Results Published From The ‘Lost Wells Of Galloway’ Project  

Our historic wells were significant throughout history for water, healing and ritual purposes. At risk of slipping off our modern maps, are we at risk of losing our connection with these landscape features?

Launched during the depths of Covid-19 lockdown, the ‘Lost Wells of Galloway’ project recruited a band of volunteer researchers to identify and pull together information about wells across the region, compiling information and assets to better understand and document our wells. This month sees the results of this project being published, with findings highlighted through a number of publications.


Taking place during the restrictions on social gatherings in 2021, the ‘Lost Wells of Galloway’ was designed as a research project that guided volunteers on the use of freely available online resources accessible from home.

Using online resources, volunteers were enlisted to locate all ‘named wells’ within the Galloway Glens area and research their history. From the practical to the profound, the sacred to the mundane, the stories of the 68 wells identified touch on past understandings of folklore, history, religion and health at both a local and national level.

The research centred on the Galloway Glens catchment area in Dumfries and Galloway, although adjacent areas were also included to meet volunteer numbers and requests. The aim was to map all ‘named wells’ visible on historical and modern mapping and create a record for each site, which gave an overview of its history. To achieve this, each volunteer was given their own ‘map square’ to investigate, each roughly 5km² in size. The methodology was designed as a simple step-by-step sequence using free online resources.

A free launch event was held online at the end of January 2021, guidance notes were created, and a social media group was set up to encourage the sharing of research ideas and findings. Within a fortnight, 40 people signed up to take part and 47 map squares had been issued.


The volunteers have uncovered a history behind these wells that is surprisingly varied, reflecting changing attitudes and practices, from daily habits to the overarching laws of the country. The wells hold a significance not just in their stories and traditions, but also in past understandings of the landscape.


The Lost Wells of Galloway project was instigated as a way of trying to engage people from a distance during a period of unexpected challenges. Despite the restrictions, it managed to spark the interest of people not just in Galloway but also further afield. It allowed the project to continue to pass on valuable skills and knowledge at a time when such things seemed beyond reach. And it introduced many people, to a lesser-known area of Galloway and Scotland’s history.


  • A Map of the wells surveyed is available here: https://gallowayglens.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Lost-Wells-of-Galloway-Map-of-Named-Results.pdf.
  • Postcards of featured wells is available here: https://gallowayglens.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Lost-Wells-of-Galloway-Well-Cards.pdf
  • Fuller information of the wells studied is available here: https://gallowayglens.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Lost-Wells-of-Galloway-Named-Wells-1.pdf.


The Lost Wells of Galloway was undertaken as part of ‘Can You Dig It’, the community archaeology project of the Galloway Glens Scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic Environment Scotland. The project was led by Claire Williams, Senior Archaeologist at Rathmell Archaeology – leading the ‘Can You Dig It’ project. Reviewing the project’s findings, Claire said:

“The Lost Wells project was definitely up there as one of the highlights of Can You Dig It. It was a new type of project from what we had previously delivered and on a topic of which we had little knowledge. The community’s feedback and the results that their research produced went far beyond our expectations. It’s almost like you can see centuries of Galloway’s history unravelling as you read through their stories. Spiritual beliefs, severed heads, commercial enterprises and even punch-drinking farmers – I’ll never look at wells in the same way again!”


Dr Peter Hewitt, from Dumfries & Galloway Council’s Museums Service took a particular interest in the project and, reviewing the findings, said:

“It has been a real pleasure to work with colleagues and communities to deliver the Lost Wells project. The enthusiasm shown for historic wells and springs in the region, and the sheer number of sites identified – including ones that were in serious danger of being lost – was truly inspiring. I think this project is a model of best practice; it has inspired cross-sector working; it has delivered skills to communities and empowered them to explore their locale; it has led to a re-valuation of neglected and run-down spaces; and it has raised critical questions about safeguarding and preservation. I hope the roots of this project will continue to grow and will inspire future community guardianship of our historic landscape in the future.”


Jan Hogarth, Galloway Glens Education & Community Engagement Officer, added:

“The Lost Wells project is an important body of research which reveals the sheer number of wells in the Galloway Glens. It touches on how we lived in the past with water and how important wells are within our communities in terms of folklore, healing water and having access to a high-quality water supply. These local wells were often forgotten or filled in, but I wonder if in the future, as we realise the importance of water, that we may reopen our local wells? The Lost Wells project was delivered by community researchers in the depths of the Covid lockdown. This valuable research was brought together by our Can You Dig It team in a map, postcards and report.”


The Can You Dig It project is match funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic Environment Scotland. Dr Kevin Grant, the Historic Environment Scotland’s Archaeology Manager, added:

During the difficult times of 2021, with communities still isolated through COVID, The Lost Wells was a fantastic project which brought people safely together to discover more about their local heritage.  Wells were a crucial part of Scotland’s Landscape and an important part of people’s daily lives until fairly recently. In the Year of Scotland’s Stories, The Lost Wells have preserved community memories about these places in the past and brought people together.”


The project also included a series of Lost Wells podcasts by Katch Holmes, accessible here: https://anchor.fm/katch-holmes.


The Galloway Glens is a 5-year project funded by a range of partners including the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Drax, the owners of the Galloway Hydro Scheme. Based in the Stewartry region of Dumfries and Galloway, its remit is to connect people to their heritage and to support modern rural communities. www.gallowayglens.org