I was on a small island in the Scottish inner hebrides looking for a holy well. It was a combination of a small pilgrimage and a mystical spiritual quest. Most of all, it was curiosity and a sense of being guided. One of the things I had been learning was how important it is to have a sense of prayerful curiosity. In order to be guided—in order to find your true purpose, you have to follow your curiosity. When you have a surprising thought pop in your head, be curious about it, take time to consider it prayerfully. You may then want to try it out, even if it is a bit tentatively at first. Anyway…
So there I was…looking for the Well of the Holy Women or Tobar nan Ban Naoimh.
After my first failed attempt at finding this well, I did a bit of research online and found some helpful information although there wasn’t a lot of it. In fact in some places, the name is given as singular ‘Woman’ rather than ‘Women’. I knew that the well was somewhere in Gruilin where an old abandoned village lied. There is a website that gives suggested walks with pictures where I found directions to Grulin. From this website I could tell that I had been going in the right direction. I had also found a blog post of a woman who found it and gave some landmarks to look out for. I found another blogger who couldn’t find it at all but I wasn’t going to let that discouraged me.
I headed back down the path from Cleadale stopping occassional to wonder and take photos.
Path from Cleadale
I found this concrete stairs on a woodsy verge and wondered what the story was. I allowed what faeries there might be about to take control of my imagination. Where would I find myself, if I climbed the stairs? Would I be transported back in time like in Outlander? Or to a mystical world? Would I find there is a house that it leads to after all but one that is not visible unless you climb the stairs? Etc. etc.
I also took a photo of this ruined building and then discovered a rather sad story behind it on the Isle of Eigg Facebook page. ‘The story goes….
A boulder rolled down the cliff through the back of this in the 1950’s and as the couple weren’t married at the time (living in sin) it was thought the place was jinxed and has never been lived in since.’
After an hour, I reached the pier where the small shop and cafe and toilets were (which was a good thing as I still had far to go).
Then it was up the alternate path and through the forest …
and accross the field and behind the farmhouse …
and then a long, scenic walk to Grulin with the Sgurr keeping me company most of the way on my right and the sea on my left.
Eventually, I saw a huge boulder in the distance. I knew that one of the landmarks I had to look out for were two boulders so I knew I was getting close.
Only problem was, there were more than one pair of boulders.
I spent the next couple of hours searching and searching for the well…and could’t find it. In desperation I prayed and asked God to show me the way and at that very instant a fighter plane (or at least I think that’s what it was) flew toward the direction of the two biggest boulders. I walked partly in that direction but as it appeared to be at the edge of the cliff, I walked no further. If you read my last post, you know about me and my fear of cliffs and this looked like a sheer drop to me.
I walked painfully back to my cabin. I had been walking for about six hours and by my calculations just over 20 miles and the first time I have ever walked as long as that in my life.
Feeling somewhere between defeated and determined, I asked about the well on the Isle of Eigg facebook page:
Arrgghhh! So close!
I decided to take a day of rest while I ponder whether it was worth spending another day on the same walk and try again. Decision made, I headed back up the following day. I made it up to Gruilin and began to walk toward the boulders from the left side …extremely cautiously. I was still worried about falling off that cliff.
I came around the back of the boulders and discovered there was a gentle slope of several feet before you meet the cliff edge.
I looked toward the right and spied a patch of watercress surrounded by rocks…
…and there was the well. The watercress was growing straight out of it! It was wonderfully quiet there. The only sounds were the gurgling of the well, the distant waves crashing on the sea, the wind and the sheep nearby bleating. I thought about the people who lived here long ago and the possibility that there was a ‘holy woman’ or nun or more than one. I also pondered about its more ancient history as many holy wells have pagan origins before becoming ‘sainted’. Perhaps, the holy woman was a deeply wise woman who planted the watercress nearby..
I read somewhere that when one finds a holy well, an offering should be left. Usually, it’s something like a bouquet of flowers. I had forgotten to bring something so I offered up a song of thanksgiving. I then ate a raw food bar (and some watercress!) and drank from the well.
Curiosity, determination, guidance and some guts brought me to this place. However, the purpose was in the journey itself. I had my fears to face and I had to learn some lessons along the way.