Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NN 77905 17365
Take the B827 road between Comrie and Braco. If you’re coming via Comrie, going uphill for 3.1 miles (5.1km); but if from Braco Roman Camp go along and eventually downhill for 6.6 miles (10.6km), watching out for the track to Middleton Farm by the roadside. Walk along for 125 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the boggy ground below on your left. You’re there!
Archaeology & History
Immediately east of the prodigious megalithic complex of Dunruchan, bubbling up amidst the usual Juncus conglomeratus reeds, are the boggy remnants of St. Patrick’s Well—one of two such sacred wells dedicated to the early Irish saint in Muthill parish. We’re at a loss as to why this Irish dood has such sites in his name in this area. No doubt some transitional shamanic character was doing the rounds in this glorious landscape, muttering words of some neo-christian animism, eventually settling a mile from the great megalithic complex, perhaps hoping—and failing—to convert our healthy heathen populace into ways unwise.
Whatever he may have been up to, a small stone chapel was built hereby and, it was said, even a christian graveyard, to tempt folk away from the ancient plain of cairns whence our ancestors had long since buried their dead. But the christian’s chapel and graveyard has long since gone; and when historians before me had visited the place, St Patrick’s Well had also fallen back to Earth in the drier summers, taking the blood of the Earth back into Her body. The heathen megaliths still remain however, standing proud on the moorland plain in clear sight from these once healing waters, whose mythic history, on the whole, has long since been disregarded….
St Partick’s day on March 17—”a date very near the Spring Equinox,” as Mrs Banks (1939) reminded us—may have been the dates when the waters here were deemed particularly efficacious, although we have nothing in written accounts to tell us for sure. But in the 19th century Statistical Account we find that the site was “much frequented once, as effectual in curing the hooping cough.” E.J. Guthrie (1885) told of an ancient rite regarding the drinking of the waters for effect of the cure, saying:
“In the course of this century a family came from Edinburgh, a distance of nearly sixty miles, to have the benefit of the well. The water must be drunk before sunrise or immediately after it sets and that out of a “quick cow’s horn”, or a horn taken from a live cow, and probably dedicated to this saint.”
Also in Muthill parish, Guthrie told, St Patrick’s memory was held in such veneration that farmers and millers did not work on his day.
- Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folk-lore Society: Glasgow 1939.
- Booth, C. Gordon, “St Patrick’s Well (Muthill Parish),” in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, New Series volume 1, 2000.
- Guthrie, E.J., Old Scottish Customs, Thomas D. Morison: Glasgow 1885.
- MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
- Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian