[From Bullock's History of IoM, 1816]


Tour continued-Castletown-Derby Haven, The Calf-Peel Town and Castle-Ramsey Laxey, and the Road returning to Douglas again.

FROM Douglas to Castletown, which is the regular route, the distance is ten miles, the route: lies past the seat of Major Taubman, called. the Nunnery, from the ancient structure former occupying the same site; but of which not a vestige remains, except a gateway still supporting the old bell, but now forming an entrance to the stables. The gardens and grounds have some beautiful features, for many years the whole has been without a rival, and travellers finding nothing else to admire, have lavished. more praise than it deserves on this spot, whit certainly has many advantages in point of situation, but the scenery is disfigured by the erection of small houses, a mill, a warehouse, and even by two bleachfields, evermore spread with linens of different shades, all which are directly in front of the mansion. The house is not more than a decent country seat, whose whitened walls are curiously finished by a cornice and bordering of deep red stone. Above the nunnery the road commands a view of a rich valley, in which stands Kirk Braddan, and over all rises the lofty mountain of South Barrule; on the left is the delightful little villa, belonging to Major Tobyn, standing in the midst of a farm so neat and well cultivated, that the whole presents a scene of judicious and profitable improvement, combined with domestic comfort and beauty, which attracts continual admiration. Half way to Castletown, on the right, is Mount Murray, belonging to a nephew of the Duke of Athol, and from hence the mountain scenery runs up in a variety of barrenness, including Snawfel, Penny Pont, and North Barrule.

Kirk Santon, a small church, lies on the left; and about a mile from thence are several druidical vestiges, being stones elevated and placed in a circular form. Following the direct road, you arrive at Balla Llonay Bridge, usually called the Devil's Bridge, which is said to be the scene of his satanic majesty's frequent exploits, on which account it is with extreme reluctance the natives venture over it after dark.

Balla Salla is the largest and most populous village in the island; the river and scenery a particularly beautiful, and some remains of Rushen Abbey still adorn the banks of the stream. This retreat was founded by Olave King of Man, in 1104; but the church, though begun at the same time, was not finished or consecrated till 1257, though it had in that long interval served as a burial place for several of the royal family. The Monks were twelve in number, besides the abbot. They practised great austerities, wearing neither shoes or linen nor eating flesh. In 1192 the recluses removed to Douglas, but in four years they returned to the abbey. In 1316 this place was plundered Richard de Mandeville, who carried off the treasure to Ireland; and it was finally suppressed with the monasteries in England, in the reign of Henry VIII. but whether by the Lord of Man or by the King of England, I have not been able to discover. The site and remains of the abbey are in the possession of Mr. Moore whose father when first deemster, built a handsome house on the spot, and converted some remains of the monastery into out offices.

From Balla Salla to Castletown, a distance of only two miles, the road is greatly beautified by some flourishing thorn hedges, which are cultivated with great attention on the estate of George Quayle, Esq.; these were, a very few years since, the only specimens of this ornamental fence in the island.

Although tradition has handed down no authentic account of the antiquity of the four principal towns, yet there is reason to believe that Castletown, or as it was originally called, Rushen, is the most ancient; and that it may have been nearly coeval with the castle, though the surrounding buildings not being framed like that for duration, most have been many times renewed since the first formation of the town. All those now in existence appear to have been raised within the last century, except one, now the George Inn, but formerly the abode of the lieutenant, and of the lord himself when on the island.

The venerable castle demands particular attention; it was erected in 960 by Guttred, the second Danish prince in succession from King Orry. This building, which is remarkable for solidity, bears a strong resemblance, and was probably constructed on the same plan with Castle of Elsineur, in Denmark. It is of a figure not easily described. A sort of stone glacis runs round the keep, and includes some other buildings now fallen to ruin. This glacis was added by Cardinal Wolsey, during the time that was guardian to Edward, Earl of Derby. With the walls are some convenient and partly modernised apartments, appropriated to the use the lieutenant governor, and also a large courtroom devoted to public use. On the walls are three confined buildings where the records are kept, and the business of the rolls office is conducted. There are also two rooms sometime granted as an indulgence to persons confined for debt; but the great mass of unfortunate persona of this description, have hitherto been crowded together in those apartments set apart for this use; whilst felons were confined in the interior of the keep, in chambers so ruinous, that it was a great impeachment of the humanity of the government to commit any one on mere suspicion to such dungeons. Within the last year, however, great alterations have been commenced in the internal part of the castle; all of which is; undergoing a substantial repair, and rooms of different dimensions are planned out, where thy miseries of incarceration will be alleviated by some attention to the convenience and accommodation of the sufferers.

The streets of Castletown are regular and airy; in the centre is an open space or square, around which are several very excellent houses, and at one end a neat and well appointed chapel. The keys have a house-appropriated to their use, but it is a mean building, unsuited to the station held by this branch of the legislature. The free school of this town is considered as a very beneficial institution: it owes its rise to Bishop Barrow, who founded it in order to secure a succession of students, who should be properly educated for the ministry. The qualification required in the master is, that he should be a clergyman, and have taken his degrees at one of the universities; and the endowment arises from a sum given by Charles, Earl of Derby, being the profits of a former vacancy of the bishopric. Dr. Barrow also obtained several contributions, with which he purchased part of the impropriations; and he gave two valuable estates of his own in the island, called Hango Hill and Balla Gilly, all which are applied to the maintenance of four students, which previously to their admission must give security either that they; will enter on the ministry when their education is finished, or repay the money expended on them. After leaving the academy the young students have a stipend per annum till they obtain promotion in the church.

Castletown being the residence of the lieutenant governor, and usually also of the southern deemster; and as all law proceedings are conducted there, it must be considered as the metropolis of the island; and though not so flourishing in its trade, or so gay from the influx of strangers as its rival, Douglas, yet it affords in the opinion of many a much pleasanter retreat to persons unconnected with trade, or those so prefer a quiet social intercourse to a mixed society. The only public place of amusement. here, as in the other towns, is the assembly room; but there is the usual routine of card playing, tea drinking, and morning visits. Gentlemen have a reading room, and of late, a literary society has been set on foot, which it is to be hoped will before long give to the general association a higher tone. There are not many shops in Castletown, and the access by sea is difficult, that trade to any extent can never carried on there, as most of the supplies must necessarily be landed at Douglas.

The Isle of Man bank is established in this town, and is indeed the only house in the island which carries on the banking business unmixed with other concerns.

About a mile and a half across the sands is the Isthmus which joins the peninsula, called Langness Point, to the shore, and by its bend on one side forms an excellent and secure creek, called Derby Haven, where are the remains of a round tower, built by the Earl of Derby in 1603. This was no doubt a commanding point, and much better calculated to repel an enemy than Castle Rushen, which, indeed, has always been nearly inaccessible by sea, owing to the dangerous and rocky bay before it. Near the fort at Derby Haven are the ruins of a church, by some supposed to have been a cathedral. It is now used as a place of interment for Catholics.

About two miles west of Castletown is Port le Moray; and a little beyond that Port Erin, a romantic secluded bay, offering an excellent harbour. On the beach is a small village composed of huts of fishermen, with here and there a little cottage villa of a superior description. Near this place are the Giant's Quoiting Stones, as they are called, being large noses of unhewn slate standing erect; and a little further is a barrow, called Fairy Hill, very generally believed to owe its rise to the labours of those visionary beings, but, in reality, thrown up, commemoration of Reginald, king of Man, why was slain in single combat by Ivar, in 1248.

From Port Erin, it is usual to make the passage to the small island called the Calf, always an object of curiosity to visitors; the distance from which place is three miles; the circumference of the Calf is computed to he five miles, including an area of six hundred acres. A very small part of this surface is converted into arable land, but the whole forms a fine sheep-walk. It is the property of the Duke of Athol, and by him leased to a farmer of the name of Gurley, who has erected a convenient house in the centre of his domain, in which he resides, with his wife and two or three servants, who are the only inhabitants of this isolated spot.

It is very properly tithe-free, having the benefit neither of church or minister. Except in the garden of the farmer, there is not a tree or shrub on the whole island. Rabbits abound everywhere, and are a great source of profit to the farmer in the spring of the year. The Calf is also the resort of immense numbers of sea-fowl, who form a most striking and picturesque scene from the water, sitting in innumerable tiers, one above another, on their nests in the clefts of the rocks, where the silence and security of their situation must efface every recollection of their vicinity to their enemy, man, and recall the idea of those first ages of the world when birds and beasts were allowed to multiply their numbers, and possess their domains unrivalled and undisturbed. The scenery is uncommonly bold and beautiful, especially when thus adorned by its white-breasted inhabitants.

This islet is said to have been, at different times, the retreat of two hermits. The first in the reign of Elizabeth, imposed on himself a residence in this dreary solitude, as a penance, for having murdered his mistress in a fit of jealousy. The other was one Thomas Bushel, who made it his abode in the time of James I. in order to try the experiment how far a life of severe abstinence would promote longevity. What is called Bushel's house is now in ruins; it bears the outline of a small building, apparently consisting of two rooms, situated on the highest ground, and within a few yards of a perpendicular rock.

Whether this extraordinary ascetic died in his melancholy retreat, tradition gives us no certain information; but there is a place called Bushel's Grave, on the top of the adjoining rock, from whence we are led to suppose, that he did so.

This cemetery is most curiously constructed in the form of a cross, containing two cavities feet long, three wide, and two deep. Immediately on the edge is a wall of stone and mortar two feet high, the whole is roofed and slated. but except the before-mentioned application of this repository to the purpose of sepulture, no probable conjecture has been formed of the use or design for which it was constructed. The rock itself is only accessible on one side, and is called the Eye or Burrow: it adjoins the Calf al low water, but at high water there are forty feet of intermediate sea.

Besides this point, there are two lofty triangular rocks, springing abruptly from the water the highest of which rises one hundred feet, and in the narrower channel, between the Calf and the main land, is an islet named Kitterland which affords herbage to a few sheep in summer.

Leaving Port Erin, the road to Peel lies through the pretty village of Kirk Arbory, so called from the number of trees formerly flourishing there, of which not a vestige now remains From hence, we have a near view of the mountain called South Barrule, and on the opposite side are the lead-mines of Foxdale, the working of which has, of late years, been relinquished though the belief of their intrinsic value is still maintained by many well-informed persons. On the left is a mountain-torrent, falling from a perpendicular rock of about thirty feet, which the inhabitants have agreed to honor with the title of a cascade. At a short distance is Kirk Patrick, a church erected in 1710, by the exertions and benefactions of Bishop Wilson, who, besides giving £100. to better the endowment, presented the pulpit, reading-desks, communion-table, &c. &c.

Not far from hence is the most romantic and beautiful spot in the island, a valley called Glenmoi. It is a deep and rocky glen, well wooded, through which runs a rivulet, murmuring over its stony bed, and in one part forming a delightful fall of from thirty to forty feet. The northern bank is almost perpendicular, covered with luxuriant ivy, intermixed with holly; the south side exhibits a rich plantation of ash, chestnut and hazle. As the valley winds considerably, all foreign objects are necessarily excluded, and the whole has an air of the most pleasing solitude.

Peel, which was originally called Holm Town, is twelve miles distant from Douglas, and eight from Castletown; it is more remarkable for its ancient than its present rank.

In the feudal times, this town must have derived consequence from its vicinity to the castle; and when the smuggling trade was at its height, 'a Peel was a station of importance, but it is now little more than a narrow and dirty fishing town. The population is estimated at twelve hundred people. The bay abounds with excellent fish and on this coast the herrings have, for many years, been taken in the greatest abundance Peel Castle stands on a peninsula about one hundred yards west of the town; at low water it is joined to the main land by a stone wall, shelving to the top. Formerly, the approach was by; flight of steps, but time has rendered them near, useless, and travellers now make their way the ruins by clambering over the rocks.

Till the revestment of the island in the British government, this fortress was garrisoned by native troops in the pay of the lord, who usually gave them English officers; but, at the sale the royalty, the armory was cleared of the matchlocks and other Ancient weapons, the garrison reduced, and the whole has been suffered fall into a state of incurable ruin. The remains, however, have yet an imposing appearance, the walls are still flanked by towers, the outline is pretty well defined; it encloses irregular polygon of two acres. The building was originally composed of a sort of red slate winged, and faced in many parts with red stone.

Almost in the centre is a square pyramidical mound of earth, each of its sides facing one of the cardinal points. The admeasurement of this elevation is seventeen yards, and it is surrounded by a ditch five feet and a half broad, but of the use for which it was designed, no account is extant; it is conjectured either to have been an eminence whence a commander might harangue the troops, or with more probability, the burial-place of some great personage.

In this fortress, two eminent persons have been imprisoned at different times, the one Elenor, wife to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in the reign of Henry VI., the other, the great Earl of Warwick, who, on one of his reverses, was banished to the island, and detained in the custody of this garrison.

Within the Castle walls are the remains of two cathedrals, one dedicated to St. Patrick, and believed to be the first Christian church erected here; the other, inscribed to St. Germain, and built about 1245. This last is described by several ancient authors, particularly Waldron, as having been richly ornamented, and abounding in monumental inscriptions; but, if it ever was so, the page of history has been more lasting than even memorials of stone and marble, for, at present, not a trace of these embellishments is discoverable to the most curious research. It is completely unroofed, and only occasionally used as a cemetery. Bishop Wilson was the last diocesan enthroned in this cathedral.

Underneath is the ecclesiastical prison, constructed with all the gloomy severity of Monkish times: it is a vault eighteen feet deep of which the roof is formed by thirteen pointed arches, supported upon short pilasters, one twelve inches above the ground; the bottom is extremely rough, and in one corner is a well or spring, which must have made a deplorable addition to the natural humidity of the place where neither light or air is admitted, but through a small window, deep set in the wall at the east end.

Waldron also says, in his account of this place, that there were other cells under the two churches, adapted to the purposes of punishment, in some of which the wretched inmate could neither sit or lie down, and that their seclusion in these dens of horror depended on the nature and enormity of their offences, and on the will of their judges. In these days of civilization, who can reflect without astonishment on the cruelty that could inflict, or the patience that could endure, such aggravated tortures both of body and mind. But though these severities have never been exercised since the reformation, yet one cannot hear without wonder, that the other part of the ecclesiastical prison was tenanted so lately as in the days of the excellent Bishop Wilson, who, in more than one instance, consigned offenders to that miserable abode for various offences against the church, particularly the non-payment of tithes, and even in some cases without a hearing. Indeed, the power of the clergy in the Isle of Man has always had an arbitrary character, and even to this day the sentence of the bishop, or vicars general, is decisive, nor does it admit of bail; there is no alternative between prompt submission or imprisonment.

Three miles from Peel is the celebrated Tynwald mount. Its appearance is pleasing from the neatness with which its singular form is preserved, and venerable from its antiquity, and the interesting purposes to which it is entirely dedicated. It is a circular barrow, of moderate heighth, formed into a pyramid of three circles, the lowest being all-out eighty yards in circumference, and the top not more than seven feet in diameter. On this, when the legislative assembly is collected, a canopy and chair are placed for the lord, or his deputy, and the different officers, clergy and keys, take their respective stations below him, whilst the surrounding area is felled with the people. Near the mount stands St; John's Chapel, from whence, after prayers; -a sermon, the several persons forming. the Tynwald court, move in procession to the most, the ancient formulae being still observed, as recited page 54; though from the great change of circumstances which has taken place since the origin of the institution, the ceremony is so completely divested of the dignity of former day that it excites little attention, and hardly now affords a holiday-gaze to the mob.

The first part of the road to Ramsay from St John's, lies through a deep and solitary glen, two miles in length, containing in all that distance, only one miserable cottage, and one stunted oak. It is a most hermit-like solitude, stee lofty, barren, and desolate. In the bottom run a narrow rivulet, above which, the road is c on the side of the hill. Leaving this dingle, yet approach the pleasant village of Kirkmichael, place rendered interesting to the admirers superior goodness, as having been the home scene of Bishop Wilson's active benevolence fed more than half a century. I could scarcely forgive the traveller who, on entering the precinct of this parish, did not pay his first visit to the modest stone that covers the earthly remains of so much excellence.

The church is in the midst of the village, of which the chancel was rebuilt after the death of his father, by Dr. Wilson, son to the bishop who was born at Bishop's Court, and all his life took a warm interest in the affairs of the island, and, by his purse and influence, rendered many very essential services to his countrymen.

Near the church-yard is an upright stone, of great antiquity, on which are chiselled various devices of horses, riders, dogs, and stags; on the upper part is a warrior, with his spear and shield; on the edge are some runic characters, which are thus variously translated by different antiquarians.- Sir John Prestwich asserts, that the words form the following sentence: ~

" Walter, son of Thurulf, a knight, right valiant, Lord of Frithu, the Father, Jesus Christ."

Whereas, Mr. Beaufort, with equal confidence, reads the inscription thus:

" For the sins of Ivalsir, the son of Duval, this cross was erected by his mother Aftridi."

There are some other monumental relics, which' make a better appearance in description than reality, being almost defaced by time.

In this parish is a pile of stones, called Cairn Vial, probably raised in commemoration of some contest, or of some eminent chief buried on the spot.

A mile from Kirkmichael is the palace (as, it is called by courtesy) of the bishops of Man. It is a moderate sized building, well wooded, and standing in the midst of some excellent land, is an improved state of cultivation. The present diocesan is repairing and enlarging the house and by the interest he takes in agricultural pursuits, will probably afford a beneficial example to the neighborhood, and stimulate their exertions.

There are many barrows in this part of the: country, which, in early ages, was frequently the: scene of bloodshed and contention, most of the northern invaders having landed at Rams Governor Challoner had several of these tumult opened, but found only a few urns of clay, and in one, some bones, which had apparently passed the fire.

Two miles north-east of Kirkmichael is that village of Ballaugh, one of the most populous in the island, some manufactories for coarse have being established there. In this parish is still a good deal of boggy land, intersected by the Currah drain. The farmers have a great admit vantage in being near marl-pits, which, used as a manure at late years, has been employed to this manifest improvement of the lands. Two miles from Ballaugh is the church of Jurby, almost at the point of land bearing the same name. The church-yard is on very high ground, and affords an extensive view over the channel to the opposite coast. A cross road leads from hence to Kirk Bride, situated five miles from Ramsay, and two from the point of Ayr.

Between Kirk Bride and Ramsay is Kirk Andreas, a rectory and arch deaconry, of which the old church has within a few years been replaced by a new one: near an ancient seat called Balla Hurry, is the encampment formed by the troops of Oliver Cromwell. The situation is well chosen, it is surrounded by a wide fosse, and has a bastion at each corner, the internal square being sufficiently sunk to secure the soldiers from the fire of the enemy.

The approach to the town of Ramsay lies over a stone bridge of three arches, which crosses the Sulby river. The town is small and irregular, but derives a slight degree of importance from being the seat of justice for the northern district. There is a pier which runs out a few hundred feet to sea, and is terminated by a light-house; the bay is spacious, and the anchorage good, but the harbour, from neglect, has become nearly useless, and will only afford shelter to vessels of very small burthen. The country about Ramsay, as well as the neighbourhood, is far superior to the town; the former being in a high state of cultivation, and chiefly inhabited by native families of considerable respectability, amongst whom a pleasant association is kept up: nor do they so decidedly exclude strangers from all participation in their hospitality, as is sometimes done in other parts of the island.

Provisions are considerably cheaper here than at the southern side, and it is also asserted that the land is much superior, and affords greater promise of advantage to the farmer; against which however, I should fear the want of an immediate and certain market must be more than a counterpoise. Many apple orchards flourish here in great luxuriance, and thorn or quick-set hedges, on most estates, have superceded the stone wall so common in the south.

In proceeding from Ramsay to Maughold you leave the lofty mountain, North Barrule, on the right. Maughold head is a bold promontory, beneath which, under some moss-clad rocks, is a deep spring, much celebrated for it. medicinal virtues. These waters were supposed to derive additional efficacy, if drank sitting in the chair of the saint which still remains near the well.

This point, and the adjacent village, take their name from the venerable person who was there east ashore, as we have before related, and who, as tradition informs us, made himself a dwelling on the spot where he landed: and where his exemplary piety, and the uncommon severity of his life, attracted such universal reverence, that his solitude was soon invaded by a number of votaries, who, desiring to shelter themselves beneath the protection of his sanctity, or to profit by his example, soon raised a town in his immediate neighbourhood, which became one of the most populous in the island. Of the truth of this legend no evidence remains, except the uncommon dimensions of the church, which greatly exceed those of any other place of worship in the country: and the circumstance of its standing in a space of five acres of consecrated ground, which certainly implies a larger population than that by which it is at present surrounded. Near this church-yard is a pillar of clay slate, on which the figures are so rudely executed, and withal so much defaced, that it offers a full licence to fancy, to ascribe the original design to the most opposite subjects. Some say it is intended to depict the birth, passion' and crucifixion of our Saviour: others discern in it a clear and distinct configuration of the visit of St. Bridget to St. Maughold, when he invested her with the veil. For my own part, I can only wonder at the ingenuity that can discern, in such an heterogeneous mass, a likeness to any thing in heaven or on earth; and I feel rather inclined to think, that the artist employed his chisel under a conscientious recollection of the second commandment.

Passing on towards Laxey, Snowfield rears its venerable head, and invites the traveller to a view which, for its extent, is unrivalled in Great Britain, of which empire this mountain is said to be the exact centre; and a great part of which may be distinctly seen from the top of it. Of Ireland you behold the Arklow mountains, the high point of land on this side the bay of Carlingford, and the hills behind Strangford. Of Wales, the towering Snowdon and great Ormshead, besides a long line of mountains. Of England, part of the coast of Cumberland and Lancashire; and of Scotland, all the high land between Dumfries and Port Patrick. Whilst the Isle of Man itself forms the home view, and is spread out like a map beneath your feet.

Laxey is a village of little trade, composed of about thirty houses, the retreat of fishermen; but the glen is deserving of notice, for the romantic beauty of its scenery. It is well planted with trees; about half-way up are some copper mines, from whence no great advantages have as yet been derived, though they are occasionally worked; a little way up the valley is a flax spinning-mill, belonging to Messrs. Moore's, of Douglas. Kirk Lonan, the parish church, is a mile from the village; at some distance on the road to Douglas, are twelve stones placed in an oval form; just without the oval are two others, six feet high, one of which is cloven from top to bottom. The whole are erected on a mound of earth, elevated four or five feet; in the centre of which is an excavation seven feet long and three wide: the natives have connected several supernatural tales with this spot, but they give no rational account of its origin-most probably the whole is a remnant of Druidism.

Kion Droghead is a village rather more than two miles from Douglas, of which the parish church is dedicated to St. Onca, the mother of St. Patrick, though the name is usually corrupted to Conchan. This neighbourhood has been held up of late years as an example to the rest of the island, on account of the great and visible improvement effected here by different agriculturists, to which its vicinity to Douglas, and the facility of obtaining manure, have no doubt contributed.

Having now completed the circuit of the island, I have only to notice the inland parish of Maroun, which offers no extraordinary particulars to record. It is intersected by a road leading to St. John's; nearly opposite to the parish church are the walls of a chapel, called St. Trinnian's, said to have been erected in consequence of a vow made by a shipwrecked mariner; and its present ruinous state is ascribed to the malice of the demon by whom this unfortunate had been persecuted, who being restrained from any further personal injury to the sufferer, amused his revenge by throwing off the roof of the new building.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001