Michael Williams was born in Aachen, Germany, a place known for centuries for its healing springs. He moved to England having trained as a Waldorf teacher, eventually settling in Uckfield, Sussex in 1995.
Since 2010 he has Worked in Service to the Waters of our county by tending, clearing and cleaning the springs of Sussex as well as those in other counties and by raising awareness of them in the community.
He is known as the Spring Seeker and Friend of the Waters and although happiest to be gently and quietly about his Work, he shares with us here some of his fascinating story and experiences with the hope that it may encourage others to honour and care for the living treasure which are the Waters of these lands.
You grew up in Bavaria in Germany, were there local springs close to your childhood home and during your early years there, did you have any clues to your future connection to springs and waterways?
Looking back, I remember that I was always exploring and of course we were able to do this because in Germany our school day began much earlier and finished at lunchtime. This meant that we were free to explore the local woodlands and countryside all afternoon.
One day I found a low cave in the woodlands close to my house and I crawled inside it and found that it was filled with water. At the time I didn't realise that I had discovered a spring for I was only about 9 or 10 years of age.
Later, as a teenager I remember that one day I went off to visit my friend and on the way to meet her, I came across one of the mountain spring run offs and I just started to follow this waterway, tracing it back in the search for its source. I didn't actually find it, but I wanted to! Looking back, I understand that I was already becoming aware of an affinity with the waters and that I was drawn towards seeing them.
Can you remember your first encounter with a spring in Sussex? Where was it and what was your interaction with it?
I remember going to Plawhatch Farm because I had heard that there was a spring there where the waters could be collected and taken for drinking. When I arrived there, it so happened that an old colleague and friend of mine was visiting the farm aspart of a Steiner School camping trip. My friend informed me that there was a tap that gave the spring water not only by the farm buildings, but also further down in the farmland and she directed me to this and generously gave me her own empty water containers which along with my own demijohns, I then eagerly filled with the wonderful spring waters.
When I then returned to replenish my bottles some time later, there was a notice up at the farm informing everyone that the spring had run dry – which apparently was not uncommon during hotter summer months.
This then gave rise to two impulses within me; firstly to find the source of this spring water, the spring that I understood to be in the field above. This I did quite easily because there was a Victorian construction around it, which was more like something which might be found around a well. At that time, the brickwork of this construction was crumbling and the well cover had long since decayed and fallen inward and brambles and various undergrowth was all but covering it. However, looking inside I was able to clearly see below, water flowing rather like an underground stream. I remember thinking to myself that ‘this spring may have run dry, or almost dry but, there must be thousands of springs all over this county and some of them will never run dry. All I have to do, is to find them.’
This then became the second impulse; to seek out and find springs. I soon realised as I did find each spring, that they needed tending in some way . They needed clearing of rubbish, of debris and of sludge build-up. They also needed help in regaining their natural flow.
For me, springs are the ‘Eyes Of The Earth’ and it is up to us to move what might be blocking them from ‘seeing’.
What was it about springs in particular which drew you to them?
I found that every spring that I came across was completely different and unique from any other. This was a complete revelation. Each one had its own characteristics and its own way; some were powerful and flowing like little streams and yet others were so delicate, with just the smallest and most gentle slow trickling of water flowing from them. And of course, there was every other type in between.
These springs however were always in special places and the experience of being in these places and working there - clearing away the rubbish and debris and sludge so that the run of the water was restored, became a completely magical experience each and every time.
When working at the springs there is a process that one has to go through. It begins with a physical clearing of metals and plastics and other rubbish but then presently, one finds clear sand and it is at that point you know that you are getting close to the source. This is always a wonderful moment of excitement and of purity.
I found that at each spring cleaning there would also be a moment where the waters would begin to run again and then, they would begin to sing. These were and still are, the magical moments – the true music to my ears.
How then did your work develop into seeking out further springs and can you share with us any particular experiences that have moved you when working at a spring?
There is a spring in Forest Row that I'm sure many are familiar with. This is TheLion Spring. It is a beautiful public place, not locked down or off limits due to it being on private land. It is accessible to all and people come from far and wide to visit it
The waters come out of a lion’s head and over its copper tongue and then run into a basin where the waters then move through a little outlet and then flow into a small streamlet and then out and onward, eventually flowing into the River Medway.
The structure around the basin is made from sand stone and one day as I was gently cleaning the sandstone at this spring, I found that it began to glow, revealing beautiful colours within it - it shone! I stopped for a moment deciding how light a touch was needed in the cleaning of this site and as I was doing this, I noticed that there was a gap in the mortar to the side of the spring basin. As I continued to notice this gap, which was very small, out of it slowly emerged a very large frog. I was amazed as I just couldn't believe that such a large creature could come out of such a tiny space.
Since that day I have come to understand that there are Guardians of the springs in these lands and to me, it is as if these Guardians are asking for New Guardians to come forward and take over from them. It is as if they have been waiting for us. Since that day, this has been my experience at many springs.
What personal benefit have you found when working with the waters ofSussex?
How hasn't it benefited me!
I have developed enthusiasm for the waters so much so, that I pass it on to all and everyone that I come into contact with, whether they want to hear it or not! ThoughI have found that this enthusiasm is very infectious.
My water work brings me into contact with the sunlight and with nature and it takes me into a different world.
It also brings me into contact with other humans and this contact comes about in the most unexpected of ways and over the years I have met with amazing characters from all walks of life and I've had marvellous exchanges with them.
Perhaps most importantly what I can share with you about these places where springs flow and of the waters themselves, is their living quality and their energy. Somehow the energy at these sites is more alive and the waters have an effect as to make one feel more inwardly alive.
By being in direct contact with the running waters of a spring, it is as if the energy there is able to come through the skin and into the body and this brings about a wonderful enlivening.
These encounters and experiences are truly rejuvenating and bring about incredibly powerful health benefits which clear and restore and revitalise the body and makes one feel completely wonderful. And of course, working with the springs can allow us to come into contact with so many interesting people which in turn creates new friendships also.
How did you come across the source of the River Medway and can you tell us a little about your experience there?
The origins of my first visit to the source of the river Medway remain shrouded in mystery and indeed sometimes these places are veiled to us and for good reason,
In the case of the River Medway, I was impulsed to find the source of the river and felt that it must be spring fed. And so I did a little research online and saw that the source was recorded as being in Butchers Wood at Turners Hill. So I then took myself off and out in search of it and it didn't take long to find a brook in the woodland which I then followed uphill.
There is a belief that there are actually several sources of the River Medway and after deciding that this brook may have been fed by the run-off from the fields,I found myself being drawn towards a large tree on a nearby steep bank. There beneath the debris of fallen leaves I found a sculpted stone.
I saw that there was water that was flowing up and into it, filling its basin-like structure. This stone had a sister stone in front of it with a channel carved within it, obviously to direct the waters forward from the main basin. Somehow a crack had developed and one large stone had become two. I then set about filling this space with nearby clay and then watched the waters come forward and flow downward towards the other waterway.
Although these waters sank below the ground just a little way from the stone basin, I was certain but they rose up again just a little further away. The position of this basin on the bank and under the trees means that this spring, marked so beautifully by the stone basin, becomes completely and almost permanently filled with natural debris. It is an interesting mystery as to why it was placed there. Someone at some time obviously felt it to be very important.
What developments have you seen with regard to growing interest in springs and water in general in the county?
The resurgence in interest came about through my connection with my friend Julia and through the group Sacred Waters of Sussex. Ever since we struck up our friendship we have been able to meet with like-hearted people and carry out Spring Cleaning in the county.
At Fulking Spring we spent a particularly successful day cleaning the grove where the seven springs rise and it was a wonderful occasion with many beautiful people in attendance all working carefully and beautifully together. I am pleased to say that this site is now regularly visited and honoured.
Also our work at Eager Spring at Hoathly Hill, which was a completely derelict spring which the community then re-instated very beautifully after an initial collaboration with Sacred Waters of Sussex, has brought forward a Guardianship intention, where recently the original Guardians who were elected at the restoration have now passed on their role to the next generation. Ceremony too is also regularly carried out there with members of the community, of all ages, in attendance.
The interest in local springs and their care does tend to wax and wane. However Ido feel that this interest is growing. It is wonderful for example to see that the Lion’s Head spring in Forest Row is now being looked after and that the sandstone slabs have been repaired and that flowers are regularly left for the waters. This is very beautiful and indeedI even noticed recently that somebody had put a shell in that very same hole where I had witnessed the frog emerging years before.
Perhaps this signifies that a New Guardian is watching over this water site. For me this is a wonderful recognition and I know that I am not alone, fighting in the darkness - I am encouraged to know that more people are coming forward to take care of our local waters.
I understand that you have taken on a ‘apprentice’ – what are your hopesfor the future of the waters of Sussex and for the River Medway?
One of the younger generation expressed to me a real interest in local springs and so during 2021 I took him out and we visited a great many of them. This was marvellous because he had the energy of youth and was able to clear sludge and debris that I may not have been able to do on my own. While carrying out this work he was able to experience all those marvellous things that I had experienced myself when beginning this work, those experiences which I have expressed previously.
My hopes for the future are that people begin to take care of their local water sources.That they seek them out, that they feel them, that they carefully tend them and that they adopt Guardianship of them.
These places need our tender and loving care on a regular basis and it is my true hope that more people will come to learn this art and come into relationship with the waters again.
Signs are encouraging. More and more people, who have lived somewhere for perhaps 20 years or more and who have not had any idea that a natural spring is close by, have now suddenly, by some means or other, become aware that there is indeed water close to them and they have begun to visit them.
I understand that recently your Work with your apprentice was observed bya group of schoolchildren. Could you share this with us and, what do you feel our children need to know and experience with regard to our waterways?
Yes recently I was with my apprentice, and I'm pleased to say that this is apprentice Number 2, and during our walk to Tablehurst Farm on which we passed by Emerson College, we took a turn towards a spring there which we then decided to clean.
Presently it began to flow well and a group of children that were having their Forest School session nearby, were drawn towards our work and coming over they all began to watch, very carefully, what we were doing.
After a little while my apprentice and I were able to find the source of the spring, a little hole where the water was pouring out. The children were very excited and fascinated by this and wanted to put their hands in it.
While my apprentice and I then engaged in a conversation with the children’s teacher, the children then just took over our work and were completely absorbed in it. They were gently clearing and cleaning debris away from the spring run-off and helping the waters to flow beautifully.
The young generation just need a little bit of guidance and then they can just takeover and of course this is very beautiful. I'm very pleased to share with you that now these children, with the help of their teacher, are indeed going to take over the Guardianship of this spring and we can know that it is in good hands now, for years to come
What is your guidance with regard to how we might approach and work with our local springs?
You can approach this work in different ways - it all depends on your personality.
The first thing is to get a feel for the Earth by just beginning to walk around the area in which you live. You can use your local maps to begin looking for local streams and ponds and even the wells which will be recorded on them and then just generally get a feel for where the water lies on the map. Following this, you just go and seek them out.
Very often there are clues or markers in local names, for example a road or a house called ‘Spring View’ - these can be very good guides indeed. Once you start looking, you will begin to see them in all sorts of places.
Quite often you can find water troughs from the days when horses and cattle were taken to be watered and sometimes you can find defunct well houses and water pumps -these too are very often a sign that a spring is close by.
A very good place to start is by asking the simple question, ‘where was my local water source in the days before water was pumped in from far and wide?’
You can also go to your local library to carry out some research or try your local HistorySociety where very often there will be someone who will know something or someone who can put you in touch with someone who does.
What happens next is up to you! My advice is to become The Explorer - and in time you will develop a sixth sense for the waters.
I will also say that these water sites do not always want to be found - some places just do not wish to be disturbed or cleared or touched by human hands and when we come to such places it is very important that we just witness them and then leave quietly and mindfully.
At other times we will be called to a water site and it will need our help to flow. In my experience, if there is a willingness from us we will find those places that are in need of our Service - the waters call to us and it is up to us to respond,
Also we can consider and increase our ‘range’ of helping. If we find ourselves in a different part of the country or even a different part of the world, we can use our fascination to bring us into contact with the waters in these places also.
In our water work, whether within our own county or in the world beyond we will find the interconnectedness of all things by the interconnectedness of all waters.
The waters are a rhythmical system akin to our own rhythmical body system and when we work with the natural rhythms, we find that we never tire - we find inTruth, that our willing connectedness to the waters and to all things allows us to become truly enlivened.
Michael Williams was talking to J Julia for Friends of theRiver Medway - January 2022
If you would like to find out more about the springs of Sussex and about Spring Cleaning, you can contact Michael at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© jjulia for Amarna Arts 2022