Tag Archive: wells

Sacred waters

I think anyone intrigued by folklore or the pre-Roman, pre-Christian heritage of the British Isles, would be interested in  this book, which is packed full of stories of wells, lakes and the importance of water to our forebears, ancient and more modern.

This is a fantastic collection of legends and anecdotes which (mostly) presents its information without presuming to make judgements or extrapolations. Plenty of Scottish water lore and locations are mentioned, which makes a nice change (and with only two mentions of Nessie :-)) However, Lanarkshire only appears a few times:

  • The Lee Penny
  • The Marriage Well at Carmyle
  • Arthur’s Fountain at Crawford
  • St Mungo’s Well, Glasgow Cathedral

To be fair, the Bords themselves point the reader in the direction of other books, particularly regarding Scotland, but I fear the same old problem is cropping up again: too many Lanarkshire stories were lost in the heat of industry.

There are plenty more places to go hunting, but it’s a bit of a skunner all the same. All of the locations and legends will hopefully appear later on.

Bord, Janet and Colin. Sacred waters: holy wells and water lore in Britain and Ireland. Paladin, 1985


It bugs me when authors don’t credit their research. Take this for example:

St Iten’s Well, at Cambusnethan, in Lanarkshire, at one time was held in good repute as a cure for asthma and skin diseases.

Thomas Frost, in William Andrews, Bygone church life in Scotland (1899)

Interesting, but compare it with this:

Many churches bear St. Aidan’s name. Among them are those of Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire and Menmuir in Angus. At the latter place is the saint’s holy well, which was renowned for the cure of asthma and other complaints.

Dom Michael Barrett: A calendar of Scottish saints (1919)

Are there two separate wells getting mixed up? Neither author explains who held the well in such repute, nor did they bother to name their sources. There’s probably been a misunderstanding that the original might clear up.

Frost reckons ‘Iten’ is a derivation of Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine and apparent discoverer of the True Cross back in the 4th century, but to be honest, that seems a bit unlikely. There are plenty of Celtic saints around, there’s no reason for a link with Byzantium, and the derivation just doesn’t match.  So far as the name goes, Aidan certainly seems a more likely source for ‘Iten’ than Helena.

I can’t find any other mention of St Iten’s Well anywhere, so where was it?

24th June 2011

I’ve since found this:

Aidan has not been forgotten in the matter of wells. There are four to him, viz, at Menmuir and at Fearn, in Forfarshire; in Balmerino, in Fife; and at Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire. This last, called St Iten’s Well, was noted for the cure of asthma and skin-disease.

James M Mackinlay: Folklore of Scottish lochs and springs (1893)

So, Round 3 to Cambusnethan. This is certainly the earliest mention I’ve found of St Iten’s Well so far, but the source of the story remains unknown. Could be the later writers are simply plagiarising earlier books (a bit like an undergraduate essay 🙂 )

More digging led to “The golden days of the early English church”, which says,

Bishop Forbes in the Kalendars of Scottish Saints says of his memorials in Scotland : ” The churches of Cambusnethan and of Menmuir were dedicated to the saint. Near to the latter church is St. Iten’s Well, celebrated for the cure of asthma and cutaneous diseases.”

Henry H Howorth: The golden days of the early English church (1917)

Round 4 to Angus?

However, our star pupil is Bishop Forbes mentioned above. The entry in Kalendars actually says,

The churches of Cambusnethan (Commissary Records, Glasgow) and of Menmuir were dedicated to this saint. Near to the latter church used to be S. Iten’s well, celebrated for the cure of asthma and cutaneous diseases.—(Jervise’s Land of the Lindsays, p. 241, Edin. 1853.)

Alexander Penrose Forbes: Kalendars of Scottish saints (1872)

Full marks to Forbes for decent attribution of sources. Sorry, Lanarkshire. At least you got a mention.

Queen Mary’s Well, Blantyre

The old road along which Queen Mary passed on her way from Hamilton Palace to Cathcart Castle, on the day previous to the battle of Langside, intersects the property [Milheugh House], and there is a beautiful spring of water in an adjoining glen still known by the name of Queen Mary’s Well, at which that unfortunate lady is said to have rested.

Old country houses of old Glasgow gentry

I love that so many older books are being published freely online. This is a favourite for flicking through, but I’d never spotted this paragraph before.

I had a look for a possible old road on Google and Bing maps, but nothing jumped out at me.

Scotland’s Places does mention its existence, and offers a location map, and font of all Blantyre knowledge, my dad, reckons that it’s marked by or close to pools of water where waterlilies grow.

Plus if she did pass this way, how would her train have crossed the Rotten Calder? I’ll need to check for the nearest bridges and fording places.

Mary Rae’s well

After the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, wounded Covenanters escaped in whatever direction they could. The story goes that Mary Rae found her sweeheart, Robert Lambie, lying here at the well, and stayed with him until he died. I’ve also read suggestions that she brought him here to the well after finding him on the battlefield, and that she died here with him.

A photo of Mary Rae’s well was posted on Flickr, but all I knew was that it was in Bellshill. At that time, there wasn’t much information about it, so I gave up until coming home one night I noticed Mary Rae Road. It seemed obvious that it was here, but it still wasn’t easy to find. I eventually spotted it on Google aerial view: a concrete box stuck in the middle of a housing estate with no signpost, although there is an information plaque on the concrete.

Hunting around again today, I found a poster on the Talking Scot forum reporting that there was a natural spring here when he was a child.

I also found this entry in the Handbook of Hamilton, Bothwell, Blantyre and Uddingston,

MARY RAE’S WELL is an interesting memento of the battle of Bothwell Brigg. It is situated a little below the farm of Boggs, near the road from Bothwell to Bellshill, a little to the north of the railway. The tradition says that beside it are interred the remains of two lovers, Mary Rae and Robin Lammie. They dwelt on the banks of the Ayr, but Robin left his home to fight in the ranks of the Covenanters. Robin fell fighting bravely, but the spirit of his unburied corpse appeared to Mary in a dream, and besought Mary to get it Christian burial. Mary at once set off, searched for and found the mangled body. With an effort she bore it from the bloody field to the side of this sparkling well. There, with her own hands, she dug a grave, and buried her betrothed. There she built a bower for herself, and there she watched by day and slept by night. There she pined away until she withered into death, and was laid by the side of her brave lad. The well was covered in by Mrs Douglas of Douglas park in 1827, who, moreover, put its waters to some service, for they are conveyed underground in pipes to her house and offices in the low grounds.