Holy Wells, Wishing Wells and ‘Clootie’ Wells are decorated in a different way, and for different reasons. As a result of a ‘miraculous’ and well documented cure in the past the water in a Holy Well is considered to have properties which will cure others. Doon Holy Well is a good example. Thus pilgrims come to be cured – and, if it works, to give thanks, in the form of an offering such as money, pictures, messages and redundant crutches. Collections is not cynical enough to suggest that those restored to robust health might have got better anyway.
Clootie Wells are also places of pilgrimage, but not necessarily holy. A ‘clootie’ is a bit of rag, or a small garment, dishcloth, hanky - think the old word ‘clout’ for clothes, ‘ne’er cast your clout ‘till May is out’. These are tied to trees or bushes near the well, sometimes in huge numbers. Originally the clootie was dipped in the well and then rubbed into an afflicted part before being tied to the tree. It was believed that as the clootie rotted away the affliction would disappear. Nowadays the custom is still popular, even increasing, but the clooties are simply for ‘good luck’. One of the best-known and most accessible Clootie Wells is St Mary’s by Culloden Battlefield a few miles east of Inverness. On the Black Isle, north of Inverness, near Munlochy, St Boniface well is all but submerged by thousands of clooties. It is probably the most popular clootie well in the world because it is right beside the road and advertised as a must-see attraction in the area. The clootie overspill goes back well into the woods behind. However, to most people it all means little more than tying up a clootie and making a wish because it seems to be the thing to do. ‘Wish Trees’ or ‘Coin Trees’ have similar properties, with coins hammered into the bark to bring good luck. There are a few around the British Isles. Our one is on an island in Loch Maree in Wester Ross many, many, miles from civilization. You might need a bit of luck to get there in the first place!