Cumbrian folklore tells how there was once a ferryman who lived with his wife and daughter in a lonely cottage in Claife, at the edge of Lake Windermere. One night they were woken by a shrill and terrifying shriek, which seemed to come from the shore opposite. It was a stormy night, and at first they believed the sound just to be that of the wind blowing around the house, but soon the first shriek was followed by another, more terrible than the first, along with shouts and groans of an unearthly nature, and the muffled call for “a boat...”
Eventually they saw the boat return, and to their relief the ferryman was sat upright, alone and apparently safe. They were perplexed, however, when he made no effort to land the boat or come ashore, and rushed towards the boat to find out what was wrong. There they found him speechless, white as a sheet, his entire body shivering and a look of absolute terror upon his face.
Having led him back inside the cottage, they asked him what he had encountered, but the ferryman would offer no explanation. In fact he said nothing at all save for an occasional groan, apparently deaf to their questions. He remained this way for several days, until one evening, he died, having told no one what he had seen on the banks of the lake.
Many a stormy night the cries were heard across the lake, and the ferrymen and their families became so used to them they barely noticed any more. Locals and travellers, however, were not so hardy, and soon those who heard the story of the crier refused to cross the river there, so the ferry became almost disused. Realising they could no longer make a living, the ferrymen decided that something must be done about the mysterious crier. They were religious men, and could not think of anyone better to help than the monks at the Cistercian grange at Hawkshead, associated with Furness Abbey. One man set off, and after agreeing to donate to the abbey in return for their help, he returned with one of the monks.
When they were about half-way across the lake, the wind dropped suddenly, and a cry rang out which sounded rather too close for comfort. One of the ferrymen is said to have fainted, while the other could do nothing save stare ahead, petrified. Across the water was a figure, with the barest suggestion of life around its withered and shrunken limbs, and a gaping wound in its throat. There was dead silence for a few moments, but this was broken by the monk, who hastily began reciting a prayer for protection against evil spirits. He sprinkled holy water on himself and on the two ferrymen, who had not moved, opened a small book, and began to read a prayer to exorcise a wandering soul. At this point the figure vanished.
While Windermere has prospered as a popular tourist destination, the quarry has been shunned, and to this day some say that dogs will not go near the area, and animals being hunted have come to a dead halt and allowed themselves to be caught rather than enter the quarry. Some locals even believe that despite the best efforts of the monk, on particularly stormy nights the crier escapes his quarry prison, and can still be heard roaming the shores of the lake, shrieking above the roar of thunder, and looking desperately for a boat.
Originally published in Black Magician's Almanac.