A CLEAN-UP at an ancient well in the Highlands, thought to have once had the power to cure sick children, has incensed local residents, who have described it as “desecration”.

The Clootie Well, near Munlochy on the Black Isle, has long been popular with visitors as a place of healing, the legend being that if a piece of cloth – cloot – the pain or sickness afflicting the individual associated with it will pass.

Removing any of the offerings is said to bring bad luck.

However, that is exactly what one woman did, triggering outrage after the site on the A832 was virtually stripped of the “offerings” that festooned the trees around the well.

Black Isle Councillor Craig Fraser told The National: “I knew nothing about this – only what I saw on Facebook.

“To me this is desecration of a spiritual site. Many people over the years have left personal tokens for those who are sick, and/or since died across all ages.

“This has upset many people.”

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Claire Mackay started a Facebook group “friends of the Clootie Well” two years ago after being “horrified” at the litter on the site

“The well was littered with crisp packs and cans, and also what some folk regarded as offerings – plaster casts, high-vis vests, plastic J-cloths, bras and underwear, often nailed to the tree,” she said.

“I recognised it wasn’t an individual’s place to clear up the site. The Clootie Well represents diversity and people interact with the space in different ways.

“So I set about creating a group to include a broad spectrum of community members to fine tune the balance with how to approach a clean-up.”

Mackay has been working with Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and community stakeholders to improve and maintain the well.

Regular clean-ups are in the offing, along with better signage, a dispenser for biodegradable cloots which can be written on, a summer storytelling event and a children’s book to educated them about the history traditional Celtic practice of the Clootie Well.

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She was at the well on Monday with a representative from FLS, and added: “It was apparently mostly items that had fallen after Storm Arwen that were removed, and some non-biodegradable … many face masks.

“The FLS rep didn’t seem to think it was much different to what their staff would normally do on site visits, but said they hadn’t been doing these regularly … due to lockdowns and that is what perhaps prompted this individual to do so.

“Somehow people have lost an understanding of what the traditional practice was and the focus has been on the objects left, often it seems like a competition to leave the largest, most eye catching and comedic offerings.

“It somehow seems to mock the intentions of those who respectfully leave prayers of healing in keeping with a traditional belief in the sanctity of the place.”

Paul Hibberd, FLS regional visitor services manager, said: “We are aware that someone had taken it upon themselves to clean the site, without our permission.

“This site is an important part of Highland history and culture, and we encourage all visitors to be respectful and to leave only biodegradable offerings.”