Weird Norfolk: The Fiddler, his dog, a secret underground tunnel and a ghost hunt that led to tragedy
- Credit: Norfolk Archaeological Trust (NAT).
The legend of Fiddler's Hill tells the story of an ill-fated violinist who decided to investigate a ghostly monk who would emerge each night from a tunnel running between Binham and Walsingham – it didn't end well for him.
It's a cautionary tale of a ghost hunt that went spectacularly wrong in front of an audience of terrified onlookers.
For generations, a tale had been told of a ghostly black monk who was seen pacing along a secret tunnel which connected Binham Priory to Walsingham (other reports say it was connected to Blakeney Guildhall, or to both) and who would emerge during the hours between dusk and dawn to haunt the priory ruins.
Weird Norfolk has documented the tale of the monk of Binham before (read about it here) which had been seen by villagers both inside and outside the Priory and for many years people who lived in the area would steer clear of the gaol gate, the entrance to the ruins, at midnight.
In a report from the Norwich Evening News in April 1935, it stated: "The inhabitants of Binham are now discussing the report of the appearance of the 'ghost' of a black-hooded monk in the Parish Church which was the nave of the Priory in olden times. The Vicar said that he had been told the story in confidence by a lady of position. Some time ago this woman was present at an evening service in the Parish Church, and saw a figure on a ledge near the church door.
"She watched the phantom, which resembled a Benedictine monk wearing a black cowl, walk slowly along the ledge. After walking along the ledge for the length of the church the spectre disappeared. During its journey the figure is said to have climbed some spiral steps…Mr Carroll went on to say that villagers had stated that they had seen the figure of a Benedictine monk near the entrance to the Priory - the Gaol Gate."
Close to the Priory is Fiddler's Hill burial mound at Warham, an ancient Bronze Age earthworks in the valley of a tributary of the River Stiffkey.
Legend has it that one day, a fiddler and his dog wandered into the village of Binham and, after hearing tales of the ghostly monk, decided to investigate for themselves and collected a band of villagers to watch them enter the tunnel with a view to locating the Priory's spectral visitor.
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Before he disappeared into the tunnel, he instructed villagers to listen out for his fiddle playing so they could follow his progress as he walked underground - as he strode into the darkness with his dog, he struck up a tune and villagers heard the strains of music as they followed his route above ground.
But at Fiddler's Hill, the music suddenly stopped. Listen as they might, the villagers couldn't hear the fiddler's tune but no one was brave enough to venture into the tunnel in order to see if the fiddler was safe - after a long wait, the fiddler's dog appeared in a sorry state: his tail between his legs, shivering and whining.
The Fiddler was never seen again.
The same night, according to legend, a violent thunderstorm battered Warham and Binham and when the villagers emerged from their homes, they discovered that the passage entrance had been completely destroyed - as years passed and the story was told over and over, the hill became known as Fiddler's Hill in honour of the intrepid ghost-hunting musician.
The Thetford and Watton Times of April 15 1933 added an extra layer of intrigue to the story: "Is the old legend of Fiddler's Hill, Warham, true?" it began, "What appears to be surprising confirmation of it has been brought to light by Norfolk County Council men working on the roads. They have discovered in a mound at the crossing of the Wighton and Stiffkey road and the Binham and Warham road, the skeletons of a man and a dog."
In fact, three skeletons were found at the crossroads: those of a man, a dog and a young girl.
Today, Fiddler's Hill is in the hands of local heritage group the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, as part of its portfolio of 10 historic sites which also includes Caistor Roman Town, Burgh Castle and St Benet's Abbey, which protects important archaeological sites and landscapes and makes them more accessible for people to visit.
NAT is a registered charity which relies on the generosity of individuals and organisations to fund its work. To get involved or find out more, please visit www.norfarchtrust.org.uk.
For more Weird Norfolk stories click here.
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