Exploring history of Galloway’s lost wells

The Galloway Glens’ community archaeology project, Can You Dig It, is setting out to map and better understand lost wells in Galloway.

Monday, 25th January 2021, 4:07 pm
Updated Monday, 25th January 2021, 4:28 pm
Nowadays wells may be seen as mere pools of water, but in historic times these performed vital roles to human society
Nowadays wells may be seen as mere pools of water, but in historic times these performed vital roles to human society

It is hard to think of a feature in our landscapes that has changed more in significance and prominence than our wells.

In these modern times of mains water supply and scientific thought, we can see wells as mere pools of water, curiosities in our landscapes. In historic times though, these wells performed vital roles to human society.

No settlement, whether permanent or seasonal, can exist without some form of access to water.

As well as this most fundamental factor, wells were often attributed with health benefits and ritual practices.

Some wells were felt to have significant holy connotations connections, even acting as gateways to our spiritual world. Still today, these wells can be most treasured sites to local residents.

To better understand what can often be overlooked in our current landscape, the Can You Dig it project is launching a ‘Lost Wells of Galloway’ initiative.

This kicks off with a free online event on Wednesday at 7.30pm, with the Stewartry Museum’s Dr Peter Hewitt leading a talk identifying what we currently know about the lost wells of Galloway and what we can see today.

This event will kickstart a month of volunteer activity, overseen by the Can You Dig It team, to research and identify lost or overlooked wells in the Galloway landscape.

This will all contribute to our understanding of lost wells in the Galloway landscape and will capture this information for future generations.

When lockdown restrictions change later on in the year, the team hope to be able to undertake some site visits of identified wells, leading the exploration in person!

Book your free ticket for the online event here

Dr Hewitt said: “Wells and springs feature prominently in the folklore of Galloway as places of healing, spiritual communion, even a bit of skulduggery.

“They are important but often neglected historical sites too - without continued use they can become overgrown and inaccessible, lost to memory and sometimes accidentally destroyed.

“So, it is really exciting to be part of this project to bring local people together to rediscover, document and hopefully save their heritage.

“Who knows what we will find? Maybe a well that indicates an unknown pilgrimage route, or the location of a lost village, or maybe some information about early medical beliefs?

“Will we ever find the famed medicinal well of ‘Kissocktown’ which people flocked to in the summertime? I can’t wait to find out!”

Helen Keron, Galloway Glens education and community engagement officer, added: “I’m very excited about the prospect of involving our fantastic Can You Dig It community in this online research project.

“At the launch event, Peter will inspire us with tales of lost wells already found, and then Claire from Rathmell will take us through the process of going from a blank map square to finding the amazing stories behind these wells.

“But do feel free to come along to the event just for interest – there’s no commitment required!”

In addition to the actual search for lost wells, the Galloway Glens Scheme is working with creative producer Katch Holmes to discuss how we relate to our wells now, considering stories from the present day and those handed down through generations.

These will be explored through a series of podcasts which will be released throughout 2021 to accompany the efforts of the Can You Dig It team.

Katch said: “I find the whole subject of wells fascinating.

“The centrality of their importance for communities – water provision but also their mythological and spiritual significance - incorporates natural, built and cultural heritage.

“The Lost Wells project is really exciting and I’m looking forward to delving deeper in the months to come!”

The ‘Can You Dig It’ Community archaeology project is funded jointly by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic Environment Scotland, and forms one of the 35 headline projects in the Galloway Glens Scheme.