Wells o’ Wearie, Duddingston, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Sacred Wells (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2741 7241

Also Known as:

  1. Wells o’ Weary
  2. Well of Wery

Archaeology & History

Wells o' Wearie ponds

The Wells o’ Wearie ponds

The precise spot for these “wells” is difficult to say today with any certainty, which is unfortunate as it was a renowned spot for a variety of reasons.  The wells were apparently disrupted and fell back into the Earth when the Industrialists dug their train-line into the south-side of Arthur’s Seat.  On the early maps, we can see several ‘troughs’, ‘pumps’ and ‘wells’—one or more of which are said to be the site (and which we base the OS grid-reference on, above).

Shown on Kirkwood's 1821 map

Shown on 1821 Kirkwood map

The Wells of Wearie were one of nearly a dozen sacred and healing wells surrounding legendary Arthur’s Seat at the edge of Edinburgh, and whose waters were also said to have supernatural properties.  Shown on James Kirkwood’s 1821 map of Edinburgh (left) as the ‘Well of Wery’, this curiously named site was renowned in earlier centuries as an excellent water supply for the local people — “to cure the weary traveller” for one.  Today, all we have left of them are the small ponds immediately below the road, next to the converted railway line path, just as you come out of the long tunnel.

Folklore

In Henderson & Cowan’s (2007) fine work on Scottish fairy lore, they outline the witchcraft trial of a local woman, Janet Boyman, who was said to have performed ritual magick at the Wells of Wearie.  They told:

“Jonet Boyman of Canongate, Edinburgh, accused in 1572 of witchcraft and diabolic incantation, the first Scottish trial for which a detailed indictment has so far been found. Indeed, it is one of the richest accounts hitherto uncovered for both fairy belief and charming, suggesting an intriguing tradition which associated, in some way, the fairies with the legendary King Arthur.  At an ‘elrich well’ on the south side of Arthur’s Seat, Jonet uttered incantations and invocations of the ‘evill spreits quhome she callit upon for to come to show and declair’ what would happen to a sick man named Allan Anderson, her patient.  She allegedly first conjured ‘ane grit blast’ like a whirlwind, and thereafter appeared the shape of a man who stood on the other side of the well, and interesting hint of liminality.  She charged this conjured presence, in the name of the father, the son, King Arthur and Queen Elspeth, to cure Anderson.  She then received elaborate instructions about washing the ill man’s shirt, which were communicated to Allan’s wife.  That night the patient’s house shook in the midst of a huge and incomprehensible ruckus involving winds, horses and hammering, apparently because the man’s wife did not follow the instructions to the letter.  On the following night the house was plagued by a mighty din again, caused, this time, by a great company of women.’”

The Wells were, in earlier centuries, a site where lovers and wanderers came to relax and dream. It was a traditional gathering spot — not just for witches! — and poetry was written of them – including this by A.A. Ritchie:

“The Wells o’ Wearie — 

Sweetly shines the sun on auld Edinbro’ toun.
And mak’s her look young and cheerie;
Yet I maun awa’ to spend the afternoon
At the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

And you maun gang wi’ me, my winsome Mary Grieve,
There’s nought in the world to fear ye;
For I hae ask’d your minnie, and she has gien ye leave
To gang to the Wells o’ Wearie.

O the sun w-inna blink in thy bonny blue een.
Nor tinge the white brow o’ my dearie.
For I’ll shade a bower wi’ rashes lang and green,
By the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

But Mary, my love, beware ye dinna glower
At your form in the water sae clearly,
Or the fairy will change ye into a wee wee flower,
And you’ll grow by the Wells o’ Wearie.

Yestreen, as I wander’d there a’ alane,
I felt unco douf and drearie,
For wanting my Mary a’ around me was but pain
At the lanesome Wells o’ Wearie.

Let fortune or fame their minions deceive,
Let fate look gruesome and eerie ;
True glory and wealth are mine wi’ Mary Grieve,
When we meet by the Wells o’ Wearie.

Then gang wi’ me, my bonny Mary Grieve,
Nae danger will daur to come near ye.
For I hae ask’d your minnie, and she has gien ye leave
To gang to the Wells o’ Wearie.”

References:

  1. Baird, William, Annals of Duddingston and Portobello, Andrew Elliot: Edinburgh 1898.
  2. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  3. Carrick, John D. (ed.), Whistle-Binkie, or the Piper of the Party – volume 2, David Robertson: Glasgow 1878.
  4. Colston, James, The Edinburgh and District Water Supply, Edinburgh 1890.
  5. Henderson, Lizanne & Cowan, Edward J., Scottish Fairy Belief: A History, John Donald: Edinburgh 2007.
  6. Ramsay, Alexander, On the Water Supply of Edinburgh, Neill & Co.: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.939144, -3.163657 Wells o Wearie

Twentypenny Well, Duddingston, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 2815 7259

Getting Here

Twentypenny Well on 1852 map

1852 map showing the well

From Duddingston, head along the Old Church Lane to the Delf Well, and from then to the Horse Well and, from here, walk along the small footpath that runs along the northwest side of Duddingston Loch.  Less than 100 yards past the Horse Well you’ll notice, on the left-hand side of the path, a stone trough with a fast flow of water running into it.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

Another little-known and all-but forgotten healing well, illustrated on the 1852 map of the area, but all history and traditions relating to the site are seemingly forgotten (surely not?).

The well at the path-side

The well at the path-side

The clear drinking water runs into the stone trough

The clear drinking water runs into the stone trough

The well originally appeared a little further up the slope, closer to the road in the brambles, but Time has brought the waters lower.  The name “twentypenny” is a curious one.  We know of many Penny Wells across the country: some (like the trees) are sites where coins were given to the spirits of the place as an offering for goodness or to heal a given affliction; others were so-named as the price of one penny was given for a draught of the waters.  Twenty pennies is something of an anomaly.  Somebody somewhere must surely know something?

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.940937, -3.151934 Twentypenny Well

Horse Well, Duddingston, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 28198 72642

Getting Here

Horse Well on 1852 map

Horse Well on 1852 map

Get to the Delf Well from Duddingston and keep walking along the lochside road for 60-70 yards, where you go through the black metal gate in the fence on your left.  Walk down the slope just a few yards and (drought dependent!) you’ll see an initial damp patch where the well used to arise 150 years ago; just a few yards further down the slope is the more notable spring water of the Horse Well below you.

Archaeology & History

The site is shown on the 1852 map of the area where it was later “capped” and used by the old local water authority.  Thankfully the water has managed to escape and is once more feeding the birds and the land, running into the loch below.  When we arrived here, a crow was drinking from the waters.

Horse Well & its herbs

Horse Well & its herbs

Although you’d expect that this was once a watering-place for horses, the name of the well may relate to the Scottish folk-name of the herb Veronica beccabunga, generally known as Brooklime or European Speedwell, but locally called Horse-well grass—some of which seemed to be growing in the watery spring amidst the other plants.  As a herb it was used in the treatment of scurvy.  The history of the well however, seems all but forgotten…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  2. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 5, SNDA: Edinburgh 1958.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.941430, -3.151066 Horse Well

Delf Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 28220 72715

Getting Here

Delf Well, SE of Arthur's Seat

Delf Well, SE of Arthur’s Seat

From the south-side of Arthur’s Seat at Duddingston, along Duddingston Road West, turn west along Old Church Lane.  Where the houses finish and the loch appears on your left and the small car-park on the right, walk above the cars and onto the small footpath.  Barely 20 yards ahead, under the edges of the trees, a sealed oblong concrete water-hole is the site in question.

Archaeology & History

Delf Well on the 1877 map

Delf Well on the 1877 map

Only for the purists amongst you, the Delf Well has fallen prey to being capped and piped away so you can no longer drink here.  It is shown on the early 19th century maps of the area and was used as a water supply for the opulent South Lodge of Holyrood Park.  An old metal chain—remains of which are still attached to the covering stone—once had an old cup attached, to enable walkers to drink here.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  2. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.942100, -3.150760 Delf Well

Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

by

Paul Bennett

Northern Antiquarian: Alva 2017.  Kindle edition – 123 pages. 

Price – £3.99

This is the first detailed guide ever written on the holy wells and healing springs in and around the ancient city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Written in a simple A-Z gazetteer style, nearly 70 individual sites are described, each with their grid-reference location, history, folklore and medicinal properties where known. Although a number them have long since fallen prey to the expanse of Industrialism, many sites can still be visited by the modern historian, pilgrim, christian, pagan or tourist.

The book opens with two introductory chapters: the first explores the origin and nature of holy wells and what they meant to local people in earlier centuries; and the next is a comparative overview of water cults worldwide. It is an invaluable guide for any student or tourist who wants to look beneath the modern history of the city and get a taste of the more archaic customs that once belonged here…

St. Anthony’s Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 27522 73653

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52448
  2. St. Anton’s Well

Getting Here

St Anthony's on 1853 map
St Anthony’s on 1853 map

Not too difficult to find really.  Get to the northern part of the road which encircles Arthur’s Seat and when you get to St. Margaret’s Loch (near St. Margaret’s Well), look up the slopes where you see the remains of St. Anthony’s Chapel.  You need to head up the footpath here and you’ll get to a large-ish ovoid boulder, with a small circular trough into which the waters run (the drawing of the place here, with the rock in the lower-left, just in front of the fella walking towards it, is just right!).  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

St. Anthony's Well, Arthur's Seat
St. Anthony’s Well, Arthur’s Seat

Tradition tells that the remains of St. Anthony’s Chapel was built on the northern ridge by Arthur’s Seat, “mainly for guardianship of the holy well named after the saint” — which sounds rather like the christianization story of a heathen site.  Francis Grose (1797) told that “this situation was undoubtedly chosen with an intention of attracting the notice of seamen coming up that Frith; who, in cases of danger, might be induced to make vows to its tutelar saint.” If this was the case, it sounds even more like a site that had prior heathen associations. Grose also told us that just a short distance from the chapel, were the remains of an old hermitage:

“It was partly of masonry worked upon the natural rock.  At the east end there are still two niches remaining; in one of which formerly stood a skull, a book, an hour-glass, and a lamp, which, with a mat for a bed, made the general furniture of the hermitage.”

St. Anthony's Chapel, c.1785
St. Anthony’s Chapel, c.1785

I like the sound of the place!  Just up my street!  Little other archaeological info has emerged from this tiny spot — but the healing waters of the well would obviously have been of importance to our indigenous inhabitants (anyone who wants to think otherwise is simply a bit dim!) as there is a wealth of archaeological sites and relics all round Arthur’s Seat.

Folklore

A number of writers have described this old well, which has sun-lore, healing properties, and Beltane rites surrounding its past.  Local people of all social classes frequented this ancient spring, particularly on that most favoured of heathen days, Beltane.  The site was of considerable mythic importance with a certain order about it.  As Hone (1839) said:

“…the poorer classes in Edinburgh poured forth at daybreak from street and lane to assemble on Arthur’s Seat to see the sun rise on May-morning.  Bagpipes and other musical intruments enlivened the scene, nor were refreshments forgotten.  About six o’ clock a crowd of citizens of the wealthier class made their appearance, while the majority of the first-comers returned to the town.  At nine o’ clock the hill was practically deserted.”

Another early account describing St. Anthony’s Well is from an article in the great PSAS journal of 1883.  Here, J.R. Walker wrote:

To an incident which showed that the faith and belief in the healing virtues of the wells is still strong, the writer was but a few months ago an eye-witness.  While walking in the Queen’s Park about sunset, I casually passed St. Anthony’s Well, and had my attention attracted by the number of people about it, all simply quenching their thirst, some possibly with a dim idea that they would reap some benefit from the draught.  Standing a little apart, however, and evidently patiently waiting a favourable moment to present itself for their purpose, was a group of four.  Feeling somewhat curious as to their intention, I quietly kept myself in the back ground, and by and by was rewarded.  The crowd departed, and the group came forward, consisting of two old women, a younger woman of about thirty, and a pale, sickly-looking girl — a child of three or four years old.  Producing cups from their pockets, the old women dipped them in the pool, filled them, and drank the contents.  A full cup was then presented to the younger woman, and another to the child.  Then one of the old women produced a long linen bandage, dipped it in the water, wrung it, dipped it in again, and then wound it round the child’s head, covering the eyes, the youngest woman, evidently the mother of the child, carefully observing the operation, and weeping gently all the time.  The other old woman not engaged in this work was carefully filling a clear flat glass bottle with the water, evidently for future use.  Then, after the principal operators had looked at each other with an earnest and half solemn sort of look, the party wended its way carefully down the hill

Earlier still we find more lore of the place in Wilson’s Edinburgh [1848] where he told:

“The ancient Hermitage and Chapel of St. Anthony, underneath the hangings of Arthur’s Seat, are velieved to have formed a dependency of the preceptory at Leith, and to have been placed there, to catch the seaman’s eyes as he entered the Firth, or departed on some long and perilous voyage; when his voews and offerings would be most freely made to the patron saint, and the hermit who ministered at his altar.  No record, however, now remains to add to the tradition of its dedication to St. Anthony; but the silver stream, celebrated in the plaintive old song, ‘O waly, waly, up yon bank,’ still wells clearly forth at the foot of the rock, filling the little basin of St. Anthony’s Well, and rippling pleasantly through the long grass into the lower valley.”

Votive offerings made here eventually turned the waters into a simply wishing well for incomers, even in Victorian times (oh how the locals must have hated such trangression…).  The great Scottish holy wells writer J.M. MacKinlay (1893) told in his day the tale of,

“a little girl from Aberdeenshire, when on a visit to Edinburgh, made trial of the sacred spring.  She was cautioned not to tell anyone what her wish was, else the charm would have no effect.  On her return home however, her eagerness to know whether the wish had…been fulfilled, quite overcame her ability to keep the secret.  Her first words were, ‘Has the pony come?’  St. Anthony must have been in good humour with the child, for he provided the pony, thus evidently condoning the breach of silence in deference to her youth.”

In the middle of the 20th century, the great folklorist F.M. MacNeill (1959) wrote:

“Even in Edinburgh, little bands of the faithful may be seen making their way through the King’s Park to Arthur’s Seat, and, as in the eighteenth century:

On May-Day, in a fairy ring,
We’ve seen them round St. Anton’s spring,
Frae grass the caller dew-drops wring,
To weet their een,
And water clear as crystal spring,
To synd them clean.”

And when Ruth and Frank Morris (1982) got round to their excellent survey, they found that this old well was still being used “by youths and maidens, who come to wash their faces with the dew on May Day mornings, a wish at St. Anthony’s being a part of the ritual.”  But this final remark may have the simple prosaic coincidence of them observing people like I, when younger, who frolicked with girlfriends around May morning, in the grasses near the old well — though at the time I knew nothing about the old sacred waters on the slopes just above us!

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  2. Grose, Francis, The Antiquities of Scotland – volume 1, Hooper & Wigstead: London 1797.
  3. Hone, William, The Every-Day Book and Table-Book, Thomas Tegg: London 1839.
  4. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  5. McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 2, William McLellan: Glasgow 1959.
  6. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  7. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.
  8. Wilson, Daniel, Memorials of Edinburgh in Olden Times, Hugh Paton: Edinburgh 1848.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.950417, -3.162170 St Anthony\'s Well