Our Lady’s Well, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 7932 9454 

Also Known as:

  1. Whiskey Well
  2. Whusky Well

Archaeology & History

Fleming's 1898 drawing of Our Lady Well

Fleming’s 1898 drawing of Our Lady Well

Once found beneath the northern foot of Gowan Hill, below the old hillfort and close to Stirling’s famous castle, the Industrialists, as usual, built over and destroyed this piece of ancient heritage in the 20th century, leaving us only a few words and an old drawing to remember it by.  It was one of several holy wells in and around Stirling, most of which have fallen prey to the same scavengers in the march they call ‘progress.’

Thankfully the local writer J.S. Fleming’s (1898) talked about the well in his fine work, where he told:

“This Well is situated at the foot of the Gowan Hills, and adjacent to the skating pond, as shown in (the) sketch.  Though part of the waters of this Well have been abstracted, and led, by means of a pipe, to a neighbouring factory, it still gives off a considerable flow of water.  The local name, “Whusky Well” is supposed to be given this Well on account of the virtues of its waters for mixing with whisky, without any perceptible deterioration of the latter.  We can find no allusion to this Well in any of the Burgh Records, and Dr. Rogers gives no reason for its dedication to the Virgin Mary.  We do know, however, that “St. James’s Chapel of the Crag” was situated only 200 or 300 yards distant, and is referred to frequently as receiving alms from King James IV, especially on 26th July, 1496, of 14s.  We learn from a charter by Robert III to the Canon of Cambuskenneth Abbey, dated 10th March, 1402, that he grants “to God, and the blessed Virgin Mary, and to the said Canon,” this Chapel, or Hospital of St. James, at the end of the roadway of the Bridge of Stirling; and that King James II, on 24th June, 1456, grants the said Chapel, or Hospital, to the town of Stirling, ” to the praise and honour of God, the blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, and Saint James the Apostle.” May not this well have had connection with St. James’s chapel, an appanage of Cambuskenneth Abbey, dedicated to our Lady the Virgin, and thus give reason for its name, ” Our Lady Well? ” Saint James’s Chapel was held by Sir Robert Cristisoun, as part of his emoluments as master of the Grammar School, whose right was challenged in 1522; and in November, 1562, having become ruinous, the stones of the Chapel were directed by the Magistrates to be “brocht to the utility and profit of the common work,” — strengthening the town’s wall.  A northern boundary, in a charter of the Abbot of Aberbrothock, dated 1299, of lands in the burgh, is described as “the land of Saint Marie of Strivelin.” There is also “a Ladyrig,” but its situation is not indicated and, therefore, its connection with the Well is hypothetical.”

In early references of the site by Ordnance Survey in the 1860s and 1890s, it was only described and shown as the Whiskey Well.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Stirling and District, forthcoming
  2. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  3. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.128311, -3.943050 Our Lady\'s Well

Fairy Well, Logie, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 8135 9804

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47123
  2. Hielantman’s Well
  3. Highlandman’s Well
  4. Holy Well

Getting Here

Fairy Well, emerging from wall

Fairy Well, emerging from wall

From Stirling, take the A9 to Bridge of Allan, turning right at the roundabout along the A907 for less than a mile, then turning left at the next roundabout up the A91.  A half-mile down, at the small roundabout, bear left and first right, up to Logie Church.  Keep going all the way up this steep winding road, turning right at the junction.  Go along here for a quarter of a mile and park up at the roadside.  Walk along a bit further where the road has a bittova sharp bend.  The sound of the stream coming out of the small glen is obvious.  Walk past this and, on the right-hand side of the road, past the stream, you’ll find a water source emerging from the boscage of an overgrown wall.  Keep looking.  It’s damn close!

Archaeology & History

In the 1792 Statistical Account of this northeastern edge of Stirling, moving into the ancient parish of Logie, we were given an early brief account of this all-but-forgotten sacred water source which, thankfully, still runs fine water to this day.  It was described in tandem with the ancient Hill of the Picts called Dunmyatt, more than a mile to the east; but,

“About half-a-mile from the foot of this hill…is a very fine well, which issues from more than sixty springs, that rise through the sand and channel.  It is called the Holy Well, and is said to have been much resorted to by the Roman Catholics.”

Close-up of the running waters

Close-up of the running waters

In R.M. Menzies (1905) magnum opus on the parish of Logie, he told that it “was popularly known as ‘the Heilantman’s Well’, a possible reminiscence of the ’15 where the battle of Sheriffmuir was fought nearby.”  This tradition is echoed by several local historians; though Angus Watson (1995) wonders whether it’s ‘Highlandman’s Well’ name (and its variants) is “perhaps more likely to the use of the well by Highland drovers.”  It’s in the perfect spot too!

When the Royal Commission (1963) lads visited the place in 1952, they described the well to have “been filled up.”  Thankfully today, the old well emerges out of the overgrown remains of an old wall, the waters of which still run fast and free and into the larger stream ahead of it.  The waters are fine and clear, and tasted cold and refreshing when I drank some a few days ago.  It’s an excellent spot to quench the thirst after a day out in the Ochils.

Folklore

Of the various titles given to this old water source, the more popular choice in recent years has been to call it the Highlandman’s Well.  However, local lore had always known it to be a place where the little people had acquaintance and it seems more vital to maintain its old folk-name.  In R.M. Menzies (1912) rare work on the folklore of the region, he told us the story behind the name:

“Once upon a time, when people took life more leisurely, and when the wee folk frequented the glens and hills of Scotland, there was one little fairy whose duty it was to look after certain wells renowned for their curative properties.  This fairy was called Blue Jacket, and his favourite haunt was the Fairy Well on the Sheriffmuir Road, where the water was so pure and cool that nobody could pass along without taking a drink of the magic spring.  A draught of this water would have such a refreshing effect that the drinker could go on his journey without feeling either thirsty or hungry.  Many travellers who had refreshed themselves at the Fairy Well would bless the good little man who kept guard over its purity, and proceed upon their way dreaming of pleasant things all the day long.

“One warm day in June, a Highland drover from the Braes of Rannoch came along with a drove of Highland cattle, which he was taking to Falkirk Tryst, and feeling tired and thirsty he stopped at the Fairy Well, took a good drink of its limpid water, and sat down beside it to rest, while his cattle browsed nearby.  The heat was very overpowering, and he fell into a dreamy sleep.

“As he lay enjoying his noonday siesta, Blue Jacket stepped out from among the brackens and approaching the wearied drover, asked him whence he came.  The drover said:

“‘I come from the Highland hills beside the Moor of Rannoch; but I have never seen such a wee man as you before.  Wha’ may you be?’

“‘Oh,’ said the fairy, ‘I am Blue Jacket, one of the wee folk!’

“‘Ay, ay man, ye have got a blue jacket, right enough; but I’ve never met ony o’ your kind before. Do ye bide here?’

“‘Sometimes; but I am the guardian of the spring from which you have just been drinking.’

“‘Weel, a’ I can say is that it is grand water; there is no’ the likes o’t frae this to Rannoch.’

“‘What’s your name?’ asked the fairy.

“‘They ca’ me Sandy Sinclair, the Piper o’ Rannoch,’ was the reply.

“‘Have you got your pipes?’ asked Blue Jacket.

“‘Aye, my mannie, here they are.  Wad ye like a tune?  Ye see there’s no’ a piper like me in a’ Perthshire.’

“‘Play away then,’ said Blue Jacket.

“Sandy Sinclair took up his pipes and, blowing up the bag, played a merry Highland reel.  When he finished, he was greatly surprised to see above the well a crowd of little folk, like Blue Jacket, dancing to the music he had been playing.  As he stopped they clapped their little hands and exclaimed, ‘Well done Sandy! You’re the piper we need.’

“Thereupon Blue Jacket blew a silver whistle, which he took from his belt, and all the wee folk formed themselves into a double row.  Blue Jacket then took the Highland piper by the hand, led him to the front of the procession, and told him to play a march.  Sandy felt himself unable to resist the command of the fairy, and, putting the chanter into his mouth, blew his hardest and played his best, marching at the head of the long line of little people, who tripped along, keeping time to the strains of the bagpipes.  Blue Jacket walked in front of the piper, leading the way in the direction of the Fairy Knowe.

“Sandy Sinclair never marched so proudly as he did that day, and the road, though fairly long, seemed to be no distance at all; the music of the pibroch fired his blood and made him feel as if he was leading his clansmen to battle.   When the Fairy Knowe was reached, the wee folk formed themselves into a circle round the little hill, and sang a song the sweetest that ever fell upon the ears of the Highlandman.  Blue Jacket once more took his whistle and, blowing three times upon it, held up his hand, and immediately the side of the knoll opened.  Bidding the piper to play on, Blue Jacket led the procession into the interior; and when all were inside, the fairies formed themselves into sets, and the piper playing a strathspey, they began dancing with might and main.

“One dance succeeded another, and still Sandy played on, the wee folk tripping it as merrily as ever.  All thoughts of Sandy’s drove had gone quite out of his head, and all he thought of now was how best to keep the fairies dancing: he had never seen such nimble dancers, and every motion was so graceful and becoming as made him play his very best to keep the fun going.  Sandy Sinclair was in Fairyland, and every other consideration was forgotten.

“Meanwhile his cattle and sheep were following their own sweet will, the only guardian left to take care of them being his collie dog.  This faithful animal kept watch as well as he could, and wondered what had become of his master.  Towards evening another drover came along with his cattle for the same tryst.  He knew the dog at once, and began to pet the animal, saying at the same time, ‘Where’s your master, Oscar? What’s become o’ Sandy?’

“All the dog would do was to wag his bushy tail, and look up with a pleading air, as if to say, ‘I don’t know; will you not find him?’

“‘My puir wee doggie, I wonder what’s come over Sandy?  It’s no like him to leave his cattle stravaiging by the roadside.  Ay ay man; and at the Fairy Well too!  Indeed, this looks unco bad.’

“The newcomer, who was also a Highlander, made up his mind to spend the night with his own drove and that of Sandy Sinclair, thinking that the missing man would turn up in the morning.  But when the morning came there was no sign of Sandy.

“Taking Sandy’s collie and leaving his own dog in charge of the combined droves, he said, ‘Find master, Oscar!’  The wise beast sniffed around for a little and then trotted off in the direction taken the day before by Sandy Sinclair and the fairies.  By and by they reached the Fairy Knowe; but there was nobody there as far as the drover could see.  The dog ran round and round the knoll, barking vigorously all the time, and looking up into the face of the drover as if to say, ‘This is where he is; this is where he is.’  The drover examined every bit of the Fairy Knowe, but there was no trace of Sandy Sinclair.  As the drover sat upon the top of the Fairy Knowe, wondering what he should do next, he seemed to hear the sound of distant music.  Telling the faithful dog to keep quiet, he listened attentively, and by-and-by made out the sound of the pibroch; but whether it was at a long distance or not, he could not be certain.  In the meantime, the dog began to scrape at the side of the mound and whimper in a plaintive manner.  Noticing this, the drover put his ear to the ground and listened.  There could be no mistake this time: the music of the pibroch came from the centre of the Fairy Knowe.

“‘Bless my soul!’ exclaimed Sandy’s friend. ‘He’s been enticed by the fairies to pipe at their dances.  We’ll ne’er see Sandy Sinclair again.’

“It was as true as he said.  The Piper of Rannoch never returned to the friends he knew, and the lads and lasses had to get another piper to play their dance music when they wished to spend a happy evening by the shore of the loch.  Long, long afterwards, the passers-by often heard the sound of pipe music, muffled and far away, coming from the Fairy Knowe; but the hidden piper was never seen.  When long absent friends returned to Rannoch and enquired about Sandy Sinclair, they were told that he had gone to be piper to the wee folk and had never come home again.”

The Fairy Knowe is the large prehistoric burial mound, neolithic in origin, found 1.08 miles (1.74km) west of the Fairy Well, above Bridge of Allan—and an absolute must to visit for any lovers of fairy lore!

References:

  1. Fergusson, R. Menzies, Logie: A Parish History – volume 1, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1905.
  2. Fergusson, R. Menzies, The Ochil Fairy Tales, David Nutt: London 1912.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  4. Watson, Angus, The Ochils – Placenames, History, Tradition, Perth & Kinross District Libraries 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.160264, -3.911866 Fairy Well

Chapel Well, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7781 9251

Also Known as:

  1. Bruce’s Well
  2. Canmore ID 46248
  3. Christ’s Well

Getting Here

Site of the Chapel Well

Site of the Chapel Well

Along the Main Street in Cambusbarron, walk down Mill Hill for a hundred yards or so, to The Brae.  Just here, a paved footpath goes to the right.  Walk along here for about 120 yards until you reach a small footbridge crossing the stream.  On the other side of this bridge you’ll notice a notice board and a sign.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Today, all that remains of this spring of water that was sacred in the animistic pantheon of our ancestors, is a notice board and an epitaph, reading “Site of the Chapelwell (or Christ’s Well)”; but in times past this simple spring of water was a place of considerable activity.  Not only did the local people of Cambusbarron get their water supply from this (and others close to the Main Street), but it was also a place of ritual and reverence.  We know this from early church accounts—most of which were complaints about the traditions performed by local people, in contravention to the christian cult.

J.S. Fleming's old drawing

J.S. Fleming’s old drawing

The best account of the site is found in J.S. Fleming’s (1898) work, in which we find it also referred to as the ‘Christ’s Well’.  This attribution adds further mystery and controversy regarding another Christ’s Well a few miles away at Blair Drummond, whose position by the academic community is questioned by local historians.  Be that as it may, Mr Fleming’s words on this Chapel Well are worth reading.  He wrote:

“the most famous of all the Stirling Holy Wells, was, early in this century and is still, known by the name of ‘Chapel Well,’ and its water, up till a recent date, was used for domestic purposes by the villagers.  It originally consisted of a square, stone-built, open well, with parapets, but its walls are now built up and roofed, and it has a door, now shut up, however, and the well closed by the sanitary authorities of the district.  The well is situated on the brink of what we assume to be Glenmoray Burn, here crossed by a rustic wooden bridge in a part of the Chapel Croft garden, containing the alleged site of the chapel, from which it is distant a few feet.  The stump of an ancient thorn is shown on the right hand of the sketch.  The overflow of water empties itself into the adjoining burn.  The site of this famous well has been so variously described as to almost challenge its identity, but the authorities examined, all, with one single exception, afternoted, virtually agree in its situation:

“1) Sutherland, about a hundred years ago, writes:  “Not far from St. Thomas’ Well there is another, on the farm of Chapel Croft, called ‘Christ’s Well,’ of great repute, and visited by women, etc.”

“2) Dr. Rogers, later, after referring to the Chapel of Cambusbarron, says ”two of the three wells connected with the establishment still exist near its site by the margin of Glenmoray stream.”

“3) Another writer says: ‘”Christ’s Well,’ now called ‘ Chapel Well,’ is at bottom of a small dell called Glenmoray, immediately adjoining Cambusbarron, and there is a tradition that here the water was got for the religious services at the Battle of Bannockburn, one redeeming quality of the superstition which would consecrate its water.”

“4) A writer, over the initials “S.I.,” in the Stirling Observer of 27th September, 1866, says:  “Within its Chapel King Robert the Bruce partook of the sacrament on the eve of the Sabbath preceding the Battle of Bannockburn, and its sacred font was the resort at Beltane of the superstitious of a former age, as may be seen from extracts from kirk session records.”

“These all agree that ‘Christ’s Well’ was situated not far from St. Thomas’ Well, on Chapel Croft; that it and other two wells existed some few years ago near the site of the Chapel, on the margin of Glenmoray stream, by the name of “Chapel Well”; ” is situated in a small dell called Glenmoray, and is immediately adjoining Cambusbarron; and that it retains, and is presently known by, no other name than the “Chapel Well.”  Further, a small distillery, now removed, situated a few yards from the Chapel on this burn, taking its name from the glen and burn, was called Glenmoray Distillery…”

“However, a writer in the Stirling Observer of 7th September, 1871, in an article on “Touch Glen,” says that not far from the road leading to the three reservoirs on Touch Hills, two of the three Wells connected with the Chapel (which, he states, is 1000 yards distant from Gartur Lodge) still exist, and may be seen near the brink of a little burn which trickles from the miniature glen of Glenmoray, visible on the hillside just below the lowest reservoir. This burn is crossed by a small stone bridge on the main road, and is known as “Johnnie’s Burn.” These Holy Wells, including Chapel Well, would thus, according to this writer, be about a mile, if on “Johnnie’s Burn,” and if near the lower reservoir, on Touch Hill,’ fully a mile and a half from Chapel Croft and the Chapel…

“…The Church dealt severely with the devotees—principally women—who resorted to the virtues of “Christ’s Well,” as is shown by the session records, from which we make a few extracts: —

“July 12, 1610. — The quhilk day compeirit Grissal Glen and Marioun Gillaspie quha for ther superstitione in passing in pilgrimmage to ‘Christe’s Well’ as they confessit the last day ar ordeinit to mak publick repentance the next Sonday in lining claithis.”

” 1 June, 1630. — The quhilk day compeirit Elspet Aiken, spous to Anclro Cuyngham, tinckler; Jonet Harvie, William Huttoune, cutler; Margaret Mitchell, dochter to Alex Mitchell; Jonet Bennet, dochter to James Bennet, cuick; James Ewein, son of John Ewein, wobster, Margt. Wright, James Watsoune, who confessis passing in pilgrimmage to ‘Christe’s Well’ in Mai, and thairfoir they ar ordeaned to mak publik repentance the nixt Sabbat in thair awin habeit, under the paine of disobedience.”

” Lykway I, Mr. Patrik Bell, am ordeaned to desyre the breithren of the Presbyterie to appoint ane actuale minister for to preach upon Sonday nixt for to tak ordour with the said persounes above writen.” (Note — This offence seems a mere ploy of young people observing May morning, as is done at the present day on the first of May, and the responsibility “of asking” an “actual minister’s aid” to take “order” with the accused seems treating the offence too seriously.)

“6 October, 1631. — The quhilk day compeirit Jonet Norbell, in Cambusbarron, for going for water to help her sick son; and Jonet Main, in Cambusbarron, going to ‘Christe’s Well’ for water for help to her bairns; “and for another offence are ordained” to sair the pulpit on Sonday nixt in her ain habit to mak repentance.”

Mr Fleming seemed to think the traditions of Mayday a healthy thing and wrote well of local traditions, speaking of the healing virtues of the dew on May morning, used by people all over the country; also remembering a song that would be sung in honour of “the delightful custom of maying”:

I, been a rambling all this night,
And some time of this day ;
And now returning back again,
I brought you a garland gay.

Why don’t you do as we have done
The very first day of May ?
And from my parents I have come,
And would no longer stay.

Chapel Well on 1865 map

Chapel Well on 1865 map

Modern plaque at the site

Modern plaque at the site

The fact that Mr Fleming cites the Chapel Well to be known locally as the ‘Christ’s Well’ needs to be remembered when you visit a site of the same name 5 miles northwest of here at Blair Drummond.  It was a place of considerable renown and much used by local people for a variety of indigenous rites and customs for many miles around.  The ancient Scottish practices were still very much alive…

References:

  1. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  2. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  4. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.109804, -3.966618 Chapel Well

Christ’s Well, Blair Drummond, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 72919 98903

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46067
  2. Fountain Head

Getting Here

Christ's Well (allegedly...)

Christ’s Well (allegedly…)

Along the A84 Stirling-Doune road, watch out for the minor Cuthill Brae road to the caravan park. Go past the caravan place (ignore the grumpy fella there who tells you “this is private”) over the cattle grid and walk immediately to your right, along the top of the field, going through the first rickety gate 150 yards along.  Follow the overgrown circular woodland path around, and as you see the Safari Park and Blair Drummond House ahead of you, walk just another 100 yards or so along the path until you reach a boggy hollow in the ground with an old small building inside it. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

For a variety of reasons, this little known site hiding away and all but lost in the mythic lives of homo-profanus, is one of the most important sites in the Stirlingshire region due to it being a site where animistic rites and practices were regularly enacted by local people in the 15th century—and before, no doubt!  We know this because we have a veritable list of, albeit, ranting christian accounts from some early church records, that were thankfully transcribed at the end of the 19th century by local writer R.F. Menzies. (1899)  Despite the seemingly “christian” title given to this old well, the local people used it extensively for their magick, their traditions, their healing, their solace and their spirituality.

The waters within...

The waters within…

Before we start, it’s important to note that the geographical position stated here, in the trees at Blair Drummond, is taken from the reference at Canmore, who do not cite a literary source or oral account which affirms this to be the exact spot.  I mention this as there has been a problem regarding its exact location, not only by Mr Menzies, but also in the texts by MacKinlay (1893) and Morris (1982), each of whom said that the well was in the parish of Menteith, several miles to the west.  In Menzies (1905) history of Logie parish, a footnote is added in relation to the position of the site:

“Mr W.B. Cook considers that ‘there is no authority for saying the well was in Kincardine-in-Menteith.  An exhaustive enquiry by me has narrowed its locality down to two possible places, viz. Walton (i.e., well-town) and Bridge of Teith, both sites of pre-Reformation chapels, in the parish of Kilmadock.  It is as nearly certain as can be that Christ’s Well in Menteith was near the ancient chapel at Bridge of Teith, the remains of which—along with the well itself—are still to be seen.’”

This would therefore differ from the position presently cited by Canmore and the official records.  The ruins of the chapel described by Mr Cook were noted by the Ordnance Survey team at the Bridge of Teith when they visited in 1862 and it was highlighted on their maps four years later.  No “well” was noted however—and although we have Mr Menzies (1899) to thank for the presently accepted spot for this Christ’s Well, we don’t know for certain that this is the correct place.  The situation is made more troublesome if we refer to Moray Mackay’s (1984) definitive history of the adjacent parish of Doune.  Mr Mackay wrote his work in the early 1950s and, like other local historians, was both fascinated and puzzled about this well. He wrote:

“Many writers in the past have been content with placing this well “in Mentieth” and leaving it at that, but my curiosity was aroused by the fact that more than one reference indicated that it was ‘near to Doune,’ and I set about locating it.  It was a somewhat involved process, but I give here a resume of my findings which I published in the Stirling Observer of April 22, 1954.

“Firstly I was led to a paper of modern origin in Blair Drummond Estate Office which gave the site of Christ’s Well as ‘in the fernery at Blair Drummond.’  I found the fernery and also a rather fine well, over which a stone covering has been raised at an unknown date, and thought my quest ended. Later however…a reference in the Register of the Secret Seal, dated 1519, very strongly indicated Bridge of Teith as the site of Christ’s Well, and I was led to a very old well between the back door of the church there and the brink of the river.

“Still later I came across a pencilled note on a map in Doune Lodge Estate Office which read ‘Walton or Christwell unentailed’ as applying to a piece of ground immediately east of the Walton or Welltown site…

“There were, therefore, three alternative sites for Christ’s Well, only one of which had all the qualifications implied in the records as being (1) near Doune; (2) associated with a chapel; (3) in Kilmadock parish.  Consequently, I am convinced that the very old, dry-stone well at Bridge of Teith is, in fact, the once-famous Christ’s Well in Menteith.”

Christ's Well (as 'Fountain Head') on 1866 map

Christ’s Well (as ‘Fountain Head’) on 1866 map

Cook & Mackay's site of Christ's Well, by the chapel

Cook & Mackay’s site of Christ’s Well, by the chapel

The site that Mr Mackay and W.B. Cook believe to be the Christ’s Well is 1.5 miles (2.43km) north of the position cited by Canmore (at NN 7221 0121).  As if to make things even more complicated, if we travel exactly 5 miles (8.05km) southeast to Cambusbarron, anothersite of the same name (later to be called the Chapel Well and associated with ancient ruins) is found!  J.S. Fleming (1898) describes it in some detail.

Carved stone dated 1690

Carved stone dated 1690

Carved stone dated 1678

Carved stone dated 1678

However, for the time being at least, if we assume that the Canmore entry is the real Christ’s Well, if you visit the place you will find an old well-house that has been built over a redirected spring of water which seems to have originally rose just a few yards to the rear of the structure.  Above the open front of the well-house—also constructed only a few hundred years ago—are placed two separate inscribed stones: one with the letters “CD ER” and the year 1690 beneath them; and above this an older stone, with the date 1678 etched on it.  These may be the dates when an earlier stone structure, whose scattered rocky edges are visible beneath the vegetation around and behind the present well-house, were demolished and then rebuilt.  But this is guesswork on my behalf!

'Standing Stone' to the rear

‘Standing Stone’ to the rear

The entire structure is built inside a deep hollow which has no doubt been created and eroded into being by the spring of water itself.  On the rise at the back of this hollow is a curious standing stone which, as Penny Sinclair pointed out when we visited here a few days ago, was made out of a fossilized tree. This standing stone is only a few centuries old and either marks the original rise of the spring, or was erected at the same time of the well-house.

Less confusing were the activities performed here by local people in the 16th century—and way before that no doubt.  We have a lengthy set of accounts that describe how local people visited the Christ’s Well at the traditional dates of Beltane, Midsummer, etc, performing a variety of rites typical of those found in animistic cultures the world over. Sadly, it was the activities of the incoming christian cult that put an end to such ancient traditions by persecuting local people, as we know it has done everywhere that its virulent tendrils have infested.  Anyway, I hope that readers will forgive me citing the entire length of the accounts described by Mr Menzies (1899) about this well; but I think they give us vital insights into traditional healing practices that were just about destroyed by that corrupt institution that is the Church (for ease of reading, I’ve edited and modernized to some degree the repetitive and fragmentary language of the early written accounts):

“The brethren of the Presbytery of Stirling and various Kirk Sessions within the bounds were much exercised and troubled by frequent pilgrimages to a holy well, called Christ’s Well, situated somewhere in the neighbourhood of Ochtertyre, in the parish of Kincardine. For at least thirty years after 1581, pilgrimages were undertaken by certain people, who imagined they could obtain cures for certain diseases at this well. The wonderful thing is that tradition is dumb regarding the exact site of the holy spring.  There is a fine spring situated within the grounds of Blairdrummond, which may have been the Christ’s Well, the supposed virtue of which was, on the one hand, so consequential to the public health, and on the other, so troublesome to the Kirk.

“On 20th August, 1581, the Presbytery Record runs: ‘The brethren understands that a papist pilgrimage began of late at the Christ’s Well, and ordains every minister within their own bounds to try those persons who resort to it, and to call them before the particular Sessions that they can be convicted…’

“Two years later the evil crops up again, and on 7th May, 1583, ‘The brethren understand that a great abuse by the rascal sorts of people that pass in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well and use it for great Idolatry and superstition that are expressedly against God’s law; and because the Kings Majesty with advice of his three estates of parliament, (there shall be) certain punishments as well as corporal pains as pecuniary sums of money to be executed against such persons; and for execution of which against persons passed and to the said Well, the brethren understands my Lord of Doune Stewart of Menteith has commission given to him to that effect to see that punishment is executed in conformity with the said Act.  Therefore the brethren ordains and gives commission to Mr. Andro Zung (Minister at Dunblane), Mr. William Stirling (at Kilmadock), and Michael Lermonthe (at Kilbryde) to pass to my Lord of Doune to treat with him for execution of punishment against the persons according to the said Act and his commission.”  On 4th May, 1583, “The brethren ordains and gives commission to the brothers dwelling in Dunblane or any three of them to pass to Christ’s Well this next Saturday evening, accompanied with such persons as you may have to espy which persons comes to the said Well and report the names of such persons you can get to the brethren.’

“On 28th May, 1583, “On which day the brethren understanding that a great number of people have resorted to, and resorts in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well, using yet superstition and Idolatry expressedly against God’s law and the acts of parliament.  Therefore…the brethren ordains summons to be directed to charging of such the said persons, whose names shall be given in writing to the clerk to appear before the brethren to answer therefore, to the effect that orders may be taken with them that have been there, to the glory of God and execution of the Kings Majesty’s laws and in example of others to do the same.’

“On 4th June, 1583, “Margaret Wright in Cambus, Janet Kidstoun in Cambus, and Thomas Patersone in Black Grainge” did not appear in courtto answer “for passings in pilgrimage to Christs Well,” and were summoned the second time under pain of excommunication. On 11th June, “Janet Tailzor (spouse to Robert Cowane) in Touch, Marione Watsone in Touch, Marjorie Fargusson in Touch, Margaret Downy in Polmais,” also for the same “compeared not.” (i.e., did not appear in court, as ordered – PB)

“The depositions given in excuse referred to some disease or ailment: One, “confessed she passed there to get help for a  soreness in her side and confessed she passed about the well and prayed to Christ’s Well on Sunday and drank of the Well and washed her side with the water thereof and left behind her a  sown thread” (as offering).  Another, “passed….because she was sick in her heart and in her head and lipnit (trusted) that the Well would have helped her sicknesses…and she passed about the Well and cast the water over her shoulder and drank of it and left one piece of silver behind her.”

Ten years later several cases of pilgrimage to Christ’s Well come before the Presbytery.  22nd May, 1593, “On which day the brethren are credibly informed that Malcolme Alexander in Menstrie, James Baird at Muckart mill, and Jonet Mairschell, his spouse, passed in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well and visit superstition and Idolatry thereat. Therefore the brethren ordains them and such others who have done such like within their bounds to be summoned to answer for the same and unduly discipline them therefore under the pain of disobedience; and ordains each Minister to travel with one or two gentlemen in his parish to pass to the said Well on Saturday evening and espy what persons come there and what they do and relate the information to the minister, and see that each minister take Inquisition in his own Eldership what passes at the said Well and relate them to the presbytery.”

29th May, 1593, *On which day the summoned James Baird…to answer for passing in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well appeared in court, the said James, and confessed that through earnest persuasion of his wife (who was also moved to be there by other people), he passed with her to Christ’s Well on Saturday the 12th day of May instant, and that she two hours before the sun went down on Saturday evening drank of the said well and washed her legs and arms in it and did no fairer; he did nothing with the water, for his errand there was only with his wife who was persuaded to go there for her healing by Issobel Scotland.  He confessed that there was at the said Well this year Ewffam Wilsone in Blairhill.  Alaster Leany who was some time servant to Alexander Ezat in Culross.  He confesses that David More is he whom bears aqua-vitae and being oft times in David Fargus house in Alva, said to his wife that there was money brought to that Well…; and that Crystie cadzear in Alva confessed to him when he and his wife came home from the well, that he was three or four times at Christ’s Well and was the better, he confesses that his wife is sick and cannot come to court this day and obey the summons and therefore desires that his excuse for her may be admitted. The brethren having considered the said James Baird’s fault, ordains him to make repentance therefore in Dollar kirk as it is adjacent to him the next Sunday in secclayth (???), and that the plaintiff above written be summoned to answer for the said offence under the pain of disobedience.”

Another case falls to the ground for want of proof.  On 5th June, 1593, “One summons upon Malcolme Alschunder in Menstrie…to answer for passing to Christ’s Well and using superstition and Idolatry there at, but there is no appearance in court.  He appears on 12th June, “And denies that he passed to Christ’s Well or was bewast (to the west of – PB) Teith at any time in May, and therefore the said matter remains to be proven.” On 3rd July, “Inquisition being taken, asks if there be any witnesses that can prove Malcolme Alexander was at Christ’s Well, there is none found, and therefore it is thought good to proceed no farther against him for the said offence.”

On 14th May, 1595, James Duncansone in Fossoway, and Helen Jameson, his spouse, are charged to answer “For superstition and Idolatry in passing to Christ’s Well in pilgrimage… The said Helen confesses she passed to Christ’s Well through the year to get her bairns eye healed which was blind a month before.  She washed his eye thrice with the water thereof, and alleged that the bairn saw or he come home; and confesses that she passed there this year also to give thanks for the benefit she received the year preceding, and left a shirt of the bairns behind her, which was on the first Sunday of May…  The said James Duncansone denies that he passed to the said well with her, but only to Ochtertyre, where he was all night—well the morning that she come to him, and then they passed together to Dunblane.  The brethren finds him also culpable as his wife in her said fault, seeing he has known thereof and past with her to Ochtertyre, which is the most part of the way, where he ought and should have stopped her, and therefore they are ordained to make public repentance in linen clothes the next three sabbath days bare-footed.”

James Duncansone’s wife appears to have refused to obey the Presbytery, and on 16th July, 1595, she is summoned to appear in court, “beand chair- git as said is to heir and sie hir self decernit to be excommunicated for not completing the injunctions to her for passing in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well two different times, who being oft times called, appeared not. Therefore the brethren ordains her to be summoned de novo to the effect aforesaid with certification.”

“As no further mention is made of this woman’s case, she must ultimately have satisfied (them).  The resorting to this well comes before the Presbytery (again) on 23rd April, 1600: ‘The brethren being credibly informed of the great abuse and superstitions of visits by many people at Christs Well, namely in the night immediately preceding the Sabbaths in the month of May; for remaid thereof the brother of the Ministry within their boundaries are ordained that publicly in their kirks the next Sabbath inhibit and forbid in the name of God and his kirk that no persons shall pass to the said Well… And to the end that such abusers that go there may be stopped from their superstition.  The brethren ordains the ministers of Kilmadock and Kincardine with the special gentlemen of their flocks, to await vicissim (in return) at the said well on the night preceding the Sabbath during all the month of May; and to that effect the brethren ordains the clerk to write in the names (of visitors) to the gentlemen of the said parishes.’

“The members of Presbytery were determined to put a stop to such superstitious practices, and ere long, their efforts met with success.  In the meanwhile however, isolated cases came before them for judgment . Thus on 29th July, 1601, “Jonet Rob in Pendreich” is summoned to appear to answer “for disobedience to the elders of her parish church of Logie, conjoined with slandering the kirk by passing in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well.” She does not appear, and is summoned pro tertio, but apparently having satisfied the “eldership” of Logie, the matter is not again referred to.

“The last mention of Christ’s Well is at the meeting held on 1st July, 1607, when a batch of nine penitents from the parishes of Airth and Bothkennar, “Compare and confess they were at Christ’s Well to heal their diseases, and took some of the water and left something behind, every one of them, at the well. The brethren finds that they have committed superstition and have dedicated to Satan that thing they have left behind them (at the well), and are therefore ordained to make public repentance at the next adjacent kirks of Airth and Bothkennar.”

Menzies noted another mention of people using the waters here a few years later, telling:

“As late at June 6, 1630, the Kirk Session Records of Stirling contain an entry, where five women and two men, “confesses passing in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well in May, and therefore they are ordained to make public repentance at the next sabbath, in their own habit, under pain of disobedience.”

In these records we can clearly see that a bunch of incoming religious fanatics have arrived and set themselves up to engage with the Scottish people so as to undermine and destroy the indigenous traditions and practices prevalent at that time, by imposing laws against them which were not for the benefit of the local people.  Indeed, the laws were preposterous!  The initial description that the rituals performed by the local people were ‘papist’ in nature is, of course, a cover—as was the name, Christ’s Well—in an attempt to avert the christian cult from attacking their traditional places of healing and rites.  This failed—but at least we have the accounts describing the outlandish presbyterian impositions.

Penny sits guarding the well

Penny sits guarding the well

However, even with these accounts it is difficult to say with any certainty where the original Christ’s Well emerged.  The position Penny Sinclair and I visited, as marked on the modern OS-maps, is congruous for rites of solitude as described in the church accounts; and a distinct genius locifeels to be just beneath the surface.  However, it is difficult to see how people visiting here would have been noticed by the christian enforcers, as it is away from prying eyes.  However, if the well was at the Bridge of Teith, it would explain how so many people were “caught in the act” of performing their rites, as an old chapel was adjacent to the well.  More research is required, obviously…

In the meantime, I truly recommend visiting this place to those who enjoy the quietude of sacred sites.  Tis a fine secluded place—although it could do with a good tidying-up to free its fresh waters once again…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Stirling and District, forthcoming
  2. Bradley, Ian, Water—A Spritual History, Bloomsbury: London 2012.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  4. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt: New York 1959.
  5. Fergusson, R. Menzies, Alexander Hume: An Early Poet-Pastor of Logie, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1899.
  6. Fergusson, R. Menzies, Logie: A Parish History – volume 1, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1905.
  7. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  8. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volumes 1-10, SNDA: Edinburgh 1931-1976.
  9. Mackay, Moray S., Doune – Historical Notes, Forth Naturalist: Stirling 1984.
  10. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  11. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  12. Wright, Joseph (ed.), English Dialect Dictionary – volumes 1-6, Henry Frowde: London 1898-1905.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Penny Sinclair for the venture over and help to locate this fascinating site.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.165742, -4.048241 Christ\'s Well

An Sithean, Lawers, Kenmore, Perthshire

Legendary Hill:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6806 3976

Getting Here

An Sithean on 1862 OS-map

Take the A827 road on the north-side of Loch Tay between Killin and Kenmore, and roughly halfway along you’ll find the tiny hamlet of Lawers.  Go down into the hamlet itself and, amidst the remains of the old trees where now are houses, nestled on a rise in the land with burns (streams) on either side, remains of the fairy mound of An Sithean still lives…

Folklore

Remnants of the legends of little people are legion in the Scottish mountains.  Sadly, many of them died when the English arrived and culled the population in ‘The Clearances’ of the 19th century – none moreso than in the area surrounding Loch Tay.  But thankfully, in the latter-half of the 19th century, a local man called James MacDiarmid (1910), took it upon himself to write down many of the old stories told by the remaining locals – as well as narrate those he remembered as a boy, as told by the elders around him.  Whilst tales of ‘fairies’ and other such creatures are thought by city-minds to be little other than fantasies, mountain-folk cosmologies differ greatly to those who are disconnected from the natural world.  Genius loci abound, and animism is the basic plinth integral to communities in the hills, where the world is much much more real.  This is one such tale…

“Not many years ago there lived in the neighbourhood of Killin a man who was in the habit of recounting his wonderful adventures with the white horse of the fairies.  When coming home one night from Kenmore market, and just as he was passing Sithean, Lawers, he heard most enchanting music proceeding from the knoll.  Unable to resist the temptation, he gradually went nearer and nearer the fairies’ place of abode, till at last he was fairly among them.  They received him most kindly, and on parting gave him one of their white horses to carry him home.  His steed went through the air at a speed almost equalling that of lightning, and in a few minutes he found himself above a house at Clifton, Tyndrum, some twenty-five miles westward from Lawers.  Happening to shout “ho!” when he was right above the chimney, the fairy horse threw him off its back, and down he dropped feet foremost through the wide, old-fashioned chimney, and alighted in the midst of a wedding party, much to their surprise and alarm. He continued in their pleasant company till daylight, when he returned home at his leisure, thanking the fairies for the pleasure they had so unexpectedly given him!”

Usually, tales such as this relate to the existence of prehistoric cairns or tumuli (burial sites), but no such archaeological remains have ever been known to live here.  Equally curious is how the man in this tale wasn’t kept in the timeless realms, beloved of faerie-land, where reveries with them would take decades from a man’s life, even though it only felt like one night.  This would imply

I’ve come across old locals who still speak, not just of the little-folk, but of other hauntings in this beautiful part of Loch Tay.  May the land not be cursed by the fools who put their idea of ‘development’ in front of the genius loci here; lest madness and ill-fortune will prevail…

References:

  1. MacDiarmid, James, “More Fragments of Breadalbane Folklore,” in Transactions of the Gaelic Society Inverness, volume 26, 1910.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

An Sithean

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An Sithean 56.531275, -4.146816 An Sithean