Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NS 738 925
Archaeology & History
This little-known holy well on the northeastern edges of the Touch Hills is another part of our ancient heritage that may well have been lost. All that now remains are the literary remnants telling of this once important site, around which local socio-religious elements occurred from time to time. When the local historian J.S. Fleming (1898) wrote about the site, it had already disappeared, and was himself fortunate to recover information relating to its former existence. He told:
“My attention has been drawn to an article which appeared in the Stirling Journal of 31st October, 1834, describing what is claimed to be a Holy Well dedicated to Saint Corbet, or probably Saint Cuthbert. The well was situated in Touch Glen, not far from Gilmour’s Lynn, and was, even at that time, reduced to a spring one foot deep and three or four feet in circumference, surrounded by boggy ground. The writer states that there were people then alive who had resorted to this Well in their younger days. Its virtues were restricted to one hour in the year, and that the hour of sunrise on the first Sabbath of May; the supposition being that by drinking of its waters at the Well by the adventurous pilgrims to such a wild and lonely spot at early sunrise, the devotee was assured of the preservation of his life during that year. We have never come across this Saint’s name, but Saint Cuthbert had an altar in the Rude Kirk (High Church of Stirling) and, as for the Well, from its diminishing condition in 1834, its site no doubt has long been obliterated.”
It is possible that some remnant of the waters here can still be found, or are known about, by dedicated local practitioners—but without their aid, this sacred site may be forever lost…
In Thomas Frost’s (1899) essay on the holy wells of Scotland, he echoed what Mr Fleming had told, saying:
“Of St. Corbet’s Well, on the top of the Touch Hills…it was formerly believed that whoever drank its water before sunrise on the first Sunday in May was sure of another year of life, and crowds of persons resorted to the spot at that time, in the hope of thereby prolonging their lives.”
This restorative folklore element, implicit in the nature of water itself, was obviously related to the cycles of renewal in the social activity of our peasant ancestors, as found in every culture all over the world. (Eliade 1959; 1989)
One account relating to the disappearance of St. Corbet’s Well told that it fell back to Earth as the spirit of the site was insulted by profane practices. Janet & Colin Bord (1985) told that:
“This theme, of real or imagined insult to the well causing it to lose its power, move its location, or cease flowing altogether, is widespread. St. Corbet’s Well on the Touch Hills (Stirling) was said to preserve for a year anyone who drank from it on the first Sunday in May, before sunrise, and it was visited by great crowds at the height of its popularity. But the drinking of spirits became more popular than the drinking of well water, so St. Corbet withdrew the valuable qualities of the water, then eventually the water itself stopped flowing.”
- Andrews, William (ed.), Bygone Church Life in Scotland, W. Andrews: London 1899.
- Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
- Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Harcourt, Brace & World: New York 1959.
- Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Arkana: London 1989.
- Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
- Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
- Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
- “W.H.”, “St Corbet’s Well,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 3, 1904.
Acknowledgements: With thanks to Ray Spencer for pointing out the Sacred Waters reference. Cheers Ray!
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian