The Clootie Well near Munlochy, on the Black Isle near Inverness, is part of an ancient tradition of healing. Some call it an eyesore – new and rotting cloth hanging as leaves from branches and trunks. People are not willing to move these pieces of cloth, as it is said if you take one off the tree where it has been bound you will take on the illness it bears. Houses are near here, and the A832 – you can hear and sometimes see cars whilst on the hill. Yet this is a place beyond time, in the north of Scotland where the veil between this world and the next lies thin.
Starting up the path from the car park, I see a few scraps of cloth tied to branches. Climbing higher, circling the hill, trees are festooned with material. This is an ancient site. People come here for the help of those they know, for a healing in the old ways. It is said this site has been here since druidic times. Bring a piece of cloth from the sick person, tie it to a tree and as the cloth rots and fades so too the disease will transmute into nothing. Not just cloth is found here – there are gloves, socks, T-shirts, shorts, a duster, plastic bags, a plaster wrapped around a thin trunk... May be, perhaps, whatever the visitor had in their car to offer if they did not realise the full significance of this place.
There are hundreds of stories here. Some garments have words on them... “I wish people would realise what’s in front of them before it’s too late” – I write them down for remembering. They are words of any time, any culture – value what you have, not what you want to be. They remind me of a wise blind man, whose lack of seeing sharpened his inner sight and senses, who once told me that “whilst the young spend their health on wealth, the old spend their wealth on health”.
The well itself has water pure and cold. Coins of different colours, shapes and sizes have been offered in the rectangular basin where water stills. The easiest way to take the water as is to straddle the earth banks that hold the flow, bend and cup hands to gather water from the spring. It is said to be good to drink yet save enough to scatter some of what is left, for the faeries...