The Clootie Well - a pagan tradition lives on in Scotland

Myth and Legend

The Clootie Well - a pagan tradition lives on in Scotland

A strange sight greets motorists driving on the A832 north of Inverness - bits of cloth and clothing hanging off the trees and bushes on the south side of the road. This is the Clootie Well, the residue of a Scottish pagan ritual.

The Clootie Well can be found close to the village of Munlochy on Scotland’s Black Isle, which is a promontory just north of Inverness. Here, a grove of trees beside a spring are festooned with these old rags. This is the remnant of a Celtic tradition that is thought to go back at least 1400 years.

The ritual is a pagan one. As a rag is left to rot at the Clootie Well, it’s hoped that some pain or sickness will fade with it. It is bad luck to remove any of the offerings. 

Clootie Wells — taking their name from the Scottish word for cloth — can be found around the UK in Scotland, Ireland, and England. However, the one near Munlochy is among the most popular, where on any day you can descend into the forest and be shrouded in the shadow of thousands of bits of cloth knotted on the tree branches. Sometimes even whole pieces of clothing are in the trees.

The Clootie Well tradition remains more popular than ever, though Forestry Commission Scotland encourages visitors to use biodegradable pieces of cloth — the better to please the water spirits. 

Further reading

Links to external websites are not maintained by Bite Sized Britain. They are provided to give users access to additional information. Bite Sized Britain is not responsible for the content of these external websites.