On the banks of Loch Oich in the Scottish Highlands sits an old obelisk monument with a macabre tale. At first glance, it looks like any other typical monument, but a close inspection reveals that it’s crowned by a grisly carving of a hand holding a dagger and seven severed heads. Erected in 1812 by Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell, the Chief of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry, the monument marks the spot of an ancient well and gives a nod to a horrific series of events.
In 1663, Alexander and Ranald MacDonald were murdered by their cousins during a family brawl after returning from their schooling in France. Alexander was the 13th Chief of the Keppoch family and an unpopular clan reformer.
After two years, no justice was meted out mainly due to the murdering MacDonalds having many sympathizers in that area. A kinsman to the victims, Iain Lom, Gaelic Poet Laureate of Scotland, sought justice and revenge. After appealing to Sir James of Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye, he agreed to apply to the privy council in Edinburgh who issued letters of “fire and sword” against the killers.
Sir James’ brother Archibald was put in charge of 50 men and guided by a very eager Lom, who lead them to the murdering MacDonalds of Inverlair. The killers were served justice in the Highland way and decapitated. Lom then wrapped the severed heads in his plaid and washed them at the well before presenting them to Lord MacDonell of Invergarry Castle as proof before sending them to Edinburgh.
During an exhumation of a mound in Inverlair, seven headless corpses were discovered, thus confirming the story of the Well of the Seven Heads (Tobar nan ceann).
Know Before You Go
The well is not signposted and is easy to miss as you travel on the A82 road south of Invergarry. Park in the Loch Oich car park just past Loch Oich Food Co and walk back, taking care on the busy road. The monument is directly opposite the shop. Don't forget to go under the tunnel of the well to have a look too and remember Lom washing the heads.