24 October 2015

Crier of Claife - Part 1 . Can you ever truly lay a ghost to rest ?

The Crier of Claife Part 1 
Malcolm Judge

   David Graham bent closer over the map. The mild December wind was clearing his head after one too many at ‘The Cuckoo Brow’.
      ‘Left, left and follow your nose down to the lake,’ he mumbled to himself. ‘I have a map, I have waterproofs, I have a head torch and I have a nose’. He suddenly snorted with laughter at the idea of following a giant nose to the lake.
   A hundred yards down the road, he met the track that veered left. For a moment he considered just sticking to the road. It would be easier and, of course, the more sensible option but, dammit, he wasn’t here to be sensible, careful or, if it came to it, particularly sober. That was exactly what he needed a break from.  Besides, the ferry was no more than a mile and a half away and by the time he got to the top of the ridge he should be able to see Windermere, and then surely it was going to be pretty difficult to get lost when all he had to do was walk down to the massive watery bit and keep it on his left until he reached the ferry.
   The track rose gently between stone walls. As the lights of ‘The Cuckoo Brow’ fell behind him, the fields revealed themselves against the black edges of the walls and the trees. Sheep grazed and bleated softly.
   Beneath the scudding clouds David walked on; one step followed another. Every now and again a flurry of rain swept across the path but it was nothing. David looked up and enjoyed the spectacle of bulging clouds flocking, like so many monsterly sheep, across a starry sky although a three-quarter moon was still providing enough light to walk by without the torch. David took in the rise of the land and, from his memory of the map, earmarked a gateway up ahead as a possible junction.
   Half an hour later he was lost.
   David stopped and pulled out his head torch and the map. The phone was dead so GPS wasn’t going to solve his problem any time soon. Looking closely he could not decide which path he was on, so instead he traced an area bound by road and lake which he knew he had to be in. It was only about two square miles but it was far from comforting. He was well aware that two square miles provided ample opportunity for walking round in circles.
   He looked back up about him. Somewhere, maddeningly, the lake, with all its lights, was waiting for him. He pulled back his left sleeve to look at his watch. It was quarter past eight. The last ferry was nine ‘o’ clock. If he missed it then he missed a night at Ambleside Youth Hostel and a warm slice of nostalgia. Not to mention the waste of thirty five pounds.
   A treetop roared as a blast of wind tore into it. The first flutter of panic shivered through him. He’d wasted half an hour. Where would he be in another half hour? The clouds were consolidating into a uniform mass. What little natural light there was would be as good as gone in a few more minutes. The land had lost its shape and the only landmarks he could rely on were the trees, but all they told him was that he was in a wood.

National Trust Library / Anthony Marshall

   David told himself to get a grip. It was impossible to get truly lost in the Lake District. Every walker knew that. You could lose your way, you could go down the wrong valley but sooner or later you’d meet a road or a pub or a sign or someone else stupid enough to be out in all weathers. He was on a path, he should stick to it. Something would turn up. He tucked the map away and set off.
   ‘Watch out!’
   ‘Sorry! Christ!’ David exclaimed, his heart racing. He’d almost walked straight into the man. ‘I wasn’t looking where I was going.’
   ‘Lost?’ the man asked. He wore an amused smile under his hood.
    ‘Er, yes. I’m sorry to say,’ David confessed sheepishly. ‘I don’t suppose you could …’
   ‘Of course,’ the man assured him as David pulled out his now rather sodden map. ‘Here, look,’ he pointed with a finger, ‘see where it says ‘Crier of Claife’? You’re on the path just above there.’
   David screwed up his eyes. It seemed an odd name for anything but sure enough, as he wiped away another drip, he saw what the man was pointing at. Then he saw how far wrong he’d gone.
   ‘Bloody Hell, I’m miles away,’ he groaned. ‘Listen, thanks mate, I’m going to have to get a move on. I’m meant to be getting the ferry.’
   David stuffed the map back into his pocket and started to run off. From the map he’d seen that, although the path was currently heading away from the ferry, it would soon snake down to Windermere and once by the side of the lake he could pick up an obvious track back to where he should have been about forty minutes ago.
   ‘Hang on!’ The man called after him. ‘You’ll break a leg. I’ll show you a better way. I’m in no hurry.’
   David paused. He was torn. His sense of adventure had returned and, if he was honest, no sooner had this Good Samaritan reassured him that he wasn’t completely lost then he wanted shot of him. On the other hand the guy clearly had a point. Three miles or so in half an hour, probably less, was doable, just, but one slip on an exposed rock or over one of the many tree roots and he really would be in trouble. And what was to stop him getting lost again? He couldn’t expect any more Guardian Angels appearing on a night like this.
   ‘Sure,’ David said as he came back. ‘That’s very kind of you.’
   ‘It’s no problem. John by the way.’
   ‘Er -David. Hi.’
   ‘There’s a cut down just a little way back,’ John explained as he led off with swift, precise strides. ‘No way you could have seen it tonight. Come on.’
   John had been walking without a head torch and clearly saw no reason to use one now. David followed behind in the wobbling light of his torch, feeling as if years of pavements and suburbia had robbed him of something.
   ‘Down here,’ John pointed a few minutes later. ‘Hard to believe isn’t it?’
   ‘Looks like a black hole,’ David agreed. ‘At least I didn’t miss something obvious.’
   ‘Don’t worry about it,’ John said over his shoulder as he picked his way along the thinnest of paths. ‘I’ve lived here all my life, wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. It’s about to throw it down.’
  A few moments later the raindrops fattened and began to hurl themselves down. Fortunately the path had taken them into a dense patch of coniferous trees. John kept up his pace.
   ‘How can you see where you’re going?’ David asked, bemused at the agility of the man in front.
   ‘Like I say, I’ve lived here all my life,’ John replied. ‘I know it back to front.’
   ‘I used to be able to do that,’ David mused wistfully. ‘I’m getting soft. And old.’
   John laughed. ‘Rubbish.’
   The two men continued on in companionable silence for a few more minutes. The ground was steep but the path was steady and it wasn’t long before David finally saw some clusters of light which he knew had to be on the far side of the lake.
   ‘I was beginning to wonder what they’d done with the lake,’ he admitted, feeling his shoulders relaxing. ‘Thought I was going to spend the rest of the night going round in circles. Where was it you said I was near?’
   ‘The Crier of Claife,’ John told him. ‘It’s an old quarry.’
   ‘Funny name for a quarry.’
   ‘Ah, well, there’s a story about that,’ John said enigmatically.
   ‘Go on,’ David grinned, catching the other man’s look. ‘I’m intrigued.’
   ‘Are you sure?’ John asked, his eyes sparking in David’s torch light. ‘It’s a ghost story.’
   ‘It’s a good night for one.’
   ‘True,’ John nodded and led off again. ‘But you’ve been warned!’
   ‘I stand warned,’ David agreed.

   ‘Okay. So - Once upon a time there was a monk-‘
   ‘I like it already.’
   ‘It gets better,’ John warmed to the task. ‘He had been sent from the great abbey at Furness – you can still see it now, or some of it, in Barrow – to try and sort out a brothel which, apparently, used to sit up somewhere on Claife heights tending to the ‘needs’ of the drovers. They used to take their stock over the lake by the ferry then walk it over the hill to trade at Hawkshead market.’
   ‘What was he supposed to do about it?’ David wondered.
   ‘His job was to make them see the light, prostitutes and drovers alike. Get them to repent. Mend their wicked ways.’
   ‘I take it he failed?’ David said as the ground began to level out.
   ‘Worse. He fell in love.’
   ‘Who with? Oh, right – with one of the prostitutes. Oh.’
   ‘Exactly. Not what you’d consider a good career move.’
   ‘So he ran off with her...’
   ‘Worse.’ John paused for dramatic effect. ‘He killed himself because she didn’t love him back. You can probably turn that off now.’
   ‘What? Oh right my torch,’ David reached up and pressed the switch on his head torch. They had reached the main path by the lake. The going was easy and, despite the glowering sky, there was enough residual light coming across the water from Bowness for David to make his way without any help. The evening was back on track.
   ‘So, the monk’s the ghost’
   ‘The monk’s the ghost,’ John confirmed. ‘And, by all accounts, he was very good at it.’
   ‘Lots of wailing?’ David prompted.
   ‘Loads of wailing,’ John chuckled. ‘And howling and moaning. The works. They say they used to be able to hear it in Bowness sometimes, drifting across the lake. But the locals now will tell you that if anybody does think they hear anything odd, it’s probably just a deer or a fox.’
   ‘A fox?’
   ‘A barking fox makes a pretty weird noise,’ John explained. ‘Louder than you’d think and it’s not so different from a man screaming. Listen!’
   A rude metallic scraping sound filled the air. David took a sharp intake of breath.
   ‘The ramp of the ferry hitting the road at the far side of the lake,’ John explained, putting a reassuring arm on David’s shoulder. ‘It’s even louder on this side.’
   ‘Caught me by surprise,’ David confessed, feeling a little foolish. ‘I suppose if I didn’t know what that was, I could invent something scary.’
   ‘I suppose you could,’ John replied, suddenly sounding distant. ‘You just have to stick to the path now. In half a mile it turns into a narrow road. At the end of that, turn left and the ferry’s just ahead.’
   ‘Oh, right – er, thanks,’ David replied, a little thrown by his companion’s abrupt change of tone.
   ‘You’ll probably need to run a little to be sure you make it,’ John explained. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’
   ‘Yeah - okay. Look, nice to meet you.’ David hovered, wondering whether to offer a hand. ‘Shame you didn’t get to finish the story. ’
   ‘I guess you were just getting to the juicy bit.’
   ‘You could say,’ John smiled. Now that David had a better look at him he saw a younger man than he’d expected, no more than his twenties, with a pale, unweathered face. His smile looked strangely forced, like a mask protecting something else. He stayed like that as David reluctantly broke into a gentle run.

To be continued...........

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