A Ballad of Bassenthwaite
Halfway along one side of Bassenthwaite in England’s Lake District stands an old inn, The Swan. Up on the nearby steep fellside, two white-painted boulders can be seen. These mark where a Bishop and his Clerk came to an untimely end on a stormy night.
Our Bishop’s dining at The Swan
Where food is of the best
He lifts a final brandy glass
To lend his mission zest.
Across the table see his Clerk
Who serves the Bishop well
When traipsing round the diocese
Through dale and over fell.
‘I have spare room, the beds are fresh,
You should stay on tonight;
Rough winds come rattling at the door
To leave now can’t be right.’
‘Good Landlord so you say,’
The Bishop thumps his fist.
‘But I will ride to Lorton Vale
– Fetch horses, I insist.’
Another gust, a slash of rain,
The Clerk he looks askance;
He fears the Bishop once resolved
Will always take his chance.
‘The hour is late, winds gather strength,
Your Grace, it’s better we should stay.’
The Bishop quells him with a glance
One might dread on Judgement Day.
‘I need ever take God’s path
Led where the Spirit flies.’
The Ostler whistles through his teeth,
The Landlord rolls his eyes.
Gaitered, upright on his horse,
The Bishop waves farewell,
Behind him trails the anxious Clerk
As they approach the fell.
Steep, steep the path around the rocks,
Ahead the slopes of scree,
The Clerk recycles quiet prayer,
Grips tighter with his knee.
Their horses falter, get urged on,
Why pick this awkward track?
But Bishop with a mind made up
Accepts no turning back.
Scree slides, the lead horse overturns,
Falls on its mate, all suffer harms!
Two travellers pitch headlong straight
Down into their Maker’s arms.
‘Didn’t expect you back so soon,
There are more souls need be won,
What a cheek, to think you’ll sneak
Into Heaven just for fun!
Now I’ll pop you both in Limbo
Till I get the next supply
Of hymn-sheets for daft people
Far far too keen to die.’
Hence the Bishop stands a whitened
Rock repainted every year,
Though silent in his pulpit
His message stands out clear:
‘However high and mighty
You must shun the sin of pride.’
(While the Clerk still ranks beneath him
Lower down the mountainside.)