Tobar na Cailleach, Keith, Banffshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NJ 42659 47528 

Also Known as:

  1. Cailleach Well 
  2. Tobar Chailleach 
  3. Well of the Cailleach

Folklore

Cailleach Well on 1869 map

Described on the earliest OS-map of the region as Taber Chalaich, this great “well of the old woman, or hag” is found on the northern slopes of Cairds Hill, amidst increasingly dense woodland up the top of the stream which ebbs and flows in strength (depending on the weather).  A water source dedicated the prima mater Herself — i.e., the heathen pre-Celtic female creation deity par excellence — it was once of considerable repute locally as being a great curing well and was described by Ruth and Frank Morris (1981) as being,

“the scene of a pagan ceremony in which the Earth Mother in her old woman phase bathed at the well and returned as a young maiden.”

On the hill at the top we find remains of old tombs (mistakenly ascribed by Mr & Mrs Morris as ‘stone circles’), some of which may have had some mythic relationship with this legendary water source.  Further information and/or any photos of this little-known site would be hugely welcomed!

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea Press: Sandy 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


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2 thoughts on “Tobar na Cailleach, Keith, Banffshire”

  1. Hi,
    I saw you asked for more information, so here are some more quotes that might be related:

    “In the ” Old Statistical Account of Scotland” allusion is made to Tobir-Chalaich, i.e., Old Wife’s Well, situated near a stone circle in the parish of Keith, Banffshire, and to another well not far from a second circle in the same parish. The latter spring ceased to be visited about the middle of last century. Till then offerings were left at it by persons seeking its aid.”
    Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs by James Murray Mackinlay(1893)

    “Beginning with circles and standing stones: in Keith parish (Banff) two stone circles had wells close to them, Tobir-Chalaich, Old Wife’s Well (ie Cailleach, or hag, a distant memory of pagan goddesses)”
    Sacred waters : holy wells and water lore in Britain and Ireland, by Bord, Janet, 1945

    “Tobar na Caillich . Woman or old woman’s well. This word cailleach has many other meanings; here it may be rendered nun, the hooded or veiled one, from cattle, a hood or veil.”
    Place-names of Skye and Adjacent Islands: With Lore: Mythical, Traditional, and Historical, by Alexander Robert Forbes

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