St Bernard’s Well is named for St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order, who is supposed to have discovered it in the 12th century while taken ill when living in a nearby cave. (It’s only fair to say that most biographers do not record this stay in a Scottish cave.) Bernard was attracted to the spring by birds, but after some days of drinking the water (which is said to taste like “the washings of foul gunbarrels”, at least once gunbarrels had been invented) the saint was restored to health.
In 1788 Francis Garden, Lord Gardenstone (1721-1793) was so impressed by the well’s effects that he commissioned the circular temple over the wellhouse.
In 1884 William Nelson, son and partner of Thomas Nelson, Edinburgh publisher, bought the well, restored and redecorated the wellhouse and temple, and gifted it in perpetuity to the City of Edinburgh.
This plaque near the Well memorializing him was caused to be set up by Sir Thomas Clark, who was Lord Provost of Edinburgh 1885-1888. The quotation over it is from Isaiah 32.8, King James Bible translation, “But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.”
The Well is still open to the public some Sundays each year between noon and 3pm (this coming Sunday, 31st August: and again on the next Doors Open Day, 27th September), but you are no longer allowed to drink the water.
The well is on the Water of Leith walkway, between Stockbridge and the Dean Village.