The tiny village of Ruthwell lies close to the north shore of the Solway Firth some six miles west of Annan. Just under a mile further west, where the B725 passes within two hundred yards of an inlet of the Solway Firth formed by the Lochar Water, a brown tourist sign attracts your attention to Brow Well, just to the south of the road.
Parking is available in a layby on the north side of the road, just to the west of the bridge over the stream that runs alongside the well. From here it is just a few yards to the well itself. You can approach across the grassy slope that descends from the road, or walk around and along the track that gives access to a set of steps to the south east, the more formal access to the well. Here you find an information panel and a flagpole complete with Saltire. The steps lead to an access path, which in turn leads to the set of steps descending into the well itself.
Brow Well is a chalybeate spring, meaning that the water that dribbles from the spout low on one side contains significant concentrations of iron salts. To someone unfamiliar with the local geology the first surprise is that there is a well of any sort here at all. Though invisible beyond summer vegetation, the inlet from the Solway Firth is very close, and you could be forgiven for expecting any ground water to find its way into the adjacent stream rather than into the well.
The muddy brown water in the bottom of the well looked very uninviting when we visited, and the nearby sign declaring that "this water is not suitable for drinking" appeared unnecessary. But health giving springs are sometimes associated with water that tastes and perhaps looks less than wholesome, so perhaps the sign is a useful reminder.
The fact that Brow Well has survived into the modern era, and certainly the fact that it has undergone restoration at a cost of £8,000 within the past few years, is down to its connections with Robert Burns. During the 1700s, Brow Well was renowned for the assumed healing qualities of its waters, especially amongst residents of Dumfries. Burns came to stay in the nearby Brow Inn (demolished in 1863) on 4 July 1796 to seek a cure for what we now know was rhumatic fever on the advice of his doctor, William Maxwell. The "cure" comprised drinking the waters of the well and bathing in the Solway Firth.
It is clear from things he said to those he met while at Brow that Burns, though still only 37 years of age, felt that his illness was getting the better of him. He returned to Dumfries in a gig borrowed from a friend on 18 July 1796, and died in what is now known as Robert Burns' House in the town three days later. Brow Well has since become a place of pilgrimage for Burns' ever growing army of fans from around the world.