South West of Dumfries and sitting in an area of natural mineral springs, lies a mineral rich well, known locally as the Brow Well, which sits beside the Brow Burn. The waters are rich in iron and many other mineral salts leading to the historic suggestion that bathing in it carried healing and health giving properties.
The shape of the tank, into which the well feeds is formed into an L shaped bathing area with access steps down into the pool. Built in the 20th century from ashlars of red sandstone, the steps allow people to enter the pool with ease and bathe in its health giving properties.
The original method of accessing the water was by drinking it through an iron cup. This cup hung by a chain on a pipe from which water ran into the pool.
Over the centuries, people from surrounding areas would congregate to drink the ferruginous waters of the well and also to bathe in the Solway firth.
The Brow Well and Rabbie Burns
What makes this well remarkable other than previously mentioned, was it’s link with the Scottish Bard, Rabbie Burns.
According to Britain-express: In the summer of 1796 poet Robert Burns was in extremely poor health, probably suffering from rheumatic fever (though he called his ailment ‘flying gout’).
Doctors suggested he go to the chalybeate well in the seaside village of Brow, near Dumfries and try taking the waters, sea-bathing, riding and drinking port wine. This Burns did. He arrived at the inn in Brow on 3 July, intending to stay for three weeks. Each day he would travel to the well where he would drink the well waters and wade chest-deep into the cold waters of the Solway.
At first, the treatment seemed to agree with him and he was reinvigorated, but the positive effects did not last.
He stayed alone at Brow. His wife Jane Armour was in the advanced stages of pregnancy and did not accompany him. He wrote her a letter sounding very positive about his treatment, but this was likely just an attempt to stop her from worrying. Other letters to his friends during this time make it clear that the poet knew his health was deteriorating.
He dined one evening with Maria Ridell at Lochmaben, and she wrote that he ‘had the stamp of death’ on his face. Burns knew it, for he asked her, ‘Well madam, have you any commands for the other world’.
On another occasion during his stay at Brow, Burns visited Ruthwell Manse to take tea with the minister. When the minister’s daughter offered to draw the curtain so that the sun did not shine in his eyes Burns replied, ‘Let the sun shine in upon us, my dear young lady, he has not long to shine upon me’.
The scene was poignantly recreated in a painting by Duncan McKellar, now on display at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock
When the spring tides passed and left the sea too far from Brow Well to be able to swim in the seawater, Burns returned to Dumfries. He died on 21 July.
In commemoration of Burns’s death the Southern Scottish Counties Burns Association holds an annual ceremony at Brow Well.
Link with Carruthers
So how does this link with Carruthers, well there is nothing to say our family did not use its healing properties over time, but the definitive link through Rabbie Burns is far more current.
At the 75th anniversary of the Bards passing, Professor Gerard Carruthers, an internationally renowned expert on all things Burns, from the University of Glasgow, presented a short history of the Brow Well and the last few days in the Life of Scotland’s National Bard. The event was recorded and linked on the Dumfries and Galloway Burns Association.
Gerard has written a few articles on Burns for the website, which were all very well received.
Visiting the Well
Address: B725, Ruthwell, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, DG1 4NL
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: On the B725 one mile west of Ruthwell. On-site parking. Well signposted. The nearest postcode for satnavs is DG1 4NL.