Monday, 16 January 2012

Bishop of Barf

Have you ever driven on the A66 between Keswick and Cockermouth? Because if you have, like me, you may have wondered what that white rock is doing half way up the hill. I had wondered many times before I did a bit of digging and climbing. I have taken this extract from the wonderful book, Folk Stories from the Lake District by Peter Walker.
Perched precariously on the slope of the fells above the hotel is a curious white-painted rock called The Bishop of Barf.  It is visible from a great distance and can clearly be seen from the other side of Bassenthwaite Lake.
The story goes that in 1783, the Irish Bishop of Derry, now Londonderry, came this way.  He was en route to Whitehaven, which was then the main port to Ireland and stayed for a while at The Swan. 
It seems he must have sampled the quality of the local ale because he wagered the locals that he could ride over the steep-sloped mountains on his horse via Barf (1,536 foot) and reach Whitehaven by that direct route.  The wise local people said it was impossible - the face of the fell at this point is almost perpendicular and is almost impossible for a man to climb, let alone a horse.   Undaunted by their remarks, however, and perhaps fortified with beer and a little faith, he set off in great spirits upon his horse.  He managed to get only half-way up Barf towards Lord's Seat (1,811 foot), which is the mountain behind the Swan.  At that point, where the white painted rock now stands, horse and rider fell to the foot of the scree and both were killed instantly.  The bishop and his horse were buried where they fell, at the foot of the scree. It is said the bishop was the first and last person to attempt rock-climbing on horse-back!
The rock from where they fell is now painted white and acts as a landmark as well as a memorial to the dead bishop.  At the foot of the scree is a small stone which marks their grave - this is called the Bishop's Clerk.  
So now you know too...


  1. Excellent - I love a bit of old folk-lore.... I wonder if there is any truth behind the legend? We always point the rock out to our kids when we pass by and tell them this story :)

  2. We do too, there is so much great folklore in Cumbria. I walked up the first time last week and was shocked how steep it was...initially I'd been hoping to return with the kids and take them up, but I had second thoughts...can't imagine how trollied the bishop must have been to consider it with a horse!!!

  3. Well, he was heading for Whitehaven, and back in the 18th C he'd need plenty of ale inside him to tackle that den of iniquity !! We took our kids canoeing in the bay right opposite Bishop's Rock last summer, hope to back again next summer, it was a real adventure for them both (and Dad had a blast too)

  4. it so different in the 21st century! Just considering getting an inflatable canoe...we have thought about it every year for years...but our youngest is only just about sensible enough now to be trusted on a we're tempted again.

  5. What a sad story! At least he's got a good view now!