The Well of the Seven Heads (Tobar nan Ceann)

Yes, the reason for this name is as grisly as it sounds. We were on our way back from a lovely but long day tour that included Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and Glenfinnan, to name a few, when our guide, Allan, from Happy Tours Scotland pulled over on the A82 south of Invergarry alongside Loch Oich. A monument stands there between the road and the Loch. At its top are seven heads, clutched by a hand with a dagger.

Our guide told the tale of two brothers, Alexander and Ranald MacDonald of Keppoch, who were stabbed to death by rivals within their own clan on September 25th, 1663. Two years passed before the Privy Council in Edinburgh issued letters of “Fire and Sword” to pursue justice. Ian Lom (Bald John) of Keppoch, accompanied by men from the MacDonalds of Sleat delivered “ample and summary vengeance” by executing and beheading the seven murderers at Inverlair, in 1665.

On the way back to Invergarry Castle, Lom stopped and washed the heads before presenting them to the Clan MacDonald Chief of Glengarry. The heads were sent on to Edinburgh to be “affixit to the gallowes standing on the Gallowlie between Edinburgh and Leith”.

Please see the gallery at the end for more images.

In 1812, Colonel MacDonnel of Glengarry ordered the installation of the obelisk to commemorate both the crime and the summary justice meted out to the perpetrators. Sitting atop the column is a sculpture of a hand holding a large dagger and around it are seven severed heads. The inscription around the fours sides of the monument is set in four languages – Gaelic, French, Latin, and English and reads as follows:

As a memorial of the ample and summary vengeance which in the swift course of feudal justice, inflicted by the orders of the Lord McDonnell and Aross, overtook the perpetrators of the foul murder of the Keppoch family, a branch of the powerful and illustrious clan, of which His Lordship was the chief. This monument is erected by Colonel McDonnell of Glengarry XVII. MacMhicAlaister his successor and representative in the year of our Lord 1812. The heads of the seven murderers were presented at the feet of the noble chief in Glengarry Castle, after having been washed in this spring: and ever since that event, which took place early in the sixteenth century, it has been known by the name of “Tobar-nan-Ceann”, or the Well of the Seven Heads.

The well is located by walking down a path to the left side of the monument (as looking from the road). There you will see the opening to a narrow passageway under the bridge that leads to the well or spring at the end.

This is a great example of why we like to take guided day tours.  If Alan hadn’t stopped here, we would never have known about the monument or its bloody history. While the well itself is not very unusual looking, knowing you are standing where this gruesome piece of history took place certainly is.  If you are not inclined to go down the bank and through the passageway, it’s just a lovely place to stretch and enjoy the natural beauty all around Loch Oich.

Click to open the gallery photos.

Note: While there is no charge to visit the monument or well, as a courtesy to the people who maintain the parking and picnic areas, please consider popping in across the road at the Lochside Larder for refreshments or souvenirs.

Directions:
Map of Spean Bridge PH34 4EB, United Kingdom
Sources:
http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB6825
https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/gory-story-behind-well-seven-heads-1485856
https://www.outdoorcapital.co.uk/things-to-do-fortwilliam-lochaber-scotland/attractions/well-seven-heads/

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