Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – NS 92478 93403
From Clackmannan Main Street, go down the Cattle Market and straight across at the junction, downhill. Keep going on the country lane for half-a-mile watching out for Grassmainston Farm on the left. Go past here and up the next dirt-track for a few hundred yards, watching out for a copse of trees on your left a coupla hundred yards away. Go to the very top corner of the copse, following the stream to its source. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
In a truly fascinating historical case of witchcraft (there was a lot of it in this area according to court and church records), heard in Clackmannan on 16th July, 1700, a certain spring of water, or well, was described, where acts of healing and sympathetic magick were performed and, it would seem, was quite well known to the people cited in the case. It seems very likely from reading the account, that the well in question had magical repute locally. The well was not named, but thankfully the information in the case has allowed us to identify the place in question. When I came here a month or two ago, the well was very overgrown (hence the poor photo above), so I’m gonna go back for another look at the place when Winter’s brushed back the vegetation.
The tale surrounding the well was included in Simpkin’s (1914) Folklore Society survey of Fife and Clackmannan a hundred years ago, and is as follows:
“John Scobie, younger, in Clackmannan, was called, who being of age thirty-eight, was sworn and interrogated if he went up with his uncle to a south-running well at Grassmainston. Deponed that he did go up with him, alone, the first night, and as his uncle was casting off his clothes at the well, the deponent saw a black man …coming from Kersemill; and when he came to the head of Robert Stupart’s folds there was a great squealing among the cattle. Also, when deponent had his uncle down to sprinkle him, he saw a brindled cat come out from among the corn within a little distance from him. He put magic powders upon his uncle when he was naked, which he had received from his said uncle’s wife, Margaret Bruce, who remarked to the deponent that the woman who directed (them), “would get a flee before he came back”; and that, at his return, at Goldney, he heard a terrible noise as of coaches, and that he was dripping of sweat when he came into the house.
“The said Margaret had forbidden them to speak in going or coming, which injunction they observed. When they came to call the deponent to go the second night he refused, till the deceased Robert Reid came and took him, and they both went with him, and saw the black man and the cat, and heard the cattle squeal as aforesaid and, when they were coming back again, there came a great wind upon the trees on the side of the Devon and, when he was crossing the Cartechy Burn his uncle’s foot slipped and he fell in the burn. Thereupon Robert Reid said, “The cure is lost. There is no helping of you now!” And so they spoke from thenceforth until they came home; for Margaret Bruce, the said James Scobie’s wife, told them that if he fell into the water he would not be cured. The witness further added that when they told Margaret that her husband had fallen into the water, she wept. ”
The magickal well in this case would appear to be one identified at the very top of the small copse of trees immediately north of Grassmainston farmhouse, just 3-400 hundred yards away up the slope. It is a “south-running well” as cited in the case and no other water source is immediately apparent. It would be good if any students or antiquarians living near Alloa could check local library records and see if there’s any further information about this site. A short distance north of here is the curiously-named ‘Serpent Wood’, with its old well, fallen stone and lost legends…
…to be continued…
Simpkins, John Ewart, County Folklore – volume VII: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-Shires, Folk-Lore Society: London 1914.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian