OS Grid Referance: HY 2477 0931. Beside the country lane about ½ a mile to the northwest of Strom-ness, Orkney, and in the valley a short distance to the southwest of Brinkies Brae Hill, can be found the now almost forgotten Mineral Well, which was actually a chalybeate well that had long been used by the good people of Stromness who had a need for its medicinal properties for their ailments; indeed so much so in past times that it was seen as the local “spa”. The well was locally called Haley Hole Well; it was regarded as sacred but probably never a holy well as such. The well is best reached from the south-side of the town of Stromness and, by travelling southwest then northwest along Guardhouse Park, Back Road, Croval Road and Brownstown Road for ½ a mile. Where the lane becomes narrower, and just after the turning called Grieveship Way, the little stone wellhouse can be seen on the right-hand side of the lane where there are open fields and excellent views northeast towards Brinkies Brae Hill and the Ordnance Survey trig column.
Author J. Gunn in his excellent work ‘Orkney – The Magnetic North’ (1941) says of the well: “if not actually historic, was much used by former generations. It is known as the Mineral Well, and is to be found near the farm-steading in the valley to the south-west of Brinkie’s Brae. The water is strongly minl, and is credited with useful medicinal properties. If the approaches were improved and the qualities of the well made known more widely, this “spa” might be a distinct asset to the town as a health resort.”
The ‘Stromness Community Garden’ website gives us some interesting information regarding the Mineral Well. It says: “As the ‘Haley Hole’ (hence the present road name ‘Hellihole Road’ leading from the town) it was visited by pilgrims from all over Orkney, who regarded it as a miracle well. The water was famed as a cure for scurvy and similar disorders. The name is undoubtedly from heilagr – Old Norse for holy – so it’s probably been considered sacred for some time.
The website goes on to say: “Then, in the middle of the 19th century, it was advertised as “‘The Mineral Well’ and had a well house built over it to protect it from birds and animals. The stone built house had a wooden door and a ladle so visitors could drink their fill. By now the water was regarded as a more general tonic which visitors and townsfolk drank frequently.
“Analysis of the water on Christmas Day 1862 by Dr Murray Thomson, who wrote a book ‘The Mineral Wells of Scotland’, showed it to contain a high percentage of sulphate of lime, chloride of magnesium and sulphate of iron, and a moderate percentage of chloride of sodium. The well was still considered to have health-giving properties in the early 2oth century.” Stromness Community Garden website is worth a visit and there are some photos of the well. See the following website/link: https://stromnesscommunitygarden.wordpress.com/
Sources and related websites:-
Gunn, J., Orkney – The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.