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.

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