[From Isle of Man, Cumming 1848]
Road from Douglas to Castletown. - Port Soderic. - Beautiful scenery. - Natural caves. - Intrusive green stone. - Axis of elevation.-Transport of boulders. - Barrows and Cromlechs. - Action of-drift-ice and icebergs. - The ancient condition of the Isle of Man as a chain of smaller islands. - Santon-burn, Ballalona, Fairies.
IN proceeding from Douglas to Castletown, we have the choice of two routes, one lying along the eastern coast by Oakhill, Ballashamrock, and through the parish of Santon, which was the old road, another running over the higher ground more inland by Mount Murray, which is that now generally traversed. The former seems to have been abandoned in consequence of the deep gulleys which were crossed by it, over which it was deemed too expensive (in a country where no tolls are taken) to throw viaducts; but it was a great mistake to carry the new one in its present direction over two very steep and long hills (Middle Hill and Richmond Hill), through a country in great part wild and dreary in the extreme, and where good road materials are scarce; a middle line might have been adopted nearer and easier than either of the others, taking the old road as far as Ballashamrock, thence through Oatlands into the new road, near the half-way-house; and then from the foot of the hill, where the old and new road join about three and a half miles from Castletown, the road might have been continued by Ballahick and the Creggins, nearly in a straight line, and avoiding a very wearisome hill. It is not too late yet to adopt this route, and public rather than private interests will be consulted thereby. In this case it would be desirable to bring into use the masses of tough greenstone which lie scattered along the surface almost the whole way, than which there can hardly be a better road material.
For the sake of the scenery, the pedestrian or horseman way well be advised, even now, to take the old road entirely, and carriages may adopt it in part by turning off from it by the by-road which runs through Oatlands and connects the old with the new Castletown road, about half a mile south of Mount Murray. At this point, where the by-road meets the new main-road, it will be well to pause and take a view of the south of the Island. The immediate neighbourhood, as has just been mentioned, is remarkably bleak and barren, consisting of cold clay lands, formed by the degradation of the subjacent schists. Scarcely a tree can be seen, and such as are seen convey the idea of nature holding out wretched signals of distress. Immediately to the westward, at the distance of four miles, rises South Barrule, looking black and frowning towards the south-west, seemingly supported to the right and left by its twin body-guards Slieuwhallin and Irey-na-Lhaa; whilst directly in front, above St. Mark's and the mining ground of Foxdale, rises a fine granitic dome, studded with disintegrating blocks of that rock, and spangled near the summit with masses of white quartz. South Barrule thus reminds us of an overgrown school-boy with a frosted plum-cake in his lap. We catch from this point also a glimpse of the Calf of Man and Spanish Head, with other of the more remarkable promontories; and turning more to the south, we observe the tower of King William's College standing out as a striking object at the head of Castletown Bay.
But the traveller on foot or on horseback, as has just been mentioned, may well keep on the old Castletown road, and examine the different glens which run down to the sea. They are full of interest, and will well repay a visit in detail. Descending to the sea-shore below Ballashamrock, we come upon Port Soderic, a secluded and exquisitely lovely inlet, into which, at its south-western recess, the streamlet from Mount Murray makes its way, cutting through the beds of the boulder-clay formation, which we may commence studying here, where they have been sheltered from denudation in the interior of the little bay. The schists which form the horns of the bay rise at a high angle 1 inland, and there become contorted; and this is apparently due to the intrusion of masses of greenstone 2, which run hence in a direction nearly west magnetic, and throw the beds into an anticlinal along an axis in that direction, the traces of which are discernible in various creeks 3 along the shore for several miles towards the south of the island, and more especially at the mouth of the Santon river, near Coshnahawin Head. The action of the sea at different levels upon the schists which have thus been disturbed, and the formation of a series of water-worn caves penetrating the lines of fracture, are highly deserving of study by the geologist; and the artist will find here many a pretty gem for his sketch-book, and the lover of nature many of her wildest features for his contemplation. Here are the favourite haunts of the sea-fowl; and when a storm has been spending its fury on these rugged cliffs with a heavy swell rolling in from the north-east, their wild screaming, mixed up with the roaring of the billows in the rocky caves and deep gullies, and the dash of the foammg surge upon the pinnacles of schist which stand out here and there into the sea, forms a concert of discords wonderfully impressive and heart-stirring. And so again are we soothed into a kind of romantic melancholy when not a breath stirs the waters, and the only sound is that of the lap-lapping of the wave, and its faint echo against the sides of the picturesque cavern on the quiet influx of the tide, mixed with trickling of water from the roof and the splash of the little neighbouring cascade which comes tumbling down fifty or sixty feet and mirrors a rainbow from the morning sun ; and there is the gentle bleating of the sheep on the crag above, and the plaintive cry of the curlew, which has made its nest in some rocky cranny along the shore and then to look down into the clear deep azure pools and watch the finny tribe there disporting themselves, and tempting lobsters and crabs peeping forth from their holes, and all the beautiful variety of algae waving to and fro in the briny swell; where can we see these things in greater perfection than in Mona ? Who that loves such scenes will not hasten to enjoy them here ?
The next principal inlet to the south of Port Soderic is Seafield. It is a fine open bay with rocky caves on the north side; and from the south side we have a good view of a wooded valley running up for some distance inland, and we have a continuation of the same geological phaenomena, and consequently the same scenery as at Port Soderic.
On the way we must have observed here and there constant accumulation of greenstone blocks on both sides of the road, but specially to the westward, and we shall have little doubt as to the direction in which many of these have come. We shall find them in considerable numbers as we ascend from Seafield towards the church of Kirk Santon, and especially to the south-west on the sunnnit of the hill. We cannot help noticing the circumstance that a very large use has been made of these boulders in the formation of the so-called druidical circles, which are, or rather were, so abundant on the island.
The antiquary, when treating of the mechanical powers employed in bringing to their present position on the tops of hills these magnificent masses of stone, in an age when machinery must have been of a very simple character, seems sadly to have overlooked the fact of their having been in many instances a geological deposit left ready to hand frequently on those very spots where we now see them, brought thither (shall we say it ?) by the carrying power of ice which grounded and melted on those summits when the glacial sea was at a higher level relatively to the land than it now is. It is not necessary in each case to presume that the masses of ice thus transporting rocks were of such a size as to be strictly speaking icebergs; the position of the blocks may very frequently be accounted for by the simple supposition of their having been frozen in amidst packed ice or mixed ice and snow 4, which was afterwards broken up, forced along shore by the action of powerful currents, grinding down and smoothing in many instances the subjacent rocks which lay in the main passages or tide-ways (and may we not in this way account for the vast accumulation of gravel, sand and clays in the lower portion of the boulder formation?), and again often stranded and forced inland in the form of packed ice by the action of stormy waves, and upon the deliquescence of the ice forming vast piles of detrital matter with mixed angular and rounded blocks, according to the condition in which those blocks were when frozen into the ice. And both angular and rounded blocks may have become scratched and marked with furrows in their passage from one locality to another whilst held tight in their icy matrix; and this is the condition in fact in which we mostly meet with masses of rock in this formation.
Perhaps in considering the boulder series on the Isle of Man, we may hold as a general rule that those accumulations which consist entirely or in most part of insular rocks, have been so deposited by shore-ice, and on the other hand we may attribute to the carrying power of icebergs those small boulders, and even large accumulations of boulders and gravel, which have a foreign aspect, and are plainly travellers from a more distant region.
In discussing too the question of the action of shore-ice, packed-ice, icefloes, and icebergs in the formation of the boulder deposit in this neigbbourhood, the true physical condition of the country relatively to the sea-level at that time ought to be taken into consideration. We must remember that when the land was depressed and the sea reached higher up the mountains, we should have presented to us a chain of islands separated by very narrow channels 5. The fearful rapidity with which the current at certain reached his ears, on following which he was led into a magnificent hall, where he observed seated round a well-garnished table a goodly number of the little people, who were making themselves merry with the comforts of this life. Amongst those at table were faces which he fancied he had certainly seen in times past, but took no notice of them, nor they of him, till the little people offering him drink, one of them whose features seemed well-known to him plucked him by the coat tails, and forbade his tasting aught before him on pain of becoming -one of them and never returning to his home. A cup filled with some liquor being put into his hand, he found opportunity to dash its contents upon the ground. Whereupon the music ceased, the lights disappeared, and the company at once vanished, leaving the cup in his hand. By the advice of his parish priest he devoted this cup to the service of the church, and I am told (says Waldron) that this very cup is now used for the consecrated wine in Kirk Malew."
Lord Teignmouth, in his sketches of the coasts of Scotland and the Isle of Man, makes the observation that the Manx retain many superstitious notions common to the other branches of the Celtic family, and in proof of it mentions a conversation which he had with his guide on the occasion of his visit to the island. The guide stated that about six years before that time a troop of fairies had appeared to a man of Laxey, who being intoxicated began to abuse them, but they wreaked their vengeance on him by piercing his skin with a shower of gravel. The catastrophe did not terminate here; for to ! next morning his horse died, his cow died also, and in six weeks he himself was a corpse. The brief hint of intoxication in the above case leads us to suspect that there was somewhat of truth as well as shrewdness in the suggestion of a certain local Wesleyan preacher, that the fairies had been seen taking their departure from the island in empty rum Puncheons, and scudding out of Douglas Bay with a fair breeze for Jamaica.
Whilst on the subject of fairies, which our passage of Ballalona has evolved, it may be well to notice here that the Manx, as well as their Scottish and Irish congeners, have, in reference to the distribution of erratic blocks, by the help of the invisible race cut the Gordian knot which has long tortured the patience and tried the ingenuity of geologists. Many of these piles of stones, as well as the single blocks of stone which are perched upon eminences, are attributed to the labours of a certain evil genius, termed by them "phynnoderee," a kind of reprobate or outcast fairy, who for his sins was transformed into a shaggy Satyr, with long flowing goat's hair and cloven feet. An instance is related of a certain farmer in the neighbourhood of Sneafell, who, being about to build a house, collected on the seashore a goodly pile of boulders. There was however one enormous quartz boulder on which his heart was specially fixed, but which no human art could remove from the spot. In one single night the phynnoderee is stated to have transferred, not only this stone, but many hundred loads of the collected boulders to a distance of many miles inland, in proof whereof the erratic quartz rock is to this day pointed out, where it lies on an elevated spot on the mountain side.
1 At the caves they dip S. 10° E. magnetic at an angle of 35°.
2 I have not as yet been able to discover the outburst of the greenstone at Port Soderic, though I have little doubt of its existence in this neighbourhood, from the numerous blocks on the surface to the south-west of the bay.
3 In Sea-field harbour the strike of the disturbance is N. 82° W. magnetic, or nearly magnetic east and west.
4 Mr. Darwin has cited some admirable instances of such phænomcna in his recent travels in the Southern Hemisphere.
5 In a French work published in Paris last year, entitled ' Recherches sur les Glaciers, les Glaces Flotantes, les Dépôts Erratiques, &c.,' the author (Moos. Jules Granges) brings forward evidence to show that the inferior limit of perpetual snow descends lower in islands than peninsulas, and in peninsulas lower than on continents; and he comes also to the conclusion, " que Bans les climats insulaires, oa les températmres "oyennes sont assez elevées et où cependaut les températures estivales sent très deuces, les glaciers présenteront le plus grand développement possible; ce sera précisément le contraire pour les climats continentaux." The bearing of these statements on the origin of the boulder formation is very interesting.
| Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley, 2009