If you approach from the houses on the edge of Wooler, and go down the path from Waud House, you walk along a nice well defined flat path, through a really steep ravine, the Kettles fort overlooks from the right, and as you pass the Kettles, the ravine widens and bifurcates. The well is at the point where the ravine heads off to the right, towards the scree.
Immediately above the well is the natural rock outcrop of the King's Chair, which sort of looms out of the side of the hill, silently having a sly neb at anyone passing. But you don't see it until you turn around, it gave me a bit of a surprise.
It could be the fact that we visited at dusk, but this place really did have a magical quality to it. The well itself is a very rude affair, just piled stones really, but the ones on the top areobviously way younger than those at the bottom.
There's been no excavations, so you couldn't say for sure if there is any prehistoric signifiance to this site, but I defy anyone who visits to argue that this would not have been regarded as a special place since humans first explored these hills.
People still visit to drop bent pins into the water (you can see them as the water is nice and clear) and make a wish. I'm told this has been recorded going on since the 19thC, and that the tradition allegedly goes back much further. Make of that what you will.
Before dinner we walked up to a place called the Kettles, a curious glen among the mountains at the back of Wooler, the scene of a battle in lang-lang syne. There are traces of an encampment still to be seen.
There is a big stone, too, called the King's Chair, and here once upon a time a certain king - but who he was, or when it was, or where he lived, the deponent sayeth not - did sit and did watch his army fight another army in the valley below, but whose army the other army was, or why they fought, or who got the best of it, your depondent won't undertake to say.
There, too, is a large stone, much worn on all sides, like a huge grindstone, for hereon the soldiers of either side came to sharpen their swords when they were blunted and notched with hacking and hewing - at least so somebody says, but deponent voucheth not for the truth of the same, further than that there are well-worn stones on the spot indicated.
On our return we stopped in an adjacent-glen, at the Fairy's Well, commonly called the Pin Well, a small rough basin rudely fashioned from some half-dozen large granite stones, which contains bright clear water. The bottom is almost covered with crooked pins, in every state of preservation, from the new bright one of yesterday to the old rusted worn one of him or her now sleeping peacefully in the auld kirk-yard not far awa, and whose sons and daughters, or even grandchildren may be, have dropped in those later ones in their turn, to propitiate the good fairy of the spot: the belief, or kindly superstition of the place, being that if you utter a wish and drop into the well a crooked pin as an offering, the wish, by the aid of the fairy, will come to pass; and many a maid forlorn, and many a stout herd pining with hopeless love, have thrown a pin to the fairy and breathed the dearest wish of their hearts over that simple basin of crystal water in the dim twilight - half doubting, half hoping, the fulfilment of their wishes, in fear and trembling as the mist of the hills wreathed itself into fantastic and shadowy forms, and every stone, turf, or twig, assumed a fairy figure or shape to their superstitious and excited imaginations.
The practice is kept up, though the superstition, however, like all others, is dying out before the march of civilisation. Alas for the country that has no superstitions! And what superstition could stand before the apparition of a pork-pie hat or the march of crinoline?
I rather like Francis Francis's style. He must have needed a sense of humour with that name. From his 'By lake and river' of 1874. I haven't seen mention of the 'grindstone' before.
Resort to the Fairy Well is still a favourite pastime in holiday times with young people at Wooler. They express a secret wish and drop in a crooked pin. Hence it is also called the Pin and Wishing Well. The well is situated in a narrow hollow among the lower Cheviots which rise above the town, and is formed out of a natural spring of pure and very cool water originating among rocks at the base of a high platform, which has been occupied in the olden time by a British camp, now known as the Maiden Camp (the Maiden Castle of Wallis). From its connection with the camp, or in compliment to the spirit of the spring, its genuine name is said to be the "Maiden Well." It is drained into an open ditch and is at present too shallow to admit of children being dipped into it. Nor do I know that this has ever been practised here, but the old inhabitant who communicated some of this information was familiar with the formula incidental to such applications for healing purposes at sacred springs. The applicant having cried "Hey, how!" dipped in the weakly child, and before departure left a piece of bread and cheese as an offering.
[...] Mr. George Tate, in a notice of the Wooler Pin Well, mentions having heard that a procession was formed to visit the well on the morning of Mayday. This may have been so, but on inquiry I could not find any tradition of such a circumstance.
From v2 of the Folklore Society's publishing of the Denham Tracts (1895).
Maiden Camp must surely be The Kettles?