Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NO 5869 5904
Travel north towards Brechin on the B9134, and cross the River South Esk at Stannochy Bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge, go through the double tubular steel gates to your right, descend the steep slope and walk along the boundary fence dividing the riverside field from the sloping woodland until you reach a tubular steel pedestrian gate. Go through this gate, over the burn and keep walking 150 yards or so to the right and St. Ouret’s Well is seen near the top of the slope.
Archaeology & History
Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin wrote in 1872 :
“Ouret – Close to Brechin, on the north bank of the Esk, near the Stannochy Bridge, is S.Ouret’s Well.”
Perusal of the 25″ OS map of 1865 shows an enclosure marked ‘spring’ with a short pathway to the north-east, as the only water feature answering the written description. My field visit just over a century and a half later found a spring issuing at that point from the embankment, with the remains of old rough stone walling on either side of the spring. There was no sign of the pathway. The walling around an otherwise unremarkable spring located away from habitation would imply to me that this is the Saint’s Well.
As the good Bishop mentions the Well as the last entry in the Auctaria of his 1872 book—an afterthought as you will—it seems reasonable that the knowledge of St. Ouret and his well may have been at that time on the point of oblivion. The well is not noted as such by the earlier Ordnance Survey map, nor can I find his name in any other of the hagiographies at my disposal.
Intriguingly, ‘Ouret’ is a modern Basque surname, and while it is tempting to think of a Basque Holy Man walking the Pictland, the name is more likely a transliteration into Scots from a now lost Pictish or Gaelic name. There is a mysterious ‘Uoret’ named in the inscription (as interpreted by Elisabeth Okasha) ‘DROSTEN : IRE UORET [E]TT FORCUS’ on the Drosten Stone at St Vigeans, who may be our saint, but this Uoret has been interpreted by Thomas Clancy as the Pictish King Uurad, son of Bargoit, who ruled from 839 to 842. I know of no reference as to where Forbes obtained his information on Ouret or his well, but is it reasonable to hypothesise that the information was passed to him orally and what he wrote down as ‘Ouret’ may have been meant to be the very similar sounding ‘Uoret’? Or alternately was King Uurad subjected to local canonisation as St Uoret/Ouret after his death? Can anyone add more?
A mile or so south of here is the holy well of St. Murdoch.
- Forbes, Alexander Penrose, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmonston and Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
- Dwelly, Edward, Gaelic – English Dictionary, Garmin Publications: Glasgow 1988
© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2016