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Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland
Chapter II - The Romans and Wells of Water


"Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.
Where his eagles never flew,
None invincible as they."
----- Cowper.

"The waters murmur of their name,
The woods are peopled with their fame,
The silent pillar lone and gray."
------ BYRON.

BEFORE the Druids inflamed the people with patriotic zeal to strive against their Roman assailants, traders to our shores had brought Britain into touch with the culture and wisdom of the East, for the adventurous Phoenicians had found in the westmost corner of England there existed a wealth of much coveted metal. Britain was then an all but undiscovered Ulima Thule to the civilised world. Herodotus chronicles 500 years B.C. that there was a land beyond the seas called Cassiterides (tin islands). Aristotle expanded this brief note and wrote later: "Beyond the Pillars of Hercules are two islands which are very large—Albion and lerne called the Britannic, which lie beyond the Celtae." "Here," says Collier, " for the first time in history, we have the number and the names of the islands which form the nucleus of our mighty empire." The Phoenicians concealed the source from whence they drew their supply of tin. Surrounded by her mist-mantled sea, Albion lay screened, so, watchful though the Romans were, for long they failed to find from whence the ships of Tyre and Carthage sailed home laden with their valued cargoes. Spurred by their love of conquest, determined to find and annex the country that was rich in this mineral, the Romans never rested till Julius Caesar eventually came, saw, and conquered. The persistent, dogged Roman army, which brooked no opposition, forged their iron way with resolute courage past the thin line of civilisation which girded the southern seaboard of Albion, and came, after many years, to the savage, untamed north. They christened the tribes they found there "The people of the woods," and on their maps Scotland became Caledonia. The derivation of the name shows that the country was well timbered, and the invaders repeatedly raised altars to Sylvanus, the god of the woods, for these fanes we still find. There was one where the Leader and the Tweed meet near the village of Newstead, which had been erected by Carrius Domitianus, the prefect of the valiant and victorious twentieth legion. Further down the Tweed there has been revealed a similar votive offering, which forms another instance how much the wild and silvan character of the country disposed the feelings of the Romans to acknowledge the presence of the rural deities. The junction of rivers seemed to be a felicitous spot for such memorials. Where the Teviot mingles with the Tweed there was again an altar to the woodland god. The modern ducal mansion of Floors, looking down on the spot where the second James Stuart came to an untimely end, is close by the site chosen for the shrine erected to propitiate the satyrs and fauns the Romans believed in and with which they peopled the bosky banks and tangled copses of this now romantic district. These altars to the sprites of the greenwood stand near to where, in after time, the great Border abbeys—Melrose, Dryburgh, and Kelso—arose. The fabled flood of Tweed flows for ever and ever through the Merse, seeing as it rolls through the centuries new religions arise, fade, and be succeeded by others. Roman fane and Christian church alike were built, reverenced, and crumbled into dust. Wizards were reared and prophesied by the wide Tweed side, and the greatest of them, Scott, rests by its banks. "Around are the graves of abbots and monks who lived all through Scottish story, heard the tidings of Bannockburn, Flodden, Ancrum, and Pinkie, their matins and their vespers now sunk in one silence of the dead —and only he in the moving creations of William of Deloraine, and Lucy Ashton, and Jeanie Deans has an immortality of memory."

The triple heads of the Eildon Hills, like the unrivalled Tweed at their feet, have witnessed many changes in our land. A modern writer pictures how generations ago our ancestors had climbed to the eastmost peak of the Eildons and there, in the track of the winds, they had built for themselves a village, and raised earthen ramparts around to protect themselves from their foes, human and wolfish. Within the fosse were the wives and children, and the men kept watch over the untamed Merse of Tweed. "One evening the sentinel on the outer rampart looked over an abyss of darkness at his feet, the steep earthwork almost fell perpendicularly to the almost perpendicular hill-side, and in the lull of the wind he heard the hoarse roar of the Tweed, as it swept in flood through the valley a thousand feet below. No light anywhere save the will o' the wisp speaking to his savage heart of bog demons and forest demons, which lured men to untimely graves, or the fires of possibly hostile village forts on the other side of the valley; and behind him lay all he knew of home—the tribe and the chief, his wife and children, his bed of skins and his smoky hut, his favourite dog, and his quiver of flinted shafts. No wonder it was dear and sweet to him, and no doubt he would have gladly spent his last and best blood to save it from demon, beasts, or man, as the Roman who saw on Palatinus the white porch of his home. But one day from the south, somewhere in the vast stretch of forest or fen that lay between them and the Cheviots, their eyes were dazzled by the gleam of sun on bronze armour, and their scouts told them of swarms of swarthy men, of strange speech and grim visage, bearing strange arms and great engines of war through the deep wood, felling the trees, throwing them into marshes, piling stones over them, and moving in a course as straight as a beam of light towards their mountain fastness. What happened to the village fort we can safely guess—a sudden, swift night attack, after a long stealthy climb, and then the short stabbing sword did its work." Though that was an oft-repeated tale on the Roman line of march, the surviving vanquished natives, with hearts anguished for the home and kindred torn from them, fled for shelter beyond the Forth and Tay. These trained legions from the Eternal City thus ousted from their strongholds the denizens of Caledonia's forests. They turned each well- positioned burgh into a fortified camp, every one of which was a rivet in the links of their chain of conquest, another step forward in the path of empire. Empire and road-making went hand in hand, though the tamers of a savage land may have left their handiwork for others to tread on. In this century, many a farm cart lumbering along to some outlying field travels by the Romans' now disused road. Beneath its grass- grown way the stone ground-work tells us it was engineered by those who, over 1500 years ago, were our conquerors. Coaches laden with our kings and queens have driven along their thoroughfares, the very milestones tell how we learned from them to mark distance. It was by the paved streets, which the legions from Italy engineered from Thames to Forth and Clyde, that there travelled to Scotland the message that a new order of things had come into being, which revolutionised the country, and left more mark upon it than all the roads these Romans made, or the fundamental laws they left us. On their eagles' wings to our barbarous, benighted fatherland, there was wafted north the first whisper of the glad tidings of great joy, news that a star of hope and peace had arisen in the East, and its beams would shine and penetrate everlastingly over the world. It was but a vague report at first, that an insignificant few of the Roman soldiery brought with them from the south. The main bulk continued to consult their oracles and rear altars to praise and conciliate the satyrs and fauns whom they believed dwelt in the dark fir forests of Caledonia. Besides discovering this to be so timbered a country that Sylvanus had to be honoured all along Tweed side, the Romans found it bubbling with mineral waters good both to drink and to bathe in. We have to thank our invaders for teaching our ancestors to become votaries of hydropathy, for the conquered people in course of time followed the lead of the masterful men of Italy. Before the Romans came, the original inhabitants of Britain stood in oriental awe of water. From their Eastern ancestors, who had journeyed from sun-smitten plains, there naturally arose an admiring adoration for wells of water, especially for springs bubbling up pure and undefiled from out of the brown earth. Whether the genii of the fountains and rivers were good or evil spirits, our progenitors were uncertain. The water ways of Scotland, now rivers of romance, seemed to them occasionally to be possessed by demons who were hungry for men and beasts. The Borderers realised the perfidiousness of apparently placidly-flowing streams. The honest Tweed, swollen by snow and rain, came thundering through the Merse, sweeping corn and cattle, and all that came within its grasp into its flood. Its neighbour, the brimming Till, meandering with sinuous twists among green pastures, with stealthy patience undermined its banks, and many a man lost his life in its false-flowing waters. In a Border rhyme this sleek, treacherous river was noted for its cannibal propensities:—

"Says till to Tweed, though you go with speed, and I go slaw, For every man you drown I drown twa."

Three lines tell a similar tale of a river further north:-

"The dowie Dean
It runs its lean,
An' every seven years it gets ean."

Rhymes like these, says Alexander Smith in his Summer in Skye, "are the truest antiques, the most precious articles of virtu—an authentic bit of terror that agitated human hearts long ago."

It was averred the kelpie (the water sprite) was heard to wail a dirge before it claims a life. Its slogan is one of these sad plaints which the wind pipes, and the waters sing, for nature's voice is often raised as an earnest of woe. Neith was the goddess of inland waters, and she also, our ancestors held, took toll in lives for neglect of propitiatory homage. But the Romans, though believing in water and woodland fetiches, were also learned in medicines. From Africa's northern shores, where in Algeria famed baths exist, to the springs gushing out among the moors and mosses in Caledonia, these keen-eyed Romans discovered and reverenced healing waters. They founded health resorts which are unsuperseded to-day, and round which originally villages, then towns have grown. First the simple spring, upbreaking through the earth, was fenced with stone and mortar, though many a one, which the aboriginal Britons and the soldiers of the south drank from, were forgotten and left neglected. They gurgle on unconfined and unnoticed in solitary contentment, not aggrieved that an unobserving, though civilised people knows them not. The springs whose sanitive qualities were venerated were credited with being under good guidance. In course of time when Christianity spread, pious anchorites, looking for some hermit's cell, settled always beside drinkable water, and so spread around them a saintly peacefulness. Water washed away the dirt of disease, and water, like fire, licking up the fatal microbe which sowed the seeds of death, became a friend to mankind. Fire burnt the plague out of London, and washing in the wells on prescribed days and seasons, without doubt, cured many who in faith had come there to be healed. Fire and water were the joint agents in quelling disease, and worshippers of yore mingled their rights. There were also wishing-wells where people, still induced by grey-bearded superstition, visit. There, resting on some mossy stone near to the eternally flowing spring, they wish a WISh and believe the spirit of the water will hear and fulfil it. To obtain benefit from the well, to make a peace-offering to the kelpie. who lived near by, the devotees who came to drink steered their course towards the spring, not "wither- shins" about.

This word (variously spelt, pronounced widdershins) indicates the inbred dislike of our people of going contrary to the greatest of the heavenly lights. Trees in unprotected positions, which in their youngling days have been twisted west to east by the prevailing winds, are said to grow withershins. They are held to be ill-conditioned, or to be possessed of certain uncanny, occult powers. In the Meeting of he Sun the author says: "The Llama monk whirls his praying cylinder in the way of the sun, and fears lest a stranger should get at it and turn it contrary, which would take from it all the virtue it had acquired. They also build piles of stone and always pass them on one side and return on the other, so as to make a circuit with the sun. Mahommedans make the circuit of the Caaba in the same way. The ancient dagohas of India and Ceylon were also traversed round in the same way, and the old Irish and Scotch custom is to make all movements deisual or sunwise round houses and graves, and to turn their bodies in this way at the beginning and end of a journey for luck, as well as at weddings and other ceremonies."

In an old song the lady bewails that the Lowlands of Holland have "twined her love" from her. She knew some ill fate would befall her sweetheart when he sailed over "the saut sea," for his ship "went withershins about" on starting. In another ballad the heroine desires her Tommy to bring from the Howe a stick of-

"Widdershins grow of good rawtree for to carry my tow,
And a spindle of the same for the twining o't."

Bedevillery was connected with reading sacred words backwards and going the reverse of the sun. Dr. Walter Smith in an early poem speaks of this idea:-

"Hech! sirs, but we had grand fun,
Wi' the meickle black died in the chair,
And the muckle Bible upside doon
A'ganging withershins roun and roun,
And backwards saying the prayer
About the warlock's grave,
\Vithershins ganging roun;
And kimmer and carline had for licht
The fat o' a bairn they buried that nicht,
Unchristen'd beneath the moon."

So those who went to worship at wells took care not to go against the sun, when they brought their sick to drink or wash in the healing stream. At the summit of the Touch Hills, a little to the west of Stirling, there may be seen by the curious a crystal well which in ancient times was believed to possess the peculiar quality of insuring for a twelvemonth the lives of all who drank from its waters before sunrise on the first Sunday of May. In 1840 there were old men and women then alive who in their younger days had been of the number of those who made an annual pilgrimage to St. Corbet's Well on the morning in question. Husbands and wives, lovers with their sweethearts, young and old, grave and gay, crowded the hill-tops in the vicinity of the well, long before dawn, and each party on their arrival took copious draughts of the singularly blessed waters. Another spring in St. Medan's Cave in Wigtonshire had special properties if drunk when the sun rose on the first Sunday of May. It seemed then to he a cure for all disease; and again in Galloway in the parish of Bootle there is a fountain called the Rumbling Well. The sick sat beside it during Saturday night, and drank of it on dawn of Sabbath morning. The water from this well was also taken home in casks, and the believers washed their cows with it, or gave them to drink of these curative waters. The afflicted, who, as the sun-worshippers of old had done, sat waiting for day before they drank of the crystal stream, left humble offerings in return for the good they obtained. The water sprites were not greedy, a little sufficed as a thanks-offering. Ribbons and shreds of garments taken from the pilgrims fluttered on the branches of the bushes and trees that grew near by the spring. Needles and pins were also thrown in, and money sometimes too was left. A coin of the first James Stuart's period was lately discovered beside a fountain in Perthshire. To show how inherent in our nature is the rendering of tribute to the water god, Sir Archibald Geekie, in his Scottish Reminiscences, mentions that in a well in Kirkcudbright the lord of the soil told him, in clearing the pool of debris, coins from the days of the early kings of Scotland and those bearing our well-known queen's head of the Victorian era were found. Also he says, seeing a tree gay with colour, for "from a distance it seemed to be decked with blossoms or leaves of black, white, and red," he describes how on inspection they proved to be bits of rag hung up by the pilgrims who had come to drink of the saint's well that gushed forth from the shadow of a tree. When cattle benefited by the water, their shackles and bands were left as a tribute. Madness was cured at St. Fillan's and at some other wells throughout the country. On a pillar at the church of St. Fillan's, supposed to be older than the building in which it stood, the insane were bound and left over-night. If they broke their bonds, it was asserted they were restored to sound mind. Robert Bruce washed in a spring near Ayr, but despite the report that this had cured him, it is feared that he died of leprosy. Water drawn from under a bridge over which the dead were carried, as well as water flowing south, were reputed to possess special powers. In the North of Scotland there is a loch in Strathnaver to which people journeyed to be freed from all manner of diseases. To bring about this happy result they had to walk backward into the water, dip themselves therein, and leave a small coin as an offering. Without looking round, they had to wade in a direct line back to land, and go right away from the loch. St. Andrew's Well in the Island of Lewis was frequently consulted as an oracle when any one was dangerously ill. A wooden tub full of this water was brought to the sick person's room, and a small dish was set floating in it. If it turned sunwise, it was supposed the patient would recover, otherwise he must die. Special fountains proved efficacious when the eyesight was affected, and a draught from a certain loch in the north cured deafness. There is nothing new under the sun. These pilgrims of old, thirsting to partake of purifying waters, were by their trustfulness made whole, like the faith healers of to-day.

Perthshire was peculiarly productive in these Siloams, but all over Scotland wells still called holy exist. Close by Scotland's capital there are many springs whose virtues have been tried. There is St. Bernard's Mineral Well in the valley of the Water of Leith, but it is affirmed on good authority that it was not the abode of a saint of old, but that its medical value was discovered by some of the Heriot School boys in the eighteenth century. Overlooking Edinburgh from the ridge of Liberton Hill is St. Catherine's Balm Well. A thick, oily substance continually floats on its surface. James VI. visited it, and ordered it to be cleared of refuse, properly closed in, and provided with a door and staircase, but thirty years later the wall was destroyed and it was filled up with stones by Cromwell's soldiers. In succeeding reigns it was again restored, and despite the town overspreading to the hill around it, the face of its waters are still sleek with the oily balm which is supposed to he good for those who are afflicted with cutaneous complaints. Another well within ken of Edinburgh is that of Loretto at Musselburgh. The chapel to Our Lady of Loretto was beyond the east gate of the old borough. Pilgrimages from all parts of Scotland were taken to this shrine. Towards the end of the sixteenth century a hermit took up his abode at Loretto who was famed for his miracles. James V. paid a visit to this most noted shrine of Scotland before he sailed to France to woo his bride. The stones from the old chapel were accused of being the first after the Reformation to be devoted to any secular purpose. The people quarried from the chapel to build a jail. For this piece of sacrilege the inhabitants of Musselburgh were annually excommunicated at Rome, till the end of the eighteenth century.

Within nearer range of Edinburgh, under the shadow of Samson's Ribs, there are the Wells of Wearie. Their romantic, alliterative title has caught the ear of poets. In an old ballad one sings:-

And ye maun gang wi' me, my winsome Mary Grieve,
There is naught in the world to fear ye;
For I have asked your minnie and she has gi'en ye leave
To gang to the Wells o' Wearie.

O! the sun winna blink in your bonnie blue e'en,
Nor tinge your white brow, my deane;
For I will shade a bower wi' rashes long and green
By the lanesome Wells O' Wearie."

Another, who was recently well named the Benjamin of Edinburgh's gifted literary Sons, in his Songs of Travel says:—

"She rested by the broken brook,
She drank of Wearie Well,
She moved beyond my lingering look
Ah, whither none can tell."

How these springs at the feet of the great, green, lion-shaped hill, which keeps everlasting watch and ward over Edinburgh, came by its name, we know not. It may have been a rest-and-bethankful nook where the tired wayfarer would pause and wash away travel-stains before entering the be-castled grey town.

Throughout the length and breadth of Scotland there are preserved wells still visited and cared for, because they are credited with healing powers, for custom has become part of our inheritance, and they, since the days of the far-off past, have been held sacred. There is a well of as clear water as ever sparkled, by the trout-famed river Whitadder, where it ripples past Abbey St. Bathan's in Berwickshire. It was a shrine for pilgrims, for a road leading to it, still named the Pilgrim's Path, is kept swept and garnished. It runs parallel to the Bishop's Walk in the same precincts. The votaries who hied to St. Bathan's Well quaffed honest water. The many anchorites who in course of time became saints, seeking secluded spots wherein to lead their solitary, religious life, always settled by some fountain. The monks from the neighbouring monasteries, to glorify the example of their lonely brethren, made pilgrimages to these hermitages, and spread over the springs near the recluses' cells an odour of sanctity. The people, doubtless from more heathen ages, had paid court to water and readily followed the footsteps of the holy men. Their idolatry must have savoured of heathenism, for as early as 1182 Anselm banned well-worship, and in 1638 the General Assembly of Scotland waged a determined warfare against it and other relics of barbarian observances however cloaked by religion. "If persons were found superstitiously," states the law, "to have passed in pilgrimage to Christ's Well, near Doune, Perthshire, on the first Sunday of May, to seek their health, they shall repent in sacco (sackcloth) and linen three several sabbaths, and pay twenty pounds Scots for ilk fault." This shows how superstition and religious beliefs are mingled; they are wellnigh impossible to eradicate, especially from the Celtic mind, which is particularly retentive of tradition. Pope Gregory (he who sent missionaries first to this pagan land, for legend reports that he, seeing in the slave-market of Rome some golden-haired Northumbrian children, would not have them named Angles but angels) ordered his missionaries not to thwart the people altogether in their long-implanted heathen habits. Augustine, one of his messengers to this country in the sixth century, was instructed to bear in mind that the pagan temples were not to be destroyed, but turned into Christian churches, that the oxen slaughtered for sacrifice should still be killed with rejoicings, but their bodies given to the poor, and that the refreshment-booths round the heathen temples should be allowed to remain as places of jollity and amusement for the people on Christian festivals. He realised, with diplomatic tact, that it is impossible to cut abruptly from hard and rough minds all old habits and customs, for he who wishes to reach the highest place must rise by steps and not by jumps. These wily measures taken to gather the pagans about their Christianised fanes were, however, two hundred years after the Romans had returned to Italy. A modern writer says of these southern subjugators of ours, "a few military roads and doubtful sights of camps and towns, a few traces of public works, all indicating a despotic military occupation of the country and none of a civilised condition of the mass of the inhabitants, alone remains to tell the world that here the Roman power flourished for four hundred years." But we must remember we also owe them a debt of gratitude that some among their legions carried to these then far-off islands the rudimentary report of the gospel of Christianity, as well as their initial lessons in laws and in medicines which they taught us. Modern science, with its manifold discoveries of material that can be yoked to work for man's welfare, was, after all, not so far ahead of these far-seeing Romans. Radium is found by their mineral wells. Our invaders in days of old, of course, knew not of it, but in this then wild, untutored country they found among the forests and fens these health-giving springs whose waters possessed strange healing powers. Round them they built their villas, and settled as much as ever they settled in this their northernmost province, the last they annexed, the first they abandoned. They came here but on an errand. They fulfilled their task, then returned, for their hearts were in Italy. They certainly made the best they could of this mist-shrouded isle when duty stationed them here, and from them our ancestors learned the rudiments of hygienics. They buried without the walls of their towns, laying their dead oftentimes round some pagan fane, but they took care that the temple was beyond their city's gates. When in course of time churches were scattered throughout the land, people wished to place the mortal remains of those who had gone hence under the shadow of the church, so Roman hygienics were forgotten, and it might have been well for the health of the living community if in this rule they had adhered to Roman law. The first authorised medical officers in our isles came with the Roman legions. They brought with them doctors to attend their troops. The marshes and woods of Caledonia were far more destructive to the Roman invaders than were the spears, long swords, and scythed chariots of its painted and almost naked warriors. The following was an order of the Emperor Aurelian, 270 A.D. "Let each soldier aid and help his fellow, let them be cured gratuitously by the physicians, let them give nothing to soothsayers, let them conduct themselves in their hospitia, and he who would raise strife, let him be lashed." There are Roman monuments raised in Britain to physicians who died in service. One lived but twenty-five years, and the stone and its inscription found in Northumberland is preserved at Newcastle Museum.

The Romans left their indent on our folk lore, and taught us to hold springs sacred. Science has trained us how to benefit from the mineral wells. Endless centuries of approaching them not withershins about has become as a second nature to us, for we deal cards and pass the bottle round deisual or sunwise. In parts of our native land, when the dead are laid in their graves, their resting-place is approached by going round in the same manner. The bride is conducted to her future husband in the presence of the minister round the company east to west on the south side.

Among the endless magical and medical properties that were formerly supposed to be possessed by human saliva, one is almost universally credited by the Scottish schoolboy up to the present hour, for few of them ever assume the temporary character of pugilists without duly spitting into their hands ere they close their fists; as if they retained a full reliance on the magical power of the saliva to increase the strength of the impending blow, if not to avert any feeling of malice produced by it—as was enunciated eighteen centuries ago, by one of the most laborious and esteemed writers of that age.

Pliny thus alluded to, in his Natural History, xxviii. 7, says, "Some persons also before making an effort spit into the hand in the manner above stated in order to make the blow more heavy."

Many Roman marriage customs remain amongst us—such as carrying the bride over the threshold of her new home and the objection to marriages in May, for that month was dedicated by the Romans to propitiate the spirits of their dead. During that moon their temples were shut, and further, "for any couple to contract marriage during this season was held to be a daring of the Fates which few were hardy enough to venture." Ovid speaks of the ill luck of lighting Hymen's torch in May.

June, called after the wife of Jupiter, to make amends for the banning of the previous thirty- one days, smiled on marriage, and her name month was considered a lucky time to be espoused in. Though

"Like the swell of some sweet tune,
May glides onward into June,"

so strongly ingrained is the Roman custom still, that it has become universal in all classes not to marry in May. How widespread is this belief the smallness of the marriage column in the Scotsman proves. Many other oddments of the Romans' residence here remain distinctly visible in our own time. Among others is the Corydalis lutca, one of the fumitories, which is a native of the Campagna. It grows on the Borderland on the Roman wall. To this small "short-lived star of earth" some lines are addressed to-day by Sir George Douglas, while musing there on Hadrian's dyke:-

"Thy bloom the scent of honey yields,
And thou with spring clost blow;
A Roman flower in English fields
As bright as long ago!

Till as one dreams and idly thinks
On wars and conquests vain;
A simple pastoral garland links
Earth's mightiest nations twain."

Likely the ancestor of this floweret some soldier of the south brought with him—a keepsake from his sweetheart. Warmed and ripened on his heart, when he fell it took root in the cold northern land and flourished despite the unkindly climate. The little alien fumitory is typical of folk lore, Roman or otherwise. It refuses to be eradicated, and shines forth along our twentieth-century paths, telling those who care to look of the conquering race who held us once in thrall.


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