A painting of the fairy hill with Tam at the entrance and fairies within

The Fairy Hill

About a kilometre west of Wick in Caithness, between the railway and the river, stands a small mound marked on the Ordnance Survey map as the Fairy Hill. On the other side of the river to the north goes the old track to Sibster and Loch Watten, then eventually to Thurso.

In the early evening on New Year’s Eve some many years ago, two young men were each carrying a keg of whisky from Wick to Gillock for the Hogmanay celebrations. When they came near the Fairy Hill, they heard music and revelling coming from within the mound. It was pretty clear to the two farm labourers that the fairies were celebrating within the hillock.

While William stood back, Tam waded across the river to join the fun. Calling back: “I’ll just have one jig”, he disappeared inside with his keg of whisky still on his shoulders. William waited a long time, but Tam did not emerge from the mound, and William could only assume that the fairies had got him to open the whisky and he would be lost for the night.

William took the remaining keg of whisky back to the farm and told everyone what had happened, and the following day, after their own celebrations, the farmworkers went back to the Fairy Hill to search for Tam. They could find no sign of their friend, the fairies, nor even an empty keg. The hillock was just a grassy knoll with no sign of life or evidence of the revelling of the previous night.

The villagers and farming folk assumed that the fairies had taken Tam with them wherever they had gone.

The following New Year’s Eve, William made the trip on his own and remembered Tam as he approached the area near the Fairy Hill again. Again he heard the sounds of music and dancing, and it seemed another party was going on. William decided that he might be able to find out what had happened to his friend.

Leaving his keg of whisky on the path, he waded across and saw Tam standing there just inside the doorway. He reached out and grabbed Tam by the belt. Pulling the protesting labourer out of the entrance to the mound, William asked where he had been, “What do you mean?” said Tam, “I’ve not even had a dance yet”.

For Tam, no time had passed, and he could not believe what William was telling him as he forced him back across the river and showed him the new keg of whisky. They say Tam never truly believed that he had lost a year standing in the entrance to the Fairy Hill.

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