[From Isle of Man, Cumming 1848]

CHAPTER II

Douglas Bay-Panorama on entering it.-The past and present condition of the town.-Rambles in its neighbourhood-to Baldwin, Kirk Braddan, the Nunnery.

WHAT a magnificent bay is this of Douglas! how deep the azure which rests upon its waters! Few scenes can be more impressive than that presented to the stranger on his arrival by steamer on a clear calm summer's eve, either from Liverpool or (the more natural communication) Fleetwood. Thirteen or fourteen hours 1 since he may perhaps have been in London, or he may have just fled from the smoke and din of Birmingham, or Manchester, or Leeds.

The shape of the bay he will observe to be nearly that presented by the concave arc of the moon when three days old. The southern horn (the left-hand one to him at entering) runs out into the sea as a mass of clay schist dipping inland at a high angle, and surmounted by the light-house. A little further in, near and under the battery 2 ,he may observe some violent contortions of the strata, and between that and Harold Tower perhaps his eye may catch a sight of a small patch of gravel a few feet below the level of the battery; this is a remnant of the northern drift, a very ancient though not the last upraised sea-beach. In the south-western area rests the tower of refuge 3 , an extremely picturesque object, and in case of shipwreck on the dangerous reef (the Conaster rock, or St. Mary's Isle) on which it stands, a precious point of safety for the mariner. The headland at the northern extremity of the bay is Banks's Howe, a favourite resort of the Douglas people when an autumnal sun has mellowed the heather on the mountain sides. The distance between the extreme horns of the bay will be about two miles.

A continuation of the bold coast two miles north-east of Banks's Howe (interrupted only by the sweet little haven of Growdale, where a streamlet comes tumbling down from the White Bridge near Onchan) terminates the scene with Clay Head.

In the foreground we have the town of Douglas stretching along the south-western edge of the bay. The old town, in the form of a triangle, occupies the low ground at the mouth of the river on the level of the last raised seabeach, the pier 4 (with its light-house) and St. Barnabas church being the most striking objects. The more elevated localities have in later years been seized upon by the better classes for their habitations and for the lodging-houses of strangers, and a new town has thus rapidly grown up of a more respectable character, and this from its position being more conspicuous than the more ancient one, happily impresses the visitor on his approach with a very favourable opinion of the spot. The Odd Fellows' Hall, St. George's 5 Church, and the House of Industry 6 , stand out as the more prominent objects in the upper town. Along the shore to the north we have the new church of St. Thomas 7 , the only modern building on the island which can pretend to an ecclesiastical character.

Above this a fine terrace of the northern drift is being rapidly occupied by a superior class of residences, commanding a magnificent view of the bay and the environs of Douglas. Rather more to the north we have Villa Marina, and then as the most conspicuous object almost in the centre of the crescent of the bay, in a line direct from the light-house through the tower of refuge, stands out Castle Mona, formerly the residence of John Duke of Athol, whither he removed from Port-e-Chee, but now converted into a first-rate hotel. A little further northwards the continental traveller is reminded strongly of the Rhine castles, by the castellated and highly picturesque pile on the Falcon Cliff.

Perhaps a well-practised eye may perceive a few yards to the northward of the Falcon Cliff that the claret-coloured schist, on which the castle stands, dips at a high angle nearly south by east, and has but a very thin capping of the drift gravel. The series is well-developed in a quarry hard by, where the road turns up the hill to Kirk Onchan, and shows, as contrasted with the dip of these schists on Douglas Head, that the town lies in a synclinal depression. Strathallan Crescent forms an interesting feature in this portion of the bay, where the shore begins to curve to the north-eastward; and in the same division of the panorama we can include Derby Castle, though standing a little apart within its own grounds to the eastward.

The upper portion of the same field of view will take in a pretty fragment of the village of Onchan 8 perched on the rise of the hill, with its heavenward pointing church spire relieved against a richly-wooded background,-a combination not too frequently falling under the eye of the painter in the Isle of Man, where trees are few and far between.

Such is the foreground in the panorama of Douglas Bay, owing much perhaps of its present attraction as a watering place to the hand of man 9 , but still most truly enchanting in its own undecked naturalness. In fact, the mind of him who is a true admirer of the beauties of Creation reverts at once to the time, scarcely more than a century and a half ago, when Douglas, a fishing-hamlet in the parish of Kirk Braddan, sent up on a still summer Sabbath-eve its curling wreaths of turf-smoke from the little group of fishers' cots which nestled in the western angle of the bay, whilst fathom upon fathom of herring nets lay drying around upon the sand-hills, since occupied by a ducal palace and aristocratic mansions, and he will ever love mentally to linger on such a scene.

Well! let him then even now lift up his eyes to the further off landscape in the distant mountain chain. Let us suppose the station a mile or two out at sea, so as to permit the line of view clear over Douglas Head and the nearer eminences. 'T is evening; stretching away to the right and left, from seven to eight miles inland, as far as the eye can reach in a line almost parallel to the southeastern coast, the glorious panorama of mountain peaks stands forth in clear relief against the western sky. We have said peaks, but their outline generally speaking is too soft and rounded fairly to claim that term 10 . A mellowed light streams through the gorges and deeper central valley which cleaves the island in twain from Douglas to Peel. The dark heather on South Barrule and Bein-y-Phot, the longer we gaze looks darker and darker still. The loftier mountain-range, though continued onwards with a gradual depression towards Brada Head, the Mull Hills, and the Calf of Man, seems to terminate in the south-west with Cronck-na-Irey-Lhaa (the hill of the rising day), reaching 1400 feet above the sea-level, its eastern face smoothed down and every cavity apparently filled up. A glance at the geological map 11 will show that the tertiary deposits, here consisting of boulders, sand and clay of the pleistocene age, stretch far up the mountain side. They might perhaps under the term diluvium,be continued to the very summit, for even to that height we find boulders of granite evidently detached from the boss on the eastern side of South Barrule, and rolled forward in a south-westerly direc tion. The western face of Irey-na-Lhaa descends almost perpendicularly into the Western Sea.. It is the leeward side, so to speak, of the mountain barrier opposed to the drifting current from the north-east.

Carrying the eye onward towards the north, the next summit is South Barrule (the top of the Apple), a noble mountain as seen from any side, the King of the South, rising 1545 feet above the sea-level. The intervention of Mount Murray takes off somewhat from its grandeur as seen on entering Douglas Bay. The same may be said perhaps of Slieuwhallin (the Hill of the Whelp), the next mountain to the right descending (at its northern extremity) with extreme abruptness into the vale of St. John. The northern slope of that valley ascends far more gently to the summit of Greebah, which presents to the southern view the appearance of a truncated pyramid.

The ridge continues now with a slight depression towards the north-east, affording a pass across the chain from Baldwin to the Rennass Valley. And now further to the north, having passed another prominent point, we can just scan the head of the Baldwin valley in the deep recess of Injebreck, a lovely wooded retreat on a hot summer's day, where the clear dew-drops come trickling down in a silver thread from the grassy slope betwixt Garraghan and Snacfell to form the Glas (the grey water), which rolling onwards through the Baldwin valley and joining the Dhoo (the black water) 11 near Port-e-Chee (the Harbour of Peace), forms with it the Douglas river from which the town takes its name.

Standing forward from the more regular chain of mountains, we have next Garraghan and Bein-y-Phot, whose elevation above the sea is respectively 1520 and 1750 feet. Then falling back upon the line to the north is the monarch of Mona, Sneafell, 2004 feet in height; and the ridge is further extended north-eastward, terminating in the conical point of North Barrule, which frowns down upon Ramsey, the metropolis of the north, and sends forth at its base a series of lesser ridges on every side, like the gnarled and twisted roots of some gigantic old oak. In the ravines thus formed are the sylvan retreats of Ballure and Glenaldyn. Maughold Head, rough and precipitous, forms the extreme north-eastern termination of the great mountain chain, as seen from the entrance to Douglas Bay, and shuts up the further view of the island in that direction. It should however be rather considered physically as a more salient point of a secondary chain to the south-eastward of the former principal one.

It is a hard and ungracious task to advise people in general of a line of tour in such a country as Mona's fair isle. There are so many various points to be considered 12 in the matter; the time at the disposal of the visitor is a prime consideration; regard must be had to the different energies of the invalid travelling in his easy carriage in search of health amidst the valleys, and the able-bodied pedestrian who is prepared to scale precipices and inhale the keen air which plays around the mountain-top. Regard must be had to the antiquarian intent on Runic monuments, Kist-vaens and Cromlechs, ruined churches, cathedrals, monasteries and castles; whilst the naturalist will feel anxious to have his attention directed to those localities which present the best specimens of the objects on which his mind happens to be just now particularly engaged.

But in writing for the geological tourist, we need not hesitate in advising the course he ought to take, whether it be by days or weeks that he is to reckon his stay. He must go almost at once to the south of the island, where he will find the whole physical history of the country developed in the geological study of the Sheading of Rushen. Yet, if he can spare a day, he may devote it first to the neighbourhood of Douglas, in an examination of the valleys in which flow the streams originating the Douglas river. He will there (especially in Spring valley) fix his attention on the terraces of drift-gravel, the indication of successive elevation of the area of the ancient sea-bottom of this neighbourhood. He will perceive that in former times an estuary ran up into the country to Port-e-Chee (the Haven of Peace), and that it has been drained at a period, geologically recent, by an elevation which is probably the last affecting materially the physical condition of the island; and he may find some reason perhaps for the supposition, that a movement, then commenced, has been quietly proceeding even down to the present time. He may even extend his day's excursion beyond Port-e-Chee, a few miles into the Baldwin valley, and perhaps reach Injebreck 13; and all the way he will be struck with the masses of gravel, sand and clay through which the streamlets from the mountain's dashing and foaming have eut their way, and formed many a romantic glen which he will refer in great part to the period of the boulder-clay deposit. And the general tourist, who cares nothing for the geological questions involved, may well accompany him in this day's ramble, for he will pass through scenery which for quiet and secluded loveliness is hardly to be equalled anywhere in Mona. And why should he not include in it the Kirk yard of Braddan 14 ? sweet shaded holy spot! How do pensive solemn thoughts steal over us there; and scenes of bygone times flit rapidly before our imagination as we sit upon the western stile, itself an ancient, misplaced and perverted Runic monument! Would that it were the only misplaced holy stone in this churchyard, but, proh pudor ! in the midst of it, under the open sky, is the -good old square font, plain and simple, it is true, but yet of honest stone, and hallowed to many a generation, now crumbling to dust in the yard around. It was turned out of the church 15 to make room for a pew not many years ago. A small basin upon a wooden pillar within the altar rails is intended to do duty in its stead.

 

Above this old square font is one of the finest Runic monuments of the island, its length 5 feet 4 inches, the shaft adorned with figures of dragons or monstrous animals intertwined together. Along its edge is an inscription 16 in Runes, the interpretation of which has greatly puzzled antiquarians. If we look. about we shall find two other Runic monuments, one leaning against the church tower on the southern side, the other built in as a lintel to one of the windows of the tower. But we must away.

Let us take the road which leads through the richly-wooded grounds of Kirby and Ballaughton, and coming out upon Spring Valley, we may saunter leisurely down the streamlet which falls into the Douglas river below the Nunnery. Let us look upwards now to those embattled walls which perch on the summit of the rock, or peep forth from the denser foliage which mantles round its base. These are not the very identical walls in which the venerable Prioress of Douglas used in the olden time to hold her baronial courts, exercising a temporal as well as a spiritual discipline over her own vassals. They, for the most part, have long since passed away; and it would be difficult to trace a vestige of monumental stone (even in the eastern wing, which has a pretension to greater antiquity) which we might venture to pronounce as fashioned and wrought to take its place as part of that ancient house which St. Bridget is said to have founded here in the sixth century 17. But still there is an impressiveness about the building, and we can hardly help feeling a desire to know more of its eatlier history, and to trace its influence, if possible, upon a rude people in a troublous age, and observe how it stood forth as a home of civilization and of true religion, a real Port-e-Chee, a refuge to the weak and peaceful in times when every man's hand was against his fellow.

 

 

Footnotes

1 A person leaving the Isle of Man at ten o'clock in the morning will ordinarily be in Liverpool in time for the express train which reaches London at eleven o'clock the same evening.

2 This battery was erected in 1813, at which period also was removed one of the most interesting relics of antiquity of which the island had to boast, the ancient Pictish tower which stood at the bight of the Pollock Rock, the former entrance to the harbour. See Appendix, Note B.

3 Erected in 1832, mainly through the exertions of Sir William Hillary.

4 The first stone of the pier was laid on July 24, 1793, by John Duke of Athol. Its length is 520 feet, and breadth 40 feet. The cost of erection was £22,000.

5 Built in 1780.

6 Built in 1837.

7 Commenced in 1846,

8 Dedicated in honour of St. Concha, the mother of St. Patrick.

9 See Note C, Appendix.

10 A good idea of their form may be gained from the "Distant sea-view of the Isle of Man as approached from the south-east."

11 Plates 1. and III.

12 It rises in the turf bogs of the central insular valley.

13 The general tourist should be advised to visit this spot, and he may from Injebreck easily ascend Bein-y-Phot and Sneafell.

14 St. Brandon (in honour of whom the church was dedicated) is said to have been an Abbot and Confessor, who died a recluse in the Isle of Arran towards the close of the eleventh century. In the year A.D. 1292, Mark, Bishop of Sodor, held here a synod, in which were enacted thirty-six canons for the government of the church. The present church of Braddan was built in 1773.

15 There is scarcely a church on the island which retains its ancient font within the church. The fonts have been ejected for the most part within the last twenty years, and appropriated to various nameless uses. Mostly they are cut out of insular granite blocks without any attempt at ornament, and probably they are very old.

16 It was copied for Gibson's Camden upwards of a hundred years ago. The best figure of this cross is given in the Archaeological Journal of the ArchŠological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. ii. p. 75. The two readings which have met with the greatest favour seem to be those of Mr. Beauford and Mr. Just; the former reads it thus : "Durlifr nsaci risti krus dono aftfiac sunfin frudur sun safrsag ;" and translates it-" For Admiral Durlif this cross is erected, by the son of his brother (the son of) Safrsag."

The latter reads it-" Thurlior : Niaki : Rasti : Krus : Thono Aft : Piak : Sini : Aruth : I;r : Sun : Taors :" and translates it" Thurlior Niaki raised this cross for his-Aruth ur, son of Jaor." We have given a view of the Runic cross and the ancient square font as they stand together in the Auld Kirk Yard.

17 St. Bridget was born in the year 453, and at the age of fourteen years received the veil at the hands of St. Patrick. In 484 she founded the nunnery of Kildare; about the same time a monastery was founded under the same roof; and this illustrious and immaculate lady presided both over the nuns and the monks till the time of her death in the year 523.-Wood's History of the Isle of Man, p. 113.


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