Local Information

Scottish History at St Ronan's Wells

March 1, 2020
Scottish History at St Ronan's Wells

St. Ronan’s Wells is a pavilion overlooking the Leithen valley, originally constructed by the Earl of Traquair as a retreat for visitors to the spa. Located just outside of Peebles, in the small civil Parish of Innerleithen, the visitor centre hosts temporary exhibitions as well as exploring the history of the local area.

The centre’s name comes from the founding legend of an itinerant pilgrim monk called St Ronan, who came upon Innerleithen on his journey up the River Tweed. The local story claims that “St. Ronan Cleik’t the Deil by the hind leg and banished him”, referring to the monks bringing Christianity to this part of the world. The origins of the unique ‘Cleikum Ceremonies’ held in the town every July are based on this story by Sir Walter Scott and are explained in the visitor centre, giving a unique insight into this wonderful and much-loved tradition.

The literary connections of the town to James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott are also explained in the permanent exhibition; Scott frequented the spa as a boy and wrote a novel about the town called St Ronan’s Well, in 1824. The adjoining gardens provide a lovely setting to relax in, with sculptures, picnic areas and plants for sale. Hundreds of visitors still come each year to sample the spring water, which we have “on tap”!

Famous traits

Housed in a historic spa, the exhibitions tell the story of Innerleithen and St Ronan's Wells, describing their connections with the great Scottish writers Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg. The origins of the unique Cleikum ceremonies held in July are also explained.

In 2007 the adjoining gardens were featured in the Beechgrove Garden programme on BBC television and we are continuing to develop and enhance this lovely area which includes sculptures and picnic area. It's a lovely place to while away time - with gorgeous views to the hills beyond.

The Well's amazing story

At one time the most famous landmark in Innerleithen, St. Ronan’s Wells nestles under the shoulder of Lee Pen whose peak is also a distinctive feature on the local topography.

By the close of the 18th century, the exposed mineral spring known as the “Doo Well” had gained a wide reputation for its medicinal properties. It was in the 1820s, however, when Innerleithen was deemed to be the site of Sir Walter Scott’s fictional village of “St. Ronan’s”, the spa was subsequently renamed.

Visitor numbers increased dramatically and in 1826 the Earl of Traquair commissioned a “veranda” designed by the Edinburgh architect Playfair to provide shelter and seating for those arriving to “take the waters”.

This elegant structure fulfilled its purpose for the next seventy years but, in 1896, it was replaced by a larger building which retained the distinctive columns of the original pavilion.

The new St. Ronan’s Wells was owned by a local consortium trading as the St. Ronan’s Wells Mineral Water Company. As well as providing bathing facilities for both genders a bottling plant was also installed to manufacture the first carbonated mineral water to be produced in Scotland.

Prior to the grand opening in September 1896, a scaffold was erected down the steep slope directly in front of the Wells allowing Innerleithen photographer Thomas Colledge to capture the view from above at close range [photo 2]. This picture may have been taken to check the position before the event.

The third photograph, one of the numerous postcard views of St. Ronan’s Wells, appears to predate 1913 when the Mineral Water Company, now owned by soft drinks manufacturer Harry Rawson of Edinburgh, received the Royal Warrant from King George V. St. Ronan’s Wells was the only business premises in Innerleithen to have its frontage adorned with the royal coat of arms, which still adds colour to the tympanum despite the warrant expiring in 1938.

By the time of the Second World War bottled water was no longer being manufactured at the Wells and the building was used to billet troops in the months leading up to D Day in June 1944.

The property was sold for £1 to Innerleithen Town Council in 1966, passing to Tweeddale District Council in the 1970s, under whose care the pavilion front was painted the now familiar blue and white of Innerleithen.

The fourth photograph taken around 1970 shows the frontage with a subtler hue and the coat of arms can also be plainly seen.

Today, St. Ronan’s Wells is a visitor attraction replete with local historical information and objects situated in attractive gardens in which to relax in the sunshine. Now part of Tweeddale Museums, Innerleithen’s historic spa is administered by Live Borders. It is also a venue for part of the annual Cleikum Ceremonies held during Games Week. Opening hours are 10 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm weekdays and 2 pm to 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.