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.


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