JUST to the north of the high street in the village of Spott, there is an ancient holy well. To find it, search for the sign next to a stile which takes you over the wall and into the field beyond.

A little faith is needed when you walk towards the well because at first you won’t see it as it’s hidden in a gully.

I finally managed to visit the well for the first time in early spring this year, accompanied by an old friend. I had hoped to return this autumn to see the seasonal contrast but travel these days needs to be an absolute necessity and I’ve so far found no opportunity. So I write from the memory of my visit in March; the impressions from that day are still vivid.

What I did know before I visited was that the well is dedicated to St John and that there is a recorded tradition that the monks of Coldingham Priory used to make an annual pilgrimage to it. The well was also piped in the 18th century to supply water to Dunbar. Armed with that limited knowledge, I set off and wondered what I would find.

We walked along Spott’s high street looking for the sign. I was feeling like an excited child, as I always do when I’m discovering something new. It was a clear, crisp, early spring day with a promising warmth in the sun, but a nippy breeze keeping us wrapped up. It was the kind of weather that allows you to see for miles around, although in this moment we were focused on what was immediately before us.

We found the sign and ventured into the field.

The first thing I noticed was the new perspective of the kirk, with the Scots pine respectfully standing in the graveyard, its roots merging with the resting bones of people who once trod this field. The clear visibility also gave us a wonderful backdrop, the silhouette of Dunbar could be seen in distance and the presence of Doon Hill loomed beyond us.

This is an area of many ancient settlements and what we see is literally the tip of an iceberg of history. Even Spott Kirk is an example of this: what we see is just over 200 years old, yet it is built upon foundations that go back into the mists of time.

Suddenly, the well house was below us. The ground was very damp from recent heavy rains, so we descended with care. The building was larger than I’d expected and the gully was very muddy. The well house itself seemed to be flooded from the burn, so the water was cloudy and certainly didn’t tempt me to drink. I ventured inside, trying to make sense of what I saw.

Due to the flooding, it was difficult to make out where people would have drawn their water. I investigated the muddy wet ground and there seemed to be paving and perhaps a stone-lined trough. I vowed to return at a dryer time.

I found a stone to sit on with my friend as we talked about our thoughts. The well house itself is old but not ancient; yet, like the kirk, and everything around here, antiquity lies hidden beneath.

The sign across the well made it clear we were in the right place: “St John’s Well.” It’s dedicated to St John of Beverley, a saint from Yorkshire who died in the eighth century. His life was recorded by the famous Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk who knew John personally.

St John of Beverley was venerated at Coldingham Priory, indeed throughout Northumbria (which used to include this part of southern Scotland). He had been instrumental in spreading the Christian message in what is now northern England and southern Scotland. In this context, the reason for the annual pilgrimage by monks from Coldingham was clear.

Suddenly, I had a thought: “I wonder if that’s why the road on the approach to Spott is called Canongate, meaning canon’s way?”

My thoughts continued to unravel. The veneration of St John is connected to Athelstan, the king of a uniting England in the 10th century. It is said that, as he assembled an army for his invasion of Scotland in 934 AD, he visited the tomb of St John of Beverley to give homage and pray to the saint. Was there a connection to the dedication to St John of the well at Spott? Very likely, the original religious building, where the kirk now stands, was connected to the well. Was it visited by pilgrims in medieval times? The Reformation, of course, will have radically changed such traditions. Perhaps this well was sacred even before Christianity.

Such were my thoughts as we left. Later, I discovered there was another old building in the gully which we hadn’t noticed, possibly containing a cistern from the time when the water was piped to Dunbar. But I knew I’d see it when I revisited, which I will do when I get the chance.

In the meantime, the mysteries of the well have opened up new avenues of interest for me. It’s also made me want to visit Coldingham Priory again, and I wonder if anyone has a story, or memory, of St John’s Well at Spott they’d like to share?

For now, what I have discovered thus far is just the tiny tip of a very large iceberg.