St. John's Well, Isle of May, Fife

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 65858 99107

Also Known as:

  1. Pump Well

Archaeology & History

St John’s ‘Well’ on 1855 map

This seems to be the only ‘St John’ dedication on the Isle of May: a small island littered with more saint’s names, seemingly, than Iona and Lindisfarne combined!  Illustrated on the 1855 OS-map, without name—and on the present-day large-scale OS-maps too, 20 yards or so from its 1855 position—the standard archaeo-historical records say nothing of the place.  Thankfully antiquarian and folklore accounts have preserved evidence of its title.  When the Victorian traveller Thomas Muir (1868; 1883) visited the Isle of May, he told how the islanders struggled to maintain a good water supply during a drought there in the 1860s.  St. John’s Well was, he told,

“A pump standing by the path above Kirk Haven. The water good, but a little brackish. During all the drought of this summer we pumped water out of this well to supply our cattle.”

After Æ. J.G. Mackay’s (1896) visit to the island he told that here, along with the other holy wells on May,

“their brackish waters have lost the magic virtue they were credited with in early christian, possibly in pagan times.”

In more recent times it was described in W.J. Eggeling’s (1985) natural history survey.  St. John’s Well was,

“the well within the high, cylindrical, whitewashed wall-surround lying across Haven Road from the Coal House. Also known as the Pump Well.  It is a guiding mark for boats entering Kirk Haven.”

Folklore

St. John’s Day (June 24) was the christian name given to the traditional Midsummer Day, or days, around which good heathen festivals occurred; but we can find no ritual accounts of activity specific to this Well. Help!

References:

  1. Dickson, John, Emeralds Chased in Gold; or, The Isles of the Forth, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1899.
  2. Eggeling, W.J., The Isle of May, Lorien 1985.
  3. Mackay, Æ. J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  4. Muir, Thomas S., The Isle of May – A Sketch, Edinburgh 1868.
  5. Muir, Thomas S., Ecclesiological Notes on some of the Islands of Scotland, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.
  6. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

St. Andrew's Well, Isle of May, Fife

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 65375 99592

Archaeology & History

St Andrews ‘Well’ on 1855 map

In John Dickson’s (1899) fine work on the history and antiquities of the Forth islands, he describes a number of all-but-forgotten holy and medicinal wells that could be visited in the 19th century—this one included!  It was highlighted, without name, on the 1855 OS-map of the island, a short distance west of the curiously named Holyman’s Road.  Aerial views of it today seem to indicate that the well was surrounded by walling, which may have been an old well-house—although the archaeological record here is silent. Mr Dickson told us:

“St. Andrew’s Well, beside the Altar Stones, contains the best water on the May and is entirely used for domestic purposes.  This spring frequently dries up during the summer months and, in these circumstances, the islanders obtain a supply from Crail.”

Although it is still shown on modern large-scale OS-maps (as ‘St Andrew’s Well’), its present condition is unknown.  If this has become boggy and overgrown, it is a sure case for renovation, despite its desolate geography; and especially considering that St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, whose festival date is November 30 (thought originally to have been Samhain, or Halloween—the old heathen New Year’s Day).  If any visitor or islander could send us photos of the site, that would be awesome!

References:

  1. Dickson, John, Emeralds Chased in Gold; or, The Isles of the Forth, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1899.
  2. Eggeling, W.J., The Isle of May, Lorien 1985.
  3. Mackay, Æ. J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  4. Muir, Thomas S., The Isle of May – A Sketch, Edinburgh 1868.
  5. Muir, Thomas S., Ecclesiological Notes on some of the Islands of Scotland, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.
  6. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.
  7. Taylor, Simon & Markus, Gilbert, The Place-Names of Fife – volume 3, Shaun Tyas: Donington 2009.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Sheep Well, Isle of May, Fife

Healing Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NT 654 993

Archaeology & History

Wells that are dedicated to sheep are none-too-common—and this one on the remote Isle of May between Edinburgh and Fife only received its commemoration, tradition tells, not too many centuries back.  It is described singularly in John Dickson’s (1899) fine work, where he informs us that,

“The Sheep Well lies to the west of the lighthouse.  Said to have got its name from a sheep having been drowned in it.  Its water is useless for household purposes, and it occasionally becomes dry during the hot season.”

Its present condition and precise location is unknown. If an islander chances upon this site and knows its present condition, please get some photos and let us know how it’s fairing.

References:

  1. Dickson, John, Emeralds Chased in Gold; or, The Isles of the Forth, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1899.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.185431, -2.558199 Sheep Well

Devil’s Blue Stane, Crail, Fife

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NO 614 079

Also Known as:

  1. Devil’s Blue Stone

Folklore

This curious rounded boulder sitting outside the parish church was described by Alexander Polson in his survey of witch-lore.  He told us that “when the old church was being built, the devil, as a mason out of work, came here and was employed.”  But it wasn’t long before a local christian discovered his disguise and, uttering some magickal biblical words, the devil became furious.

“Immediately he heard this there was a clap of thunder and the fiend flew away to the Isle of May,” about five miles away to the south. “Here in his anger he seized a huge rock and hurled it at the church. It fell quite near, did no harm, and a part of it lay at the church’s door, with the mark of the devil’s thumb on it.”

On the north end of the Isle of May are the Altar Stanes (NT 652 997), thought to have been where the devil stood (close to the holy well of St. Andrew [NT 652 994]) and threw this stone at Crail several miles north.  In pre-christian mythic terms, north is the direction or airt of greatest symbolic darkness.  A variation on the creation myth for this stone tells that when it was thrown from the island, one half of it split off and it fell by the coast in Balcombie, Fife.

References:

  1. Polson, Alexander, Scottish Witchcraft Lore, W. Alexander: Inverness 1932.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.262159, -2.624948 Devils Blue Stane