Mullach-Geal Stone, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NF 092 996

Archaeology & History

This is a most intriguing site, whose exact location seems to have been forgotten.  It was first mentioned in Macaulay’s History of St Kilda (1764) as being one of four stone altars that the islanders used for worship.  Three of them were related to the early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose well and chapel remains are on the south-side of the island.  However, this fourth stone altar possessed a purely magickal and heathen function.  Macaulay initially gives the location as being “on top of a hill to the southwest” of St. Brendan’s chapel; but subsequently tells us it was upon “Mulach-geall” which is a mile NNW.  It was an important place to the people of Hirta and its exact position needs to be found and, hopefully, the altar still exists.

Folklore

Despite Macaulay’s conflicting directions of how to get here (a common feature of early writers), he wrote:

“I have already made mention of one St. Kilda altar, that in Brendans Chapel.  There are no less than four more in the island, of which three lie at considerable distances from the holy places.  There is one particularly on the top of a hill to the south-weft (sic), dedicated according to tradition to the God who presides over Seasons; The God of thunder, lightning, tempests and fair weather.  To avert the terrible judgments inflicted by this mighty Divinity, the ancient St. Kildians offered propitiatory sacrifices on this altar, sacrifices of different forts, much like the old Pagans, who offered a black sheep to Winter, or the Tempest, and a white one to the Spring…  The place where the people of this island, offered their victims to Taranis, is called Mulach-geall, that is to say, the White eminence or hill…”

More than a hundred years later, Seton (1878) made mention of it, but added no further details.

The invocation to Nature’s elements is something we find echoed at some sites further east, such as the Well of the North Wind on Iona and its compatriot Well of the South Wind.  At both these places, so-called ‘pagan’ rituals were used to both placate and invoke the gods and spirits of the wind.  This one on St Kilda possessed additional magickal prowess.  But where is it?  Have we lost it, or is it sleeping somewhere on the edge of Mullach-Geal…?

References:

  1. Macaulay, Kenneth, The History of St. Kilda; Containing a Description of This Remarkable Island; the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants; the Religious and Pagan Antiquities There Found, T. Becket: London 1764.
  2. Seton, Gordon, St. Kilda – Past and Present, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.814575, -8.585289 Mullach-geal Stone

Brandy Well, Carlton, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 52 03?

Archaeology & History

Brandy Well c.1910

Not marked on any map of the area (that I can find), this little-known possible holy well is described just once in one of Mr Blakeborough’s (1912) numerous regional history tomes.  Although he doesn’t explore the origin of the well’s name (which we find repeated at other water sources in northern Britain), the Scottish writers, Ruth & Frank Morris (1982) tell how examples of wells with this name in Scotland owe their names to the curious early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose annual saint’s day is May 16.  Whether this applies here I cannot tell.

We need some help locating the place, as it seems to have fallen off the radar.  The best I can do is give Mr Blakeborough description, who wrote of this Brandy Well:

“Speaking of superstitions reminds me of a tradition that the water in Brandy Well, half way up Carlton Bank, has most wonderful curative properties, and that a wish made here when drinking, is pretty certain to be fulfilled.  The well is by the road side and the water is no doubt just about as pure as it could possibly be, coming as it does, after much filtering through peat, straight from the hills.  There may be something more than mere superstition in the health giving properties of this water, especially in conjunction with the climb up the hill amid pine trees and the inhaling of the invigorating air.”

Its exact location is difficult to pin down.  There is no sign of any Well along the roadside between Carlton village and where the road eventually levels out on the northwest side of the hill.  It certainly isn’t the Mere Beck Spring on the south-side of the hill (is that still there and what is its history?); but there is however a ‘Spring’ shown on the early OS-maps on the east-side of the hill, along an old track at roughly NZ 52233 02357. Could this be it?  Or has the old Brandy Well been destroyed?  In an area littered with prehistoric and mythic sites, it would be good to relocate this one.

References:

  1. Blakeborough, J. Fairfax, Life in a Yorkshire Village, Yorkshire Publishing: Stockton-on-Tees 1912.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Brandy Well

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Brandy Well 54.419790, -1.200146 Brandy Well