This Freedom 1926 Part one

This Freedom001

And now, for ten days, I have the wish.  Ten whole days in which to exercise ‘this freedom’, in which I own no master, no allegiance to anyone, even be he the king; in which my mood will take me where it will – as it will; my bicycle to take me – some money (not too much of that !), and ten days of absolute, untrammelled freedom – why, I was the wealthiest man in the whole world !  So I packed up my kit; on a cycling tour the secret lies in knowing not what to carry, but what not to carry.  The ‘tenderfoot’ tourist, even if he has studied the problem, always takes too much luggage with him; only experience can teach him what constitute ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’.  So, modestly enough, claiming to have some idea of the hang of it, I took the following to pull me through ten days.

A spare shirt, a pair of stockings and handkerchiefs were my touring extras, to which might be added nearly a dozen maps Bartholomew’s CTC half inch to a mile, and that golden key to touring, the CTC Handbook.  My cape of course is my regular kit.  I was clothed to the best advantage, though perhaps not very conventionally, wearing light cycling shoes and stockings, flannel ‘shorts’, sports shirt and alpaca jacket – which is about as thick as a piece of tissue paper.  Thus I combined coolness with a maximum amount of freedom of limb.  To conclude, the only knowledge of where I was going was a hazy notion of the South coast, Sussex, Dorset or Devon – and even that would depend on my mood.  The only thing I had promised was to meet a motorcycling uncle at Llanberis on the return Friday evening, with a view to climbing Snowdon.  But till then I had seven days, and much can be seen and done in seven days.

I had decided to get away at 5am on the great morning, for my first day was to get me somewhere about Gloucester, but as is my habit I was late, and what with messing about cooking breakfast and other things, it was 6.30 when I banged the door; then, as I mounted I felt that I was free at last – my holiday had started.  How sweet were those rural by-lanes, the pretty, winding lanes of the ‘old, familiar road’, those little cottages and quiet villages by which I sped ere I reached my Southward road at Beeston.  My Southward road was the great highway that runs from end to end of the British wonderland, from Lands End to John-o-Groats, and for many miles this was to carry me.  To Whitchurch the scenery was typical Cheshire – and remained so when I had crossed the border into Shropshire.  I crossed a corner of Prees Heath, the scene of a big military encampment during the War, then I rode through pleasantly scented pasture country and drew into the Hawkestone Hills, similar to Peckforton Hills in formation and very beautiful.  With very little climbing the road wormed its way through the range to picturesque Lee Brockhurst.  Hadnall introduced me to long, straight stretches of road that would be uninteresting were it not for the distant views of the border mountains and the nearer Wrekin, and that this is the plain on which was fought the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.  There is a village called Battlefield and a memorial church three miles from Shrewsbury.

Stifling a strong desire to make a slight detour to Wroxeter, where is the Roman Uriconium, I ran into Salop, where I had a lunch of strawberries and cream with other delicacies, for which I was charged a formidable price.  Heeding not the various attractions of Shrewsbury, I crossed the English bridge which was being widened, and took the Ludlow road.  The scenery was nothing to write about, being flat and monotonous and motorised, and as I faced a stiff breeze and unaccountably became saddle-sore, I was not sorry when I came up against the hill-country, and entered the narrow vale between Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd, in which lies the residential town of Church Stretton.  I searched high and low here for maps of the Dorset and Devon coasts without avail.

The hill-country became splendid, and the villages were glorious pictures in ‘black and white’ and flowery gardens, whilst the wind turned and sided me now, so I easily ticked back the miles, having the good fortune to run into a heavy rainstorm, which was luxuriously cooling.  Unhappily, it soon passed off.  Just after Craven Arms I turned to view quaint little Stokesay Castle, and becoming enamoured of it, went inside.  Though not a ruin, the castle interior is barren of equipment, except for one room, which has been turned into a tiny museum, in which are various local relics and documents relevant to Stokesay.  I know nothing of its history, except that it dates from the 13th century, the timber work that gives it such a picturesque appearance being added in the Elizabethan period, thus converting it into a kind of fortified mansion.  I fancy that the ornamental fireplace and beautiful plaster work also belong to these latter times.  I was sorry to see that the main hall has been converted into a refreshment hall.

This Freedom002 Whilst I had been pottering about the castle, another rainstorm had come, but just as I made a dash to get in it, it passed away, and soon the merciless sun was beating down in approved heat-wave fashion.  A wide, perfect road carried me through a rich haymaking country to Ludlow, which is situated above the River Teme.  There is an old bridge over the river, leading into the steep main street, and from this bridge one gets an imposing view of the castle, a ruined fortress similar in style, I thought, to Kenilworth.  In Ludlow are some ancient little ‘bits’, the best being old inns, a notable example of which is the ‘Feathers’.  I had another exhaustive search here for maps but met with the same rebuffs as at Church Stretton.

My lot was now the type of country that often lies in view of a main road, just ‘country’ – nothing else, whilst the main road itself suffered for a time from the usual complaint, traffic.  The heat too, was almost unbearable, and at Woofferton, where I was tempted to follow the Teme Valley to old-world Tenbury and Worcester, I enjoyed the doubtful ‘fun’ of wallowing along a newly tarred two miles length of road.  By the time I had dissected countless tarry stones from my knees and shoes, and succeeded in liberally transferring the dauby stuff to my hands, I had decided to go straight ahead.  Then the country took on a new outlook, the road winding in and out like an alluring by-lane with the country around just like a garden.  Herefordshire !  I met a tandem couple who turned out to be two prominent members of my club, and with whom I had a long chat.  They were as brown as berries, had been in Devon and Cornwall, had there obtained, besides an unhealthy taste for cider, a great enthusiasm for the West Country and they urged me to go their way, lending me maps and putting me ‘on’ several finds, in the shape of caterers and lodging houses.  So I left them, and the half-formed thoughts of heading West resolved into a decision.  I had tea in an old-world cottage in old-world Leominster, or ‘Lemster’, as it is pronounced, and then ran into a magnificent country, perhaps not really magnificent in the right sense of the word, but a bit of untainted England, fields of waving wheat all splashed with crimson poppies, long-grass meadows, rolling up and down in furling waves….

‘-Such and up and down,

Of verdure, noting too much up or down,

A ripple of land, as if God’s finger touch’d

But did not press in making England’.

and hedges ablaze with roses.  Once the road climbed evenly for a mile or more, and I had a fine view from the summit, a view of sweeping hills – waves of land all green and red and brown and gold until the blue haze of distance mingled it all.  I came to quaint old Hereford, busy Hereford, I should say, for the Saturday night crowds were about.  Perhaps the best thing to remind me of Hereford will be the long search for ‘sun-specs’ I had.  I wanted some ‘sun-specs’ for my eyes had ached that day with the glare of the sun, but the millions of midges which seem to be all determined to explore the inner recesses of my eyes were my chief reason for the investment.  Hereford was combed for those ‘specs’, and I got them just as I was about to give up the hunt.  But they were good ones, and I yet mourn their loss, which came about a month later on the Berwyns – Bwlch Rhiw Hirnant, to be precise.  I must hold the crowds responsible for my failure to take a proper look at Hereford Cathedral and for not looking up the street where Nell Gwynne was born, but I did spend a moment looking down at the sylvan Wye from the old bridge.  That, I think, concluded my associations with the ancient city of Hereford.

This Freedom003

The next 14 miles on the hills to the west of the Wye Valley hold glorious memories yet with me.  The sun was setting; over the hills and valleys, green fields and woods was the hush of a summer twilight, a twilight that, at first tinged with the rays of the setting sun, golden hued, changed ever so slowly until the distant hills went blue and hazy and a dead quiet settled o’er the countryside.  Then is the time when the bicycle scores, when one glides noiselessly along, when one is, and desires to be, at peace with the great peace around, when one may sit on a stile and watch the distant mountains turn from purple to blue, and see the haze of night – a filmy cloak steal over them, when one may walk slowly uphill and see the roses drooping to sleep, or catch the scents of the hedgerows and hayfields; that is when one draws closer to infinite secrets of Nature, and feels the call of the countryside.  Add that to the thoughts of a whole week – more than a week of such country and it will be readily understood how supremely happy I was.  I revelled in my bare arms, open neck and, yes, bare knees, loose, light clothing, and in the knowledge that now, time was my own; I could go whither I chose.  I would put up in the next village till the next village came, then the next, and so on, for I hated to give up riding on such an evening.  The freedom of cycle touring, it is great !

Eventually I found myself crossing the Wye again and entering a quaint little town, Ross on Wye, where I took counsel with myself.  The local clock was set at 9.15; Gloucester, the next place in the handbook was 16 miles away.  Was it feasible tonight?  An hour’s hard-riding if the roads were not hilly, an hour hard-riding in country like this – no, I couldn’t do it, so I found a place, had supper to the tune of a wireless concert from 2LO (You can’t get thoroughly away from modern life even in quaint little Ross) then took a walk when dusk was deepening to night, and a bright streak over the Black Mountains of Brecon was all that was left of a magnificent day, a day of 148 miles of the English Wonderland.  Back at my little Temperance Hotel I sat listening to the burlesque of Harry Lauder, and to the engaging remarks of the daughter of the house, a rather pretty ‘modern maid of Ross’, who wanted me to tell her of the latest things in jazz and hairdressing in town.  I’m afraid that I failed to tell her more than she already knew, for I did not know myself, but all the same I must apologise to Harry Lauder for neglecting him.  The end of a perfect day !

Over Moel Sych 2,713ft


Over Moel Sych001 September, 1932, like ‘the Lady April’ had her full share of moods.  One associates this lovely month with bountiful harvest, with sunshine and blue skies, a period of settled weather through which creeps approaching autumn.  But this month was tearful, sunny, shaken by gales, frost and calm and hot, mixing all the varieties of our English climate into an April pot-pourri.

On the third Saturday afternoon I crossed Chat Moss under the bluest of skies.  Little puffs of white cloud floated slowly along, and the sun was hot, like full summer.  I moved quickly, as one who has many miles to cover in few hours, for Jo and Fred would be awaiting me ninety miles away, and they had promised to have a grand supper awaiting my arrival.  Although adding a few miles I took the Tarporley road in preference to the main road by Chester and Chirk.  I was on roads that make hurry possible.  The little hills and long levels of this familiar highway, with a light breeze behind, kept my feet circling quickly; unconsciously, as my mind travelled with my eyes along the hedges and into cottage gardens.  Twelve years before I had first timidly crept along here in a mood of discovery, my wondering senses in a growing delight of new sights and scenes, and now I appreciated it just as much, looking forward to the next bend just as keenly, though I had turned that bend a hundred times.  There is something great about the way one can travel the same old roads so many times in the same spirit of enthusiasm.  It would break one’s heart to know that never again could one’s face be set towards them.  Death were better!

I appreciate suitable company, but when an alien voice breaks upon a mental ecstasy, I curse silently, and answer with an eloquent semi-silence.  This voice announced a desire to be listened to for the next ten miles to Bunbury – ten of the loveliest, most expectant, miles.  At least he had a turn of speed, so we whipped along until the lane which led him to his lady-love appeared, and I found myself alone again.  Eleven miles to Whitchurch, easy, glorious miles, with the red hills of Peckforton to the west, a roaming place on many a Sunday with Tom in the past nine years.

[Now alas with his real buddy, Tom Idle no longer.  One year earlier, Tom Idle had stepped up to the altar and married a Welsh girl and presumably settled down in North Wales, for we hear no more about him, and my computer searches have thrown up nothing.  Charlie must have been gutted for in his record of cycle runs kept for 25 years, just two words against the entry for 28 September 1931, “Tom’s Wedding”]. 

Two miles from Whitchurch, on the Shropshire border a tandem pair caught up to me, and boasted how they had come all the way from Burtonwood by St Helens.  I agreed they had done a good ride (almost as far as I had) but when they complained of the hard road I laughed.  “You’ll have harder yet!” I forecasted, as, entering Whitchurch, I sent them on to the Wellington road, myself turning westward in an oblique slant towards the Welsh border.

A few miles along the Ellesmere road I stopped for tea at a cottage all but hidden in a long riot of a garden.  Fifty six miles were good enough for an afternoon ride.  Now the level waters of the Mere, the narrow streets of Ellesmere, the crossing of the Holyhead road at Whittington, where the great towers and moat of a feudal castle add romance to the place.  I have heard it said that here was born the poor boy who dreamed of London streets paved with gold, and who became the Capital’s greatest Lord Mayor three times.  Behind the fairy story of Dick Whittington is the germ of truth.  Saturday night in Oswestry, narrow streets, great crowds, dusk – and the road again, beating south again as the moon came up.

There is a cross roads at Llynclys, and there I turned westwards, between low hills, growing higher, with a river growing swifter, clearer, the Tanat river.  Lamplit, in moonlight, a road almost level, are ideal conditions of travel, and my wheels sped for many miles, veered at last from the main valley, and came to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, the deep village under the shadow of Berwyn.  The last four miles above the Rhaeadr stream would shatter any dream of speed, the ninety miles in my legs began to tell their tale, and my mind was occupied with the promised supper, now so near.  I had earned it, I felt.  After an array of good things there was to be plum pudding overspread with custard.  Two helpings.  Then I would lie back in supreme comfort when it was over, and smoke a reminiscent cigarette.

There was Pistyll Rhaeadr ahead, a tall black cliff shutting up the valley, with the white streak of water upon it, a farm, even a group of great fir trees dwarfed by this, the highest waterfall in Wales.  On the last hill above the farm I turned aside through a gate, along a good green track, and at the first bend I saw our two tents romantically placed across the track – the only level spot in that region.  The tents were unlit and deserted; inside I saw the rest of the kit hurriedly thrown down.  Leaned against the steep moor were the two bicycles.  Then I saw the table.  This was a huge, flat-topped rock about two feet high.  For lack of other space Fred had encircled it within the tent, one large section protruding from the doorway.  And even the table was bare!

My light had evidently been seen, for there were voices calling me from somewhere far below in the bottom of the valley.  Some time later two overheated cyclists burst through the bracken below the path, carrying a milk can and canvas bucket.  They had foraged the farm without luck, and taking a short cut along this branch valley had become tangled up in fences, heather, and bog.

Long afterwards the pudding appeared, if not hot and steaming, at least warm on the outside.  Of custard there was none, but we sat round our rocky table in the bright moonlight and ate, and drank coffee ad lib, and yarned.  The ‘table’ effectively stopped us from closing up the tent, so Fred and I slept curled round it.

Cool and sulky morning.  How often has serene eventide lulled our last thoughts into a golden morrow, to find, on awakening, a transformation, a promise falsified?  The rain barely held off while we packed our kit away, and as we moved on in single file along the narrowing path the rain came, “gentle as the dew from heaven” at first, then steadily settling in, in true Berwyn fashion.  At a stream the track ended, the trouble began, the usual becaped struggle over tufty grass, tangly heather, into the wild amphitheatre in which lie reed edged, gloomy Llyn Lluncaws, under the frowning brow of Moel Sych.  As this was our third crossing we feared no false moves, and skirted the lake, striking by the easiest route, towards a rugged summit ridge directly north.

There is no easy way, with heavily laden bicycles that first summit was reached by sheer hard graft.  The cumbrous capes, the slipping grass, brought us down in turns, and we fell heavily.  The heather tugged at us.  This ridge gave a view into the deep jaws of Maen Gwynedd valley, across which the rain slanted.  Now the climb was toward Moel Sych itself, aslant  the main spur, again a devilish struggle, this time with loose scree to cross, over which one looked down hundreds of feet of rock to Llyn Lluncaws.  I was well ahead when I saw Jo suddenly slip and come down, bicycle and all on the very edge of the cliff.  Fred dropped his bike and made a grab, hauling her clear, with not a foot of space nor a moment of time to spare.  Dangerous moments!  No injuries, just a word of thanks, and once more the slow, wary plod with shouldered bikes.  These things are not remarkable, just the rough chances of the hills which the three of us are willing to take.

Over Moel Sych004The summit cairn of Moel Sych, yours truly aged 15 in shorts, Fred Dunster left of picture and H H Willis seated and standing behind another RSF member known only as ‘Bart’.  This picture and story incidentally, complement the release on this website of the story ‘Behind the Ranges’, released on 21st of January this year.  This ‘summit’ took place at Easter 1956, on the occasion of the very first RSF Easter Meet.  Below you will see a picture – an old one – of Charlie in a tartan shirt taking tea with our RSF President Sir Hugh and Lady Rankin at the same Easter Meet.

Over Moel Sych003

A tiny ‘gateway’ of a gap in the rock heralded the summit, and hot and winded we threw ourselves down.  Our altitude was 2,715 ft; the great backbone of Berwyn heaved away with its many ribs eastward.  Llyn Lluncaws lay a thousand feet below in dark reflection, a pear shaped mirror.  On the northern side, miles of bog-ridden moorland slopes wasting away into the rain.  Nothing more, except the sense of vastness and a great solitude.

Now the long descent, three miles and more of wary treading.  Again we were fortified by past experience.  The exultation of winning to a difficult summit is apt to vanish when the subsequent descent becomes so involved that one wearies of even hoping to get down to sane, hard roads again, and we shall never forget such an experience in rain and bog when every step had become a labour, every movement an effort, every vista a morale-shattering vista of endless acres of shaggy tussocks emphasised by boggy runnels that were more to be feared than the bitter tops.  That is when one begins to long for the easy pleasure of just lying down and perhaps sleeping, sleeping on and on…  for ever.  We had learned the way, striking down the slope of Nant Esgeiriau, remaining sufficiently above the watercourses to avoid shouldering the heavy bikes again.  The rain ceased – perhaps we got below the clouds – and at a farmhouse called Rhuol we reached the old road which runs up Cwm Pennant to join the Milltir Cerig.  There we tried to make ourselves look less disreputable, changed into dry stockings (but kept on soaked shoes), started the primus stoves, and did ourselves well on the rest of our food.

Jo was the lucky one for once; she had a day or two to spare, and gathering together our kit, bade us au revoir, to penetrate deeper into Merioneth.  Fred and I, with over eighty miles yet to cover, turned our wheels eastward from Llandrillo, through the vale of Edeyrnion to Corwen, laboured over the Llandegla Moors to a belated tea at Chester.

In the quiet glow of evening, with September once again in her golden mood, we planned our next hill-crossing, little dismayed by the hostile reception Moel Sych seems to hold against our persistent wooing.

By the way, Moel Sych means ‘Dry Hill’.

Over Moel Sych002

Camping Cameo Four

Camping Cameo 4 03


         We had covered hard country that day, and we were tired.  Dusk had come as we crossed Stang Pass from Barnard Castle to Reeth, but the lovely evening, changing into night, had kept us on…Easter Sunday 1931……  through a section of Swaledale, over the ridge to Leyburn and across Wensleydale to Middleham.  We entered Coverdale, but searched long and fruitlessly in the dark for a farm campsite.  The open moors would have suited us, but the nearest moorland site was far up the dale………and we were tired.  At last at the end of the cosy street we sighted a farm building – the last farm in Carlton Coverdale – a long black building, with a little curtained window dimly lit.  Searching around, we found a gate giving access to a large side door, and through its many cracks a light was burning.

One of us knocked, and the result was silence.  A second knock resulted in heavy breathing from behind the door.  We waited and the breathing stopped after a time.  Doubtless here was an old man.  Again we knocked, and the breathing started again.  A very old man, we agreed.  A chain started to rattle; the door was being loosened, we surmised.  The rattling ceased and silence reigned again.  This must be a very old man who is very much fatigued, we reiterated, and felt sorry to disturb him.  We knocked yet again and the chain started to rattle again, this time continuing without ever seeming to be loosed.  The thing began to get weird, and we got no ‘forrarder’.  One of us at last gave a loud rat-tat on the door.  A horse whinneyed…….!

Further searching about the long, blank mysterious building with it’s one little curtained window and it’s lighted stable, brought us to a path which led round the back.  The secret was out!  The ‘back’ was the ‘front’, and the side in the village street was actually the back.  There was a door on this side and a cottage window beside it, so we knocked on the door.  Someone moved about but did not answer, so in a little while we knocked again.  We heard another movement, the light went out of the room, and in a moment re-appeared in another room on the other side of the door, probably a scullery to judge by the tiny window.  Then silence again.  The place got on our nerves, and one of us, determined to know something, knocked again, hard.  Came a slouching sound as of old, tired feet on stone flags, a series of bolts were drawn (we counted about six), then a period of fumbling, a creak, and the door was flung open.  Tightly rolled strips of paper fell in all directions, obviously packing from all around the door, and an old man evilly dressed with a face that was screwed up in bitter, miserly rage, stood, first surveying his scattered papers, then looking bloodthirsty-like at us.  “Can you find us a place to pitch a couple of tents?”, one of us ventured.  “No” he snarled.  We turned away immediately, and left him to rebolt his door and replace all the bits of newspaper.

We found a beautiful little place a mile further on, and obtained whatever we desired, but we could get no information whatever about the long, blank, ‘back to front’ building in Carlton Coverdale.

A Vagabond Way Part Two

I had given myself a hard task considering the heat, having undoubtedly chosen the hilliest possible way, and as far as Pen-y-bont-fawr (which lay over a nasty hill) I paid for it, but from there I became suddenly energetic, romping up the stuffy valley that leads over from Cwm Hirnant to Lake Vyrnwy.  I shall not forget the ride along the shore of the lake, for Vyrnwy, though a reservoir, is a gem that could vie with Ullswater for sheer beauty of setting.  But the gnats………!

A Vagabond Way003



Then that wonderful tramp up Cwm Eunant, along the atrocious track that joins the Bwlch-y-Groes road.  The time was getting late, and already the sun was sinking, hanging lie a pendant ruby above the teeth of the mountains, ready, it seemed, to drop into the rocky abyss behind.  The moors about me, two thousand feet high, brooded with the stillness of death.  Not a soul, not a house, not a bird, nor even a trickling stream, just a great expanse of mute brown moors, bare shoulders leaning to the infinity of space – and the teeth of rugged monsters ahead to which the brown trackway  seemed to run in crazy coils and twists and loops.  Nature, maybe, cried ‘shame’ to see me hurry then, but there was a sunset over Aran Mawddwy that would not tarry, and I would see its splendour.

Seelah!  The magic moorlands crumpled on the left, and in their bosom lay a deep vale, indescribably green and serene, winding down till vale and hills were one again in misty distance.  I saw another trackway pass across my vision, and fall, in a single slant, down the face of a precipice to the Vale below……Bwlch-y-Groes.  I left my bike and ran up to the summit of the Bwlch, and up again over moss and heather to a crowning knoll.  I saw the flaming orb of the sun sink behind black rock; I saw a hundred colours shoot up above the fangs; I saw the colours change and fade, and change again, until the light retreated and left the mountains to themselves.  Perhaps I was mad, for I skipped down the Pass of the Groes like a child, leading my bike and singing aloud.  I skipped down 1200 feet to the valley below till the mountains hung over me.  In a tiny village shop where the chief articles of sale seemed to be candles, I asked for eggs and butter, and underwent a critical survey from every villager, for this was apparently the village gathering ground o’nights.   A ten-shilling note which I proffered was accepted dubiously and subjected to a severe scrutiny by three of the menfolk, and to give me change the place was ransacked.  Yet I have been thinking I am poor!

Two miles further along, when it was almost dark, I cast around for a likely site for a night’s undisturbed vagabonding.  I found a cosy place beside a hedge at the edge of a wood far up the mountainside.  There was a stream trickling through the wood, and too nearly dry to be really clean, but in cases such as this it is not the policy of a wise camper to question too closely.  The gnats and mosquitoes, in search of food, found me a morsel much to their taste, and though I slaughtered thousands over supper, thousands more came, and I retreated up the hillside.  I made my bed well up the slope whence I could look down on the lights of the valley and up at the lights of heaven.

Consciousness always comes to me very slowly, reluctantly.  I awoke to a feeling of strangeness, and quite a minute passed before I discovered that I was in the hedge.  I had rolled down the slope for ten yards or so, but (as a hardened vagabond) I had slept untroubled.  My groundsheet was still on the hillside!  A tang was in the air, and when I got up I felt a little cold, but I ran along the hedge waving my canvas water-bucket and towel in mid-air, and ere I reached the tiny stream I was warm enough.

What a life it was!  There I was, cooking breakfast in the open with the broad vale of Dyfi below, and the sunlight tipping the mountain tops; with clothing light and scanty as decency permits, laughing and singing to myself – alive to the glorious world I owned.  A world of the mind, but a wide, wide world, boundless and infinite as Space-time.

A brown road below me, road of the valley, winding under the crouching hillsides of Mawddwy, crossing sparkling streams that tinkled lightly in the draught of summer, hedged by winsome wild roses and scented with honeysuckle; fields that rippled gold lakes of buttercups, and lay under the snow of daisies; gardens that blushed shyly – marguerites that grew boldly in grassy borders.  And high above the brown ranges of Mawddwy.  Was it on such a morn with such a sight that made old George Borrow cry out the native “heddychol ddyfryn tlws” – peaceful, pretty vale – as he swung down from the Pass of the Cross?  I’d wager it was!

With Dinas Mawddwy slumbering yet, I crept away along Cwm Cerist.  The sun scorched again with all yesterday’s fury, making the mountain recess of the Cwm hot and uncomfortable.  The road tilted upwards, wedging its way into Bwlch Oerddrws, the long, steep gradient bringing back all the old yearning for ‘waters cool and deep’.  Bwlch Oerddrws means ‘Cold Door Pass’, but the hot breath of wind that greeted me on the summit merited the appellation ‘Blackberry Joe’ once gave it, ‘Oven Door Pass’.  But there were views yet unsmothered by heat, views of the great humps of Mawddwy with deep, narrow vales intersecting, and ahead views of the lovely Mawddach and the proud Giants Nose of Cader Idris.

To put it mildly, I crashed down to Cross Foxes and revelled on the magnificent, reconstructed road from Tall-y-Llyn to Dolgelly.  For the hundredth time I passed along the Mawddach Estuary in wonder and muttered that “this were paradise enow”, till the Trawsfynydd-Ffestiniog Road breaks away into a paradise of its own – the Vale of Eden.  It is Eden, with temptations on every hand.  One was a path, and it took me up to Rhaiadr Du, the Black Cataract, where the water splits in two and falls down a rocky chasm into a deep pool.  Around is verdant growth that belies the name of it.

Opposite the way to Rhaiadr Du another path took me down to the Mawddach which flowed between high cliffs in a channel at least fifteen feet deep, with a rustic footbridge leading across towards a farm.  The water was so clear that I could see the minutest object at the bottom, and, prior to taking a dive, thought it was no more than five or six feet deep.  In a dive from the bridge and a downward swim, I barely touched the bottom, and came up on the last gasp like a cork.  I frolicked about for an hour or more in the beautifully cold water, and on the hot rock-slabs, cooked my lunch and ate it in bathing costume, and afterwards went in for a long series of final dips.  My frame of mind suited that bohemian style, and surely no-one ever had more beautiful surroundings.  There was the river, all waterfalls, rapids and deep channels flowing between tall rock as full of living colour as the flowers and trees, and all around where mountains shining in the sun, with the ridge of Cader Idris o’er them all.  And the deep blue of the sky was faultless.

This Garden of Eden, however, is no sinecure on a hot day; it climbs relentlessly uphill, and when I had dragged myself up for two miles I remembered that I had left my shaving outfit in Paradise, and ruefully unclimbed it all too quickly, recovered those instruments of torture to a sun-burned skin and once more faced the steady drag up to the open moorlands.

On the last steep pull out of the last belt of upland trees I saw a dead snake.  It lay curled up in the middle of the road, its head crushed by the wheel of a motor-car.  For a British snake it was a very big one, being roughly twenty-seven inches long, measured by my shoes.  The colour was brown mottled, with a skin wrinkled as is the shell of a tortoise, and white underneath.  I do not know what kind of snake it was – certainly not a grass snake, and possibly a kind of adder or even a species of viper, both of which are dangerous.  I surmised that its marshy home had dried in the prolonged heat and it had been crossing the road towards the river Eden when a passing motorist had caught it.  (Probably a species of viper, rather uncommon in Britain – March 1931).

There were open moorlands to Trawsfynydd, with the road hilly and the tar soft underwheel, with a long range of many-headed peaks on the seaward side.  There lies the unfrequented wilds of the Ardudwy Hundred with their neglected passes – Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, and Bwlch Tiddiad.  I saw the deep gap of the Gate, and remembered the Roman Steps in the mists of rain-clouds one September evening.  They have recently built a huge reservoir at Trawsfynydd, and the good God, Electricity, starts from here to supply the border lands with power.  Power to drive ten thousand wheels, to light ten thousand homes.

                                                             Cwm Prysor

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The map shows a track twelve miles long from Trawsfynydd to Arenig on the Bala-Ffestiniog road.  It was a track I have never explored, and I joined it that day.  As all mountain tracks, it started quite innocent, of fair surface, with many gates, and very hilly, but quite promising, withal.  In a mile or so the surface worsened, and then went steadily worse until a stream, which had kept close company for some distance, became one with the road.  Deep holes, boulders, sand, loose stones and the fiery heat made riding impossible and walking slow and painful.  I walked for miles into Nant Due [not identified on a 1951 Ordnance Survey map, but near lots of Roman remains! Ed], a tortuous valley, where a concrete bridge had been washed away by the last storm, and left just as the floods had abandoned it.  Tremendous chunks of concrete lay all over the track; higher up it was a mere footpath – or a mere rut on the mountain-side.  The beginning of Cwm Prysor was heralded by interminable hills, and Cwm Prysor was as dry as Pussyfoot Johnson, with not a ghost of a stream to slake a thirst.

I had walked about eight or nine miles when I reached Llyn Tryweryn, where I had hoped for a swim, but the whole lake was surrounded by reeds and tall rushes which left it only useful for an obscure suicide, and bad as I felt, I did not want to die just then.  Llyn Tryweryn is used by fishermen, and so I found the path quite good again from there to the highway at Rhyd-y-Fen.  This once was the terror of travellers from Bala to Ffestiniog, or vice-versa, and I have reason to remember more than one wild adventure over Arenig.  But now tarmac replaces the hideous surface that used to be, and in luxury I drifted down for ten miles into Bala.

Llandderfel stands five miles above Bala on the river Dee at the beginning of the Vale of Penllyn.  From Llandderfel to Corwen, the ‘sweet vale of Edeyrnion’ stretches for eight entrancing miles, and there are three roads to confuse the wondering mind for choice.  The main road to Corwen must be used only when time demands speed, but between the secondary road and a rough lane that hugs the river there is little to choose.  What of the road through Llandrillo and Cynwyd, that offers the best of what the Dee can give, and endears one permanently to lovely Merioneth?  And what of a narrow lane that never feels the pulse of petrol engines, that wanders waywardly with the river, that touches but the sleeping walls of hidden farms – that glows with wild rose and over which the heavy scents of honeysuckle hang fragrantly?

I chose the lane; I swam in a little pool on the river; I had tea alfresco by a tumbling stream – I pottered!  For five brief miles I changed my mode and joined the great highway from Corwen to Glyndyfrdwy.  There I crossed the river and along a lane identical with the lane of the Vale of Edernion, I came to a small farm, Groes Llwyd by name, to join my comrades of the “We R 7”; to give up my vagabonding and join them camping in a field on the banks of the Dee.  Some had been touring, some were new to the great camping game, so chins wagged late with travellers’ tales.

Sunday morning was torrid.  From the moment we awoke till we packed  up seven hours later our only clothing were bathing costumes, our sport the placid river Dee.  River bathing and sun bathing is wonderful sport on a hot day – until the sun bites into the unprotected skin.  I suffered for it for many days afterwards.  The popularity of water suddenly came to an end when one of the boys who could not swim got out of his depth and lost his nerve.  He was fished out almost on the last gasp and brought round by artificial respiration.

We separated, my comrades and I, late in the afternoon, for they were bound for Lancashire, and I had my temporary home on the very doorstep of Wales (15 miles to the border at Queensferry).  For me lay a pleasant mountain route; a lane down the Vale of Clywd; the highway pass of Bwlch-y-Parc to Mold, and winding lanes to my temporary Wirral home.

For me, the sweltering steel foundry o’days and the warm sea o’nights, the beacon at Thurstaston, to gaze at the languid sunsets – to look across the sands o’ Dee to blue mountains, and to visualise afresh a Vagabond Way.

A Vagabond Way Part One

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 It was mid-July, and a heat-wave had come along.  It had been coming slowly for days, coming out of the sea beyond Hilbre Island.  I had watched it nightly from the beacon at Thurstaston [Wirral], for it was in the sunsets that had made sea and sky one long track of glory: it had come in with the lazy ships harbour-bound; it had bade adieu to the hesitating stems of outgoing vessels: it was in the milky warmth of the sea at Leasowe, where it had been my wont to bathe those same nights.  It was in the sweating toil of the foundry, where each boiling day I had worked with sand and molten steel.

On one unbearable Wednesday the foreman had come along, and (with tongue in cheek) had spun the ancient yarn of slack trade.  We would have to stop till Monday.  I was sorry, I said (with tongue in cheek).  My face may have appeared downcast, but my heart was glad!  There were those mountains across the Dee, there were rivers, valleys, and there was the sea.  Oh, I was glad!  And so I returned home to Bolton to pick up my camping gear – minus tent, for I would sleep out………. the Vagabond Way.

Next morning I cast around for cooling waters.  On the dusty roads to Ringway I visualised a dream-river of sparkling liquid, cool and deep, and at Castle Mill I found it.  True it was not what I had pictured, for it was narrow, shallow and swift and over it hung an odour faintly reminiscent of sewerage works.  But the weather was so hot!  Like a giant refreshed I wended my way to Knutsford for a mid-afternoon meal.

After that my progress was haphazard.  Lanes, lanes all the while, hot, dry lanes wandering hither and thither, but always drawing me a little nearer to those mountains ‘cross the Dee.  At Little Budworth is a mere near the village store.  The storekeeper, a chatty individual, enlightened me as to the bathing amenities of the mere.  Sometimes the village youths went in, he said, and told me the story of one young fellow who was drowned there two years before.  I gathered that I was almost the counterpart of that unfortunate enthusiast.  Nevertheless, I went in.  It looks pretty enough, but it is a snare and a delusion; I stirred up a deep accumulation of mud the moment I tried to touch the bottom; it tugged at me from beneath, and I fled in terror.

I passed below the Peckforton Hills in that wonderful hour after sunset.  Deep-sunk lanes, when the birds have lapsed into silence, when one hears just the droning wings of flies or homing bees; where cottages nestle behind gardens of riotous assemblage, and when local ancients doze at the garden gate.  Near tiny Bickerton is a well that has served me in dryer times than this, and there my canvas bucket was filled.  I wheeled the bike and carried the precious liquid for miles, along pine-shaded lanes and sandy tracks until I reached a tiny depression right on top of the hills.  With trees all around, and grass like velvet, no-one could desire a better place for vagabonding.  While my Primus boiled my supper porridge, I watched the twilight robe the mountains across the wide plain of the Dee, and thought I’d reached Utopia.

My cape made a ground-sheet on the spring-mattress of turf; my sleeping-bag was ample bedding; above my head the ceiling of the stars, and even as I lay in soliloquy of these things, oblivion drew the curtain o’er them.

The sky was wide and blue, and the fresh, scented air of early morning was on my face; a lark soared high into the ring of blue above me, singing, wheeling, diving.  I followed its flight, and my fancy took flight and soared up with the lark until a touch of sunlight trembled on the tree-tops.  I arose, and (half dressed) ran along the hill top till I was breathless.  Twas good to be so fully alive!  Twas good, this vagabond life, with breakfast of eggs and bacon, thick chunks of bread, marmalade, steaming coffee – a fine, kingly, open-air breakfast.

Then there was a pine-shaded path, and open heath-land constantly in view of the mountains I hoped soon to roam.  There was the breath of new-mown hay in the lanes all the way through Malpas and the border village of Worthenbury, and at Bangor Is-y-Coed there was the river Dee, deep and clean…….I yielded.

Changing my direction, I followed the river closely to Overton, and a fine bit of valley scenery near Erbistock followed by a parched bit of semi-industrialism led me across the black, broad, shiny Holyhead road south of Chirk, into a prosaic, Sunday-school type of village.  But from that point I was back in the mountains, on a dusty lane that crawled along the southern side of the vale of Ceiriog.  There is a hamlet called Bron-y-Garth, and just below is a pool on the River Ceiriog, where the local schoolboys bathe.  I could manage no more than a lie down in the depleted pool, and even during a super heatwave, lying down in a mountain stream is a chilly business!

A bevy of boys just released from school came dashing down, making friends with me, and gabbling away in alternating Welsh and English.  They were full of news, and bursting to confide it.  One of them, a sturdy ‘old man’ of twelve or so who was evidently chief of the gang, was held in great respect.  He was a man of the world, an experienced chap, for he had knocked about a bit, seen the world, so to speak.  He had been to Oswestry!  Moreover, there was a radio at home; he had seen an aeroplane, and his brother had been to London.  He, then, was one who commanded due respect from his fellows.  This was their bathing pool, but none of them would go near it this week, because next Monday they were all migrating with the Sunday school picnic to New Brighton, and if they caught a cold they would not be able to go.  I am yet puzzling how any of that set of hardy mountain lads can catch a cold.  They were highly excited about the coming trip, and discovering that I was resident so near, they plied me with questions concerning Merseyside until the school bell tore them away.

The heat was taking my appetite.  It was 3pm when I reached Glyn Ceiriog for the first ‘eats’ since early morning.  Subsequently, in the narrow valley, and on the fierce climb beyond Llanarmon DC, the heat became so intense that my progress deteriorated to a mere crawl.  The light breeze on the summit was like a breath from the molten steel in the Seacombe foundry, and the views were limited by a heat-haze.  At Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, I turned towards Pistyll Rhaiadr, but the hilly road was too heavy for my mood, and I found solace in the river instead.  There was a waterfall into a deep pool surrounded by smooth, high rocks, and there I got a fine swim in the bubbling water, and spent a luxurious period sat beneath the fall itself.


In These Deep Solitudes

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This is the story of how I descended Alum Pot Hole through the goodwill of a well-equipped speleological party.

Alum Pot is a huge hole in the limestone on the lower slopes of Ingleborough, distant about three miles from Ribblehead, and located in a tiny plantation just above the hamlet of Selside.  From one side of the chasm, the depth is 210 feet sheer, whilst on the other side there is a sheer face to a ledge 90 feet from the bottom.  To gaze down is to acquire a feeling of awe; the blue mists that rise, the smooth, overhanging rock-face, and the low boom of waters far below gives a weird attracting effect to the hole.

On the hillside, 150 yards above the Pot, a stream enters a passage known as Long Churn.  I have explained before of our traverses down this subterranean river, of the thrills associated with the climbs down waterfalls, rock-ledges, and through narrow, jagged fissures, with the constant risk of a nasty fall or a plunge into an icy pool ten or twelve feet deep, of candles spluttering out, and of trying to light damp matches in pitch darkness.  I have spoken of how Long Churn breaks into Alum Pot fifty feet below the surface, of the half-light that filters through, of how, by standing on the lip, one is able to glimpse a little of the awful chasm below, and catch a thin gleam of sky above.

How many times have I gazed over the lip and sighed for a rope?  Then all would seem accessible, and maybe I should be one of the few who ever reached the mysterious depths of Alum Pot! Ignorance was very blissful until one night in the summer of 1928, when, to my delight, one of us found a rope in the stream.  A thin rope, soaked and slippery, not more that 20 feet long, but we tested it, secured it round a slab of rock, and with a tingle of excitement, I lowered myself into the chasm.  Fool I was, with fifteen feet of rope below me and sheer rock, as smooth as glass for a hundred and twenty feet!

I couldn’t grip the rope properly owing to it being thin and wet, and as soon as I got my whole weight on it, down I slid, frantically trying to grip, and burning my hands along it.  By the greatest luck in the world my foot stuck in a niche as I reached the very end of the rope.  Just a cornice of rock hardly two inches wide, and big enough for only one foot, but I managed to light a candle and thereby gain some idea of the awkward position I was in.

Twice I tried to climb the rope, and twice I slid back as it stretched and bounced me almost like elastic.  It was grand though, in that unique position, with three glimmering candles fifteen feet above, weird beyond the limit of imagination, with a smooth rock-face behind me, and above, below, and ahead the startling nothingness of inky space, but miserably lit by the flickering candle.  Such was it to make one wonder at the vast antiquity of it – and make one wonder how much longer I could keep one foot holding the weight of my body!  I strove hard with the third attempt, as for dear life, as indeed it was, though the ghastly realisation of my escape did not come until I fingered the lip and pulled myself to safety into a pool of icy water.  That evening as we strolled back to camp in the dusk, I was aware of a greater respect for Alum Pot – and for these limestone caves and potholes in general.  Cave exploring is no child’s play.

Almost exactly a year later, my chance came.  A fully-equipped party arrived just as my friends and I were coming away from Long Churn.  They were short-handed, and asked for two volunteers to help carry the heavy rope ladders, life-lines, and belaying pins, promising the two who came forward the sight of a lifetime.  A Wigan chap and I jumped to it, and soon we were making our way down Long Churn once more – in joyful anticipation.

The first rope ladder was fixed.  It looked beautiful by the light of acetylene lamps, a slender, peaceful work of art gracefully zig-zagging down about 30 feet of smooth rock to a sloping ledge.  But that rope ladder was not peaceful; it possessed life.  The moment I stepped on it the devil in it began its pranks.  It twisted; it jerked; it swung, and it never was in the place I put my foot.  Thirty feet of elusive devilry, that rope ladder was.  But the next!  Only 16 feet long, but that 16 feet destroyed my simple faith in rope ladders for ever.  It was a muddy, tricky business getting on to it, sliding feet first over a dripping ledge of clay and rotten rock and then feeling with our feet for the first rung.

That first rung was never in the place a first rung ought to be.  This ladder had a nasty habit of swinging until your knees or fingers got jabbed with sharp rock.  I thoroughly hated that sixteen feet ladder, and consigned it to various places that rope ladders never go to.  Here was the ledge 90 feet from the surface, and we emerged into broad daylight with a wide strip of blue sky showing overhead.

To reach the next point of descent, it was necessary to cross a deep gulf, 70 feet deep by means of a tremendous slab of rock that ages ago had wedged itself firmly across the chasm so as to form a natural bridge.  It was all those things a bridge shouldn’t be, however, being smooth, slimy, and tilted at an almost sheer angle.  Then a third rope ladder of 60 feet, hanging sheer in mid-air, except the last six feet or so.  At this point we had each a lifeline round his chest as a safety measure.

That ladder was a terror; it developed elasticity, a violent swing, and on the latter half a spin.  At each rung the ladder deftly avoided the foot, and the result was a thorough mix-up of ladder, life-line suffocating us, and ourselves.  Then came some scrambling down pointed rocks and shin barking on jagged knobs, and we dropped the last ladder, 20 feet.  This one was a pleasure to walk down, but it was 8 feet short, and we had to climb down the best we could.  Then, wriggling through a small hole in the wall, we reached the ultimate bottom, about twenty feet below the bottom of Alum Pot hole; a small rock-prison, two hundred feet below the surface.  We were a hushed crowd of eight, but there was not silence.  From somewhere above, a waterfall descended with a hissing , hollow sound, and the water raced down into a black pool at our feet to sucked under…..where?

A hundred thousand years and more were represented in a giant stalactite pendant from the roof, and in stumps of stalagmite on the floor of one great cavern.  In nooks and crannies they formed prison bars, down walls where petrified waterfalls, as though everything was in the grip of an ice-age.

In the cavern of the waterfall and the sucking pool was the possibility of terrible things.  A storm on Ingleborough; and in five minutes the cave is full to the top, trapping anyone who does not reach the narrow outlet in time.  Fairyland, and awful portend hand-in-hand!

At the bottom of Alum Pot itself the walls were sheer and dripping; up above the sky gleamed like a single diamond on a velvet pad, and the atmosphere was icy cold.

The ascent of the romantic, but faithless rope ladders was easier than the descent, and eventually we retraced our way along the underground river to the strange brightness of the warm outside world.  What mattered a few cuts and bruises, mud and a soaking when we had seen – what we had seen – what so few ever see ?

Cameo’s Two and Five

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Dear Reader, if you read of Charlie’s travels in the Isle of Man, you will recall that he twice refers to different Camping Cameos.  I have pleasure in repeating them here to save you searching through your books of Charlie’s.

A farmyard is hardly an ideal campsite, but when a farmyard is the only available place other considerations must go overboard.  It so happened during the wetter part of September 1930, that I found myself wandering around Castletown, Isle of Man, at 11pm.  A farmer’s boy took me home with him and gave me the alternative of a large field containing a fully grown bull, or the farmyard, which was detached from the farmhouse and surrounded on three sides by the field; the road and the shippons covering the fourth side.  I dislike bulls, so I chose the farmyard, found a spot that boasted a patch of grass amongst cobbles, and there set up my outfit.

Whilst preparing supper and persuading myself that a farmyard is not half so bad as it is painted, a terrific snorting just over the wall announced the presence of the bull.  For some minutes I ignored it, uneasily hoping that he would go away, but he worked himself into a frenzy, and I arose to chase the brute away.  It was a dark night but I could see that bull.  He was the largest and ugliest specimen I ever want to meet, and he went mad when he saw me, butting the wall, rattling the gate, and roaring like a cyclone.  I retired to the farthest point in the stockade to debate my future action, then the farm lad came to assure me that the beast was too heavy to get over the wall and returned to his supper.  I was not convinced.  The wall was not high; when I again moved forward to reason quietly with him, the monster placed his forefeet on the coping, and pushed a large stone onto my bike, bellowing murderously at me.  For quite a minute I braved him, then he tried the gate again, turned and dashed away.  There came about half a minute’s terrible suspense, wondering what the dickens he was up to next, till, from the far end of the yard came a fearful snort and another great rattling.  He had found another gate.

No ordinary town-bred mortal could stand that racket for long, so off I hied to the farm and told the boy that there was no room for the two of us there, and either the bull or I would have to go.  He gathered his brothers together, and with dogs went off to round the animal up.  From the darkness came a whooping and a barking, a snorting, a thudding of hoofs, and then – I saw the tremendous shadow of the bull come charging through the open gate.  The beast and I eyed each other for a moment.  I would have flown but my feet wouldn’t obey the impulse, so I just stuck there.  Happily the dogs came just then and the brute thundered off into the far recesses of the farmyard.  From the darkness arose a mighty pandemonium of sound then the boys came and announced that all was well, their prize monster was safely shipponed.  I returned to my supper in a better frame of mind, and as the muffled sounds of the imprisoned fiend died down, I lapsed into tranquillity.

In the warm comfort of my eiderdown, I was slipping into blissful unconsciousness when there came to my ears the thud of hoofs, a snort, and the gate rattled!  I swallowed quickly or my heart would have got out, then I awaited the worst.  The bull again!  Thinking that he must have broken out of the shippon, and even at that moment he must be sniffing at the tent or preparing for a mighty onslaught,  I spent an aching period of dreadful quiet.  The gate rattled again, so at that I arose to sell my life as dearly as possible.  I crept out.  Two horses stood by the gate, and one whinneyed gently at my approach…………      I turned in and went to sleep.

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In The Isle of Man Part 3

A sea-side road runs back to Scarlet; along it I went, searching for a campsite, which would have to be a farm, as this part is flat, populous, and waterless.  I found a dilapidated place near the water’s edge, where everyone was out, but a passer-by advised me to wait.  I waited till 11.30, till the night air came cold across the sea, before anyone turned up.  I was fixed up at length – for the story of how, see my short story ‘Camping Cameos 5 – The Bull’.

The next morning I was up betimes, and away quite early, to take advantage of this last full day in the Island.  The weather was dull and windless; the warm air seemed to be wanting a breeze, and a yacht in the sandy bay lay with sail drooping, that, too, expectant of wind.  In the harbour ships were crowded, amongst them two steam packet boats come to rest the winter, their season of traffic and conviviality over for half a year.  Over the narrow harbour the grey walls of Castle Rushen stood, the only thing unchanged after centuries of ships.  I was struck by a large sign bearing the words ‘Herring Manufacturies’ in a crowded street.  Until then, in my land-lubbers profound ignorance, I had believed that herring was a fish that grew in the sea, but now I perceived it to be manufactured by man.  Had I not seen the very place it is made?  Pondering on this new discovery, I hugged the coast, and then, crossing a flat strip of land (the isthmus called Langness which projects into the sea like a foot), I came to Derby Haven, a meagre-sized hamlet on a cupped bay, sand-choked and reefed at the out-tide.  At the edge of the bay, near two houses called Ronaldsway, the road abruptly turns inland to Ballasalla.

A footpath hugs the dunes along the foreshore, and as my map promised a through way, I took to the path.  The coast began to take on a rugged appearance; with cornfields and barley crops up to the edge of my path, which in turn came near the cliff-edge, I proceeded, stiles and gates at every field barring free travel.  Then came a point of beauty, the coast assumed tall cliffs lapped by the gentle waves, and quite suddenly I came to the edge of a sheer-sided gorge, at the bottom of which rushed a stream.  Higher up there were woods, ravine-setted, lower down-stream the cliffs came to the water, and by the sea a strand of silver sand sloped gently into the green.  The cliffs on the coast across the ravine were a hundred feet tall, indented with many caves, fissures and detached rocks of fantastic shapes stood in the tide.  The name of the place was like music, Gaelic, perhaps, with a touch of the old pibroch……. Cass-na-Awen….. does it not linger at the edge of the tongue, like the pibroch lingered in the windy halls of Vaternish?

A hundred yards above the mouth of the ravine, I left the bike and scrambled down with difficulty.  It was in my mind to swim, for not a soul was within sight, and as if to urge me on the sun sent golden warmth down.  Where a ledge hung over green depths I dived, down to still waters where green weed hung as if in mid-waters.  The sudden cold of it shot through me like electricity; colder seas I had never felt, but there was a strength and energy to be drawn from it, and long strokes took me through deep waters into a cave where the light was tinted green from the filtering of the sea.  With a swift drying, I went about an exploration with the leisure of a long day before me, and when I climbed back to my bike, I hesitated to leave that lonely, lovely valley.  Half a mile higher the ravine had assumed a green gentleness, and my path crossed it.  There was a farm there where strangers are unusual, for the kiddies came running out in excitement, and the woman stared and smiled

A green-turfed lane led me over a hill with once a glimpse of the sea, and joined the road to Douglas.  In half a mile I paid an excursion down a glen to Port Grenaugh, where people bathed and sat on the rocks, and where a modern café on the sea-edge captured wireless waves and dispelled their music across the gentle sea-waves.  The Douglas road was undulating, with little to see, but quiet enough for three miles or more, when, at a toll-gate I was invited to ride around the Marine Drive for 3d, which I paid and swooped down a white road to a tramway line, where cliffs fell down to a lazy sea, and Port Soderick’s commercialism, a little hoarse at the season-end, sprawled itself half-a-mile below at the sea-edge.  I turned away, along the Marine Drive.  The road surface was atrocious, but there is some wonderful engineering about the Drive, which is hewn out of solid rock for many miles, and is fairly well graded.  Below, 300ft, the sea washes the cliff-foot; ever-changing views round headlands, coves (where the road takes great twists and crossed bridges of tremendous height), or out to the open, where the sun shone and all was a-glisten.  There is a headland called Little Ness, where the rocks jut out in ugly teeth, coves like Horses Cap, Nuns Choir, Pigeon Cove, and every high-span bridge bears a fanciful name.  Finally, Douglas asserts itself, with blatant signs, and as the road falls to the Old Town, the road is full of booths to catch the coins of visitors.

Crossing the bridge into Douglas proper, I provisioned at a confectionery shop, and immediately joined the Peel Road, for little more than a mile took me to Kirk Braddon, where a road right began to climb towards the hills.  At this point I had completed the full circuit of the Island, following the coast by road and path as closely as it was possible for me to go with a bicycle.  Now it was my intention to do as much of the mountainous inland as possible without re-traversing the same road.  In a quiet field I lunched magnificently, then pushed on, constantly uphill into the glen of the river Glass.  As I mounted higher, another phase in the variety of this compact little island began to show itself.  Pine-trees, great moorland slopes with heather a-bloom, and little ravines contributing cascading streamlets to the clear river, itself little more than a stream.  The Baldwin reservoir, Douglas’s water supply lies wedged high in the glen; thereafter the road seems to lose its caste, becoming steep, rough and un-hedged.  Injebreck river, a streamlet, and wild moorlands, up, up, till it joins the high-road near Snaefell at 1303 ft.  The high road is well surfaced though gated, climbing to 1406 ft, from where I saw the Island stretched below on three sides, and made out the coast-hills of two lands, Ireland and Scotland, far across a shining sea.  On the fourth side Snaefell mountain itself rose like a blister, blocking the view.  There is an hotel on Snaefell summit, and a railway line all the way up.  I could see the trams like yellow worms crawling up the brown slope and the dark, tiny patches of humanity on the summit.  No doubt the view from Snaefell on a clear day is magnificent; no doubt the tramway is a boon to decrepit old gentlemen and invalid old ladies, but as I approached the Sulby fork-road, near where the line passes, I saw a tram with half a load of people who ought to be revelling in the use of their legs and sweet atmosphere out of town.  Though I could have climbed the extra 600 ft of Snaefell in less than half an hour, I preferred to leave it to the trams and hotel-people.

I drifted down Sulby Pass instead.  First steep and rough, Sulby Pass is as glorious a stretch of wine-red ‘col’ as any in our Yorkshire and Derbyshire of the mainland.  Below the Pass the winding road down Sulby Glen was heavy with foliage, and cottages nestled where there was room in the narrows.  At Sulby, on the Lowlands again, I sprinted along the TT course to Ballaugh, and the Peel road of yesterday again, having tea by a sparkling stream in Bishops Court.  The Tourist Trophy Course, ready laid out for the morrow’s Senior event, was beribboned and be-posted.  The thought struck me that I would have to fix my camp tonight in such a position as to make Douglas accessible in time for the afternoon boat next day.  As the road that rings the northern half of the Island is closed to public use while the race is on, it behoved me to make for the southern half, the better to allow me further exploration to the limit of my available time.  Accordingly I made for Kirk Michael, and still continuing along the marked road, turned up Glen Wyllin onto the higher ground, semi-moorland, fringing Sartfell.  The road was quiet with sea-views and an undulating roll like our fellside roads about the Lune.  From a summit at St Johns Chapel, I began to descend a beautiful glen called Craig Wylly’s Hill.  Dusk was coming when I reached the elaborate hotel at the entrance to Glen Helen.  I had heard much of Glen Helen, so I decided to see it for myself, paid the entrance fee, and entered.  I walked sharply in the dusk, along a deserted footpath that steadily climbed through deep woods to Dhenas Fall.  By that time the light had almost gone, and the fall hung like a white fleck down the dark recess of the rock.  Another path down the Glen beside the river was not so well kept, and in places I had some difficulty.  By the time I reached the road the hotel was a blaze of light, sounds of merriment coming from within.

I lit my lamp and pushed on, intent on getting south of this race-course with its coming racket and crowds, passing a large camp of motor-cyclists, and reaching St John’s , where I bought ‘in’ at a tiny grocery store, and, crossing the TT road, climbed steadily up Foxdale.  At the cottages of Ballahig, I enquired for a campsite, by a stroke of luck meeting a farmer just as I was about to seek his place.  I obtained ready permission, choosing a sheltered and cosy spot by the river.  Of my subsequent wanderings in pitch darkness I have already written [Camping Cameos 5, titled ‘Lost’]

My awakening on this Tuesday morning was hastened by the twin sounds of rain and motorcycles.  Apparently the distance was not far enough.  I went up to the farm for milk and eggs, and settled down to a leisurely breakfast, whilst the rain came in a hard drizzle, and the aspect was thoroughly hopeless as far as clearing up was concerned.

The thrill of the race half a mile away was without interest to me; I packed up still in driving rain, and climbed to Foxdale, a mining village where derelict buildings spoke plainly of trade now departed for ever.  From Foxdale mines I tangled myself in a maze of hilly lanes, white with mud, through tiny one-house hamlets like Renshelt, Braad and Cloughbane.  At a place called Cooil, a short walk from the old Kirk Braddan, and no more than three miles from Douglas, I had tea in a cottage attached to a rather weary-looking mill.  In the tiny parlour swarmed myriads of big flies, turning me from my food.  However roughly and simply campers live, they demand some measure of cleanliness.  At 1.30pm I departed in a fury of rain, making my way to Douglas, and embarking of the Fleetwood boat, due out at 3pm.

Thus ended a four day trip to the Isle of Man.  I had gone there expecting to find commercialism over-running natural beauty, as weeds over-run a hearty crop, and I received a pleasant surprise.  Commercialism is rife, no doubt, when the season is at its height, though even the spots can be found where the trippers never go.  Isle of Man has gained its name by a certain type of holiday-maker.  That same type may have saved it from complete eclipse, by its own bone-laziness.  Places like Jurby, where the coast is quiet, The Niarbyl and the Calf of Man are too inaccessible for those people.  Cass-na-Awen, I am sure, has never changed since the days when the Isle of Man was only served by a once a week boat, Injebreck is too toilsome a climb for these people, and the glens, though popular, have to be paid for.  In September the Isle of Man is lovely and almost lonesome.

The rain never ceased that day.  When the slow negotiation of the Lune deep and the sand-banked channel had been accomplished, we berthed at Fleetwood, and made a good hard run home, I and the two Boltonians I had met at Niarbyl Bay, and met again on the ‘Lady of Man’.  I had left Foxdale in the rain, I reached home still in the rain.  Two brilliant central days, an indifferent first day and a thoroughly wet final day.  Variety is the very spice of life !


In The Isle of Man Part 2

Dusk was creeping up, and the last traces of the day’s rain still hung over the hills.  The glory of that rural road to Jurby is in the views of the hills.  The mist lent them remarkable grandeur.  At one time I was startled into a belief that I was really looking across the lowlands to snow-puffed alps and glacial rivers; at another I could easily imagine myself gazing into the mysterious highlands when the grey mists boil up from the glens to lend their shrouding grandeur to those heathery island hills.  I hardly saw the sea, but a furlong away on the north side of the road, yellow dunes betrayed the end of the land, and there were houses on that near horizon, sometimes spaced at lonely intervals of half a mile, sometimes clustered into hamlets like Ballall, Cronkbreck and Sartfield.

A mile beyond tiny Jurby, the Carlane River runs under the road and enters the sea.  A sandy track beside the stream went past two houses to the shore, and along that track I passed at dusk.  I was very fortunate to chance that way, for behind a sheltering dune, but with the tide at my feet, I discovered a perfect stretch of turf, and pitched my tent there.

Can you conceive of a pleasanter thing than to camp within sound of the sea, to cook your supper as you look out across darkening waters, and to go to sleep as your ears make music from the plash of sea-waves !

The tide was up.  As I lay half-awake, I could hear it, pounding on the shore, not six yards away.  The strong tang of ocean was on my lips – my face had a pleasing smart.  With my bathing costume, I jumped out and saw the sea there, restless and reflective, laid out to a dim horizon where sea and sky joined, and not the bare shadow of earth to break the ocean plain.  The sea was cold – exhilarating for a quick splash and out again – to breakfast.

At 9am I was on the road again, hugging the coast as much as I could, though the road turned inland for a time to Ballaugh, with its old church of the type particularly Manx, and its bridge made notorious by the ‘TT’ motorcycle races.  At Ballaugh I came onto the TT course, a broad highway, and pleasantly quiet that morning, running towards the coast again to Kirk Michael, where the course turns away into the hills.  From Kirk Michael to Peel, the road abounds in seaward views, running almost along the coast, which itself is neither sandy nor rocky, but quite good to eyes that love the places where land and ocean meet.

In The Isle of Man003

Peel is a show-place.  If you have not been to Peel, you have not seen the Isle of Man: if you have been to Peel you have – to argue in the same strain.  If you have been to Peel, you went on St Patrick’s Isle to the Castle, listening to, and looking at, mummified history touched up with pretty legends.  The day I was at Peel the show had ended for the summer, and though a cool pleasant breeze blew, people wrapped themselves up as they walked the half-deserted promenade.  I didn’t go to the Castle; didn’t even set foot upon the ‘Blessed Isle of Patrick’, but the docks, wherein flows the little Neb stream, were interesting, and smacked of fishing.  My road negotiated narrow streets, and then went round the back of Contrary Head, where someone has stuck a monument and called it Corrin’s Folly, presumably because one Corrin was foolish enough to build up there for no reason whatever.  I can record countless  cases about people credited with good sense doing things daily that put Mr Corrin’s folly in the shade.

A dip and a nasty bend nearly precipitated me into Glen Maye, but my brakes are good, and I paid tuppence to walk down.  Glen Maye has an attracting name, and it attracts worthily.  This side of the island is facing east, [sic] so, naturally, this is the colder side, and already the woods are faintly brown.  The waterfall in Glen Maye was in spate – one grand leap, as though the flood was determined to make my tuppence worth while.  As in Dhoon Glen, the stream enters the sea by a fine little gorge at a point called in Manx ‘Traie Cronkan’, where a good stretch of the rocky Contrary Head is visible.  At  Glen Maye Hotel I had seen a magnificent car drawn up with a chauffeur within dressed faultlessly.  Halfway down the Glen I met what I guessed to be the possessors of the car.  Incongruous is the word for that party.  A stout lady dressed in expensive clothing was panting along under a load of furs in a manner that reminded me of the early days of motorcars.  With her came a painted doll, bejewelled and mortally afraid of speckling her shoes with Glen Maye mud; an elderly man Bond St tailored to a collar so deep that his chin had a permanent tilt, and a young blood of the Dandy class, who gave me an unsolicited glance of such hauteur, as to make me long to punch him well and truly under his lifted chin.  They seemed utterly out of place in Glen Maye.

I climbed uphill, just as the sun broke out and the sea shone as if polished.  At Dalby, a long, straight lane led towards the coast, and down it I went to have my lunch by the shore.  The road ended dead on the beach at two white-washed cottages. Magnificent!  Niarbyl Bay is the greatest bit of coast in all the Isle of Man.  There was a coastline worthy of a mighty nation, a rugged series of headlands, one behind the other, of wild solitudes where the gulls swoop and soar and scream to each other, and no other sound is heard but the ceaseless boom of ocean breakers battering creeks and coves in the tall cliffs, and gurgling in long caves.  I couldn’t leave the Niarbyl for a long time; I had lunch there; I played about on the rocks: I sat down and dreamed out across the sunny waters; I collected pretty shells and threw them away again.  I walked back slowly up the steep road, with many a backward glance.  There was no way along the cliffs, so I had to return to the main road.  Just as I emerged, two figures came up in cycling clothes, and I recognised them as two of the Bolton CTC.  There was the usual surprise on both sides, a long talk, and I gleaned the information that they were camping at The Niarbyl.

Immediately we separated, I plunged down another steep lane to a farm in a glen, across a ford, and up again.  The sun got hot, the climb was steep and heavy on a track that grew dense nettles.  I was nettled on my bare knee till the blisters rose like the gradient, until I reached a height of 1189 ft.  The sea was far below – across I made out the Irish Coast quite clearly (the Mourne Mountains), and to the north the Scottish coast at Stranraer was visible.  Three countries, to include the Island!  I passed round the back of Cronk-ny-Iray Llaa, which, on the far side falls an almost sheer cliff of 1449 ft to Niarbyl Bay.  At the summit another track joined, and the two proved somewhat better together than they had been separately.  Rolling moorlands inland changed to sweeping fields of green, and as I reached The Stack, the whole foot of the Island lay out below like a map, the tongue of land to the Calf, with the sea on each side, and Port St Mary and Castletown model places beside a deep-blue sea.  Surely, there is nothing dull on the Manx coast !

A steep descent and a puzzling set of roads took me into Port Erin.  If I wished to spend a holiday in a seaside resort, I should go to a place like Port Erin.  If this place wishes to expand, the growth will have to be at the back of the town, for the two headlands, on each side of the town, effectively block the way.  The town is not blatant like so many resorts; neither is it too pretentious, but snug in its deep bay, with Bradda Head, a magnificent headland to the north, and Kione-ny-Garee, rugged and rocky at the southern end.  I stood on the stone jetty, watching the bathers and longing to join them.  My ‘lightweight’ costume was insufficient to fulfil the rather strict conditions laid down for sea bathing at towns.  As the day was Sunday, I missed my opportunity to visit the aquarium and fish hatcheries, which, controlled by the Manx Fisheries Board, are, I believe, well worth seeing.

From Port Erin (I was still assiduously following the coast) I joined a path leading uphill onto some rolling, down-like moorlands.  There was a Druids Circle near the path, and a little beyond was a refreshment hut.  To my dismay I discovered that I had only a little brown bread left, as I had made the mistake of neglecting to buy sufficient on Saturday.  Sunday is a dead-letter day on the Island.  I bought my tea, saving my meagre stock for the morrow’s breakfast, and afterwards joined a branch path going right.  Further along there were stiles and gates, and then the path reached St Patrick’s Footprint.  A slab of rock had a concrete box arrangement cemented to it.  On top of the box was a spy-glass, and by paying a penny into a slot an electric bulb inside was lighted.  Then, I suppose, St Patrick’s Footprint comes into view.  I surmise the ‘footprint’ is the shape of a foot water-worn in the rock.  All around are outcrops where water has worn hollows.  I didn’t fall for this absurd catch-penny, which seems to be about the limit in trading on those people whose religion has made ready to swallow any old yarn, so long as it is associated with the saints, or heaven.

Soon after I reached the edge of the cliffs.  My pen is inadequate to the task of describing my walk by Aldrick Bay to the Calf Sound on that perfect September evening.  The varied beauty of recurring cliff scenery kept me in constant enjoyment, and when I came to the waters-edge at Calf Sound, and saw the tide racing past the two tiny islets of Kitterlan, and through the narrow channel, I just stuck there, as I had done earlier in the day at Niarbyl Bay.  The Calf of Man, that great lump of rock, barren and deserted except for a lighthouse and a hut, is an easy swim from the mainland; so close, indeed, that a notice board placed on its shore warning people that it is private property, is clearly readable.  As I could not proceed by the coast, I had to turn inland on the one road from Port St Mary for a mile to the exposed hamlet of Cregneish, from where a grass track goes seaward again.  I came to the edge of the tall sea-cliffs again at ‘The Chasms’; paid tuppence, and was allowed to see the natural curiosities.  ‘The Chasms’ are many great fissures where the sea and natural erosion has found the softest places in the rock.  Here the cliffs are 400ft, so it will be realised how deep some of these narrow, lateral fissures are.  From ‘The Chasms’ I could see Spanish Head, a fine promontory, where, I believe, a ship was wrecked, and still lies at the mercy of the elements.  But the finest thing I saw at ‘The Chasms’  was a gorgeous sunset, slowly diffusing sea and sky in a crimson glow.  Crimson to amber, and, as it sank below the horizon, the fan-spread colour in the sky melted and withdrew, as also withdrew the long red track along the smooth waters.

I dawdled past the great cone shaped ‘Sugar Loaf’ rock stuck out of the sea, by ‘Fairy Cave’ and the serried headland called Kione-y-Ghoggan to Perwick Bay and Port St Mary, with its quaint old town and its modern one.  Port Erin is more in my line.  Here the coast flattens out at Chapel Bay, a small bay within the greater sweep of Poolvash Bay, and the road hugs the water’s edge to Poolvash Hamlet.  Dusk had set in; I left the road (which here turns inland), and kept to a cart-track along the shingle to a farm, where the sole occupant was an ill-behaved dog who set up a protracted howling.  The track ended, so I had to turn back, heading inland across the rear of Scarlet Point to Castletown in the dark.

In The Isle of Man Part 1

In The Isle of Man001 September had reached its wetter and colder half when I found myself toying with the idea of a long weekend before Winter proper set in and brought the end of camping.  The worst of weekends is that they are never long enough, even when extended from Friday until Tuesday.  In that year of grace, 1930, many erstwhile two-day trips had been stretched into double that time, and my pocket as well as my employer had suffered in consequence.  The material result was an alarming slump in financial status and industrial confidence, but neither of those caused me half so much concern as would the frustration of one weekend.  Such is my material debasement.  Mentally I felt as though the intellectuals were near me, and were it not for my sheer neglect of study and things classical, I sometimes thought I might aspire to some lowly pinnacle of knowledge.

How all this would end I knew not, and cared less.  When youth leaves my side I shall be speedily relegated to that industrial scrap-heap which is the abiding fear of nearly all working-class men of middle age, unless I pull myself up, and descend to that state of highly respectable humbug which is assiduously practised by most people.  I think I prefer to drift on as I am, and, as one eminent political irresponsible has said: “damn the consequences”.

I like to think that I have a fairly strong streak of the nomad in me.  If you are inclined to ask why I like to think so, I shall answer that I like to think of it, and that is enough for me.  Maybe I shall finish life as a nomad; I’d far rather do that than pass my days behind a bare wall of respect and convention, working a tortuous eight and a half hours a day, visiting equally tortuous friends and relatives o’nights, and wasting precious Sundays swallowing the haberdashery of professional religionists, and chanting silly recantations to a very problematical God.  The fools – spending so much time and energy in pursuit of an improbable future state, while the only world they are sure of, is waiting for them to enjoy it, to make it worth living in.

The idea of a weekend in the Isle of Man grew upon me.  Weekend excursions at cheap fares are issued by the steamship company, and I resolved to take advantage on the last weekend they were available, the second in September.  Thus I left home at 9pm on the Friday evening, to catch the midnight boat from Fleetwood.  The ride by night was eventless and pleasant, for the night was placid, moonlit, and devoid of traffic, and I boarded the new, one-class boat ‘Lady of Man’ with half an hour to spare.

On the ‘Lady of Man’ berths are free, taking the form of long couches in tiers of two at various points on the ship.  I chose an upper berth in the warmest part of the ship, composing myself to sleep.  The impossibility of this became apparent when an invasion took place, possibly from a railway train, and all the tables in the room became occupied.  The reason for this large, impatient company became obvious when, as the ship got under way, a bar opened directly opposite me, and soon Babel reigned.  Although I was sleepy and sleepless most of the way, the great interest I drew from studying the people who drank the night hours away kept me from boredom.  Even drink palls, for when the engines ceased, and the bar closed, there was a bleary-eyed silence all around.

The boat arrived at 5am and I was soon making my way to Douglas promenade.  The prom was hardly astir, darkly lit, and cold.  It was not my first visit, though there is a vast difference between visiting Douglas for a holiday and visiting the Isle of Man with cycle and camping kit.  I had resolved first to follow the coast until I reached Douglas again, and I soon began to put it into effect by climbing Onchan Head, not by the road, but by a footpath from Derby Castle by the Port Jack Camp to Port Jack, a fine little bay with a good bathing place.  While I had lunch there, dawn broke, and the sea became gradually suffused with light.  A fine bit of coast scenery, and the path among rock and bramble – difficult to drag the bike along – showing the bay to the best advantage.  My wanderings took me to a deep ravine on the coast, blocked up by a high concrete wall, on the top of which a path was made and protected by railings.  A series of iron ladders led down into the depths of the gorge which gave off a strong scent of brine.  I had half decided to descend to the bed of it and investigate the reason for this great prison, when a man with a uniform came up, bad me ‘good morning’, and with a sack over his shoulder, went down.  Reaching the bottom, he entered a small cave at the side, and shortly after came back with his sack empty.  He had been feeding something, it was clear, though what it was I knew not.  I afterwards found out that this deep gorge was used as a bear pit, and was glad I had not personally investigated.  A bear, confined like that one, is not an amenable animal.

I reached a road again, and by the coast enjoyed really fine rock scenery to Groudle Glen, at the mouth of which I picked out a rough lane which soared up behind the cliffs.  I was tired then, from a day’s work and a sleepless night, and obtained ready consent to camp for a few hours in a field by a cottage.  So I pitched before 8am and slept soundly until half past one in the afternoon.  The weather had broken: a heavy mist, full of rain, drove in from the sea, and I packed up in a storm.  The lane passed the ruins of St Lonans church, then a branch swung out by Clay Head, though the rain took the views away.  At Garwick Bay I struck the main road to Laxey, where a steep lane led me down to Old Laxey, with its quaint harbour at the river mouth, and closely packed houses.  The wind and the rain played fury there, but it was great to stand at the seaward wall and look over Laxey Bay at the half-obscured cliffs of Clay Head.  I crossed the bridge, climbed steeply, and joined the highway by the electric tramway, where both climb together by the side of Sliean Ouyr, 1483 ft, and again give lovely seaward views.  I came to Dhoon Glen hotel, paid my threepence, and inside the cape, walked down the Glen.

In June, July and August, I can imagine Dhoon Glen to be a show-place almost always crowded with holiday makers on a trip from Douglas.  There are many seats placed on vantage points, where, throughout the summer days people will sit and rest, eating chocolates, sandwiches, smoking cigarettes, and throwing paper about.  The kind of people who usually spend their holiday at Douglas contain a great proportion of those whose regard for natural beauty is set at a low standard, and they go to Dhoon Glen and such places only because it is a welcome break in the journey by electric tramway to Ramsey.  If the summer happens to be dry or just ordinary, the Glen will be pretty.  But when I walked slowly along the well-kept path down to the sea, the rain had swollen the stream, and the leaves were falling.  Isle of Man gets an early Autumn.  Dhoon Glen was lovely, and the waterfall that races and plunges in channels, in leaps, and in broken ropes of white, was as magnificent as most of the North Wales show-falls at their best.  That such a small island can muster such a flow of water in a few miles speaks well for the quality of Manx rain.  Where the Glen comes down to the sea is like a gorge, and the coastline there surprised me by its grandeur.  In a few hours the sea had become storm-tossed.

Soon after retracing my steps, the highway offered me two alternatives, of which I chose the seaward, and came to Glen Mona, which winds for over four miles to the sea, and contains a waterfall.  I did not traverse the whole length of the glen, owing to the very wet and long nature of the footpath (a ten-mile walk would have been involved), but assiduously followed a narrow, evil-surfaced lane along the top of the glen, with, at whiles, glimpses of wooded ravine and grey sea, and a backward aspect of mist-soaked moorlands.  My effort to hug the coast was spoiled when the lane took a full sweep back to the main road, near Christ Church.  I crossed Glen Corony, and found another lane no better, that descended to the beautiful little hamlet called Cornah, built of stone with luxuriant gardens house-high.  There I paid a visit on foot to Ballaglass Falls, a wide cascade of three parts, not great or big, but of good effect.  The wet weather was making each fall a spectacular display.

At Cornah, I was not more than 18 miles from Douglas, but such was the nature of the varied attempts to see the coast and the best the glens could offer, that the time was now 5pm.  I had left Douglas 12 hours before.  While I ate tea by the wayside above the hamlet, the rain ceased, and I was able to put my cape away.  Still faithfully seeking the sea by the aid of my ‘half-inch map’, I joined a rocky road by the farm of Ballafayle to Ballygarry, a bleak little hamlet, and so reached Maughhold.  Maughhold is quaint, possessing a sundial and Saxon cross of antiquity.  But greater is the headland reached by a short path – 300 ft cliffs down to the sea, and a rugged coastline, headlands and promontories at the foot of which the spindrift whirled and the breakers rolled white-capped.  In truth I had fallen in love with Manxland !

In The Isle of Man002

Two miles beyond Maughold, the earth suddenly fell away before me.  Ramsey was below, on the edge of level pastures, and a golden strip of sand edged the great sweep of the bay.  From Tableland Point I descended into the second town of the Island, and stayed there just long enough to lay my stock in for the night.  I never saw the promenade, but passed through along a road as flat as the last ones had been hilly.  As I rode nearest the coast, the sun came out, and I could see the sea glittering on my right.  When the road took a twist away from the coast, I turned along the first lane, and then became involved in a network of treacly marsh-lanes that finally ended at a gate.  Not two hundred yards away I could see a road and people passing to and fro, but such an area of the bog lay between that I turned back and made my way through laborious mud to the small compact village of Bride.  A heap of stones called a road took me along a dreary, windy level to the sea and the single farm grandly termed Port Cranstal.  The lighthouse on Point of Ayre was only a mile or so away, but there was no attraction in the ride, so I turned back to Bride and took the Jurby road along Glentruan, which is not a glen at all, but only a name.  The Jurby road is quite level and of excellent surface; moreover the scenery is rural with that strange air about it that makes it not English.