Friday, 27 August 2010


The stacks between Teignmouth and Dawlish are called Parson and Clerk. Some blogs ago we looked at the so called legend of the Parson and the Clerk which I do not love. The ‘legend’ is of the ‘how did the stacks get their name?’ variety. In short a parson and a clerk lose their way and find a house in the mist and drop in on the devil and a few dead friends. There they wine and dine but when they leave the party they drop over the cliff and are never seen again except, so to speak, stoned for eternity. And so the stacks got their name.

Yes, I know it’s only a story but the silliness of it still niggles me! Let me state the obvious that these splendid stacks were named from their appearance and not from the landward but from the open sea. The wit , the humour and bright inventiveness of the name lie with the mariners of yore. It’s a great name for a great image and it dates from a tithepaying age before state registrars when few could escape the church and the clergy. From the sea when the stacks line up one sees quite clearly how the parson is sermonising the waves from his high pulpit and below him the clerk is sat at his desk where he should be, ready to make the responses. And perhaps there is space between them for some pious parishoner to read the lesson. Generations of fishermen and other seafarers, church, chapel and freethinkers, immediately recognised that double or triple decker pulpit from their own Devon churches and they recognised its occupants and saluted them in passing. 'Hello Passon, my dear! Hello Clerk! ' And if some touched their hats no doubt others shook their fists or thumbed their noses.

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