The Legend Of The Parson And Clerk

Once upon a time, there was a Bishop of Exeter who lay very ill at Dawlish, and among those who visited him frequently was the parson of an inland parish who was ambitious enough to hope that, should the good bishop die, he would be chosen to take his place.


This parson had a violent temper, and his continued visits to the sick man did not improve this, for his journey was a long and dreary one and the bishop, he thought, took an unconscionable time In dying. But he had to maintain his reputation for piety, and so it happened that on a winter night he was riding towards Dawlish through the rain, guided, as was his custom, by his parish clerk.


That particular night the clerk had lost his way, and, long after he and his master should have been in comfortable quarters at Dawlish, they were wandering about on the high rough ground of Haldon, some distance away. At last, in anger, the parson turned upon his clerk and rebuked him violently. ''You are useless,'' he said; '' I would rather have the devil for a guide than you.'' The clerk mumbled some excuse, and presently the two came upon a peasant, mounted upon a moor pony, to whom they explained their plight.


The stranger at once offered to guide them, and very soon all three had reached the outskirts of the little town. Both parson and clerk were wet through. and when their guide, stopping by an old, tumble-down house, invited them to enter and take some refreshment, both eagerly agreed. They entered the house and found there a large company of wild-looking men drinking and singing loud choruses. The parson and his servant made their way to a quiet corner and enjoyed a good meal, then, feeling better, agreed to stay for a while and join their boisterous companions.


But they stayed for a very long while. The drink flowed freely and both grew uproarious, the parson singing songs with the best of the company and shouting the choruses louder than any. In this manner they spent the whole night, and it was not until dawn broke that the priest suggested moving onward. So none too soberly he called for the horses.


At this moment the news arrived that the bishop was dead. This excited the parson, who wished at once to get to work to further his ambitious designs, so he pushed the clerk into the saddle and hastily mounted himself. But the horses would not move. The parson, in a passion, cried, ''I believe the devil is in the horses!'' '' I believe he is,'' said the clerk thickly, and with that a roar of unearthly laughter broke out all around them. Then the now terrified men observed that their boisterous friends were dancing about in glee and each had turned into a leering demon. The house in which they had passed the night had completely disappeared, and the road in which they stood was transformed into the sea-shore, upon which huge waves were breaking, some already submerging the clerk. With a wild cry of terror the parson lashed once more at his horse, but without avail. He felt himself growing stiff and dizzy - and then consciousness passed from him.


Neither he nor his clerk ever returned to their parish, but that morning the people of Dawlish saw two strange red rocks standing off the cliffs, and later, !earning this story, they realised that the demons had changed the evil priest and his man into these forms. Time and weather have wrought many changes in the Parson and Clerk Rocks, not the least curious being to carve upon the Parson Rock the semblance of the two revellers. From certain positions you may see today the profiles of both men, the parson as it were in his pulpit, and the clerk at his desk beneath him.

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Taken on October 11, 2009