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 !


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