unusual plants are field fleawort and a dwarf form of hairy violet.

Barton Hill

Seasonal highlights


The purple pasque flower is in full bloom between late April and early June. Other early flowering plants you will come across include cowslip and dog violet. If you are lucky you may also spot the greater pignut in the grassland or herb paris in the wet edges of the woodland. Some butterflies also start appearing, such as the dingy skipper and grizzled skipper.

grizzled skipper

Grizzled Skipper


The grassland is in riotous colour with purples, pinks and yellows including clustered bellflower, wild marjoram and rock rose. The north east corner of the site is home to several species of orchid such as the common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid and the muted twayblade.

fragrant orchid

Fragrant Orchid

Butterflies will flit energetically from flower to flower and dragonflies can be seen on the water’s edge.

dragon fly


If you venture out after dark in June or July, you may get a glimpse of female glow worms shining brightly from the tops of grass stalks.


Late blooms, such as the Chiltern and autumn gentians are still around. The woodland on the eastern slopes takes on a stunning palette of autumn colours. Red kites have spread north since they were introduced in the Chilterns 20 years ago.

red kite

Red Kite

Fungi of all kinds can be found on dead or dying trees and rotting logs, as well as in the grassland.


A good time to watch the birds feeding on black sloe berries on blackthorn, pink spindle berries with orange centres and the bright red fruits of the yew tree.

yew berry

In early times, the darkly glorious yew-tree was probably the only evergreen tree in Britain. Both Druids with their belief in reincarnation, and later Christians with their teaching of the resurrection, regarded it as a natural emblem of everlasting life. Its capacity for great age enriched its symbolic value. The early Irish regarded it as one of the most ancient beings on earth. Yew is the last on a list of oldest things in a passage from the fourteenth century Book of Lismore: ‘Three lifetimes of the yew for the world from its beginning to its end.’


Nearby Barton-le-Clay has a parish population of 4,793 (in the 2001 Census) and lies at the foot of the chalk escarpment that makes up much of the landscape of South Bedfordshire and Luton. The village has given its name to the Barton Hills which offer excellent walks and views. The name derives from the Old English bere-tun and means ‘barley farm/settlement’. The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded the name as Bertone. ‘Clay’ is a later addition referring to the local drift geology (transported rock debris overlying the solid bedrock, the name used to be Barton in the Clay).

Barton-Le-Clay Domesday Book entry, taken from 210d 2.

In FLITT Hundred M. The Abbot also holds Barton (in-the-clay). It answers for 11 hides. Land for 12 ploughs. In lordship 3 hides; 2 ploughs there; a third possible. 20 villagers have 9 ploughs. 7 smallholders and 6 slaves. 1 mill, 2s, meadow for 6 ploughs; woodland, 200 pigs. In total, value £10; the same when acquired; before 1066 £12. This manor always lay in (the lands of) St Benedict’s Church. With this manor the Abbot claims against Nigel of Aubigny and Walter the Fleming 12 acres (49,000 m2) of meadow which lay there before 1066, but John of Les Roches dispossessed him wrongfully, and this the Hundred testifies.

In the north-eastern part of Barton Hills, there is a good, visible example of a lynchet field system. This is where hillsides were terraced to provide flat agricultural land. Another example of industrial archaeology in this part of the site is an open chalk pit, exposing the geology of the reserve which is integral to its varied habitats and species.

The area around the springs includes the remnants of a water supply system which used to feed a series of watercress beds, once an important local enterprise.


In the winter the sounds of a coach can be heard pulling up at the door of the ancient, moated Faldo Farm.

The Waterside Mill at Barton-le-Clay appears to be haunted by two ghosts. The first was seen by John Duggan when he was leaving the premises which are now a restaurant. He locked up and was just about to drive away when he saw a figure in the window of the mill beckoning him to return. Thinking he had locked someone in he went back to the mill and searched all over but could find no one. A week later, again as he was leaving, his car headlights lit up the figure of a woman at a window. He described her as “an old woman probably in her eighties”. He particularly noted her long grey hair and bony hands as she beckoned him to return.

The second ghost was heard by a visitor to the restaurant who heard the persistent crying of a child whilst she was visiting the toilet. At that time there were no children in the restaurant.

In the 21st century, the Hills were reputedly used as a training ground for Islamic terrorists from nearby Luton

How to Get There

Access to the site is via footpaths from the B655. In Barton-le-Clay paths leading to the reserve can be found at the end of two roads: Old Road and Church Road, both off the B655.

The terrain at Barton Hills is steep and difficult in places and is mostly unsuitable for wheelchairs. Depending on the weather, the path alongside the stream from the hay meadow towards the spring can be suitable for wheelchair access.

Barton Springs

Holy Wells and Sacred Springs

“A holy well, or sacred spring, is a small body of water emerging from underground and revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both. Holy wells were frequently pagan sacred sites that later became Christianized. The term ‘holy well’ is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name, an associated legend, the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or Christian saint, or a ceremony or ritual centered on the well site. In Christian legend, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint, a familiar theme especially in the hagiography of Celtic saints.”

In ancient times springs were particularly revered since the waters that emanate from their depths have been touched the least by the crude matter of the exterior world and as such they carry the memory of the womb of Mother Earth in its pristine state.

This understanding survives in folklore all around the world, and it was understood by ancient cultures for thousands of years. The reverence of the sacred spring went beyond maintaining the purity of the water, a thing most essential in itself , but it appears that the equilibrium of the individual, the tribe, even the immediate landscape depended on the purity and sanctity of the water emanating from a sacred spring.

Votive offerings are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favour with supernatural forces. Votive offerings have been described in the historical Roman era and in Greek sources, and many artifacts have been recovered from wells, rivers and lakes. Similar votive acts continue into the present day, for example in traditional Catholic culture and in the modern-day practice of tossing coins into a wishing well or fountain.

In many parts of Europe the tradition of honouring sacred springs was maintained well into the Celtic era. When they were protected by what is called ‘well dressing’, where permanent stone structures were erected over the spring so as to maintain the purity of the site.

Later such places became holy wells. But the practice of well dressing survived right into Victorian times, specifically in Britain, where it is still possible to see elaborate, Gothic structures protecting the springs and where the practice is still common.

As the Catholic church replaced the Celtic system, the holy wells were often dedicated to Christian saints or the Virgin Mary rather than pagan deities.  The church also adopted the use of holy water and it is interesting to note that in older churches the water fonts—which traditionally sit in the western part of the church—still sit over blind springs.

A blind spring is the result of a spiraling subterranean energy generated by the movement of water as it passes through fissures below the ground. Since these blind springs tend to attract lines of magnetic force, the rising vortex of energy is highly charged. When it reaches the surface it penetrates the granite of the church font and charges the coarse grains of quartz crystal which make up the rock.

Due to the memory storage properties of quartz crystal any water placed inside such fonts will be affected by the stored energy charging the water and making it whole— literally holy water.

It is also not surprising therefore that the emerging Catholic church decided to place its holy wells on top of existing pagan sacred springs, precisely to take advantage of their special properties.

To this day, many sacred springs are honoured with prayers and offerings in a continual reinforcement of the spirit of place that maintains the purity and effectiveness of such a precious outpouring of the Earth.

The recent scientific experiments of Masaro Emoto, showing how human intent has a profound affect on the shape and crystalline structure of water, is proof that prayers and words of veneration, particularly aimed at water, will charge its properties.

In the Georgian and Victorian eras many patients were referred by their doctors to find cures for ailments in holy wells and sacred springs, thus the popularity of the Spa town, following what had been the practice for thousands of years.

To some degree the healing properties of sacred springs come from the dissolved mineral content inherent in their waters, and there is no doubt that many are very good for your health.  A famous example is the Chalice Well in Glastonbury with its high content of iron which gives the water its renowned reddish colour.

Recent discoveries may just prove these myths to have been borne out of a basic truth. When comparing the water from sacred springs and holy wells to normal water under the microscope, it displays a higher vorticular motion than ordinary water. In other words, there are millions of tiny vortices whirling in a very excited state, as if the water is alive. This water also exhibits energetic properties that allow it to capture a much higher frequency of the light spectrum.

During medieval times kings in northern Europe would send for sacred well water to be brought from the countryside in cups made of quartz to maintain its purity.

Given the interaction between blind springs, underground water and magnetism, if a person happens to be in the right place at the right time they will often see unusual light phenomena emerging from these special places. Sometimes this takes on the form of balls of light, or orbs. There are also many cases of unusual light features captured on modern camera equipment that is able to register frequencies in the ultraviolet range. Perhaps this may explain apparitions reported at sites of springs such as Lourdes,  a place of veneration since ancient times.

legendary lore of holywells and healingsprings

Crop Circle near Barton-le-Clay

Pentagram Crop Circle Barton-le-Clay

Barton Le Clay, Barton Springs, Bedfordshire, Reported 14th August 2008.

This formation has two tapered and delicate crescents surrounding the pentagram.

Of Pagan and occult significance from ancient times, the Pentagram was very important to the Pythagoreans. This symbol runs through history in many mystical ways. It also appears in Masonic regalia, the layout of Washington DC, and is the basic design for one of the largest buildings on earth, The Pentagon.

In Ancient Greek the word Pentemychos (πεντέμυχος lit. “five corners” or “five recesses”) was the title of the cosmogony of Pherecydes of Syros.  Here, the “five corners” are where the seeds of Chronos are placed within the Earth in order for the cosmos to appear.

In Neoplatonism, the pentagram was said to have been used as a symbol or sign of recognition by the Pythagoreans, who called the pentagram ὑγιεία hugieia “health”.

The pentagram was used in ancient times as a Christian symbol for the five senses  or of the five wounds of Christ. A Christian use of the pentangle occurs in the 14th-century English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the symbol decorates the shield of the hero, Gawain. The unnamed poet credits the symbol’s origin to King Solomon, and says the symbol is key to understanding the work. The poet explains that each of the five interconnected points represents a virtue tied to a group of five. Gawain is keen in his five senses, dextrous in his five fingers, faithful to the salvation provided through the Five Wounds of Christ, takes courage from the five joys that Mary had of Jesus, and exemplifies the five virtues of knighthood.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and others perpetuated the popularity of the pentagram as a magic symbol, attributing the five neoplatonic elements to the five points, in typical Renaissance fashion. By the mid-19th century a further distinction had developed amongst occultists regarding the pentagram’s orientation. With a single point upwards it depicted spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially “good”. However, the influential writer Eliphas Levi called it evil whenever the symbol appeared the other way up.

“A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates.”

“Let us keep the figure of the Five-pointed Star always upright, with the topmost triangle pointing to heaven, for it is the seat of wisdom, and if the figure is reversed, perversion and evil will be the result.”

Aleister Crowley made use of the pentagram in his Thelemic system of magick: an adverse or inverted pentagram represents the descent of spirit into matter, according to the interpretation of Lon Milo DuQuette. Crowley contradicted his old comrades in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who, following Levi, considered this orientation of the symbol evil and associated it with the triumph of matter over spirit.

Wiccan publications described ritual practices involving pentagrams since at least the 1980s, and within traditional forms of Wicca, a pentagram (no circle) with two points up is associated with the Second Degree Initiation.

Wiccans began to use the pentagram as a symbol of their faith by the 1990s. Because of a perceived association with Satanism and occultism, many United States schools in the late 1990s sought to prevent students from displaying the pentagram on clothing or jewelry. In public schools, such actions by administrators have been determined to be in violation of students’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion in 2000. The encircled pentagram (referred to as a pentacle by the plaintiffs) was added to the list of 38 approved religious symbols to be placed on the tombstones of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery on 24 April 2007. The decision was made following ten applications from families of fallen soldiers who practiced Wicca. The government paid the families USD 225,000 to settle their pending lawsuits.

The pentagram is featured on the national flags of Morocco (adopted 1915) and Ethiopia (adopted 1996), in reference to the Seal of Solomon.

The Order of the Eastern Star, an organization associated with Freemasonry (established 1850), used to have a point-down pentagram as its symbol, with the five isosceles triangles of the points colored blue, yellow, white, green, and red.

Golden ratio
The golden ratio, φ = (1 + √5) / 2 ≈ 1.618, plays an important role in regular pentagons and pentagrams. Each intersection of edges sections the edges in the golden ratio: the ratio of the length of the edge to the longer segment is φ, as is the length of the longer segment to the shorter. Also, the ratio of the length of the shorter segment to the segment bounded by the two intersecting edges (a side of the pentagon in the pentagram’s center) is φ. The pentagram includes ten isosceles triangles: five acute and five obtuse isosceles triangles. In all of them, the ratio of the longer side to the shorter side is φ. The acute triangles are golden triangles.


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