Uisgeachan Slànachaidh (Healing Waters)

I trudged past the well itself the first time. My eyes were focused on the remnants of cloth on the tree branches. I saw a few but kept going. I was on a mission. A little further along the trail, my more observant spouse explained that I had scurried along the muddy trail right past the well. She admitted it was rather unassuming.

I first learned about the Clootie Well on the Black Isle peninsula north of Inverness by watching Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland on YouTube. A clootie well is a sacred spring. Even watching the video from North America, I felt called to this sacred ground. As our time in Inverness and the Highlands began to slip away, I felt a bit desperate that we did not neglect time at the well.

We made our twenty-minute drive to Clootie Well the day before we were to leave Inverness. I drove past the entrance to the car park just as I’d hiked past the well itself. Neither the well nor the entrance to the car park is flashy. There are no neon lights saying, “Get your spiritual fix here!” From the car park, the well is about 1/4 mile on a gravel and mud trail, including a few stone stairs. Though a short distance, this is not a drive-through experience. One needs to use both body and spirit.

My Clootie Well pilgrimage began before leaving our flat. I selected and carefully cut a strip of cloth from an old t-shirt that represents the origin of (some) wounds needing attention. I was gathering the sacramental elements necessary for the sacred ritual to come. Atlas Obscura writes, “The ritual is a pagan one that has continued into contemporary spirituality. As a rag is left to rot at the Clootie Well, it’s hoped that some pain or sickness will fade with it.” This year, I have been on an intentional journey of discernment, release, and reconstruction. My calling to the Clootie Well near Munlochy, Scotland, is an integral stop on my path. I had a very specific prayer in mind.

And, having hiked slightly past the well through the woods and returned to it, I was ready. I pulled my strip of orange-yellow cloth out of my pocket. Holding it in my hands, I felt the softness of the cotton. I paused and took a deep breath in and out. I submerged it in the cold well waters. Now holding a dripping cloth, I surveyed the trees looking for just the right branch to leave my pain. I moved up the hill, carefully tied it to a branch I could read, paused before it in focused silence, and then came back down to the path. We hiked along the longer route back to the car park in silence.

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