At the weekend I went on a road trip with my daughter - our last hurrah before she heads back to her life in London after six months up here with us during lockdown. I'm going to miss her!
We headed north for Portmahomack which is situated on the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross. En route we took a detour around the beautiful Black Isle north of Inverness - not an island at all but a peninsula surrounded by the Cromarty Firth to the north, the Beauty Firth to the south and the Moray Firth to the east. The warming effect of all that water means that snow tends to melt faster on the peninsula than the surrounding region - perhaps one explanation for the name Black Isle.
A drive around the peninsula offers beautiful views over arable land and forest to the Firths beyond and if you're lucky you might catch a glimpse of the pods of bottlenose dolphins that live in these chilly waters. A popular spot to watch the dolphins chasing salmon in on a rising tide is Chanonry Point beside the golf course at Rosemarkie. Catch it at the right time and the spectacle they put on is worthy of Seaworld, as they hunt and play within feet from the shore . Unfortunately unlike Seaworld, these animals don't perform to a schedule and there have been a few times I've taken groups here only to leave disappointed - but most agree that the view and the walk along the beach do provide some compensation!
Today we bypassed Chanonry Point because I had a different destination in mind. The word Cloot was still echoing in my mind and I wanted to introduce Jenny to a haunting, atmospheric spot outside the village of Munlochy known as a Clootie Well.
Clootie Wells are associated with Celtic culture and are linked to ancient healing traditions that involved leaving votive offerings in wells or pits. Those of you who have travelled in Asia may be familiar with the sight of a banyan tree draped with cloths and rags - the origins of the beliefs are the same.
A piece of cloth was dipped in the water of a holy well and used to wash the body of a person seeking healing. The cloth was then tied on the branch of a tree while a prayer was said to the spirit of the well - in modern times a saint, but in pre-Christian times a goddess or spirit usually associated with nature. As the rag disintegrates over time, it was believed that it would take the ailment with it but it was also believed that anyone removing the rag would succumb to the original misfortune!
Munlochy's Clootie Well has been a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years and the ancient spring is believed to have been dedicated to Saint Curetan - a seventh Century Scots-Pictish bishop and saint also known as St Boniface who played an important role in bringing the Pictish church into line with the Roman Catholic Church.
To visit the site today is an eerie, surreal experience. Undoubtedly many have visited seeking the power of healing, and the prevalence of clinical facemarks is a reminder of the times we live in. For others it's a tourist experience akin to tossing coins into the Trevi fountain. The story boards urge visitors to use bio-degradable materials and point out that anyone tying a polyester cloot will be a long time waiting for healing!
In spite of the pleas, the waste left by hordes of visitors has left the site looking like a "fly-tipping site" and in October last year Forestry and Land Scotland who own the site put out a plea for volunteers to help clean it up. As the video below tries to capture, to walk through the site is a sad, unnerving experience, even if it was a bright sunny day when we visited.