A FEW metres from the banks of the River Tyne, as it flows past Prestonkirk Church at East Linton, there is an ancient well of clear water. A plaque on a nearby wall explains that it has been called St Baldred’s Well from “time immemorial”.

The well is now easy to see and reach from the nearby path, which forms part of the John Muir Way.

This is largely thanks to the work of a local resident, Robert Russel, who for the last few years has volunteered to maintain the steps that lead to the well, and has even created a simple but effective drainage system. He’s done a great job, not only the steps, but on the well itself, keeping it clear of overgrowth.

Robert is a member of the local community council, and I met him last weekend with my family. It was the day the heavens had opened and more water seemed to be falling from the sky than flowing past us in the river. He was dressed for the weather, although us not so much.

But we never let rain put us off an adventure, especially when it involves the kids jumping in puddles or finding exciting new ways to get soaking wet. It wasn’t cold at least.

I ventured down the steps, followed by my youngest kids, Skye and Lewis. We reached the well, which is small, square and lined with stone.

“It’s a really old well,” I explained to them. But they had hoped the steps would take them to the river itself, and their interest was immediately caught by the narrow drainage ditch made by Robert that led to it. They wanted to scramble along this and, when I didn’t allow it, they wandered back up the steps to find another way to the river’s edge with my wife Kate.

It allowed me some moments with Robert as he worked away. I stood looking down at the well as bullets of rain made dancing circles in its clear water. I wondered how old it really was; did it really date back to the time of St Baldred? He was a real historical figure, a saint who has been called the Apostle of the Lothians, who spread the Christian message in this part of the country. East Lothian has many places named after him or associated with him; this old well is just one.

Yet he also remains an enigmatic figure. In piecing together the fragments of evidence for his life, we can find contradictions even in the time he lived, either the sixth or eighth century.

There has been much myth-making about his life, and perhaps the earlier time is favoured because it makes him a contemporary with other early Celtic saints. Some favour the later date as more reliable, but then this may be a confusion with another saint of a similar name, St Balther, who was also at Lindisfarne. Perhaps they were the same saint in different versions of his story.

Regardless of the actual time span, it seems St Baldred had been part of the Lindisfarne community before coming to the area now known as East Lothian, although he may have come originally from Ireland. The stories of his miracles give us the most powerful image of him: a man so beloved by his followers that after death his body was miraculously ‘triplicated’ (turned into three identical bodies!). This allowed him to be buried in the three locations most closely associated with him, so saving arguments amongst his followers as to where he should rest. One body was buried at Prestonkirk, the other two at Auldhame and Tyninghame.

Such tales convey a sense that St Baldred was much venerated in his time, and even more so after his death. Standing by the well which bears his name, I wondered: was this where he baptised people, nearly 1,300 years ago? In fact, as the plaque on the wall suggests, it could have been a sacred site even before St Baldred sanctified it for his faith.

This is highly probable, as the sacredness of water as the source of life, and the devotion to sacred wells, pre-dates Christianity. It was common for Christian missionaries to adopt existing venerated sites as their own. So this place may have had an even earlier sacred significance for people whose voices and beliefs have not been recorded by history.

And what history is here! On our walk to the well, we ventured through the graveyard of Prestonkirk Church, which sits on a mound overlooking the river, glimpsed at through lush woodland. A part of the older church building, dating from the 13th century, still survives on the eastern wall, but there would have been an even earlier church here. It is a site of worship dedicated to St Baldred since the time he walked by the river bank.

Today so many ancestors of this land lie buried here, fragments of their stories told on the worn inscriptions of gravestones, but most lost in the mist of time. Recorded history is always but a small glimpse of what once was.

As I stood by the well, the rain drummed on the trees above and onto the ground, literally drowning out the sound of nearby traffic.

The well was beginning to overflow, and its water trickled to the river, following the drainage ditch made by Robert. Hence it would flow into the river and then the sea, eventually to become the clouds and rainstorms of the future.

Here was the life cycle of water, from the heavens and back again. I fancied that it could even be the same water that was used by St Baldred, because the water on our treasured planet has been the same since its creation.

An old ash tree stands guard by the well, its ancient trunk broken, but still holding onto life with a branch that reached out as if in prayer.

For me, it’s what I can feel, as much as what is historically known about a location, that gives it value. That day, in the warm but drenching rain, with the Tyne in a deep flowing mood and the trees cowering in their autumn colours, watching a grey heron fish, I felt the sacredness of the place.

And I was thankful for Robert’s guardianship of it. It is worth spending time here, although some may say “not much to see”, which is true in one sense. But like the way we live life itself, it depends on how we value and appreciate what is around us, and what connects to our inner senses of awe and wonder.

My final thought as I chatted to Robert was that a small unobtrusive stone seat by the well would be perfect, to allow someone to sit in a moment of contemplation here, amidst the embrace of old trees and ancient legend.

This thought was broken by the excited screams from my kids. They had found a way to the river with their mum, and beckoned me to see. They were at the weir, which is associated with the remarkable old Preston Mill nearby. Both of them had managed to find a way to get even wetter, despite being already drookit.

It was time to leave, get home and the kids have a hot bath. I thanked Robert and we set off. In the car, Skye had a fleeting memory.

“I think I’ve been there before,” she said. She was right, as the weir had attracted her attention on a walk when she was four years old, and we had to prevent her from getting too close.

“Next time we come, I’ll tell you about the well, which could be over 1,300 years old, and the stories of the saint it’s named after,” I said.

“Is that man Robert the saint?” she asked.

I smiled. “No, but he is now also part of the well’s story,” I replied.

“Us too,” Skye said.

She was right. We are all part of the cycle in different ways.