Crier of Claife

Crier of Claife

A wild holloa on Wynander's shore,
'Mid the loud waves' splash and the night-wind's roar!
Who cries so late with desperate note,
Far over the water, to hail the boat?

'Tis night's mid gloom; the strong rain beats fast:
Is there one at this hour will face the blast,
And the darkness traverse with arm and oar,
To ferry the Crier from yonder shore?

A mile to cross, and the skies so dread;
With a storm around that would wake the dead;
And fathoms of boiling depths below;
The ferry is hailed, and the boat must go.

Snug under that cliff, whence over the Mere,
When summer is merry and skies are clear,
In holiday times hearts light and gay
Look over the hills and far away—

At the Ferry-house Inn, sat warm beside
The bright wood-fire and hearthstone wide,
A rollicking band of jovial souls
With tinkling cans and full brown bowls.

Without, the sycamores' branches rode
The storm, as if fiends the roof bestrode;
Yet stout of heart, to that wild holloa
The ferryman smiled—"The boat must go."

His comrades followed out into the dark,
As the young man strode to the tumbling bark;
And, wishing him luck in the perilous storm,
With a shudder went back to the fireside warm.

An hour is gone! against wind and wave
Well struggled and strove that heart so brave.
Another! they crowd to the whistling door,
To welcome the guide and his freight to shore.

But pallid, and stunn'd, aghast, alone,
He stood in the boat, and speech had none:
His lips were locked, and his eyes astare,
And blanched with terror his manly hair.

What thing he had seen, what utterance heard,
What horror that night his senses stirr'd,
Was frozen within him, and choked his breath,
And laid him, ere morning, cold in death.

But what that night of horror revealed,
And what that night of horror concealed
Of spirits and powers in storms that roam,
Lies hid with the monk in St. Mary's Holm.

Still, under the cliff—whence over the Mere,
When summer was merry and skies were clear,
In holiday times hearts light and gay
Looked over the hills and far away—

When the rough winds blew amid rain and cold,
The Ferry-house gathered its hearts of old,
Who sat at the hearth and o'er the brown ale,
Oft talked of that night and its dismal tale.

And often the Crier was heard to wake
The night's foul echoes across the lake;
But never again would a hand unmoor
The boat, to venture by night from shore:

Till they sought the good monk of St. Mary's Holm,
With relics of saints and beads from Rome,
To row to the Nab on Hallowmas night,
And bury the Crier by morning's light.

With Aves muttered, and spells unknown,
The monk rows over the Mere alone;
Like a feather his bark floats light and fast;
When the Crier's loud hail sweeps down the blast.

Speed on, bold heart, with gifts of grace!
He is nearing the wild fiend-blighted place.
Now heed thee, foul spirit! the priest has power
To bind thee on earth till the morning hour.

He rests his oars; and the faint blue gleam
From a marsh-light sheds on the ground its beam.
There's a stir in the grass; and there's ONE  on a knoll,
Unearthly and horrid to sight and soul.

That horrible cry rings through the dark,
As the monk steps out of the grounding bark;
And he charms a circle around the knoll,
Wherein he must sit till the mass bell toll.

Then over the lake, with the fiend in tow,
To the quarry beyond the monk will go,
And bury the Crier with book and bell,
While the birds of morning sing him farewell.

The morn awoke. As the breezy smile
Of dawn played over St. Mary's Isle,
The tinkling sound of the mass-bell rose,
And startled the valleys from brief repose.

Then, like a speck from afar descried,
The monk row'd out on the waters wide—
From the Nab row'd out, with the fiend in his wake,
To lay him in quiet, across the lake.

And fear-struck men, and women that bore
Their babes, beheld from height and shore,
How he reached the wood that hid the dell,
Where he laid the Crier with book and bell.

"For the ivy green" the spell was told;
"For the ivy green" his knell was knoll'd;
That as long as by wall and greenwood tree
The ivy flourished, his rest might be.

So did the good monk; and thus was laid
The Crier in ground by greenwood shade.
In the quarry of Claife the wretched ghost
To human ear for ever was lost.

And country folk in peace again
Went forth by night through field and lane,
Nor dreaded to hear that terrible note
Cry over the water, and hail the boat.

And still on that cliff, high over the Mere,
When summer is merry, and skies are clear,
In holiday times hearts light and gay
Look over the hills and far away.

But what that night of horror revealed,
And what that night and morrow concealed,
Of spirits so wicked and given to roam,
Lies hid with the monk in St. Mary's Holm.

Peace be with him, peaceful soul!
Long his bell has ceased to toll.
Green the Isle that folds his breast;
Clear the Lake that lull'd his rest.

Though the many ages gone
Long have left his place unknown;
Yet where once he kneel'd and pray'd,
By his altar long decay'd,
Stranger to this Island led!
Humbly speak and softly tread;
Catching from the ages dim
This, the burden of his hymn:—

"Ave, Thou before whose name
Wrath and shadows swiftly flee!
Arm Thy faithful bands with flame,
Earth from foulest foes to free.

"Peace on all these valleys round,
Breathe from out this Islet's breast;
Wafting from this holy ground
Seeds of Thy eternal rest.

"Wrath and Evil, then no more
Here molesting, all shall cease.
Peace around! From shore to shore—
Peace! On all Thy waters—peace!"

Notes to "Crier of Claife."

The little rocky tree-decked islet in Windermere, called St. Mary's, or the Ladye's Holme, hitherto reputed to have formed part of the conventual domains of the Abbey at Furness, had its name from a chantry dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which was standing up to the reign of King Henry the Eighth, but of which no traces are now remaining. "When," says an anonymous writer, "at the Reformation, that day of desolation came, which saw the attendant priests driven forth, and silenced for ever the sweet chant of orison and litany within its walls; the isle and revenues of the institution were sold to the Philipsons of Calgarth. By them the building was suffered to fall into so utter a state of ruin, that no trace even of its foundations is left to proclaim to the stranger who meditates upon the fleeting change of time and creed, that here, for more than three centuries, stood a hallowed fane, from whence at eventide and prime prayers were wafted through the dewy air, where now are only heard the festal sounds of life's more jocund hours." Lately renewed antiquarian investigation has, however, disclosed the erroneousness of the generally received statement respecting the early ownership of this tiny spot; as in Dodsworth's celebrated collection of ancient evidences there is contained an Inquisition, or the copy of one, taken at Kendal, so far back as the Monday after the feast of the Annunciation, in the 28th Edward the Third, which shews that this retreat, amid the waters of our English Como, appertained not to Furness Abbey, but to the house of Segden, in Scotland, which was bound always to provide two resident chaplains for the service of our Ladye's Chapel in this island solitude. For the maintenance and support of those priests, certain lands were given by the founder, who was either one of that chivalrous race, descended from the Scottish Lyndseys "light and gay," whose immediate ancestor in the early part of the thirteenth century had married Alice, second daughter and co-heiress of William de Lancaster, eighth Lord of Kendal; and with her obtained that moiety of the Barony of Kendal, whose numerous manors are collectively known as the Richmond Fee; or the chantry may have owed its foundation to the pious impulses of Ingelram de Guignes, Sire de Courci, one of the grand old Peers of France, whose house, so renowned in history and romance, proclaimed its independence and its pride in this haughty motto:—

"Je ne suis Roy ni Prince aussi,
Je suis Le Seignhor de Courci."

And which Ingelram in 1285 married Christiana, heiress of the last de Lyndsey, and in her right, besides figuring on innumerable occasions as a feudal potentate, both in England and Scotland, he became Lord of the Fee, within which lies St. Mary's Isle.

On an Inquisition taken after the death of Johanna de Coupland, in the 49th Edward the Third, it was found that she held the advowson of the Chapel of Saint Mary's Holme, within the lake of Wynandermere, but that it was worth nothing, because the land which the said Chapel enjoyed of old time had been seized into the hands of the King, and lay within the park of Calgarth. It is on record, however, that in 1492, an annual sum of six pounds was paid out of the revenues of the Richmond Fee, towards the support of the Chaplains; and in the returns made by the ecclesiastical Commissioners in Edward the Sixth's reign, "the free Chapel of Holme and Wynandermere" is mentioned, shortly after which it was granted, as aforesaid, to the owners of Calgarth.

The singular name of the "Crier of Claife" is now applied to an extensive slate or flag quarry, long disused, and overgrown with wood, on the wildest and most lonely part of the height called Latter-barrow, which divides the vales of Esthwaite and Windermere, above the Ferry. In this desolate spot, by the sanctity and skill of holy men, had been exorcised and laid the apparition who had come to be known throughout the country by that title; and the place itself has ever since borne the same name. None of the country people will go near it after night fall, and few care to approach it even in daylight. Desperate men driven from their homes by domestic discord, have been seen going in its direction, and never known to return. It is said the Crier is allowed to emerge occasionally from his lonely prison, and is still heard on very stormy nights sending his wild entreaty for a boat, howling across Windermere. Mr. Craig Gibson, in one of his graphic sketches of the Lake country, says that he is qualified to speak to this, for he himself has heard him. "At least," says he, "I have heard what I was solemnly assured by an old lady at Cunsey must have been the Crier of Claife. Riding down the woods a little south of the Ferry, on a wild January evening, I was strongly impressed by a sound made by the wind as, after gathering behind the hill called Gummershow for short periods of comparative calm, it came rushing up and across the lake with a sound startlingly suggestive of the cry of a human being in extremity, wailing for succour. This sound lasted till the squall it always preceded struck the western shore, when it was lost in the louder rush of the wind through the leafless woods. I am induced to relate this," he continues, "by the belief I entertain that the phenomenon described thus briefly and imperfectly, may account for much of the legend, and that the origin of many similar traditional superstitions may be found in something equally simple."

The late Mr. John Briggs, in his notes upon "Westmorland as it was," by the Rev. Mr. Hodgson, has furnished his readers with some curious information upon the "philosophy of spirits," which he collected from those ancient sages of the dales who were supposed to be best acquainted with the subject. Many of these superstitions are now exploded: but the marvellous tales at one time currently believed, still furnish conversation for the cottage fireside. According to the gravest authorities, he says, no spirit could appear before twilight had vanished in the evening, or after it had appeared in the morning. On this account, the winter nights were peculiarly dangerous, owing to the long revels which ghosts, or dobbies, as they were called, could keep at that season. There was one exception to this. If a man had murdered a woman who was with child by him, she had power to haunt him at all hours; and the Romish priests (who alone had the power of laying spirits,) could not lay a spirit of this kind with any certainty, as she generally contrived to break loose long before her stipulated time. A culprit might hope to escape the gallows, but there was no hope of escaping being haunted. In common cases, however, the priest could "lay" the ghosts; "while ivy was green," was the usual term. But in very desperate cases, they were laid in the "Red Sea," which was accomplished with great difficulty and even danger to the exorcist. In this country, the most usual place to confine spirits was under Haws Bridge, a few miles below Kendal. Many a grim ghost has been chained in that dismal trough!

According to the laws to which they were subject, ghosts could seldom appear to more than one person at a time. When they appeared to the eyes, they had not the power of making a noise; and when they saluted the ear, they could not greet the eyes. To this, however, there was an exception, when a human being spoke to them in the name of the Blessed Trinity. For it was an acknowledged truth, that however wicked the individual might have been in this world, or however light he might have made of the Almighty's name, he would tremble at its very sound, when separated from his earthly covering.

The causes of spirits appearing after death were generally three. Murdered persons came again to haunt their murderers, or to obtain justice by appearing to other persons likely to see them avenged. Persons who had hid any treasure, were doomed to haunt the place where that treasure was hid; as they had made a god of their wealth in this world, the place where their treasure lay was to be their heaven after death. If any person could speak to them, and give them an opportunity of confessing where their treasure was hid, they could then rest in peace, but not otherwise. Those who died with any heavy crimes on their consciences, which they had not confessed, were also doomed to wander on the earth at the midnight hour.

Spirits had no power over those who did not molest them; but if insulted, they seem to have been extremely vindictive, and to have felt little compunction in killing the insulter. They had power to assume any form, and to change it as often as they pleased; but they could neither vanish nor change, while a human eye was fixed upon them.

Midway on Windermere, below the range of islands which intersect the lake, extends the track along which ply the Ferry boats between the little inn on the western side and the wooded promontory on the opposite shore. The Ferry House, with its lawn in front and few branching sycamores, occupies a jutting area between the base of a perpendicular cliff and the lake. Few finer prospects can be desired than that afforded from the summit which overhangs the Mere at this point. The summer house, which has been built for the sake of the views it commands of the surrounding country, is a favourite resort of lovers of the beautiful in nature, whence they may witness, in its many aspects afar, the grandeur of the mountain world; and near and below, the beauty of the curving shores and wooded isles of this queen of English lakes. From the Ferry House to the Ferry Nab, as the promontory is called, on the western shore, is barely half a mile. It was from thence that in the dark stormy night the Evil voice cried "Boat!" which the poor ferryman obeyed so fatally. No passenger was there, but a sight which sent him back with bloodless face and dumb, to die on the morrow.