Holiday towns and quiet glens on the Isle of Man’s eastern shore
The Isle of Man is a self-governing part of the British Isles whose Tynwald is the oldest Parliamentary assembly in the world, having met regularly for more than 1,000 years. Only 32 miles long by 13 miles wide at its widest point, the island has cliffs and narrow glens plunging down to the sea on its eastern, western and southern sides. At the northern end it is flat and low-lying, behind a long sweep of beach backed by sand-dunes.
A narrow turning off the coast road swings down the face of an ancient earthwork in a double hairpin to reach a small car park behind the dunes. The flat beach stretches for 12 miles south-west to just north of Peel and, to the north-east, for 5 miles past Rue Point to the island’s northernmost tip, the Point of Ayre.
POINT OF AYRE
The 4 mile stretch of coast between Rue Point and Point of Ayre is called The Ayres, from an old Norse word meaning a bank of sand or gravel. A road from the village of Bride leads after 3 miles to the lighthouse on the point, from which there is a wide view of sea and low-lying land round three-quarters of the horizon and, behind, to the frowning bulk of the mountains in the island’s interior. The picnic site is a fine vantage point from which to watch the ferryboats passing between Douglas and Ardrossan in Scotland and Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Two miles west of the point, a turning off the coast road runs north to a car park near the sea, where a visitor centre and picnic site mark the start of the Ayres Nature Trail. The trail, arranged by the Manx Nature Conservation Trust, illustrates the geology and natural history of this wild and lonely part of the island.
Set in the centre of the long sweep of Ramsey Bay, the town marks the transition between the low-lying coast to the north and the cliffs which line the eastern margin of the island. The harbour formed where the Sulby River reaches the sea is packed with yachts and pleasure craft.
Ramsey is sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies and has a mild climate -palm trees grow on the seafront – while two sandy beaches, one on either side of the river mouth, offer safe bathing. There is also good fishing from the pier, from the beach or from boats which ply from the harbour; catches include cod, pollack, flatfish, conger, dogfish and mackerel.
The Mooragh Park covers 40 acres, which includes a children’s playground and a 12 acre boating lake, where sailing boats are hired out and lessons given. The Albert Tower on the hill behind the town is named after the Prince Consort, and was built to commemorate the visit of Victoria and Albert to the town in 1847. The trams of the Manx Electric Railway run from Ramsey all the way to Douglas, through Laxey and Onchan.
CAT WITHOUT A TAIL A cross between a cat and a hare was once thought to be the origin of the tailless Manx cat; but it is now known that the lack of a tail is due to a genetic mutation, deliberately preserved by human selection. The cat is unique to the Isle of Man, where it enjoys official protection. A cattery in Nobles Park, Douglas, maintains the breed.
The pretty little village of Maughold is set back from the clifftops of Maughold Head. There is limited parking space near the entrance to the churchyard, from which a path leads to the top of the headland and the lighthouse. There are good views of the cliffs and coves of the island’s eastern coast.
A steep plunge down a narrow lane which leaves the main road half a mile south-west of Maughold leads to this deep, funnel-shaped cove in the cliffs, where the waves roll up a beach of smooth, sparkling pebbles. Cars can be parked on a broad grassy bank just above the beach, while the high ground behind it shelters the cove from all but south-easterly winds.
This tiny but beautiful cove is not easy to find. Driving south along the Ramsey-Douglas toad, look out for a pub on the right-hand side of the road about 4 miles south of Ramsey. On the other side of the road, a narrow lane descends steeply across a level-crossing, then loops back on itself before turning seawards through a deep tree-lined glen down to a pebbly beach flanked by cliffs. There is limited parking on the shingle bank which overlooks the beach.
One of the most spectacular glens on the Isle of Man, Dhoon Glen is formed by a fast-running stream which cuts its way down through the cliffs to fall into the sea at Dhoon Bay. The path down to the shore crosses the fern-clad glen by a series of rustic bridges, passing two steep waterfalls, each of which drops 60 ft or more. For those who find the
A walk down from the A25 Douglas-Ballasalla road leads through an attractive glen to an east-facing shingle beach. A small stream flows down the glen over grassy slopes, and at the seaward end there is a cafe. climb back too steep, there is a less attractive but easier return path on the south side of the glen.
The compact little town has a working woollen mill and a tiny harbour, packed with yachts, which dries out at low tide. The short broad promenade overlooks a sand-and-pebble beach, with safe bathing away from the harbour mouth.
One of the Isle of Man’s best-known sights is the huge Wheel of Laxey – a mighty water-wheel, also known as the ‘Lady Isabella’, which stands in a narrow river valley at the top end of the town. The wheel was constructed in 1854 to pump water out of the lead-mine workings under Snaefell, the island’s highest mountain, and was named after the wife of the Lieutenant Governor who administered the island at the time. It has a diameter of 72 ft 6 in. and a circumference of 217 ft, and when running at top speed it turns through a complete revolution in 30 seconds.
On the opposite side of the valley from the wheel the Snaefell Mountain Railway runs in a long spiral up to the island’s highest point, 2,036 ft above sea level. The half-hour journey ends at a spectacular viewpoint, but there is no access by road.
Trains on the Manx Electric Railway stop at Groudle Glen, one of the island’s best-known glens. Paths with bridges descend a narrow valley through groves of beech, larch and pine and past rocky cliffs and rushing rapids to a small stony beach.
The small town of Onchan spreads around the rocky mass of Onchan Head at the northern end of the long sweep of Douglas Bay. Near by is the Summerland leisure centre, rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1973. There is also an outdoor sports stadium. There are regular services to Douglas by horse-drawn trams, and the electric trams of the Manx Electric Railway pass through Onchan on their route between Douglas and Ramsey.
The island’s capital and largest town spreads along the 2 mile curve of Douglas Bay, which forms a fine natural harbour. Ferries from England, Scotland and Ireland tie up at the docks at the southern end of the town, under the shelter of Douglas Head. The busy promenade overlooks a beach with sand exposed at low water. Among the unusual attractions of Douglas are its horse-drawn trams which in summer run the length of the promenade. The service began in 1876, and uses about 50 horses.
Near the harbour is the terminus of the Isle of Man Steam Railway, a 3 ft gauge steam-hauled line which runs to Port Erin on the island’s south-west coast in summer. The railway was opened in 1874 and originally had branches from Douglas to Peel and from Peel to Ramsey.
The Manx Museum in Douglas has a wide collection covering all aspects of island life. In Nobles Park on the northern side of the town are the grandstands which mark the start and finish of the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race course.