The name ‘Fearn’ was brought here around 1240 when the monastery of Fearn, on the south shore of the Dornoch Firth, was moved to this site. This was less than 20 years after it was first established by Farquhar Mactaggart, first Earl of Ross. Farquhar had persuaded the important Abbey of Whithorn, in the Scottish Borders, to send both monks and relics of St Ninian to the north to establish Fearn as a ‘daughter house’. The present parish church, with ruins around it, contains remains of the abbey’s fifteenth-century monastery buildings and tombs of its abbots.
Hill of Fearn stands just a little higher than the surrounding rich farmland, much of it improved by drainage, particularly in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drainage tiles for these schemes were once manufactured at a local ‘brick and tile works’ at Glastullich.
The farming landscape seen from here – well formed fields, substantial nineteenth-century farm houses and extensive steadings – is a reminder of the great days of Scottish agriculture. Villages like Hill of Fearn grew with these improvements, providing homes for farm labourers, tradesmen and shopkeepers.
The small village of Arabella was formed by much smaller scale farming – a series of small holdings laid out on either side of the road, created as new crofts for men returning from the First World War. The original buildings on the crofts were of corrugated iron. Some of these still stand, re-used as sheds, beside the later stone houses.
The flat land of the Fearn peninsula also made this a suitable place for a Second Word War airfield, whose remains can be seen from the road to Nigg and the Seaboard Villages. This was established as a satellite of the Tain airfield and, in 1942, transferred to the Royal Navy to become HMS Owl, a torpedo training station.
Almost hidden in this landscape is Loch Eye, once a larger loch, now a haven for wintering duck and wildfowl, who feed on its rich variety of pondweeds. Loch Eye was also known as Loch Slin – and was once overlooked by the tall tower of Loch Slin castle, whose last remains fell in a storm in 1953.
According to local legend a mermaid was seen by the shores of the loch one Sunday in 1742, washing blood-stained shirts. A few hours later the roof of Fearn church collapsed, killing 36 of the congregation.
Peter Fraser, born in Hill of Fearn in 1884, became prime minister of New Zealand (1940–49) and was a key figure in the founding of the United Nations. A memorial plaque marks his birthplace in Rhynie Road.