Ancient Wells and Sacred Springs of the Scottish Borders

The Borders is filled with fascinating water sources...The Borders is filled with fascinating water sources...Milad B. Fakurian

In various hidden corners of the Scottish Borders, you will find legendary wells and mysterious springs associated with healing, miracles and even magical creatures.

Surprisingly, most of these wells aren't that well known and don't attract too many tourists. But if you are curious about visiting them, then here are six fascinating sites...

1. St. Ronan's Wells, Leithen Valley

Do St. Ronan's Wells have medicinal powers?Do St. Ronan's Wells have medicinal powers?Roger Griffith

Easily the most popular well site in the Borders, St. Ronan's is housed in a striking blue pavilion with a museum and gardens attached. Once a popular spa spot, it was made even more famous by Sir Walter Scott who featured it in a novel. Yet why did people start coming to the wells in the first place?

The legend goes that far back in the misty past, a wandering monk named St. Ronan was journeying through the valley when he discovered its crystal clear, refreshing springs. As a result he decided to 'chase the devil' out of the area by grabbing his hind leg and banishing him, then creating a Holy community there instead.

To this day, these mineral-rich wells are thought to have healing properties. They are closed in autumn and winter but you can still sample the water from a cistern tap on the veranda.

2. Cheese Well (Woolaw Well), Minchmoor

Why do walkers leave coins at Cheese Well?Why do walkers leave coins at Cheese Well?Jim Barton

Are wells gathering places for fairies? Visitors to this mysterious well certainly seem to think so...

On the Southern Upload Way between Innerleithen and Galashiels, you will find a natural spring at the edge of a small woodland. Known as Cheese Well, it is marked by a plaque on a nearby tree and two inscribed stones.

But where did it get its strange name from? Well, it seems that in the olden days travellers would leave pieces of cheese and other offerings beside the well to appease the fairies who lived there. This way, they could drink from its cool, clear waters and then enjoy a safe passage across nearby Minch Moor without being pestered by mischievous 'wee folk'.

In fact, walkers still leave offerings at the well, although nowadays it is mainly coins. The fairies still haven't lost their taste for dairy though, so if you're planning to visit you could take a slice of local Stichill cream cheese (and a thimble of wine if you're feeling generous).

3. Hier Well, Saint Boswells
Found at the base of a wooded slope, this holy well is associated with St. Boswell, a 7th century prior who gave his name to the nearby village and church in Roxburghshire.

It is said that St. Boswell cured the sick at Hier Well and in fact, the word 'hier' means 'sacred', 'holy' or 'healing'. Boswell was also known for having the gift of prophecy and even mentored the more famous St. Cuthbert. His legacy was remembered for a long time and Romany people once congregated at the well every summer for an annual fair in his honour.

4. Our Lady's Well, Stow

Why is Our Lady's Well linked to King Arthur?Why is Our Lady's Well linked to King Arthur?Nick Hobley

Our Lady's Well in the Valley of the Gala Water has long been associated with the myth and mystery of King Arthur. Yet for many years this holy well lay largely forgotten and has only recently been restored.

In the early 6th century the well was a site of religious pilgrimage, so much so that King Arthur himself visited it on the eve of a battle. There he had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told him that if he placed her image on his shield then he would win. Arthur obeyed and was victorious, bringing a fragment of the True Cross back to the church near the well in gratitude. Intriguingly, it is also said that an imprint of the Virgin's foot remained on a large boulder at the well for centuries, but the stone vanished in the early 1800s.

Yet even without this miracle relic, the well itself is still worth seeing. You can find it in an unassuming pasture (Our Lady's Acre) near to the village of Stow, surrounded by a wall and protected beneath a rustic dome. The well has even started attracting pilgrims again, so perhaps the site really does have a special power.

5. Crystal Well, Saint Boswell's

The Crystal Well in St. Boswell'sThe Crystal Well in St. Boswell'sLisa Hogg

In the grounds of the Benrig Estate is a charming ornamental grotto with an old spring inside of it. Known as the Crystal Well, the grotto was built around it in the 1800s as a pump house to supply water to the owners of Benrig House.

Although not much is known about the history of Crystal Well, it is well worth seeing for its fairytale-like, overgrown entranceway and scenic riverside location. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for the interesting feature of the carved stone head on the grotto.

6. Tamlane's Well, Caterhaugh

Do fairies still visit Tamlane's Well?Do fairies still visit Tamlane's Well?Barbara Carr

Of all the sacred waters in the Scottish Borders, Tamlane's Well in Caterhaugh may have the most enchanting tale attached to it.

It is said that many years ago, the Laird of Roxburgh had a handsome young grandson named Tamlane. One day Tamlane was kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies and eventually, she made him the guardian of the Carterhaugh woodlands. Tamlane was known for being a bit of a flirt, but when he met a feisty young woman named Janet at the well in the woods he fell madly in love with her.

In revenge, the Fairy Queen decided to make a sacrifice of Tamlane on Halloween. But Janet wasn't having any of this and when the fairies came to take her sweetheart away from the well, she grabbed him tight and held on for dear life. The 'wee folk' then proceeded to turn him into all sorts of frightening creatures, including a snake and a wild beast, but Janet still wouldn't let go. Eventually they gave up and Tamlane turned into a man again, safe in his lady's arms.

And who knows, maybe to this day fairies still gather at Tamlane's Well...

Visit all of these fascinating Borders wells while staying in an Airhouses five-star holiday lodge near Lauder. Best of all, your lodge will even have it's own 'sacred spring' (well, a private hot tub but that's just as nice).

You might also like:
Five Amazing Mythical Creatures of the Scottish Borders.
The Incredible Legends of Melrose Abbey.
The Fascinating Folklore Behind Scotland's Trees.

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