I hope no one thinks that I have not been impressed by my first trip to the far north-east. Elgin may have been a disgrace, and Inverness probably worse (though mitigated, in that case, by picking up a copy of Dyer's Pompeii, two volumes of a nineteenth century biography of Bulwer-Lytton, plus Sidney Colvin's memoirs in the bookshop there).
But all around were quite wonderful scenery and extremely elegant towns and villages. The beach nearest to Elgin is at Lossiemouth (right and left) -- and was totally deserted except for some hardy dog-walkers and a couple of even hardier sandcastle builders (aged c. 6). The waitress in the hotel said that it was packed in summer -- hard to imagine and who with?
But the jewel of the neigbourhood was a little place called Fochabers, a village planted by the Dukes of Gordon to get the great unwashed off their estate in the late eighteenth century (the Scots may complain about what the English have done to them ... but it seems to me that the posh Scots themselves are guilty of some pretty dreadful treatment of the rank and file). The upside of this is a tiny planned town, all of an architectural piece. Centre stage is a gorgeous Grecian Church of Scotand church (gorgeous on the outside at least, the inside has been pretty mauled over) staring across the town square are the Gordon Chapel (of the Dukes).
The weirdest thing we saw, though, was a 'rag well' -- or 'clootie well' (as in 'ne'er cast a clout', I imagine) -- near the village of Munlochy (that's the picture at the top).
It's a healing shrine of a sort. The idea is that you tie a rag or a cloth (a clootie) onto the branches of the trees around the well -- a rag that has been in contact with the sick person. The rag then rots away, taking the sickness with it. I wasnt quite clear whether you were supposed to dip it in the well or not.
The result is a real mess, as you can see. But it's clear enough that people are really doing this.
The notice nearby, put up by the Scottish Forestry Commission (for like most shrines it's a tourist attraction too), claims that this tradition goes back to pre-Christian times, and is a reflection of the power of water in pagan Celtic religion. It is, in other words, an amazing survival across the millennia.
I found myself thnking that this was really rather hard to believe. If most other customs are invented in the nineteenth century, then why nt this pagan one too.
How far back does it really go, in this form. Does anyone have any real hard evidence?