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  Holy Wells and Magical Waters

The Well o' Kildinguie

“The Well o' Kildinguie, and the dulse o' Guiyidn, can cure all maladies but Black Death.”
Old Orcadian proverb

Until the late 1800s, three mineral springs ran from rocks on the shore of Mill Bay in Stronsay.

Located just below the high water mark, at the Links o' Hunton, the Waals o' Kildinguie – the Wells of Kildinguie – were a renowned pilgrimage site. Water from the spring was said to be a cure for all known ailments. All, that is, except the Black Death.

Quarrying work in the 1870s reduced the flow of water to a trickle – a trickle that has since disappeared. However, the well's place in local tradition has ensured its exact location has survived.

According to the Old Statistical Account, the well's water was particularly effective when consumed along with edible seaweed from a place recorded as “Guiyidin”. This is a rocky inlet to the north west of Odin Bay in Stronsay, near the natural arch known as the Vat o' Kirbuster. This is undoubtedly a mapmaker's error for “Geo Odin”.

From at least Norse times onwatds, the Well o' Kildinguie was a renowned pilgrimage site. The Old Statistical Account of 1795 tells us that visitors from northern Europe made their way to the Stronsay shore to partake of the curative waters.

“Tradition says that it was held in such high repute when the Orkney Islands belonged to the Crown of Denmark that people of the first rank came from Denmark and Norway to drink the waters.”
Old Statistical Account Vol XV.

It is likely that the well was as significant to the pre-Christian people of Stronsay, and perhaps even Orkney, a fact that led to the church taking over the pagan site.

The Chapel o' Kildinguie survives only as a grassy mound by the shore. However, a site investigation in 1928, by the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments, speculated that this chapel was constructed on an earlier, perhaps prehistoric, site.

The well's location was probably particularly significant. It lay on the ebb – in Orkney regarded as the “magical” area between the high tide and low tide.

A carved stone by the site of the well also hints that it may once have had a fertility function, again probably stemming from pagan times. In later years, like at Bigswell in Stenness, young lovers frequented the site, leaving their mark on the stone by carving love messages.