A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ancient Healing Wells

December 8, Thursday - The Highlands

Several years ago I took a trip to Europe with the idea in mind to see various countries, thier sights, customs, sample the food and ale. The things you're supposed to do. What I discovered was a certain affection for and strange belonging to a place I had never been before. That place was Scotland. This was especially true of the Highlands, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in pictures or in person.

Times hadn't changed that far from before. I took a bus from Edinburgh north to the Highlands, where I made base camp in the small, but active town of Inverness. Inverness, known for it's proximity to Loch Ness and the famous beastie Nessie, doesn't so much make a living off the fame, so much as a town that intersects a large portion of the Highlands.

Day trips from Inverness are easy, though be aware that the buses cost more because of the infrequency of the routes and the bloody pound.

On this particular day I decided to check out a place hinted at my a local. On the outskirts of a town called Munlochy there exists an ancient healing well, or a clootie well, as they came to be known. Teaming up with friend Chris, we hopped a bus for said town with rough directions of where the well might be. This was with all good intentions until a nice ancient lady on the bus asked where we were headed and I told her the truth. She promptly informed the bus driver to not stop in the town and to drop us off further down the road where we wouldn't have to walk as far. Lovely gal. Great intentions.

As the bus sped off leaving us on the side of a road where we narrowly avoided death by every car that careened around the corner, we went in search of the well. A few miles and a field or two later, we were welless. Sucking up a second wind, we highfooted it back to Munlochy and decided to attack the direction from a new angle. We hailed down a local with a combination of charisma and a few well-placed 'excuse me's'. Several minutes later we were golden and hiking a new path.

Determined to discover the healing powers of the ancient Celts, especially after so many injuries from the road, we strove on. And on. And on. Until finally we saw something quite strange in the forest ahead. As we neared there were things hanging from the trees. Cloth. Ribbons. Torn sleeves. Socks. Hats. They hung there, thousands of varieties and hues, gently drifting silently in the breeze. It was absolutely unnerving.

We searched and as the cloth became more prevalent, we found a set of stone steps in the side of a hill that led directly to what might have once been a mystical well, but now resembled more the den of a bear, or the hideout of rather unsavory individuals. A few moments of contemplation and study was followed by a quick addition of my own to a low-hanging branch and then a wise exit, as the sun was setting and we had a healthy hike back.

Turns out people used to take bits of cloth from their person to represent what needed healing and hang it over the well in the belief it would bring a cure. Sometimes they even left children out over night for healing. Try explaining that to your HMO or insurance provider.

After the sacred grove, we decided to jump another bus and find the reputed oldest pub in Scotland. The town of Rosemarkie can be missed easily, though its a cozy little place on the coast. There were signs for a Fairy Glen somewhere in the forest, but after the healing well and the falling light, the last thing I wanted was to spend a night in some freaky fairy glen. So, the pub it was.

What I love about Scots was reflected in The Weaver Pub. While the locals had no idea if it was the oldest pub in Scotland, they were quite sure about thier golf game that afternoon, the disparity of rising cost of living without an equal increase in wage, and the fine healing powers of a single malt scotch. What a grand people, Scots.


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