Shown on the 1864 OS map of the area as a ‘Well’ just at the front of St Bride’s Chapel—now a very pleasant old cottage—peasants and pilgrims would stop for both refreshment and ritual here as they walked down High Kype Road. Although the chapel was described in church records of January 1542 as being on the lands of Little Kype, close to the settlement of St Bride, there seems to be very little known about the history or traditions of the well. If anyone has further information on this site, please let us know.
Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland. Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas). Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it. St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Mater known as the Cailleach: the greater Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter Her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year. Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.
Paul, J.B. & Thomson, J.M., Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland AD 1513 – 1546, HMGRH: Edinburgh 1883.
From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…
Archaeology & History
The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot. Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…
Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.
This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken. When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back. And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.
In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,
“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped. The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.
“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.
A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her. The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed. A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.
In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc. The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
Close to the centre of that corporate money-laundering place of homo-profanus that is the City of London, was once a site that represents the antithesis of what it has become. Tacked onto the southeastern side of St. Bride’s church along the appropriately-named Bride Lane, the historian Michael Harrison (1971) thought the Holy Well here had Roman origins. It “was almost certainly,” he thought,
“in Roman times, the horrea Braduales, named after the man who probably ordered their construction: Marcus Appius Bradua, Legate of Britain under Hadrian, and the British Governer in whose term of office the total walling of London was, in all likelihood, begun.”
This ‘Roman marketplace of Bradua’ that Harrison describes isn’t the general idea of the place though. Prior to the church being built, in the times of King John and Henry III, the sovereigns of England were lodged at the Bridewell Palace, as it was known. Mentioned in John Stow’s (1720) Survey of London, he told:
“This house of St. Bride’s of later time, being left, and not used by the Kings, fell to ruin… and only a fayre well remained here.”
The palace was eventually usurped by the building of St. Bride’s church. The most detailed account we have of St. Bride’s Well is Alfred Foord’s (1910) magnum opus on London’s water supplies. He told:
“The well was near the church dedicated to St. Bridget (of which Bride is a corruption; a Scottish or Irish saint who flourished in the 6th century), and was one of the holy wells or springs so numerous in London, the waters of which were supposed to possess peculiar virtues if taken at particular times. Whether the Well of St. Bride was so called after the church, or whether, being already there, it gave its name to it, is uncertain, more especially as the date of the erection of the first church of St. Bride is not known and no mention of it has been discovered prior to the year 1222. The position of the ancient well is said to have been identical with that of the pump in a niche in the eastern wall of the churchyard overhanging Bride Lane. William Hone, in his Every-Day Book for 1831, thus relates how the well became exhausted: ‘The last public use of the water of St. Bride’s well drained it so much that the inhabitants of the parish could not get their usual supply. This exhaustion was caused by a sudden demand on the occasion of King George IV being crowned at Westminster in July 1821. Mr Walker, of the hotel No.10 Bridge Street, Blackfriars, engaged a number of men in filling thousands of bottles with the sanctified fluid from the cast-iron pump over St. Bride’s Well, in Bride Lane.” Beyond this there is little else to tell about the well itself, but the spot is hallowed by the poet Milton, who, as his nephew, Edward Philips records, lodged in the churchyard on his return from Italy, about August 1640, “at the house of one Russel a taylor.”
In Mr Sunderland’s (1915) survey, he reported that “the spring had a sweet flavour.”
Sadly the waters here have long since been covered over. A pity… We know how allergic the city-minds of officials in London are to Nature (especially fresh water springs), but it would be good if they could restore this sacred water site and bring it back to life.
Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland. Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas). Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it. St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Materknown as the Cailleach: the Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year. Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.
Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
Gregory, Lady, A Book of Saints and Wonders, Colin Smythe: Gerrards Cross 1971.
Harrison, Michael, The London that was Rome, Allen & Unwin: London 1971.
McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 2, William MacLellan: Glasgow 1959.
From Abernethy village, go west along the A913 road for half-a-mile, then turn left up the long and winding Glenfoot road up the Abernethy Glen. About a mile up on your left-side is Craigden Farm and, just a bit past this, the forestry plantation. Just before the trees, cut up the field and head uphill, passing the near forest of gorse, until you reach the huge detached house of Turflundie. In the field immediately east, right up against the barbed-wire fence where it meets the depleted forestry, a very small trickle of water emerges beneath a small pile of rocks. You’re here!
Archaeology & History
The trickling waters are on the other side of this fence
Long since thought to have been lost, the trickling remains of this old Well of the Devil are, in fact, still running beneath the pile of stones just over the barbed-wire fence on the edge of the forestry section. A cluster of other worn rounded rocks scatter the ground just to the rear of where the water first comes out of the ground, suggesting, perhaps, that a small well-house covered the spring; but this is me being speculative, as there’s no mention of this in the early writings of the Ordnance Survey lads, nor is one shown on the first OS-map of the area in 1860. And you’ll see on the OS-map how the well is slightly lower than where it presently trickles, but this is down to the fact that the source of it was piped-off at sometime in the not-too-distant past, as evidenced by remains of such piping laying just over the barbed-wire fence close to the source. In truth, unless you’re hardcore, there’s very little to see.
The dedication of this water-site to the christian ‘devil’ is obviously a corruption of its original traditional name, which may have simply been to the Bodach, or ‘Old Man’ in Gaelic and northern British lore. The bodach‘s consort is the great prima Mater of the northern realms known as the Cailleach, but I can find no dedication to Her anywhere nearby. The best we have are the ‘Witches Graves’ a half-mile to the northwest, below the edge of the geological ridge overlooking Abernethy, where folklore tells us 22 women were murdered and buried by the local christians several centuries ago.
Take the same route as if you’re visiting the small Carlin Stone (a few hundred yards further along): along the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stop at Balafark farm and cross the road above the farm to take the track into the forest. 1km along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right, which bends round and then goes (eventually) to the other side of the forest. Once you reach the gate at its edge, walk left 285 yards (261m) along the fence.
Archaeology & History
The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map
Described in the Ordnance Survey’s (1870) Book of Reference (volume 47) as “a flat rock on the boundary between Perth and Stirling,” the rock is certainly not flat—and any geographical relationship it had with Perth has long since gone. Instead, the stone in question here is an upright one—although it’s not much more than two feet tall. However, on the other side of the present-day fence there is a small flat stone in the ground; but it is the moss-covered upright that is our ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid.’ A smaller curious-looking quartz-lined stone also lies next to this old Wife…
The Wife, looking east
The Wife, looking west
Marked on the ancient boundary line, this small but sturdy standing stone probably has a prehistoric pedigree, although we cannot be certain without an excavation. It is shown on the earliest OS-maps from the 1860s, but we have no notifications from any literary sources telling the tale behind the stone’s fascinating name: meaning simply, the ‘wife wearing the tartan shawl.’ When Marion Woolley and I came here the other day, we tried to see if a simulacrum of such a figure was hiding in the moss-covered upright—but unlike the notable simulacrum at MacBeth’s Stone, we struggled somewhat here. It was possible, from certain angles (if we didn’t stand on our heads and poke each other in the eyes!) to see this ‘wife in a shawl’, but twas a struggle…
There’s every likelihood that whatever the old tale once was about this petrified ancestral stone, it would have had some mythic relationship with the Old Wife known as the Carlin, or cailleach, a few hundred yards to the west, at the Carlin Stone. As yet however, their histories remain hidden in the sleep of the Earth…
From Gargunnock village, take the road west towards Leckie, and then just before the right-angled bend in the road down towards the A811, bear sharp left, and then immediate right below the farmhouse along what looks like a private road taking you onto the Watson House mansion. About 500 yards along, with trees either side of you, look down the small steep slope where a small burn (stream) is visible. Get down there and, where the waters bend away changing direction to head north, look carefully for a small spring of water emerging, just a few yards south of the stream itself, beneath a young tree.
Archaeology & History
Lady Bettys Well on 1860 map
This all-but-forgotten water source is, thankfully, still running with clear waters below the wooded slopes. It is highlighted on the first OS-map of the region in 1860, 50-60 yards east of a small but once-picturesque waterfall (now spoiled by a mass of industrial waste, dumped hereby). Little seems to be known about its mythic history and, quite possibly, may have had something to do with our old cailleach. May have…. I say this purely in relation to what was said about the site by the Ordnance Survey lads at the end of the 1850s when they visited the site and enquired as to its name and nature. They told:
“A Small Spring issuing from under a rock like the mouth of a drain having no appearance of a Well. It took its name (Betty) from an old woman who lived adjacent some two hundred years ago; there is no tradition or Antiquity connected with it – nothing more nor less than an Old woman’s well, but is well known in the neighbourhood by the name. Situated at the base of Craigmakessoch and about 10 chains north west of Leckie house.”
Water emerging by the roots
Although ‘Betty’ is obviously a shortening of Elizabeth, it’s the Old Woman’s bit that brings up the cailleach element, which may or may not be valid. The small crag beneath which the spring still rises is known as ‘Craigmakessoch’, which Prof Paul Hornby thought might derive from a forgotten attribution to the little-known St. Makessog or Kessog. (are there any local folk who can clarify things?)
Were it not for the pollution due to the dumping here (in an otherwise beautiful place), it looks like the waters would still be drinkable – but we all decided to give it a miss…
Take the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stopping at Balafark farm. On the other side of the road, above the farm, take the track into the forest. Naathen…. 1120 yards (1.02km) along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right. It bends round and then goes (eventually) straight to the edge of the forest. Once you reach the edge, go left all along the fence until it meets the large gate 800 yards WSW. 20 yards past the gate, a small stone is along the fence-line. This is the Carlin!
Archaeology & History
Carling Stone, looking east
Found along the same boundary line as another stone with similar mythic virtues (called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid’), when Marion Grace Woolley and I visited the site earlier, we found only a small upright, barely a foot tall, right in line with the ancient boundary along a newly made fence. Thankfully, whoever built the fence, understood the nature of the stone, and left it in the ground where it belongs. We know not for sure exactly how old this stone might be, but it its name and position suggest very old – probably prehistoric.
The Carlin is another word for the Cailleach: the prima mater or great Earth goddess in Irish, Scottish and northern English animistic traditions. Her virtues are immense, representing the cycles of the natural world, a creation giant, healer and a whole host of other elements inherent to the natural world. Although She tends to be represented as the Winter hag, the Cailleach changes Her faces and attributes as the cloaks of the seasons go by, annually, cyclically, year after year after year. She’s as much the cloak of the Winter as She is the fertility of Spring, the warmth of the Summer and the fruits of Autumn.
Carling Stone, looking west
Whatever traditions there might have been at this small Carlin Stone are now long forgotten it seems. We find no bodach (Her husband) in immediate attendance. However, the existence of the small standing stone called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid,’ several hundred yards to the east along the same ancient boundary line, implies there would have been a traditional perambulation along this boundary, and during such annual ritual walks, tales or words may have been said here. Does anyone know more…?
Along the A84 Callander road, just going out on the east side of town, take the signposted road up and up and towards the car-park for the Bracklinn Falls. Another mile past here, keep your eyes peeled for the Wishing Well sign on the right-hand side of the road. From here, walk straight up the hillside for 150 yards (137m) and zigzag about. You’ll see it!
Archaeology & History
This small standing stone (not previously recorded) hides away up on the hillside not far from the old Tobhar na Cailleach (nowadays demoted as a just a Wishing Well), with its history and traditions seemingly long forgotten. About 3 feet high and barely a foot thick, it may once have had a companion standing just a few yards away by its side, where now lays a moss-covered stone. It reminded me a little of the stone pairing called the Cuckoo Stones near Wuthering Heights at Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Possible fallen stone
Druim Mor stone, looking N
Slightly higher up the grassy slope, 15-20 yards away, we find a low line of ancient walling that runs slightly uphill and then across a slightly level piece of land for about 40 yards, before turning back down the hillside and towards the road below.
Although we have no recorded traditions of this stone, it needs to be highlighted that the waters, the woods and the slopes below this stone are dedicated to the Cailleach – the great prima Mater of Scottish and Irish traditional history.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their help on the day of this find.
Going north-eastish from the city of Perth, take either the A93 or A94, turning west along the A93 a mile south of Guildtown, or east at Balbeggie on the A94, until you reach St. Martin’s hamlet and park up just below the church opposite the old cottages. Walk up the track below the cottages (not the one above them!) for ⅘-mile (1.35km) [past the ruined Cupar Stone Circle], and where the land has levelled out and in the huge flat field on your left, you’ll eventually reach a gate and see the odd-looking ‘rock’ about 250 yards away in the middle.
Archaeology & History
A fungal morel turned to stone
In a quiet and little-known parish that was once littered with about a dozen stone circles, there remains a most curious and fascinating stone which, in earlier days, was to be seen on the open moorlands at this spot. The area was then forested and then the agriculturalists came with their farming and destroyed the forests, leaving the old stone as it presently stands, isolated, above the hamlet of St. Martin’s to the south. Although it was described in the 19th century as being “four feet high”, it stands barely three feet tall, is very curiously-shaped—just like a morel mushroom from some angles—and in the middle of an extensive piece of flatland where the crops barely grow.
Witches Stone on 1866 map
Witches Stone, looking west
The stone was highlighted on the first OS-map of the parish in 1866, showing it in the woodland plantation of Eastmuir. It may have been some sort of northern outlier related to the now-destroyed stone circle of Cupar 400 yards south; and if this was the case, its position in the landscape relative to the circle would give the Witches Stone an airt (virtue ascribed to cardinal directions) in the cycle of the year that relates to darkness and death. (Perhaps oddly—perhaps not—the name of parish St. Martin’s relates to that dark period in the calendar, as St. Martin’s day in the old calendar was Samhain or Halloween: old New Year’s Day, when the spirits of the dead moved across both land and skies.)
It was erroneously described by the Canmore lads as being little more than “a glacial erratic”, but the stone here is quite earthfast; and their idea that “its peculiar shape has probably been caused by wind erosion”, is also somewhat dubious considering the shape of other monoliths and megalithic rings in the region. The stone has an appearance similar to some Bull Stones, where the animal was chained to rocks such as this and then baited by dogs, although I can find no such lore here. Indeed, the history and archaeology of the stone seems all but silent. Its folklore however, would have the Shakespearian romanciers amongst you flocking to the place…
Deep grooves atop of the stone
The top of the stone has some very distinct and deep-cut lines running across it at angles, and has the appearance of being cut into at some time in the dim and distant past. By whom, and for what reason, we cannot say.
William Richie (1845) told us that in the 11th Century when Scotland was having to deal with the english disease of stealing land and spreading its violence, King MacBeth—whose castle stood within this parish at Cairnbeddie (NO 1498 3082)—took that advice of two witches, and that
“they met him one night at a place still called ‘the Witch Stane’ (where a remarkable stone still stands), about a mile from his old residence, and warned him to beware, ‘Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.’”
The 1860 Name Book told us that,
“The Moor where the witches met, which is in St. Martins Parish is yet pointed out by the country people, and there is a stone still preserved, which is called the Witches Stone.”
Scott, Aleander, St. Martin’s and Cambusmichael, Perth 1911.
Richie, William, “St. Martins and Cambusmichael,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 10: Perthshire, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Prof Paul Hornby for showing me this site. Cheers matey!
Long since lost it would seem, in a search for this legendary site over the weekend with Gordon, Aisha and Lara, I’m still not certain of the actual status of the site. Although we found a very fresh water supply still running not far from where the old OS-map showed the original holy well to be, it may be a completely different water source.
There are hardly any references to the spring and those that exist are scant. In the early 1860s, St. Ane’s Well was mentioned briefly in the Object Name Book of the area:
“This is a good spring well in the southern part of the town of Strathaven. It is commonly called Tun’s (Tan’s?) Well, but this is an abbreviation of the name.”
Lara plays at a nearby well
Looking down on the waters
More recently, thanks to a communication from the local historian Robert Currie, more information has come to light about the well. It was described in the local history work by Mary Gebbie (1880). Mr Currie told me:
“In her Sketches of Avondale and Strathaven…we read: “In a lane off Tod’s Hill was the famous Tann’s Well – obviously a corruption of the celebrated water saint, St. Anne. This spring has within a few years completely dried up. Access was easily had from the castle to it, over the draw-bridge, which is said to have rested on the ledge of the ground and rock on which the fifth house is built south of the bridge. Before this aperture was built up, the inhabitants around took advantage of the pathway for drawing water from the Pomillion, at a place called the Fairy Pool. A little above this comes the Dove Castle; and a half a mile further out is the Gallow Hill.”
“That said, the current siting of St. Anne’s Well is located on Lesmahagow Road with (the) site being almost opposite the Council houses bordering on Station Road (there is currently a mini-roundabout near the locus). In recent years the site has become obscured but in my own living memory there was once a plaque authenticating the site and with a garden seat thereby.”
In searching through their own library, Mr Currie and his wife came across more about the site in William Downie’s (1979) book on Strathaven, in which he wrote:
“A small lane off Todshill went down to a cluster of houses called St. Anne’s Well nestling on the sloping ground beside the mill dam. In 1911 these houses were acquired and demolished by the Town Improvement Committee. A row of houses backing backing on to Powmillon Burn were also demolished at the same time and a retaining wall with railings erected, so opening up a very fine view of the castle and burn etc.”
The dedication here to the mythic figure of St. Anne (mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus) is isolated and mysterious. No church is dedicated to her in the area, nor other relative christian remains. Her appearance in Strathaven is something of an oddity. There was a Duchess ‘Ann’ Hamilton of Strathaven Castle who lived 200 yards away at Strathaven Castle on the other side of the river that might have given her name to the well, but this is very unlikely. More probable is that St. Anne was used as the mythic figure who covered an earlier dedication to the prima mater, or Cailleach—although there are no remains that relate to Her either. However, the existence of St Mary’s church and an associated well to the north, along with a burn dedicated to a “maiden” in the same parish to the northwest add to the cailleach’s potential…..but all tales of Her have seemingly been forgotten.
…So it seems that the spring of water that Lara, Aisha, Gordon and I came across was obviously not the same place, but exists just below the roadside where the disused railway line is. It’s close to St Anne’s Well – but is not the same water source.
Downie, Fleming, A History of Avondale and Strathaven, Eric Moore: Glasgow 1979.
Gebbie, Mary, Sketches of the Town of Strathavon and Parish of Avondale: Historical & Traditional, John Menzies: Edinburgh 1880.
Acknowledgements: Considerable thanks must be given to Robert Currie, BA Hons, who sent us additional information enabling a more informative and accurate site profile for this holy well. Thanks Bob! Also huge thanks again to Aisha Domleo, Lara Domleo, Unabel Gordon and their frobbling Leonidus!