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 NW 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?

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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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. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 5, SNDA: Edinburgh 1958.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Skyreholme Carving (406), Appletreewick, North Yorkshire

Cup-marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0740 6254

Getting Here

Skyreholme 406

Skyreholme 406 carving

Along the B6265 Pateley Bridge-Grassington road, roughly halfway between Stump Cross Caverns and the turn to Skyeholme and Applecross (New Lane) is a dirt-track on your right-hand side called Black Hill Road. Walk down here for a few hundred yards till y’ reach the gate on the right. A track goes downhill to the psilocybin-rich pastures of Nussey Green. Several hundred yards down, to the right-hand side of the track, we find this and its several companions. Look around!

Archaeology & History

Skyreholme-406 carving

Sketch showing cups

Just a few yards away from the Skyrehome Carving-404, this very basic petroglyph was rediscovered by Stuart Feather (1969) during one his many forays in this area.  Although the stone has what initially seems to be a number cup-marks on it, it seems only two of them are man-made. The rock art students Boughey & Vickerman (2003) think there may be up to four of them.

References:

  1. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
  2. Feather, Stuart, “Appletreewick, W.R.: Black Hill,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, volume 42, part 167, 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Skyreholme Carving (405), Appletreewick, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 07395 62382

Getting Here

Skyreholme 405 Carving

Skyreholme 405 Carving

Going down (south) off the B6265 Black Hill Road towards Skyreholme, turn right and go all round the hill ahead of you, but instead of looking to the right (where other carvings, described elsewhere, are found), turn left where the collapsed entrance to a mine-shaft is visible about 50 yards up the hill on the left. Walk up here, keeping to the right side of the collapsed mine, till you reach this rock.

Archaeology & History

Only for the purist petroglyph fanatics amongst you, the rock art students Boughey & Vickerman (2003) allege there to be four cup-markings here—and debatable ones at that—but we could really only make out the topmost cup, shown in the picture and an elongated one (which they think may have been two cups merged into one).  A faint “X” is also carved on the stone, possibly from the mining days.

References:

  1. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Fountain Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 26082 73692

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52238
  2. Netherbow
  3. Wellhead

Getting Here

Fountina Well on 1852 map

Fountain Well on 1852 map

Get onto the Royal Mile road (which comprises Lawn Market, High Street and Canongate) which runs down from the castle; and near the bottom of the High Street section (between North Bridge and St. Mary’s Street), on the left side of the road you’ll see a large upright monument which was formerly a stone drinking fountain.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Found just yards away from the lunatic John Knox’s house, this is one of several wells that could once be found along the old High Street, or Royal Mile, near the middle of the city.  A fast-flowing spring of water was contained within this solid stone monument first built around 1675 by the King’s mason, Robert Mylne.  The fountainhead was rebuilt at a later date and it supplied water for the inhabitants of the old town.

Fountain Well, Edinburgh

Fountain Well, Edinburgh

It has a small semi-circular water trough at its western base and is ornamented on this and its eastern side with small mythical fauns, out of which water emerged.   The local council should ensure to make the well work again, giving people clean drinking water when they need it.

The local historian Stuart Harris (1996) puzzled over the origin of the name ‘Fountain Well’, wondering whether it related to a nearby mansion, but he wasn’t too clear in his description for those who live outside of the city, where this mansion was.  He wrote:

“It is…reasonable to suppose that the present well got its name from being in the general vicinity of the mansion, and that the mansion and the (Fountain) Close must have been named for another well, now lost, in the close or at its head.  It is suggested in Wilson (1891), but scarcely proved, that it was the Endmyleis Well…which is mentioned in…1567.”

Bereft of natural animism, the site is more likely to be of interest to architects than the usual hydromancers and their exploratory ilk…

References:

  1. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Wilson, Andrew P., Milestones in the Royal Mile, John McQueen: Galashiels 1947.
  3. Wilson, Daniel, Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Times – 2 volumes, Edinburgh 1891.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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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. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

 

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Beltane Well, Kenmore, Perthshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7867 4725

Also Known as:

  1. An Tobar
  2. Holy Well of Inchadney

Getting Here

An Tobar, or Beltane Well, on the 1867 map

An Tobar, or Beltane Well, on the 1867 map

From Kenmore village on the north-side of the river, over the bridge, take the small road on your right towards Dull.  After a very short distance the road runs alongside the woodland for nearly 1½ miles until, on your left, you’ll reach Drummond Cottage.  Across from here a dirt-track takes you into the trees.  Barely 100 yards along, watch for the overgrown path that runs down the slope on your left.  At the bottom a small stream has several feeds – one of which is surrounded by a ring of bright quartz stones.

Archaeology & History

Shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps as An Tobar (meaing simply “a well”), this somewhat nondescript title betrays a much more colourful folk history, albeit dissolved by those common culprits of Church and disrespectful incomers (which shows little sign of diminishing).

Lara by the Well

Lara by the Well

Close-up of quartz surround

Close-up of quartz surround

In the field immediately south, back up the slope above the well and through the trees, was once an ancient church whose existence has all but vanished.  Hereby was held an ancient fair known as Feill nam Bann Naohm, or the Fair of the Holy Women, named after a group of nuns whose lived here, who William Gillies (1938) and others proclaim were the legendary Nine Maidens, whose dedications at wells, trees and other sites scatter Scotland. But the fair was ended in 1575 and moved to Kenmore; then, several years later in 1579, the church also moved onto Eilean nam Ban Naomh (NN 7664 4536) on Loch Tay.

The old well however, after being left by the descendants of the Holy Women or Nine Maidens, continued to be frequented by local people.  Gillies (1938) wrote:

“The Holy Well of Inchadney is situated at the foot of the terrace, about five hundred yards to the north of the churchyard… Up to the middle of last century the well used to be visited by great numbers of people on the morning of Bealtuinn, the first day of May.”

In Ruth & Frank Morris’ survey (1981) they told how the site had become much overgrown and,

“The well was cleaned out in 1914 and among articles found was a stone 21 inches by 16 inches, with a rude St Andrew’s cross scratched on it, a George III farthing among other copper coins, a rudely made stone cup 2½ inches high and 7 inches in diameter, three metal buttons, a glass bead and six pins.”

No such offerings seemed in evidence when we visited a few weeks ago; but we were told that people are still seen visiting the well.

Looking down into the pure waters

Looking into the pure waters

A small stone-laid footpath runs towards the adjacent burn from the circular well, which is almost completely surrounded by large quartz rocks.  In the well itself was a small fish, showing how clean the waters are.

We must also make note of the fact that, just two fields away to the north, according to the antiquarian Fred Coles (1910), a stone circle was once in evidence.  This old well sat neatly between the sites of megalithic ring and church.

Folklore

In the field in front of the well, Hilary Wheather (1982) told that there once lived a legendary water bull, but she lamented on his passing.  With the coming of the modern-folks and their unnatural ways,

“and having great timber lorries rumbling past your home every day is no fun for a peace-loving waterbull living in Poll Tairbh, the Bull’s Pool opposite the Holy Well.  Gone are the days when he was the revered Spirit of the Meadow, passed with trembling and fear by all the young maids of the Parish lest he should jump out and carry them off to his watery lair. Half the calves of the area were sired by him and it was always easily seen which cow had the attentions of the Great Waterbull.  Her calf was always the biggest and the best.  But he hasn’t been seen by his pool for many a year…”

The waters are cited by Geoff Holder (2006) to be good for toothache.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (Aberfeldy District),” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  3. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  4. McHardy, Stuart, The Quest for the Nine Maidens, Luath Press: Edinburgh 2003.
  5. Miller, Joyce, Magic and Witchcraft in Scotland, Goblinshead: Musselburgh 2010.
  6. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  7. Wheater, Hilary, Kenmore and Loch Tay, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1982.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the bunch who got us here:  to Paul Hornby, Nina Harris, Aisha Domleo & Lara Domleo (ooh – and Leo too!).

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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Witch Tree, Aberuthven, Perthshire

Sacred Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9621 1587

Getting Here

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Just off the A9 between Stirling and Perth is Aberuthven village.  Down the Main Street and just south of the village, turn west along Mennieburn Road.  A half-mile on, just past Ballielands farm, you reach the woods.  Keep along the road for another half-mile, close to where the trees end and go through the gate where all the rocks are piled. Walk up to the tree-line 50 yards away and follow it along the line of the fence east, til it turns down the slope.  Naathen – over the barbed fence here, close to the corner, about 10 yards in, is the tree in question…

Archaeology & History

Witch Tree03

Looking along the fallen trunk

Laid down on the peaty earth, fallen perhaps fifty years ago or more, are the dying remains of this all-but forgotten Witch Tree.  To those of you who may strive to locate it—amidst the dense eye-poking branches of the surrounding Pinus monoculture—the curious feature on this dying tree are a number of old iron steps or pegs, from just above the large upturned roots.  About a dozen of them were hammered into the trunk some 100 years or more ago and, were it to stand upright again, reach perhaps 30 feet high or more.  These iron pegs give the impression of them being used to help someone climb the tree when it was upright; but their position on the trunk and the small distance between some of them shows that this was not their intention.  Their purpose on the tree is a puzzle to us (does anyone have any ideas?).

Embedded pieces or iron from roots...

Embedded iron from the roots

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

The fallen trunk has broken into two main sections, each with iron pegs in them.  The very top of the tree has almost completely been eaten back into the Earth.  Unfortunately too, all the bark has completely rotted away and so identifying the species of the tree is difficult (though I’m sure there are some hardcore botanists out there who’d be able to enlighten us).  The possibility that the early map-reference related to a Wych-elm (Ulmus glabra) cannot be discounted, although this would be most unusual for Ordnance officers to mistake such a tree species with a ‘witch’.  Local dialect, of course, may have been a contributing factor; but in Wilson’s (1915) detailed analysis of the regional dialect of this very area, “wych elm” for witches does not occur.  Added to this is the fact that the indigenous woodland that remains here is an almost glowing birchwood (Betula pendula) in which profusions of the shaman’s plant, Amanita muscaria, exceed.  There were no wych elms hereby.

The tree was noted by the Ordnance Survey team in 1899 and was published on their maps two years later, but we know nothing more about it.  Hence, we publish it here in the hope that someone might be able top throw some light on this historical site.

Folklore

Looking along the fallen trunk

Halfway along the fallen tree

We can find nothing specific to the tree; but all around the area there are a plethora of tales relating to witches (Hunter 1896; Reid 1899)—some with supposedly ‘factual’ written accounts (though much of them are make-believe projections of a very corrupt Church), whilst others are oral traditions with more realistic tendencies as they are rich in animistic content. One of them talks of the great mythical witch called Kate McNiven, generally of Monzie, nearly 8 miles northwest of here.  She came to possess a magickal ring which ended up being handed to the owners of Aberuthven House, not far from the Witch Tree, as their associates had tried to save her from the crazies in the Church.  This may have been one of the places where she and other witches met in bygone centuries, to avoid the psychiatric prying eyes of christendom.

Until the emergence of the Industrialists, trees possessed a truly fascinating and important history, integral to that of humans: not as ‘commodities’ in the modern depersonalized religion of Economics, but (amongst other things) as moot points—gathering places where tribal meetings, council meetings and courts were held. (Gomme 1880)  The practice occurred all over the world and trees were understood as living creatures, sacred and an integral part of society.  The Witch Tree of Aberuthven may have been just such a site—where the local farmers, peasants, wise women and village people held their traditional gatherings and rites.  It is now all but gone…

References:

  1. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.
  2. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  3. Reid, Alexander George, The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, Davdi Philips: Crieff 1899.
  4. Wilson, James, Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Scotland, Oxford University Press 1915.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Brae of Airlie, Airlie, Angus

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3102 5187

Also Known as:

  1. Airlie IV (Wainwright)
  2. Canmore ID 32383

Archaeology & History

One of a number of souterrains that existed hereby, remains of which may still exist beneath the ground.  It was rediscovered in the 19th century through a series of most curious events—owing more to the local belief in spirits and witches than any archaeological rationale.  Mr A. Jervise (1864) told the story in his essay on Airlie parish:

“The circumstances which led to the discovery of one of these weems is curious.  Local story says, that the wife of a poor cottar could not for long understand why, whatever sort of fuel she burned, no ashes were left upon the hearth; and if a pin or any similar article was dropt at the fireside, it could not be recovered.  Having “a bakin” of bannocks, or oatmeal cakes, on some occasion, one of the cakes accidentally slipped from off “the toaster,” and passed from the poor woman ‘sight!  This was more than she was prepared for; and, believing that the house was bewitched, she alarmed her neighbours, who collected in great numbers, and, as may be supposed, after many surmises and grave deliberation, they resolved to pull down the house!  This was actually done: still the mystery remained unsolved, until one lad, more courageous and intelligent than the rest, looking attentively about the floor, observed a long narrow crevice at the hearth. Sounding the spot, and believing the place to be hollow, he set to work and had the flag lifted, when the fact was disclosed, that the luckless cottage had been built right over an “eirde” house.  The disappearance of ashes, and the occasional loss of small articles of household use, were thus satisfactorily accounted for; but, unfortunately, although the site of this weem remains, as well as that of another near the same place, both were long ago destroyed, and the materials of which they were constructed used for a variety of utilitarian purposes.”

Or to put it simply: right beneath the fireplace, a small opening into the souterrain below appeared, into which all things fell.  F.T. Wainwright (1963) placed the position of the site “about 100 feet east of the road between Barns of Airlie and Brae of Airlie, about 200 yards from the former.”  On the 1865 OS-map, this spot is marked with a small unnamed building.  No excavation has ever been tried here

References:

  1. Jervise, A., “Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 5, 1864.
  2. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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Barns of Airlie (2), Airlie, Angus

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3052 5152

Also Known as:

  1. Airlie III (Wainwright 1963)
  2. Canmore ID 32385

Archaeology & History

There are no remains left of this old ‘weem’, earth-house, or souterrain as they are now commonly known.  It was one of at least seven separate souterrains beneath the fields between the Barns of Airlie and Brae of Airlie, but very little is now known of this one.  The first and only real note of the site was given in Mr A. Jervise’s (1864) essay on the antiquities of Airlie parish.  Nearly a hundred years later when F.T. Wainwright (1963) went to investigate any possible remains, he found very little, telling:

“A possible location for Airlie III…presented itself on 24 June, 1951, when Mr D.B. Taylor and I noticed a considerable number of boulders and slabs cast up in the field which lies over the wall from the entrance to Airlie I (souterrain).  The farmer was aware that there was a heavy concentration of stones spread over an area of two or three thousand square feet, but he could add no further information.  In 1951 we were not able to do more than record this possibly significant scatter of stones—it lies between 150 and 200 feet west from the present entrance of Airlie I on a bearing of 260º—and to note that it could very well indicate a souterrain settlement.”

Many of the scattered stone have subsequently been removed for use in walling and no trace remains of the site.

References:

  1. Jervise, A., “Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 5, 1864.
  2. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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