My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Sacred Well and the Howling Moor

This year I hope to put up more posts based around Gothic tourism - visiting places such as ruined castles, ornate graveyards, ancient monuments, great cathedrals, etc. Today's post is of a windswept moor - which if you have read 'Wuthering Heights', you'll know is a very Gothic sort of landscape. To get there, I went up through Culloden Woods, which has a clootie well now dedicated to St. Mary. Culloden Wood also has a ruined mausoleum once home to the remains of various members of the Duncan Forbes family of Culloden House, but I forgot to walk to that part of the woodland and take photographs - this I apologise for. As usual, click to enlarge thumbnails.

My intention was to walk all the way up to Culloden Battlefield, but I left too late in the day, and it was getting dark by the time I was up near the Battlefield, and I wanted to get back to the city before dark (especially as I didn't want to wait around in the Battlefield carpark for a bus, as it is windy and exposed up there, so quite chilly). Culloden Woods is easily accessible from Inverness City Centre by bus. There is also a bus up to Culloden Battlefield directly, as implied earlier. The weather was wet - drizzle and sleet down in the city, but snow up on the hill with the moor. The precipitation came in patches and flurries, with still moments in between. The skies were low and grey, and the sun seemed dim and always closer to the horizon than I wanted it to be.

The Bridge with the oak tree growing on it.

Culloden Woods is forestry pines - cultivated for timber, but it seems to be transitioning to more natural woodland, with areas of birch and more native pines, as well as the new 'Douglas Wood' section that is intended for children and is dog-less (hence the name; naming things with puns is pretty common up here!). There's a railway line cutting the woodland in half, and over that railway is a handsome Victorian railway bridge... with an oak tree growing on it!

St. Mary's Well in the rain.

Clootie well. Click to enlarge.
What I wanted to visit in the woods was the clootie well. A clootie well is a well where 'clooties' or cloth strips are hung around the well for some folk-magic or quasi-religious purpose. With St. Mary's Well at Culloden, the water is supposed to have healing properties, and to use them, you must tie a clootie dipped in the water to a tree above the well, with the sickness or disease disappearing as the cloth decays - I hope all those who hang non-biodegradable things on the trees around the well don't hope for healing! (I imagine there are many that are tourist mementos). There's more to the 'ritual' -if you would call it that - than this, but I can't remember all of it. I think there was once a plaque explaining how to 'use' the well, but it's now gone. 

Clooties on a tree near the well.

St. Mary's Well is not the only clootie well near Inverness - there's also the Well of the Spotted rock above Craig Dunain on the opposite side of the city, and a few others a bit further afield (Munlochy and Avoch both have one), plus there are other springheads with cultural distinctions of one sort or another - bits of history or folklore attributed to them. Clootie wells seem quite common in Gaelic countries - plenty in both Ireland and Scotland - but there are a few in England too. Wales has sacred wells, too, but all the ones I have come across do not have the practice of tying cloths near them, and are more specifically attributed to saints - usually 'Celtic saints', early saints from the Christianisation of the area. Perhaps I will visit more of the local sacred/special wells, and write about them on this blog. I already have a brief mention of the Well of the Spotted Rock planned for my next blog entry.

Blurry photo of a burn (stream)
There's several burns running down crags, which are both rather beautiful and fill the forest with the enchanting sound of running water. When I was there, it was raining, and very slippery, so I didn't get to photograph the crags well as I was slipping and sliding all over the place, hence there being only one rather mediocre photo of the burn near the path up the hill. Maybe if I go back up there, I'll take some more pictures of the forest itself.

I headed back down from the clootie well to the path along the forestry track, which leads out into cleared land that has reverted to a sort of moorland. It's windy and open, but quite beautiful. It had snowed a few days before, and the drainage channels redirecting burns through the land had frozen, and then started thawing, so there was fractured ice floating. It snowed again properly a few days later. There were a few patches of snow on the cleared land, but I didn't get any pictures. The low shrubbery and wild plants seem to close in around you, despite the wind blowing across and the distinct lack of trees other than a few lonely deciduous trees, birches mostly, stand scraggly and stranded out in the open.

View out of Culloden Woods into the cleared land.

One thing out on the open land that I don't want to either romanticise or sensationalise, but I feel should be mentioned because it is a part of the history of that land is the Prisoner's Stone. This isn't something I want to promote as something to visit because it's 'cool and spooky' or something, it's a place to pause and reflect on an atrocity that may have happened over 200 years ago, but which a lot of local people still feel strongly about today.  It's a site where something really horrible happened in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden - 17 Jacobite prisoners were executed there, for being on the wrong side an 18th man was spared to spread word of what had happened. There's a bench, inscribed in both Gaelic and English; 'Murder of frozen souls here - marvel that I remained alive, to tell' is the English translation. I don't know if being killed on the moor was better or worse than the fate of those taken prisoner and forcibly marched to be 'tried' and executed in London, many of whom died on the journey. All of it is awful.

The Prisoner's Stone

The same surnames on the clan markers on the Battlefield are the surnames of co-workers, friends, and neighbours; there are still people for whom the dead are names in the family tree. It wasn't something I knew people felt very strongly about until I met some of these people at a protest against luxury housing being built on land that was part of the battle and likely has corpses on it, who were very upset because it was members of their family who died in the battle, and who couldn't collect their sons, brothers, husbands etc. after the battle because of fear of the Hanoverians, even if they died centuries before and had never met. They spoke quite passionately, and before that I didn't realise that it was such a personal thing for some still. Ancestry is very important to some people, even if it's not something that's as meaningful to me; I've always felt sort of detached from my long-dead blood ancestors, but a deeper connection to figures in history who align more with how I think, some of whom I am quite sad I can't write letters to! Since meeting those people, I've felt like it's important to treat it as a the site of something nasty in history, and while I think tourism is an important part of transmitting history, it shouldn't make the nastiness seem 'fun' - I think the bench is a good idea; gives people somewhere to sit and reflect on what happen, and what can get people to feel justified in killing each other.

The Gaelic inscription on the simple bench.

Beyond the Prisoner's stone is plenty of cleared forestry land, leading up to the road. The path I took wasn't that one, however, as I went between some leafless fruit-trees along a more sheltered footpath that runs alongside a farm track to the main road, and is part of the official Culloden hiking/walking trail.  

Walking towards the clouds on the moor.
After crossing the main road, I took a path continuing the hiking trail that leads past some houses to more cleared forestry land, windswept and dreary with snow-clouds closing in. There are stands of pines still (mostly) standing, except for those blown down by the wind. I continued out, and every now again the forestry path turned walking trail would open out onto glimpses of the valleys and snow-covered hills below. This far up the hill, there were plenty of patches of snow left and even when the breeze was light, it felt chill. The clouds were not just dimming the sun, but faint hues in them made me suspect that it wasn't rain, but more snow that was to fall.

The sun begins to set over the dregs of snow.

Along one path I took, all the trees that had been the exposed edge of the stand of pines had blown over, and the craters left by their roots had filled with water - meltwater, I would guess. The land there is moorland, crossed by a multitude of burns that I could hear, but could not see through the dense scrub (mostly whin bushes, a type of gorse, but with all sorts of other more damp-loving plants between, and then the odd young and bushy pine), and a mixture of hard and rocky patches of uneven glacial land and wet ground that tried to steal the boots off my feet each time I stepped in it (I tried to circumnavigate a section of path that was flooded, ended up taking a detour that led nowhere useful, and headed back). It's an eerie place to be. 

Snow clouds and felled land. 
I had headed off in the opposite direction to the battlefield to admire the scenery first, and maybe find a shortcut to Clava Cairns, but my detour delayed me and between the heavy cloud and the rapid decline of afternoon into evening, I was loosing daylight so I headed home - or at least to a bus stop first!

I have several more posts in the 'Gothic Tourism' category to go up - Clava Cairns, Brodie Castle, and several graveyards, ruins, etc. that I visited last year but never had the time to process the images from. 


  1. What amazing places you visit! Thank you for taking us along on this particular hike.

    1. It was a short but mostly enjoyable hike. I had planned to go up to the Battlefield though, as that is the main historical thing around there. Clava Cairns is downhill from the Battlefield, so I'll have to take the bus there and make some content about the Battlefield, and then back down to Clava Cairns again, this time exploring the other cairns further down the road (and the ruined chapel), as well as seeing if there's a way of taking photographs of the standing stone nearby and the two cairns in the rough ground without disturbing any cattle grazing.


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