Holy well discovered for television show

St Cuthbert's Way
St Cuthbert's Way

Borders archaeologist Dr Chris Bowles appears on primetime television on Channel 4 on Saturday (February 15).

The council’s archaeology officer will be shown discussing a possible holy well in the region with Sir Tony Robinson in the programme, Walking Through History.

The series sees the former Blackadder star undertaking hikes through Britain’s most historic landscapes in search of stories from the past.

This weekend’s episode shows Time Team host Robinson walking the 62-mile St Cuthbert’s Way, which runs between Melrose and Holy Island.

Dr Bowles and Neil MacKay, of the council’s Built and Natural Heritage team, helped the show’s producers find Borders locations – and the Old Melrose monastery site, Melrose, the Eildon Hills, St Boswells, Maxton and Ancrum will all feature in the show which focuses on the Dark Ages (5th century to 11th century AD), with an emphasis on St Cuthbert.

Included also will be two newly-uncovered holy wells, caves, Saxon palaces, ancient hill forts and Viking graves.

And it is at one of those wells, near Maxton, that Dr Bowles will appear.

He said: “In the course of doing research (for the producers) I discovered this spring between Maxton Kirk and the old St Boswells Church, which is now the Benrig Cemetery.

“There’s a ravine between them and the spring flows as a burn out of the side of the hill now, and is called Harewell, which could mean it is the ‘boundary well’ – that ravine is still the boundary between St Boswells and Maxton and that was probably set 1,000 years ago.

“Or it could be the ‘sacred well’, hare being an old English word for sacred. They both suggest this well is important and St Cuthbert would have used it for healing and baptism.”

Borderer St Cuthbert was a 7th century monk and prior at the Old Melrose monastery before making his way to the Farne Islands, where he was a hermit.

He later became the Bishop of Northumbria.

Dr Bowles, who spent a day out on location with the team, said: “It’s going to be a great programme and it’s going to really show the Borders well.”

The episode was filmed in the autumn when the crew spent several days in the region.

Dr Bowles said: “I found Tony Robinson to be really, genuinely interested in the history of the area.

“He did 20 years on Time Team and knows his stuff about archaeology and history.

“He was great to work with and he got on with everybody who came up to him when we were filming. They did a lot at the Buccleuch Arms (St Boswells) and he was just chatting to people, anybody who came up to him. He was really pleasant to everybody.

“The Dark Age history of the Borders isn’t as well known as other eras.

“Berwickshire, and Roxburghshire in particular, were at the heart of the Kingdom of Northumbria, one of the most influential kingdoms of the early Middle Ages.

“I’m hoping this programme helps bring to light how important the region and its people, like St Cuthbert, were to the shaping of both Scotland and England.”

The TV show is being screened at 8pm.