Viking 'belt' found at Skye healing well goes on show

Part of a 'Viking-era belt' found at the site of a holy well on Skye is now on show on the island.

The bronze strap-end was found by a rabbit hole in the burial site close the Ashaig holy well in the south east of Skye in the 1990s.

Experts thought the item was likely an elaborate bookmark, perhaps one that kept the pages of a bible.

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But following recent analysis, it is believed the piece was used in a Viking-era burial around the 9th Century, possibly as part of a waist belt.

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Similar items have been found in Pagan-Norse graves, it is understood.

The highly-decorated piece is now on show at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre in Portree as part of a collection of finds from the Ashaig holy well.

Catherine MacPhee, trainee archivist at the archive centre said: "This beautiful intricate strap-end is a stunning item to see."

The holy well was close to where St Maelrubha preached to islanders from the mid 7th Century. He spread the word from a cell, the remains of which can still be seen, with a burial ground and church created on the site.

St Maelrubha - or Maol Ruadh - was based at Applecross, where he founded a monastery, but travelled to Skye on occasion.

"It is said that when no boat was available he would sit upon a flat stone which would silently glide over the water," one account said.

The account described the setting of St Maelrubha's preaching place.

"Nearby stood a single tree with an overhanging canopy of branches, from which hung suspended one of those wonderful bronze bells which every saint of the day would carry to chime the hour of prayer.

"Yet Maol Ruadh's bell required no human hand to call out the appointed times, but of its own accord, sweet mellow notes would ring out to summon those around to prayer."

Finds made at the site show that it was occupied from Neolithic times, with polished axe heads and flints also recovered.

A decorative clay pipe from the 16th or 17th Century was also found with the site a significant spot for islanders over thousands of years.

"It really is a beautiful place. When you are standing on the beach you can tell why people chose to live here," Ms MacPhee said.

It is understood that people would drink from the well at recently as the 1990s given its reputed healing powers.

Ashaig's fascinating past will be explored at the exhibition at Portree, which is open until October 18.

Ms MacPhee said: "“We are delighted to be showcasing some items from our archaeological collection we hold at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre.

"It’s great to have people visiting us for this exhibition making use of the Archive service to locate, preserve and access documents relating to all aspects of Skye and Lochalsh history.

"We hope to welcome more visitors over the next few weeks."