The ancient Manx capital, and a town with a Viking past
The southern and western coasts of the Isle of Man are lined for most of their length with cliffs, broken here and there by glens cut into the rock by fast-flowing streams, and by small fishing harbours, rocky coves and sandy beaches. Exposed to the Atlantic weather, this side of the island is wilder than the eastern half. Towns such as Peel and Castletown still show signs of their Viking past, and from the mountain slopes there are views to Ireland. (T) BALLAUGH
Ballaugh Bridge is a favourite viewpoint for spectators on the northern part of the Tourist Trophy motor-cycle course. A turning north from the crossroads in the centre of Ballaugh leads, after 1 1/2 miles, to a hamlet called The Cronk, which is notable for its old Church of St Mary de Ballaugh, which dates back to before the 13th century. From The Cronk a winding lane leads to a small car park beside an RAF radar site, on the edge of miles of sandy beach and lonely dunes.
At the Curraghs Wildlife Park, about a mile east, visitors can see the Manx tailless cats and the loghtan, or four-horned Manx sheep.
A narrow lane off the coast road, nearly a mile south-west of Kirk Michael, leads to a small car park in Glen Mooar above the waterfall of Spooyt Vane – ‘White Spout’ in Manx. Above the west bank of the stream are the remains of a Christian chapel dating back some 1,000 years, with a hermit’s cell called in Manx Cabbal Pheric, or ‘Patrick’s Chapel’.
Even by Manx standards Peel is spectacular – an old fishing harbour, with narrow, winding streets is dominated by the vastfortress of Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle. The so-called ‘isle’ is linked to the mainland and forms an arm protecting the harbour from the west. The castle stands on the site of a much older fortification which was captured by the Vikings in AD 798. Its main walls date back to the 14th century; within are a massive Round Tower and the ruins of the 13th-century St German’s Cathedral.
On the eastern side of the harbour the town’s promenade overlooks a sandy beach with safe swimming. There is good fishing for mackerel at the entrance to the harbour, or for mullet, skate, pollack, conger eel or flatfish from the breakwater beyond the castle.
Tynwald Hill at St John’s, 3 miles southeast, was the meeting place of Tynwald, the ancient Viking Parliament of the Isle of Man. Tynwald still meets there early in July each year, to hear details of the year’s new Acts read in Manx and English by the island’s two Deemsters, or High Court Judges.
The coast road running south from Peel leads into the steep, narrow valley of Glen Maye. In front of the Waterfall Hotel there is a large car park, from which a path leads down the glen and past a magnificent waterfall and a fast-flowing stream. A lane from the hotel runs parallel to the glen and leads to a small park near to the point where the stream reaches a pebbly beach through steep, overhanging cliffs. The meeting place of the path and the lane is the starting point of another footpath which runs for 3 miles over Contrary Head, with marvellous views all the way.
A minor road leaves the main coast road at the village of Dalby and reaches the sea at a small parking area by a group of small cottages. The tiny, sheltered bay is guarded by a threatening promontory of rocks which projects out to sea and gives the bay its name, niarbyl being Manx for ‘tail’. A footpath climbs round the cliff-face to the south, eventually reaching a lane at the top of the slope; this lane rejoins the main road 3 miles further south, near the summit of Cronk ny Arrey Laa.
The turning to Fleshwick Bay, signposted from the main road, ends on a grassy slope overlooking a shingle beach amid clusters of rocks. The bay faces northwards towards the cliffs which line the coast all the way to Peel.
Sheltered by the high cliffs of two headlands, the small resort of Port Erin has gardens, tennis courts, seaside amusements and car and photographic museums. It is also the western terminus of the sole surviving line of the Isle of Man Steam Railway, which runs along the southern coast of the island to Douglas. The journey takes about an hour in each direction.
Exhibits at Port Erin’s Railway Museum include the first engine to enter service on the line, the Sutherland of 1873, and the last, the Mannin of 1926. Carriages, signals, tickets and photographs are also on display.
A footpath round Bradda Head gives a panoramic view of Port Erin, while further round the headland there are magnificent views out to sea from Milner’s Tower, and the area near the coastguard lookout. The path skirts the edge of Bradda Hill to the north, and eventually rejoins the road to Fleshwick Bay.
THRILLS ON TWO WHEELS
Early in June, 38 miles of Isle of Man roads are closed to ordinary traffic for the annual Tourist Trophy motor-cycle races. The gruelling course, which starts and finishes at Douglas, includes such testing hazards as the hump-backed Ballaugh Bridge, a sharp hairpin bend at Ramsey, and the twisting road over Snaefell.
CALF OF MAN
The road from Port St Mary reaches the south-western tip of the Isle of Man at a car park on a grassy slope overlooking the treacherous, rock-strewn passage of Calf Sound. To the left is the massive cliff of Spanish Head; a footpath leads to its summit, from which there are fine sea views. Straight ahead are the islets of Kitterland, and behind them the now uninhabited island of the Calf of Man. This is owned by the Manx National Trust, and is a nature reserve for large colonies of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins. There are also smaller groups of hooded crows and choughs.
Boat trips can be made to the Calf of Man from Port Erin or Port St Mary when the weather is settled. In storms, these waters can be treacherous: the white stone cross on the edge of the cliffs commemorates the bravery of local lifeboatmen in the rescue of the crew of the French schooner Jeanne St Charles in 1858.
PORT ST MARY
Standing back-to-back with Port Erin, Port St Mary faces south-east from the shelter of the gap between the twin headlands of Kallow Point and Gansey Point. Once a fishing village, it is now a popular centre with yachtsmen, because of the good deep-water moorings close inshore, and with trailer-boat owners because of the easy launching facilities and sheltered waters. Two beaches of firm, dry sand offer safe swimming: Chapel Bay at the northern end of Port St Mary Bay, next to Gansey Point, and the wider sweep of Bay ny Garrickey, on the other side of the headland.
The little hamlet of Cregneish, midway between Port St Mary and the Calf Sound, forms an open-air folk museum of the old Manx way of life. From the car park on the north side of the main road, visitors walk into the village to a group of old thatched cottages which include a smithy, a weaving shed and a turner’s workshop with an old treadle lathe. Harry Kelly’s Cottage is a crofter’s home built more than 150 years ago. Demonstrations of wool spinning and smithying are given regularly during the summer.
Paths lead westwards to the spectacular cliff scenery of Spanish Head and the Chasms, and eastwards to Black Rocks. There is good sea-fishing from boats off The Carrick and Langness, where a 16 lb brill caught with rod and line in 1950 established a new British national record.
The narrow winding streets of Castletown seem to huddle for protection round the medieval fortress of Castle Rushen. Castletown was the capital of the island until 1874, and a building now occupied by the Castletown Commissioners was used for meetings of the House of Keys, the elected lower house of Tynwald, the Isle of Man Parliament.
On the edge of Castletown’s picturesque inner harbour is the Manx Nautical Museum, where ships and models recall the time when much of the island’s life depended on seaborne trade. Exhibits include the armed yacht Peggy, last in a line of clippers made in the Isle of Man in the 17th and 18th centuries.
This deep, curving bay faces eastwards, separated from the larger Castletown Bay by the rocky headland of Langness. Two viewpoints show the island’s coastal scenery at its best: one is by the Dreswick Point lighthouse, and the other is at the northeastern end of the headland, by the old fort on St Michael’s Island.
At Hango Hill, on the road to Castletown, the ruins of an old summerhouse stand on top of a mound facing the sea. The mound became an execution site during the Civil War, when the leader of the local rebels who sympathised with the Parliamentary cause was shot there on the orders of the Stanleys, the Royalist owners of the island.
The name of Derby Haven is associated with the classic horse race. In 1627 the Earl of Derby, who then owned the island, organised a horse race along the greensward on the western side of the bay, in an attempt to encourage local horse breeders. The race was called ‘The Derby’, but it was a later Lord Derby whose name was given to the race run at Epsom for the first time in 1780.