The Amazing Clootie Well on the Black Isle

Not far from the village of Munlochty on the beautiful Black Isle in northern Scotland lies a fascinating Pagan well. I was fortunate to be able to visit it recently whilst doing some research for my next book about the Bruce sisters. Back in the fourteenth century, Andrew Moray, a well-known Scottish patriot, Regent of Scotland, and notably the third husband of Christina (or as I know her – Kirsty) Bruce lived nearby at Avoch.
Wells such as these exist across the British Isles and generally have their origin in pre-Christian times. They might be in honour of a goddess or water deity or more recently be dedicated to a Christian saint. Clootie Well is believed to be dedicated to St Curidan or Curitan but the atmosphere feels much, much older.
There is a denseness to the air and a pervading sense of being watched. Having said that, it didn’t feel in any way evil or scary. Instead there was a strange aura of immense understanding and compassion. It’s certainly a unique place to visit.
Clootie is the Scottish word for cloth. Some of you might also be familiar with the delicious old pudding, Clootie Dumpling.
So one bright, sunny morning, I ventured off the highway into a nearby Forestry car park. Up the small hill, tall trees shed dappled light onto the path, beside which were bushes festooned with rags and items of clothing. It was an eerie sight. Even the trees wore an array of clothing and one item – a teddy bear tacked to a trunk – was a poignant reminder of the sadness associated with this well.
The principle behind the cloth offerings is that as the cloth rots so does the ailment pass away. Some wells were thought to heal children and I hoped the treasured teddy bear left behind might have had the desired result.
Sometimes the item is bathed in the holy water then hung up, or perhaps the owner might walk around the well a number of times in a prayerful ritual. These votive offerings gave hope that the injured or sick might be healed. Such magical belief fed vulnerable human aspirations for good health and happiness in dark times.
We all know some one who is unwell or may even experience poor health ourselves. It hadn’t been my intention but I was moved by my visit and felt compelled to leave behind a token for my own family members who are suffering at present and hoped that whoever resides within the well and its surrounds might send them healing blessings.