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…

Mineral Well, Portobello, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 314 735

Archaeology & History

This was one of two medicinal springs that could once be found in old Portobello village. Like its companion Chalybeate Well nearly a mile northwest, in the early 19th century those entrepreneurial types tried fashioning these waters into being a Spa Well.  It didn’t really work and the fad passed after just a couple of decades—and soon after the local people had completely lost their water supply here.  The best historical account of it is in William Baird’s (1898) magnum opus on Portobello.  He told how the well,

“was, at the beginning of the century, situated in a garden near to the main road, where there was a well with drinking cups for the accommodation of visitors, a small sum being charged from those using it.  The supply here having in some way become interrupted the spring was neglected for a time. It found vent, however, lower down and nearer to the Promenade at the foot of Joppa Lane. About fifty years ago there was a pretty large open basin, in the centre of which the water bubbled up about half a foot. It was of a red brick colour. Unfortunately on the starting of a pump on the Niddrie Bum to drain the water from the Niddrie coal pits, the supply of water was again interrupted, and this excellent mineral spring, which was strongly impregnated with oxide of iron and sulphate of lime and magnesia, ceased to flow with its former fulness.”

In 1869, the Industrialists dug into the Earth to construct their promenade and, after countless centuries, the waters of this old medicinal well finally died and fell back into the deep Earth…

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.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.950069, -3.098860 Mineral Well