St Mary`s well
In the heart of Culloden woods is St Mary`s well. This is a Clootie well. Also known as a Cloutie.
A Cloot is another name for a cloth or a rag. The well is a place where you take an item of clothing or cloth (cloot) and soak it in the well and then rub it on the ailment. It didnt have to be a specific ill it could just be as simple as a bad feeling towards someone (a grudge) or a worry. St Mary`s well is a walled which would suggest that it was to allow bathers some privacy so that they could bathe in the well and benefit from it`s healing qualities.
The cloot had to be of a material that through time would break down as it was part of the `ritual` itself. It would then be hung on a nearby try as an offering to the local spirit, fairy or saint. It was used by people who had an ill or an ailment or often if they had a child with an ailment. The idea was that the local spirit who lived by the well or in the surrounding area would cure the ill and as the cloot disintegrated and was worn down by the elements then so would the ailment vanish and the individual would be cured.
Clootie wells remain to be `strange` or eerie places in some ways. If you visit one you may notice the quiet that surrounds the well or the fact that many of the trees that surround the well have no leaves. You may find it a relaxing or exhilarating experience. You may just think that they are a blot on the landscape. Whatever your thoughts they still evoke many emotions today, years after they first appeared.
There are many stories of those that used to visit the well on the first day of May and wet and tied their cloots and this would ward off evil for the rest of the year. The same days as the Celts celebrated Beltane (Bealltain) and many still do. Beltane was a festival of optimism or good hope. Fertility was associated with it as was the prospect or hope of good harvests.
Some stories talk of children who would be whetted with water from the well and left overnight beside or in the area close to the well with the hope that they would be cured. This must have been quite an experience for any child. Firstly to be left alone in a dark wood with cloths hanging all around and secondly to be told you were there so the spirits could cure you.
Clootie wells date back to pre-christian times and over the years many have diminished. However some excellent examples still remain. Two of which are close to Inverness and one lies not far from Culloden moor itself, (St Mary`s well) the other being at Munlochy on the black Isle. Munlochy is by far the biggest and more popular well but St Mary`s appears the less changed. To reach St Mary`s well you need to trek through the forest to a damp, dark clearing. An eerie but slightly enchanting spot.
If you do visit a clootie well then make sure that your cloot is not a modern synthetic fibre that wont break down. If you believe in tradition then something made from maybe wool or cotton might be ideal.