This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region. It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.
We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from. This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done. He told us:
“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’). Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”
In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:
“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”
MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.
An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building. Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church. Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.
Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure. Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable. The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”
The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835). He wrote:
“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”
But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:
“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire. When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.
“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement. It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish. This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”
The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.
Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NH 792 651
Archaeology & History
In the ruins St Bennet’s Chapel, along with his accompanying holy well (NH 7923 6502), could once be seen a curiously shaped rock which, according to tradition has been destroyed. In Mr Innes’ (1855) major history work he mentioned this Fairies Cradle in passing. Not far from here and close to the coast, is a curiously-shaped boulder with several natural cupmarks (at NH 9150 6497).
In Hugh Miller’s (1878) definitive local history work, Scenes and Legends, we have our main description of this once important site. It existed,
“near the chapel itself, which was perched like an eyry on a steep solitary ridge that overlooks the Moray Firth, there was a stone trough, famous, about eighty years before, for virtues derived also from the saint, like those of the well. For if a child was carried away by the fairies, and some mischievous unthriving imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. It was termed the fairies’ cradle; and was destroyed shortly before the rebellion of 1745, by Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish, and two of his elders.”
The story of children here being carried away by littlepeople and then restored by an impish offering, is a play on the site being a healing stone. There are numerous other “curing stones” found elsewhere in Scotland, but with their own respective traditions—like the Measles Stone at Fearnan, the Whooping Cough Stone near Killin, and many others.
If anyone knows anything more about this lost “curing stone”, please let us know.