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The Fiddler, the Alchemist and the Black Monk

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Secret places have always fascinated people. History is full of stories of secret tunnels connecting different places in this world, as well as tunnels that connect our world to other worlds. These tunnels were often associated with ghosts or strange happenings and Binham Priory seems to have had more than its fair share.

Binham Priory - a Benedictine Abbey - was built in the 12th century in North Norfolk and has a mysterious past. There are rumours of a secret underground passage from the Priory to Little Walsingham. The tunnel is said to be the place of a haunting and a strange disappearance.

It may come as a surprise to you, but not all monks were God-fearing and religious. At Binham, some of the monks sold off the Priory's silver and did not behave as monks should! William de Somerton, who lived in the 13th century, was one of the worst offenders. He was very keen on alchemy (an early form of chemistry), which was considered to be like sorcery or magic in those days.

William was desperate to discover the secret of turning ordinary metals into gold and spent a great deal of money on his experiments. To raise money, he sold off the Priory's chalices, gold rings, silver cups and spoons. Not quite what you would expect of a holy man! By the time he had finished, the Priory had a debt of £600, a very large sum in those times.

About the same time, another monk, Alexander de Langley, suffered a very sad fate. He went mad through too much studying. You might think that people would have offered him help, but no. He was flogged and kept chained in a cell on his own until he died. The poor mad monk was buried in his chains near the Priory Church.

Shortly after these events, rumours started circulating of a black monk that was said to walk over ground, following the route of the underground tunnel on moonless nights. It was thought the ghost might well be that of the poor mad prior or even the alchemist still practising his ghostly magic.

One day a fiddler and his dog came to the village of Walsingham and offered to explore the tunnel, solve the mystery and put to rest once and for all tales of ghostly happenings. He was a smart fellow and explained that, as he moved along the tunnel, he would play his fiddle so that the gathered crowd could hear him as he made his way along.

The fiddler entered the tunnel and for a while the villagers were able to hear the distant strains of his music and followed happily above ground. However, when the fiddler reached the site of an ancient bronze-age barrow, suddenly the music stopped. The villagers stood around, puzzled. What had happened to him? Had he fallen foul of the alchemist's evil magic? Or had he, perhaps, met the unhappy ghost of the black monk, still wrapped in his chains?

The villagers were far too scared to enter the tunnel but waited at the entrance for his return. Some hours later, out of the tunnel came the fiddler's little dog shivering, whining and clearly terrified with its tail firmly between its legs. The fiddler never reappeared.

That night, a violent storm broke out and the following morning the villagers woke to find the passage entrance had been destroyed. The little dog had vanished. Nobody knew if it had returned to the tunnel to look for its master before the storm took hold or simply run away. The brave fiddler was never heard of again. Exactly what had caused his disappearance remains a mystery, for no one ventured that way again.

Today, the ruins of the Priory Church of St. Mary and the Holy Cross are still used as a place of worship. In the summer months, services are held at the open-air altar. The place where the music stopped later became known as Fiddler's Hill.

The tale of the fiddler and the mysterious tunnel was remembered again in 1933 when the local road was altered. The route of the new road cut through the north edge of Fiddler's Hill. In the ancient round barrow, three skeletons were found - and one of them was a little dog!

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