This is a tale of the Clootie Well. It’s a magical place that has been around for centuries. The well is said to be able to heal all ills, and it’s also been known to grant wishes.
In the old days, people would tie their clothes to the branches of the tree next to the well as an offering. They believed that this would bring them good health and cure their illness.
Years ago, when I first visited this bizarre place, I did little know about ‘clootie well’ and its ancient pre-Christian healing traditions.
The experience of walking through the woods tied up with rags is hard to describe. Hair-raising in horror and fascinating at the same time.
What is the Clootie Well?
The Clootie Well is a natural spring located in the village of Munlochy in the Scottish Highlands, near Inverness. The water from the well has been used for centuries for healing purposes.
The legend goes that if you tie a piece of cloth to the well, your wish will come true. People have also tied pieces of cloth with messages on them to the well. This is done as a way to communicate with their loved ones who have passed away or are far away from them.
The Legend of the Clootie Well
The holy well at Munlochy is said to date back to – and most likely even before – the time of St Boniface or St Curitan, who were working as missionaries in Scotland around AD620.
Traditionally, the well would be visited at special times of the year, such as Beltane, the May Day festival of Spring, or when someone needed a cure for an illness.
What Do People Believe about the Clootie Well?
The well attracted a social pilgrimage of locals who were hoping for a good year ahead. Pilgrims would come, perform a ceremony that involved circling the well sunwise three times before splashing some of its water on the ground and sprinkling some of its water on themselves. Read more here.
They would dip their cloth in the water and say a prayer before attaching it to a tree near the sacred well. People with an illness or injury would wash an affected area with water from the well, then attach their cloth to the tree, and leave it to rot. Hoping that their illness will fade away too.
Robert Chambers, the author of Book of Days (1869), reported the well to the east of the current Munlochy site, called Craigach Well.
He describes the scene on the first Sunday of May as ‘like a fair’, with English, Scots, and Gaelic all spoken as the pilgrims made their offerings, also noting that each person drank from the well’’
I have visited the clootie well a few times since, and it is still an enchanting place with such a rich folklore tradition behind it.
Unfortunately, recently the magic settings are often destroyed by heedless people. People who leave behind plastic or non-biodegradable materials are harming trees, plants and wildlife.
Apparently, plastic will not root, so the healing magic won’t work. Local community volunteers keep the clootie well clean and environmentally friendly.
If you want to bring a cloot by all means do – biodegradable cotton or wool are best for the environment.
At the time of writing this post, it has been reported that someone visited the Clootie Well and cleared out most of the offerings left by visitors, leaving very few traces of what is shown on the pictures. It caused a lot of upset among the locals, some say the person will be cursed…
How to get there
From Tore roundabout take the A832 towards Munlochy. The Clootie Well car park is on your right, about 2¼ miles (3.6 km) along this road, before you reach Munlochy. You’ll see the brightly-coloured rags near the car park entrance.
To reach the Littleburn car park turn right about 2 miles (3.2 km) along this road and follow the single track road for just over ¼ mile (400 metres). The car park is on your left.
IV8 8PB is the nearest postcode, just beside the Littleburn car park.
There are bus services between Inverness bus station and of Munlochy. The Clootie Well is ¾ mile (1.2 km) from the bus stop in Munlochy