In Thomas Short’s (1765) description of the once-renowned Wigglesworth Sulphur Well, he mentioned briefly that there were “some (other) chalybeates near it.” Thankfully 85 years later, with the aid of William Howson (1850) who gave us a marginally better description, we were able to locate the whereabouts of one of them! From the Sulphur Well, this one could be found,
“two hundred yards above, on the other side of the rivulet there is a chalybeate spring, but (it was) of no unusual strength.”
In fact it’s a little closer to being 300 yards than 200—but that’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things! The place in question was marked on the 1852 OS-map, marked simply as a “Well.” …This iron-bearing spring would have been a good pick-me-up and, as with all such wells of this nature, fortifies the blood and the immune system. Mr Howson also told us that “ferrugineous springs, stronger than this, are of frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood,” echoing Short’s earlier remark. Sadly, it seems that all trace of this Well has disappeared.
From Fortingall village, head west and turn down into the incredible beauty that is Glen Lyon. As you enter the trees, a half-mile along you pass the small gorge of MacGregor’s Leap in the river below. 2-300 yards pass this, keep your eyes peeled for an old small overgrown walled structure on the left-hand side of the road, barely above the road itself. A large tree grows up above the tiny walled enclosure, within which are the unclear waters that trickle gently….
Archaeology & History
In previous centuries, this all-but-forgotten spring of water wasn’t just a medicinal spring, but was one of the countless sites where sympathetic magick was practised. The old Highlanders would have had a name for the spirit residing at these waters, but it seems to have been lost. The site is described in Alexander Stewart’s (1928) magnum opus on this stunning glen, where he wrote:
“Still a few yards more and Glenlyon’s famous mineral wishing well is seen gushing up, surrounded by its wall of rough stones now sadly in need of repair. It has a stone shelf to receive the offerings of those who still retain a trace of superstition or like to uphold old customs as they partake of its waters. The offerings usually consist of small pebbles, but occasionally something more valuable is found among them. The roadmen may clear that shelf as often as they like, but it is seldom empty for long.”
A local lady from Killin told us that she remembers the stone above the well still having offerings left on it 20-30 years ago. Hilary Wheater (1981) sketched it and called it the Iron Well.
The waters in this small roadside well-house actually emerge some 50 yards up the steep hillside (recently deforested) and in parts have that distinct oily surface that typifies chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs – which this site is an example of. Its medicinal properties would help to people with anaemia; to heal women just after childbirth; to aid those who’d been injured and lost blood; as well as to fortify the blood and stimulate the system.
Across the road from the well, Stewart (1928) told of a giant lime tree that was long known to be the meeting place for lovers (perhaps relating to the well?), and the name of the River Lyon here is the Poll-a-Chlaidheamh, or ‘the pool of the sword’, whose history and folklore fell prey to the ethnic cleansing of the english.
Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish, Alexander Maclaren: Glasgow 1928.
Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.
Along the A907 a mile west of Alloa and heading towards Tullibody, just before the roundabout across the road from the school fields, a small entrance takes you into the small wooded parkland. There, right in front of you as you walk in, and visible from the road, is the enclosed architectural stone walling and somewhat ruinous remains that are the Red Well, with its faded name carved on top.
Archaeology & History
Although the waters no longer run for the people to drink, this old iron-bearing spring was long of repute to the old folk of eastern Alloa. So much so, it seems, that even Janet & Colin Bord (1985) included it in their national survey of sacred wells! Like other chalybeate springs, its waters were known to be good as a tonic—which makes sense as iron fortifies the blood and general immune system. The Well was highlighted on the 1913 OS-map of the area.
Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
In Edinburgh, get to the west-end of Princes Street (nearest the castle), and where there’s the curious mess of 6 roads nearly skewing into each other, head down Queensferry Street for 450 yards until, just before you go over the bridge, walk down Bells Brae on your left, then turn right down Miller Row where you’ll see the sign to St. Bernard’s Well. St. George’s Well is the small, dilapidated spray-painted building right at the water’s edge 200 yards before St. Bernard’s site.
Archaeology & History
Compared to its companion holy well 200 yards downstream, poor old St. George’s Well is a paltry by comparison, in both historical and literary senses. The site was said to have been “set up in competition with St Bernard’s Well but never achieving its purpose”, wrote Ruth & Frank Morris (1982)—which is more than a little sad. Not on the fact that it failed, but on the fact that some halfwits were using local people’s water supply to make money out of and, when failing, locked up the medicinal spring and deny access to people to this day!
In Mr Grant’s Old & New Edinburgh (1882), the following short narrative was given of the site:
“A plain little circular building was erected in 1810 over (this) spring that existed a little to the westwards of St. Bernard’s, by Mr MacDonald of Stockbridge, who named it St. George Well. The water is said to be the same as the former, but if so, no use has been made of it for many years…”
The association to St. George was in fact to commemorate the jubilee of King George III that year. If you visit the place, the run-down little building with its grafitti-door has a small stone engraving etched above it with the date ‘1810’ carved.
As the waters here were found to possess mainly iron, then smaller quantities of sulphur, magnesia and salts, it was designated as a chalybeate well. Its curative properties would be very similar to that of St. Bernard’s Well, which were very good at,
“assisting digestion in the stomach and first passages … cleansing the glandular system, and carrying their noxious contents by their respective emunctories out of the habit, without pain or fatigue; on the contrary, the patient feels himself lightsome and cheerful, and by degrees an increase to his general health, strength and spirits. The waters of St. Bernard’s Well operates for the most part as a strong diuretic. If drunk in a large quantity it becomes gently laxative, and powerfully promotes insensible perspiration. It likewise has a wonderfully exhilarating influence on the faculties of the mind.”