Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mystery of the Grey Hen

The Grey Hen’s Well, like many other sources of water, has stories and myths around it. They show the Grey Hen’s Well is not just a place, but resonates as part of Caithness and Highlands history. While the records and stories I have found are not ancient, going back only two centuries, some are still being re-written, and each are as authentic as the other. There are many wells in Scotland that in ancient times were deified and known as magic or holy wells but I have no knowledge of any ancient myths that tell of this well being a shrine to a local deity, or being a holy well.
But these days, while many cars are driven on past, other folk return specially and stop, telling us that the Grey Hen’s Well is a precious place for Scottish people from all over the world. Why is that? Could it be because this place was once the water of life not only to travelers between Berriedale and the Ord but to the residents of nearby villages where crofters struggled to live for a time before being forced to scatter to the four corners of the earth.
On 16 July 1976 the Editor of the John O Groat Journal published the following request for information under the heading 
“Mystery of Grey Hen and the Candlesticks”
“Just a few yards to the east of the A9 on a straight stretch between Ousdale and Berriedale is a    spot where people often stop.
Known as Grey Hen’s Well.  It is largely over –grown, and what draws the attention of the passers-by is a large stone marking the spot which was erected by the late Duke of Portland in 1934.
Caithness District Council are now to clear up the area round the well, and sought further information about the history of the well and origins of its name from the Portland Estate on whose land it lies.
But resident factor Mr M. Leslie said that he too had been unable to trace the history of the well.
“The present Duke and Duchess could never find out about the origins of it and the name seems to have been passed down from one generation to the next,” he said.
“Apparently Her Grace has also tried to find out about the history of the two stone-built towers on the edge of the cliff between the cliff and the arable land just south of Berriedale. They are known locally as the Candlesticks which is about all we know about them.”
If any reader can throw light on the Grey Hen and the Candlesticks the council would like to hear from them – and so would we.”

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