The Little Book of Cumbria – The Bishop of Barf

The Little Book of Cumbria

By David Ramshaw

As one travels north from Keswick on the A66, the steep slate scree slope of Barf is seen to the left with a large white-painted rock standing near the top of the scree.

This is the Bishop of Barf, a memorial to a foolish wager.  In 1783 the newly appointed Bishop of Derry, now Londonderry, was in the area and stayed at the Swan Hotel in Thornthwaite (now closed).  He wagered that he would ride his horse up the side of Barf and onwards to the summit of Lord’s Seat.

Unfortunately, on attempting this feat, his horse fell on reaching the height of Bishop Rock, killing both horse and rider.  The bishop was laid to rest at the base of the mountain and to commemorate his rather foolhardy enterprise the rock, known as the Bishop’s Clerk, was painted white by patrons of the Swan, who maintain the bishop in his pristine white coat to this very day.

Since the hotel closed, local villagers have continued this tradition. The fee paid to patrons painting the rock was set at one shilling and a quart of ale.

The Little book of Cumbria can be bought online at

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2 thoughts on "The Little Book of Cumbria – The Bishop of Barf"

  1. Mamie graham says:

    My mam and dad told my siblings and I about this when we went to the lake district over 68 years ago, then I told my children and they did not believe it.

  2. Evans says:

    My dad’s ashes are on this rock give him a pap when driving past as we do


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