Through the great gorge of Cliviger,
That cold, abrasive winds scour,
In a ravine beneath Eagles’ Crag
Stood the ancient Bearnshaw Tower.
Stood Bearnshaw Tower for centuries
Tucked in the lea of a hill,
And within those venerable walls
There lived the Lady Sybil.
The Lady Sybil was renowned
For being beautiful and bright,
Throughout that dismal valley her
Wit was a radiant light.
A radiant light attracted
Suitors like moths to a flame;
While their ardour amused her she
Rejected them all the same.
Rejected them without favour
And yet there persisted one
Who was utterly entranced by her:
Poor Lord William of Hapton.
Poor Lord William had been usurped
By her love for wild moorland,
She’d climb up to the Eagles’ Crag
And there, in solitude, stand.
Stand there upon the Eagles’ Crag
Looking towards Pendle Hill,
Knowing the land around her was
Subject to her cunning will.
Subject to her will when she danced,
Barefoot in the full moon’s glow,
Over the moor then she pranced in
The form of a milk white doe.
As a milk white doe she chased and ran,
Possessed by wonderful power,
In the moonlight, over the hills
Above ancient Bearnshaw Tower.
Though Bearnshaw Tower was remote
And though her magic was strong,
There is neither spell nor distance
Can still a gossip’s tongue.
Gossips’ tongues wagged beyond Burnley,
Then Lord William came to hear,
“If she is not a witch, “ he said,
“Then she is bewitched, I fear.”
Bewitched or not, he would find out,
And followimg her one night:
He was dumbfounded to witness
Her frolics in the moonlight.
Her frolics in the moonlight as
Widdershins round she cantered:
An owl screeched, a fox cried, while she
Strange incantations chanted.
Strange incantations that confirmed
His love was doomed and gone.
Unless a witch undid a witch:
He’d see Old Mother Helston.
Old Mother Helston lived alone
In her cottage dark and foul,
A knarled, well-withered woman who
Possessed a bitter scowl.
Her bitter scowl she turned on him,
“Let me alone and be gone!
If your fine Lady would be a witch,
Why should I stop her being one?”
“Pray stop her being a witch,” he said,
“Show me how to break the spell
And rescue her from the Devil’s work,
Then I’ll gladly pay you well.”
“The Devil’s work,” sneered Mother Helston,
“Brings many pleasures in life.
But, the craft takes our very souls:
She’d be safer as your wife.
“She’ll be safe come Valentine’s Eve
If you ride out with your hounds
Over the moor in full cry till
A white doe before you bounds.
“Such a chase that white doe will lead,
Graceful, devious and fast,
She’ll try so hard to escape, but
You’ll catch up with her at last.
“A silken cord thrown round her neck
Will subdue her with its power.
Gently, ever so gently then
Lead her back to Hapton Tower.
“At Hapton Tower make her secure
And then you must take your leave
So I can be free to do my work
Upon Saint Valentine’s Eve.”
On Saint Valentine’s Eve he rode
And started a milk-white doe
Which set back her ears, then took off,
But his hounds were all too slow.
All too slow except one old bitch
Running hard on the doe’s heels,
Over the moor and down the moor
And across hoar-frosted fields.
Across hoar-frosted fields they chased
Led on by the strange bitch-hound
Looking too old and grizzled grey,
Yet so fleet over the ground.
Over the ground to Eagles’ Crag,
But, that was the doe’s last mile,
For once the old hound brought her down
A silk cord made her docile.
Lord William led the docile white doe
Towards Hapton Tower, but then
He sought the hound that brought her down,
But never saw it again.
And never would he see her tethered,
As if some burdensome beast.
He fetched the doe to his sitting room
Where she’d have comfort at least.
Comfort in a room with tapestries
And clear windows set with lead,
Persian rugs and quilted chairs where
He left her, and went to bed.
To bed exhausted and soon asleep,
But, quickly, he was awake
When ornaments started to fly
And the tower began to shake.
An earthquake shaking Lancashire?
The world was all aquiver,
Chairs tumbled and doors swung open,
Thick-set walls seemed to shiver.
Might Hapton’s thick-set walls tumble
As a gale began to blow?
And then Lord William remembered
The room with his milk-white doe.
Down to his milk-white doe he dashed
And ran into the room where
The doe was gone, and Lady Sybil
Sat calmly combing her hair.
Calmly, she promised to marry him,
Put behind her the Old Way,
Leaving the craft and Bearnshaw Tower
That Valentine’s to decay.
Yet, some say, come Valentine’s Eve,
With a full moon sailing slow,
There’s a chance, out by Eagles’ Crag,
To glimpse a young milk-white doe.