Clootie Well, Munlochy
At Clootie Well on the Black Isle in north-east Scotland, mere pennies won’t get your wishes granted. Here, the currency is a ‘cloot’ or cloth. According to ancient tradition, visitors came here with an offering to heal the sick. They brought a ‘cloot’ from the invalid, in the belief that leaving it at the well would also leave the illness behind.
Today, there are cloots of many colours here – you can see them tied to the trees from quite a way away as they spill down the hill onto the roadside. Some visitors have done it old-style and brought a scrap of clothing or a rag. Those who are more modern, or caught on the hop, have left J-cloths, socks, dresses, t-shirts and even pants. If you don’t have a cloth on you, or value your undergarments, you can make a wish by walking three times sunwise round the well, sprinkling some of the water and leaving a natural offering. Just make sure that it’s something that will biodegrade.
At one time magical wells were common, and they can still be found in areas with Celtic connections. The Irish have ’raggedy bushes’ and the Cornish ’cloughtie wells’. After the Celts, Christians adopted the tradition and the wells became associated with particular saints and festivals. Clootie Well is linked to Saint Boniface or Curitan, a Pict who worked as a missionary in the north-east of Scotland around 620 AD and is most popular around the time of Beltane in early May when visits to holy wells are traditional.
At one point in 1581, during the Protestant Reformation, the practice of visiting wells and other holy places was banned, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone. The trees around the well are dripping with offerings. While there’s brightness and jollity to them – some people have even put up bunting – it’s also sad to see the supplications (I believe that’s the technical term for wishes) for the sick of all ages.
When we visited it was quiet and very atmospheric with the socks rippling in the breeze and the sunlight filtering in through the branches. I could readily believe that wishes come true here and couldn’t resist a quiet moment of contemplation before heading back out to the real world again.