Burghead Well

THE BURGHEAD WELL has presented an unresolved archaeological problem since it was cleared out in 1809. It is not known by whom, when or why this remarkable monument was cut out of the living rock. The ancient work of the Well is all rock-hewn. It consists of a flight of steps leading down to a chamber, within which is sunk a tank fed by springs. The work is unique in Scotland. It may be described as a well, though the monumental character of the work shows that it was not made for the simple purpose of drawing water. Some ceremonial significance, religious or secular, is suggested and it is almost certainly of Dark Age date.

visitors to well
well entrance

 

Twenty rock-cut steps lead down to a small chamber with rounded corners, measuring 5m by 5m and 4m high. In its centre is a pool surrounded on all sides by a narrow ledge 0.9m wide. The pool is fed by an underground spring and once when emptied took 6 days to refill. Wells and springs were often places for worship and historical sources record that a traditional method of execution among the picts was by drowning. Christians were repelled by such pagan acts, but often traditional holy places were rededicated for new purposes and Columba himself is reported to have sanctified such a well for Christian use. Perhaps the Burghead well later served for baptisms.

Pictures & Drawings © Burghead Headland Trust