Today a modern ferry takes passengers across the narrow part of Lake Windermere from Rawlinson’s Nab on the east bank to the Ferry House on the west, passing between the lake’s islands, the largest of which is Belle Isle. Coming from the Bowness side, one sees the Claife Heights of Cumberland towering above the opposite shore.
In the days when ferrymen crossed in a rowing boat, Rawlinson’s Nab was the home of a mysterious spirit who came to be known as the Crier of Claife. Only his voice was heard, calling to the boatmen, and it was a presage of doom.
Harriet Martineau, writing in 1855, tells the story:
It was about the time of the Reformation, one stormy night, when a party of travellers were making merry at the Ferry-house, – then a humble tavern, – that a call for the boat was heard from the Nab. A quiet, sober boatman obeyed the call, though the night was wild and fearful. When he ought to be returning, the tavern guests stepped out upon the shore, to see whom he would bring. He returned alone, ghastly and dumb with horror. Next morning, he was in a high fever; and in a few days he died, without having been prevailed upon to say what he had seen … For weeks, after, there were shouts, yells, and howlings at the Nab, on every stormy night: and no boatman would attend to any call after dark. The … monk from Furness who dwelt on one of the islands of the lake, was applied to to exorcise the Nab. On Christmas day, he assembled all the inhabitants on Chapel Island, and performed in their presence services which should for ever confine the ghost to the quarry in the wood behind the Ferry, now called the Crier of Claife. Some say that the priest conducted the people to the quarry and laid the ghost, – then and there. – Laid though it be, nobody goes there at night.
Mackenzie Walcott, in 1860, immediately before giving the legend of the Crier of Claife, tells how, in 1635, a marriage party of fifty people, along with the bride, a young girl from Sawrey, and the bridegroom, a yeoman of the same place, was drowned here on return from Hawkshead church. Though Walcott himself does not explicitly lay the blame on the Crier, other writers on the Lake District connect this accident with the ghost.