THEY may not have struck oil, but a team of Moray ‘diggers’ have found liquid gold in their village at the site of an ancient water well.
Legend has it that anyone drinking water from the St Aethan’s Well, in Burghead, gained special healing powers, or at the very least a swift cure for a hangover.
Possibly dating back to Pictish times, the well disappeared off the map more than 50 years ago, and for recent generations became nothing more than a history tale of mystery and magic.
But thanks to the efforts of determined villagers, it has been rediscovered, repaired and had its water supply replenished, to bring a new tourist attraction to Burghead.
By literally digging into her village’s past, Burghead Headland Trust (BHT) treasurer, Hilary Gloyer, uncovered the site of the well last year in a field overlooking the Moray Firth coastline, and set out to give it a new lease of life.
Her find has led to the creation of a landscaped visitors’ spot with seats, information signs, and a chained vessel at the well itself to give people access to its water of life.
Mrs Gloyer officially re-opened the historic well at a ceremony attended by more than 100 people.
"The reaction from the people of Burghead has been fantastic," she said. "I never expected such a wonderful turnout."
She explained how the well was filled over in 1962 by a previous owner of the field, who feared his cattle would fall into it.
Since then it had become lost, but the discovery of an old map marking its location accurately led Mrs Gloyer to embark on a treasure hunt near the village’s shores.
Last July, accompanied by her son-in-law, Wilf Divens, and armed with her ‘archaeology trowel’, she paced out the area and dug deep before discovering a trough which led her to the water source.
"At the back there were reeds growing, which was a funny place for them to be, knowing it was a dry sand field. So I thought there must be water there," she explained.
"We dug out all sorts of rubbish and eventually found this great big ball of polystyrene. When we pulled it out, it went ‘glug, glug’ and we knew we had found the source.
"That was wonderful, it was almost like we had struck oil."
With the help of local Clavie crew member, Lachie Ralph, who recruited both his father and three-year-old son to help out, they excavated the stone trough and replaced the corroded pipework to get the water flowing back to the well.
"I then wrote to the present owners of the field, Strathdee Properties Ltd, to ask if the people of Burghead could have access to the site," said Mrs Gloyer. "Their response was more than could have been expected, and they have made a pathway to it from the coastal path, landscaping the area and providing seating."
The BHT, based at the site of the village’s Pictish fort, then commissioned and provided an interpretation sign for the well.Of course, the purity of the water had to be confirmed, and after three separate tests at laboratories in Perthshire it has been passed fit for human consumption.
Archaeological finds have also been unearthed during the excavation, with shards of medieval pottery, Victorian pottery and various pieces of ironwork which have yet to be identified.
"This confirms that the site has been in use for a long time," said Mrs Gloyer.
‘Brochers’ queued up for a taste of the healthy water, with stories emerging of how when the well was last open, people would walk out to it with a glass in their pocket to cure their ills, self-inflicted or otherwise.