This Week’s Topic…

Best viewed in
Internet Explorer


Back to

Updated 06/19/2013


The Clootie Well

The village of Munlochy sits in the heart of the Black Isle, the promontory that lies north of Inverness, bounded by the Moray Firth to the south and the Cromarty Firth to the north. Half a mile west of this junction, the road enters a forested area, and as it does, passing motorists are treated to the odd spectacle of bits of cloth and clothing hanging off the trees and bushes on the south side of the road. Welcome to the Clootie Well!

The Clootie Well is a rather weird remnant of an ancient tradition once commonly found in Scotland and Ireland, of holy wells to which pilgrims would come and make offerings, usually in the hope of having an illness cured. The tradition dates far back into pre-Christian times, to the practice of leaving votive offerings to the local spirits or gods in wells and springs. With the arrival of Christianity, the practice was simply adopted to the new circumstances.

Over time, most of these holy wells became associated with local churches. A good example was at St Mary's, the Parish Church of Tyninghame and Whitekirk, in East Lothian. In just one year, 1413, no fewer than 15,563 pilgrims visited the holy well at St Mary's, to the great financial benefit of both the church and local economy.

Over time, as the Roman Church supplanted the Celtic Church in Scotland, practices which echoed the old pagan ways became frowned upon, and the number of holy wells diminished. And the Reformation of 1560 also served to suppress religious activity outwith a closely defined Presbyterian norm: in 1581 an Act of Parliament in Scotland made pilgrimage to holy wells illegal. Nonetheless the practice seems to have continued in some areas, and when Welshman Thomas Pennant toured Scotland in 1769, he recorded seeing holy wells "tapestried about with rags".