St. Peter’s Well, Houston, Renfrewshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference — NS 40764 67503

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43125

Archaeology & History

St Peters Well on 1863 map

Located on the north side of the village, in a field east of Greenhill Farm, this old Well was once (still is?) covered and protected by an old well-house.  References to its mythic history are few and far between.  St. Peter’s Day was June 29, which may relate to the last vestiges of midsummer rites local people held here; or perhaps when the genius loci was more notable.   The Old Statistical Account of 1790 told that the burn which runs past the well was called St. Peter’s Burn; but T.C.F. Brotchie (1920) thought that an old place-name given to the village is telling:

“Houston is a very ancient village,” he wrote, “and it was known long ago as Kilpeter, which is the ‘cell or church of Peter’.  The name of the farm near to the well is Chapelton, ‘the place of the chapel’, and I venture to think that when the saintly Peter came a-wandering to Renfrewshire, he established his habitation or cell adjacent to the well, blessed its water, and in that medieval times a chapel was also built there, its memory being enshrined in the place-name Chapelton.  Crawford mentions that on St. Peter’s Day vast numbers of people used to come to Houston.  He does not state the reason, but I fancy these people came to pay their devoir at the holy well of St. Peter.”

Mr Brotchie was probably right!

(I haven’t yet visited this site.  If you travel to this site, please send us your field notes and accompanying photos to let us know of its present condition. All due credits will be given to any and all contributors, obviously.)

References:

  1. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Our Lady’s Well (2), Liberton, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2763 6970

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 51720
  2. Christening Well
  3. Lady Well

Archaeology & History

Our Ladys Well on 1855 map

Mentioned in passing by John Geddie (1926)—who was skeptical of any ‘holy’ associations here—this was one of two holy wells in Liberton parish with the same name.  Whilst one is on the northwest side of the parish, this was closer to the centre of the village on the piece of land known as the Kirk Brae.  It was some 200 yards northeast of the old church at the crossroads, originally dedicated to St. Cuthbert, whose feast day was March 20 — or right next to the Spring Equinox, perhaps when the waters here had greatest virtues.

Highlighted on the earliest OS-map of the region, little is known of it via the written records.  Our primary account comes from the Name Book of 1852, where they told:

“An ancient well, known by more ancient settlers as the Christening Well, from the circumstance of this being the only one, from which water was taken in Ancient times for Baptizing; the water being considered the purest; hence it was dedicated to the Virgin.”

References:

  1. Geddie, John, The Fringes of Edinburgh, W. & R. Chambers: Edinburgh 1926.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Dalry, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2421 7317

Archaeology & History

Standing Stone of Dalry, 1853

Not far from Edinburgh city centre, heading out towards Haymarket just off Morrison Street where the large car-park is, once stood a possible prehistoric standing stone. Not that long ago either…  It was highlighted on the OS-map of 1853, but had been destroyed by the end of the 19th century when the Industrialists cut railway lines across its ground.  The stone was shown in non-antiquated lettering, indicating there was no tradition of its prehistory.  It may have been part of a folly, but I can find no account to indicate this.  Do any Edinburgh historians or researchers know anything more about it? Help!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Tobair na h-oige, St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NA 100 000

Also Known as:

  1. Well of Eternal Youth

Folklore

An old story told in previous centuries by the indigenous folk of Hirta (St. Kilda) described a long-lost well that was thought to be an abode of the little people, known as the Well of Eternal Youth.  Not to be confused with the Well of Virtues near the Amazon’s House less than a mile west, the rough whereabouts of this site is cited by J. Sands (1878) in the folklore section of his otherwise historical account on these faraway Atlantic islands.  He wrote:

“Once on a time an old fellow, in going up Connagher with a sheep on his back, observed a Well which he had never seen or heard of before.  The water looked like cream, and was so tempting, that he knelt down and took a hearty drink.  To his surprise all the infirmities of age immediately left him, and all the vigour and activity of youth returned. He laid down the sheep to mark the spot, and ran down the hill to tell his neighbours. But when he came up again neither sheep nor well were to be found, nor has any one been able to find the Tobair na h-oige to this day.  Some say that if he had left a small bit of iron at the well—a brog with a tacket in it would have done quite well—the fairies would have been unable to take back their gift.”

Explorations of old maps and texts has failed to show with certainty where this legendary well may have been (the grid-ref is an approximation), but it was reported in Mrs Banks’ Scottish Calendar Customs (1937) to have been “issuing out of the face of a rock on the north-side of the east bay…only accesible by the inhabitants, no stranger daring to climb the steep rock.” Some of us would try!

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1937.
  2. Sands, J., Out of the World; or Life in St. Kilda, Maclachlan & Stewart: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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St. John’s Well, Isle of May, Fife

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 65858 99107

Also Known as:

  1. Pump Well

Archaeology & History

St John’s ‘Well’ on 1855 map

This seems to be the only ‘St John’ dedication on the Isle of May: a small island littered with more saint’s names, seemingly, than Iona and Lindisfarne combined!  Illustrated on the 1855 OS-map, without name—and on the present-day large-scale OS-maps too, 20 yards or so from its 1855 position—the standard archaeo-historical records say nothing of the place.  Thankfully antiquarian and folklore accounts have preserved evidence of its title.  When the Victorian traveller Thomas Muir (1868; 1883) visited the Isle of May, he told how the islanders struggled to maintain a good water supply during a drought there in the 1860s.  St. John’s Well was, he told,

“A pump standing by the path above Kirk Haven. The water good, but a little brackish. During all the drought of this summer we pumped water out of this well to supply our cattle.”

After Æ. J.G. Mackay’s (1896) visit to the island he told that here, along with the other holy wells on May,

“their brackish waters have lost the magic virtue they were credited with in early christian, possibly in pagan times.”

In more recent times it was described in W.J. Eggeling’s (1985) natural history survey.  St. John’s Well was,

“the well within the high, cylindrical, whitewashed wall-surround lying across Haven Road from the Coal House. Also known as the Pump Well.  It is a guiding mark for boats entering Kirk Haven.”

Folklore

St. John’s Day (June 24) was the christian name given to the traditional Midsummer Day, or days, around which good heathen festivals occurred; but we can find no ritual accounts of activity specific to this Well. Help!

References:

  1. Dickson, John, Emeralds Chased in Gold; or, The Isles of the Forth, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1899.
  2. Eggeling, W.J., The Isle of May, Lorien 1985.
  3. Mackay, Æ. J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  4. Muir, Thomas S., The Isle of May – A Sketch, Edinburgh 1868.
  5. Muir, Thomas S., Ecclesiological Notes on some of the Islands of Scotland, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.
  6. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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St. Andrew’s Well, Isle of May, Fife

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 65375 99592

Archaeology & History

St Andrews ‘Well’ on 1855 map

In John Dickson’s (1899) fine work on the history and antiquities of the Forth islands, he describes a number of all-but-forgotten holy and medicinal wells that could be visited in the 19th century—this one included!  It was highlighted, without name, on the 1855 OS-map of the island, a short distance west of the curiously named Holyman’s Road.  Aerial views of it today seem to indicate that the well was surrounded by walling, which may have been an old well-house—although the archaeological record here is silent. Mr Dickson told us:

“St. Andrew’s Well, beside the Altar Stones, contains the best water on the May and is entirely used for domestic purposes.  This spring frequently dries up during the summer months and, in these circumstances, the islanders obtain a supply from Crail.”

Although it is still shown on modern large-scale OS-maps (as ‘St Andrew’s Well’), its present condition is unknown.  If this has become boggy and overgrown, it is a sure case for renovation, despite its desolate geography; and especially considering that St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, whose festival date is November 30 (thought originally to have been Samhain, or Halloween—the old heathen New Year’s Day).  If any visitor or islander could send us photos of the site, that would be awesome!

References:

  1. Dickson, John, Emeralds Chased in Gold; or, The Isles of the Forth, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1899.
  2. Eggeling, W.J., The Isle of May, Lorien 1985.
  3. Mackay, Æ. J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  4. Muir, Thomas S., The Isle of May – A Sketch, Edinburgh 1868.
  5. Muir, Thomas S., Ecclesiological Notes on some of the Islands of Scotland, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.
  6. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.
  7. Taylor, Simon & Markus, Gilbert, The Place-Names of Fife – volume 3, Shaun Tyas: Donington 2009.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Warlocks’ Tomb, Muckhart, Clackmannanshire

Tomb/s (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9928 9865

Archaeology & History

Site of Warlock’s Tomb

A fascinating site that was described in Johnston & Tullis (2003) local history work on the parish of Muckhart. Amidst an area bedevilled with faerie, boggarts, ghosts and historical shamanic moot sites we find more curious folklore pointing at a long forgotten site, whose age and precise nature remains a mystery.  Adjacent to the old boundary line, close to the meeting of streams, the Muckhart authors told that,

“an orchard above the old farmhouse to this day remains mainly untouched.  It was the burial site of warlocks from the parish and it is thought some may have even been burned at the Mill.  It has always been said that this ground should never be touched!  There is an ancient rubble bridge over the Hole Burn which has a Masonic Eye painted on it to ward off any unwelcome spirits.  Despite the eye, both the Farmhouse and the Millhouse have been home to many strange and ghostly manifestations.”

The folklore sounds to be a mix of archaic and medieval animistic traits: perhaps of a prehistoric cairn, visited and maintained by local people (as found throughout Britain) until the Burning Times, when christian fanatics arrived, debasing the cultural rites and murdering local innocent people.  …Perhaps not.

Looking down on the orchard

When Paul, Maggie and I explored the area a few days ago, we were greeted most cordially by the owner of Muckhart Mill, who knew of the folklore, but didn’t know the exact whereabout of the grave.  We couldn’t find any clues as to its exact location either.  Apart, perhaps, from the top of the hill immediately above the orchard where, alone and fenced off with an old covered (unnamed) well, a solitary Hawthorn tree stood.  We each recalled the aged relationship that Hawthorn has in witch-lore… but that’s as far as it went.  The grave remains hidden and may have been destroyed. If anyone discovers its whereabouts, please let us know so that a preservation order can be made to ensure its survival.

References:

  1. Johnston, Tom & Tullis, Ramsay (eds.), Muckhart, Clackmannanshire: An Illustrated History of the Parish, MGAS 2003.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Mineral Well, Dollar, Clackmannanshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 9855 9804

Also Known as:

  1. Dollar Chalybeate Spring
  2. Dollar Spa
  3. Vicar’s Bridge Spa

Archaeology & History

Vicars Bridge spring on 1900 map

Somewhere hiding away above the north-side of the River Devon, just above the Vicar’s Bridge, a little-known healing well came into being following industrial workings in the glen in 1831 by a local iron-working company.  The waters were strongly chalybeate, or iron-bearing—and as the fad amongst the wealthy was, at the time, a love of Spa Wells, this mineral spring was broadcast as a competitor of the Harrogate and Bath Spas.  But it failed pretty fast, sadly.

Bottles of the water were marketed and sold as ‘Dollar Mineral Water’ in many of the large cities, but sales weren’t too good.  Johnston & Tullis (2003) pointed out how the waters would have been coloured like brandy; and despite it being good for anaemia, a good tonic, and favourable in treating cuts and bruises, the mineral spring was no longer of any value as a business, dying a quick death.  Local people still kept using the waters, but in recent years the spring appears to have died too.

References:

  1. Johnston, Tom & Tullis, Ramsay (eds.), Muckhart, Clackmannanshire: An Illustrated History of the Parish, MGAS 2003.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Borgie, Tongue, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 6737 5940

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5743

Getting Here

Borgie Cairn under gorse, right

Very difficult to find under the herbage, but – along the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turn down at Borgie Bridge towards Skerray.  A few hundred yards along, past the third house on y’ right, a path through the gate on the left takes you up the slope. Once you meet the deep-cut dike, follow it north-ish for 200 yards, over the fence; then walk 150 yards towards the eastern edges where the mass of gorse meets with the rocky escarpment.  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

These days, much of the remains of this neolithic chambered cairn are inaccessible, as it is covered with the spindly-killer-bushes that are the yellow gorse (Ulex eurapæus).  A pity.  …Just like its fellow chambered tomb of Dun Riaskidh precisely 1½ miles NW, this was also built upon the edge of a natural rocky escarpment with some of the rocks making up the tomb falling to the edges (I nearly fell in and spined misself meandering around its edges!).

Little has been written about it in archaeo-tomes, despite it being first listed in 1947. Presumably neolithic in age, it was first classed as a ’round cairn’ and has subsequently been described by Canmore as,

“a severely robbed, chambered cairn. It is about 15.0m in diameter, with a maximum height of 0.6m in the centre; elsewhere the cairn is reduced to a stony rim and scattered stones. In the centre a chamber is indicated by two opposing earthfast boulders 1.1m apart and protruding up to 0.6m through the cairn material.”

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Cock Lakes, Blubberhouses Moor, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1524 5469

Getting Here

Faint cups highlighted by water

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the James Stone monolith.  From here, walk about 60 yards southeast and zigzag about in the heather until you find a small squarish-shaped earthfast rock, barely 6 inches above ground-level (might be hard to find when the heather’s fully grown).  If you’ve got a petroglyphic nose, you’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

A simple faded cup-marked stone, roughly 2½ feet by 2 feet across, can be found about 65 feet southeast of the James Stone and 40 yards west of the Benty Gate prehistoric enclosure.  Sadly when we visited the place a few days ago, the sky was grey and the conditions for good photos were poor.

Line of faint cups from centre

Extra faint cup near centre left

At least five cup-marks have been etched onto the stone, with the main element being a row a three cups in a straight line from the centre of the stone to its SE edge.  The central cup-mark has been carved where a natural crack in the rock, running from the edge of the stone, terminates.  There also seemed to be a carved faded line running along the bottom edge of the stone—but it was unclear and another visit is needed in better light to see if there’s more on the stone.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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