Tomnahurich Hill – which means hill of the yews – is a rounded tree covered hillock on the outskirts of Inverness, the hill has a wealth of traditions associated with it, and it is famed as an abode of the fairies. A modern cemetery now covers the hill.
The most enduring tradition connected with the hill is that fiddlers (or a fiddler) were lured into playing at fairy revelry, and emerged after one night beneath the hill to find that hundreds of years had passed in their own world. The story has two basic forms, in one a solitary fiddler falls asleep on the hill and wakes up in an underworld palace. He is made to play all night for the entertainment of the fairy queen, and finally awakes on the shores of the River Ness, later to discover that a hundred years have passed. The other story features two fiddlers and is outlined below:
The Fiddlers of Tomnahurich
Two travelling fiddlers were visiting Inverness looking for places where they could play, while searching for a suitable venue they met an old man in strange clothes, who asked them if they would perform for him. They agreed and followed the old man to the wooden hill of Tomnahurich, just as the sun slipped out of view over the Western horizon. There was an opening in the side of the hill through which they followed the old man into a brightly lit cavern hall, where a great feast was underway. The feast was attended by a host of people, all dressed in colourful finery, and each seeming to have an air of enchantment and beauty about them. They sat down at one of the many tables and preceded to enjoy the fine wine and the rich food served before them.
When it came the time for dancing they played their fiddles and the party got into full swing, each fiddler playing better than they had ever played before. Finally, in what seemed like no time at all, the feast was over and it was time for the fiddlers to leave. Their noble company thanked them, and the old man who had led them into the hillside paid them with a bag of silver and gold coins. The fiddlers left the hill in a fine mood, and walked back towards the centre of Inverness. As they neared the town they saw that everything had changed, where there was once dense woodland buildings now stood, as if they had appeared overnight. All the people they met along the way were dressed in strange looking clothes, and poked fun at the fiddlers ‘old fashioned’ clothing.
The fiddlers decided that they had been enchanted in some strange way and made the return journey to their town. When they arrived they were dismayed to find that everything they knew here had also changed; their homes were no longer occupied and they recognised no one. In despair they ran into the local church where the local priest was in the midst of delivering a sermon. As soon as the priest spoke the word of God both fiddlers crumbled to dust in front of the eyes of the horrified congregation.
The difference in time between this world and the world of the fairy races is an important folklore motif found in many tales about the otherworld. The way the unfortunate fiddlers crumbled to dust after returning to their own world is also often found in folk tales such as that of King Herla.
There are many more traditions associated with the hill, Thomas the Rhymer is said to be buried beneath it, or to live within it, ready to lead an army of men and white steeds to rally Scotland in its hour of need. In Celtic myth Fion trained his dog to lead two of every species of animal around the hill in pairs to unravel enchantment by an Irish enemy.
Directions: The hill is just off the A82, to the West of the River Ness.