St Mary’s Chapel Balloch, Inverness (click on photos to enlarge)
(below, how it would have looked) Our Pre-History
Look at the top map: the original Culloden House is on the right edge of the 16th Cent. map. Look down until you find “Tobar Moire” the old Scottish Gaelic for St Mary’s Well, the chapel is just next to the well, close to a burn which meanders towards the current hamlet of Milton of Culloden. Half a mile to its left is an ancient Beltane Stone, animal sacrifices (possibly human) would have been made upon or around such stones in a Celtic druidic ceremony. It is a large glacial boulder. In Celtic times, Beltane was a short interval of SSS: ‘free’ sex, sacrifices, sorcery. The Beltane stone, its name has disappeared from history, but in 2014 a local enthusiast Rob, has used a system of overlaying modern maps, on top of this old map above to locate this stone’s position in the Smithton area (see News). Tobar Gorm (Gaelic for blue well) is situated at Blackpark farm, but the burns and drainage have since been altered over the centuries. There are several wells in this area which feed into local burns. The green marker shows the location of the new St Mary-in-the-Fields church.
Balloch in the 1960s, maps above and below.
Note in the lower map that St Mary’s well has travelled far away and become much more lucrative (blue dot). In the Highland Council Monument records it is listed as “Tobar na Coille” meaning Well of the Wood, but later designated “The Culloden Well” now situated on a small elevated platform and is a natural spring encased in a stone basin 18″ diameter and 24″ deep once with a cover under lock and key. A circular stone building encloses the well. A few yards west of it and connected to it by traces of a drain or pipe is a dry stone, circular cavity (A. Fraser 1878). It was again visited by the OS (W D J) in 24/04/1962 and was found to be in good state of repair and very popular with all its rags.
Other sites included 1) the Black Well, 2) The Fountain Head Well, 3) The Bishop’s Well, 4) The Mausoleum of the York family 5) 2 acres of graves near fountain road. No details of their exact locations were given (J Aitken 24/01/2001).
The orange dot marks a “Stone” and bottom right is the graves and the Battle of Culloden site. Much of the battlefield was covered by Forestry Commision’s conifer trees until 1960, before then, no thought was given on the historical importance of this area. Culloden forest also needed new pathways and ‘imaginative signs’ to assist the tourists now arriving to wander the forest trails below this battlefield.
“No remains of this chapel exist, (marked by the red cross on the map) but its site is preserved from the plough by a power cable pole sitting in its midst. It is said to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, though built well before the Reformation, no exact date is known. In 1843 the landowner made excavations and disclosed the foundations of the building, besides turning up a large quantity of human bones”, this is taken from the OS Name Book of 1868.
In 1897, the Inverness SS Field Club recorded that the foundations were still visible.
The above photo from the air shows Chapelton farm, Balloch, the red cross marks the site of the old chapel. The original St Mary’s well is just several yards from the church, and it was rediscovered in the 1960′s then covered over again. In the rectangle of trees jutting out towards the road, was once a large pool, inside a small quarry of the village of Balloch.
The photo below shows the view from the old chapel site in winter, Ben Wyvis is in the background, looking across the Black Isle.
The photo above shows the remains of the site with the pole sitting in the middle of it, the view is beautiful from this hill crest. Prayers for the future of St Mary’s new church (and its wider congregation now from Balloch, Smithton and Culloden) are said every autumn at this place, after the harvesting is all done.
The folklore associated with the old chapel is that it was maintained by a deaconess, who regularly took a flask of water from the nearby well, blessed it and then walked to the town of Inverness to visit the sick, using the water has a source of healing. Any remains of the chapel would have been torched after the Battle of Culloden April 1746, and the wreck salvaged for what it was worth. In a dry autumn when the wheat crop is harvested, from Google Earth a ghostly rectangle can just be observed where it once stood. Further west, 200 yds, is Chapelton farm Balloch, which gains its name from the site.
Since Celtic times there is a ‘Clutie well’ now bearing the same name but probably close to where the Beltane stone stood 1/2 mile west. Yet it wasn’t always named after St Mary. Tobar n’Oige was its ancient name. Well of Youth, in Scots Gaelic; but sounding too much like Tír na nÓg, the place of the dead, the Island of the Young. Or was that after the battle, when the connection was made? The battle which took place just through the trees beyond, which spilled blood into the forest.
1920s: This Clutie well was used for pagan practises, a water spirit could be invoked on May Eve before sunrise, a ‘well’ wetted piece of garment from an ailing sufferer could be held up to meet the amber light of the dawn and then a prayer-wish for health. The well water is enriched with ferrous salts giving it an oily brown colour, not something you would drink readily. The garment strip would then be tied onto the nearby tree, as it wasted away through the year the disease would also leave the sufferer. Care was needed not to come into contact with such a rag or attempt to remove a rag from the tree, else the disease would contaminate the person touched! When newspapers became available there were many stories concerning the ‘goings-on’ of this well, drunkeness, lewd goings-on, etc. Even in the 1930′s organised coachloads of upto 4,000 people arrived at this well to drop coins into its source, make wishes, all on the first Sunday of May. The money went towards Poor Relief in the community. So the location and name of St Mary’s well ‘was moved’ to be nearer the public highway and roadways in Culloden, and a small circular wall with roof, was built to surround this new ‘profitable’ location, a ‘druidic priestess’ would sit and attend the well during this time to watchover and gather in the alms. It is really a spring, what a fake! The difference between a well and a spring, is that you can drop a bucket down a well to draw water and carry it quickly to home, whilst a spring is just a slow issue of water, the start of a burn.
However, the true St Mary’s well was much closer to the chapel site and is probably where the old Chapelton quarry was once worked, a large pool of spring water existed in the quarry, also fed from a burn close to. The dark brown sandstone can still be seen in the far end of this small quarry. This source of flat building material would have made excellent material for the chapel walls, and was probably used for many bothies in this Balloch village. The original Old Barn building (part of a Church of Scotland kirk) near Culloden House, exemplifies this hard building material. Below are 2 photos taken in 1987 of the small quarry, the pool has now gradually been filled in with rubble, but was still visible near the entrance on the left.
The top photo views out towards the Moray Firth, the lower photo shows part of the quarry face of brown stone. The pool was not now a pretty sight in 1987 as an old rusty car had been dumped into it (not shown).
On 28th February 1988, by recommendation from secretary Mrs Margaret Gill, the local Episcopal Mission church based at Balloch, was renamed as St Mary-in-the-Fields to resurrect the name of the lost chapel in the farmer’s field.