[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]
THE railways of Mona, with their narrow gauge and diminutive locomotives and carriages, attract the attention of visitors, accustomed to the large and powerful engines on the main lines of England, and are of the greatest convenience to the tourist desirous of doing the island in a given short space of time; but to those who have plenty of time at their disposal, and who are desirous of seeing and enjoying all the beauties of the country, the road is by far the preferable route to be followed.
The new Electrical Railway from Douglas to Laxey and on to Ramsey, which is probably the most successful and important line yet constructed in the British Islands, will well repay the traveller desirous of experiencing one of the last new methods of locomotion, but does not afford the opportunities of seeing the beauties that a trap or cycle does.
Laxey and Ramsey will well repay for more than one visit, and both meansrail and roadmay be profitably used in getting to and from there.
The ride by road from Douglas to Ramsey via Laxey is an exceedingly interesting one, giving beautiful views of both mountain and sea, and passing through a very varied country.
There are two roads from Douglas leading to the village of Onchan, and the main northern highroad to Laxey and Ramsey. One along the Loch Parade and shore of Douglas Bay necessitates the ascending of the steep hill of Burnt Mill. The other, from the higher part of the town vid Bucks Road, passes Woodburn and Government House, the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor; affords views of the Bay of Douglas, and is very picturesque, passing through a wooded valley, and crossing a little stream before debouching into the village of Onchan, where for many years the well-known parson John Howard presided over and ruled the parish as its equally loved and feared Vicar. From Onchan northward is one of the capital roads for which Monas Isle is so justly celebrated. There are not, and never have been, any turnpikes or tolls upon any of the Manx highways, which are kept up by a small tax upon every wheel and shod hoof, together with a levy upon every male inhabitant of the island to give a days work upon the repairs of the road, or its equivalent in money.
There is an amusing anomaly on this road that seldom fails to call forth remarks, more or less original and witty, from those who travel by it.
Some mile or so from Onchan, a public-house is seen on the left-hand side of the road, on the side of which is inscribed Half-way House to Laxey. About a quarter of a mile further on is another roadside pub, which in like manner is announced in large letters to be the Half-way House to Douglas. Which house is really half-way between the two towns is an open question for debate.
Between these two half-way landmarks and Laxey the traveller passes the celebrated Cloven Stones ancient runic monuments, composed of three single stones of the indigenous clay-slate, of which the island principally consists.
An old legend states that Olaf the Black, one of the ancient Manx Kings, clove the larger stone in two with a single stroke of the great sword Macabuin, made by Loan Maclibhuin, the Dark Smith of Drontheim; and another old tale reports that when these two halves of the Cloven Stones hear the cock crow, they clap together with a loud noise like thunder.
The present road, which is of comparatively modern construction, diverges greatly from the straight line formerly followed by the old road, much to its improvement. The old highway can still be traced, descending the hill at a fearful gradient to the bottom of the valley, crossing the little stream by a narrow, now ruinous, bridge, and ascending the opposite side of the valley at an equally precipitous angle; abandoned shafts and other things, appertaining to disappointed hopes of mining fortunes, protrude themselves upon the landscape so many hideous monuments of so many ghastly failures.
After inspecting the great wheel and the washing-floors of Laxey Mine, the traveller, having refreshed both himself and his horse at one or other of the inns in the village, will pursue his journey northward towards Ramsey, ascending the fine new road before mentioned on the north side of Laxey Valley. Very near to the top of this road, where it turns and pursues a course along the coast, it will be well to stop for a few minutes to examine King Orrys rough runic monument, and to see the course of the old road, which here is to be seen climbing fearfully up from the old Laxey fishing village below, and, crossing what is now the new road, goes on still higher up the hill, almost as steep as before.
The new road, constructed many years ago under the supervision of Mr. Lamothe, goes round this hill along a course cut out of the face of the rock that overhangs the sea, affording beautiful sea views and glimpses of the wild, bold, rocky coast of the island. After some distance the road takes a sharp turn to the left, but at this part a new point of view is obtained overlooking the Dhoon Valley, the Barony, behind which lies Port Cornah, with the rising woods above; of Ballaskeg on the coast, and Ballaglass to the left.
The road is pretty level for some distance from here, till it winds round the eastern side of North Barrule Mountain in its approach towards Ramsey, when it makes a sharp ascent from the corner of the by-road that branches off to Magher-e-Kew into the valley below, bearing the name of Lewaigne, for some centuries the residence of one of the numerous branches of the Christian family.
The by-road, which first of all descends somewhat sharply, leads through Ballajorra, and further on again rises, and after reaching the top of a hill passes the interesting Ruillick-ny-Quackeryn, the old burying-ground of the Manx Quakers.
Continuing the course of the main road, and leaving the road to Magher-e-Kew behind, the highest point of the highway is reached. Overlooking the stone wall on the right, Lewaigne House is seen, immediately below and partly hidden among the ash or rowan trees; and looking eastwards over these trees, the whole valley between Barrule and the headland of Maughold, with its little village, church and parsonage, lies spread like a map at the travellers feet.
On the left is the wide expanse of Ramsey Bay, the full scope of which is hidden from view at this point by a spur of the mountain known as Slieu Lewaigne, as is also the town of Ramsey itself. On the left of the view is the little Bay of Port-Lewaigne, with the Carrick Rock showing itself above water at low tide, a warning to mariners to give its vicinity a wide berth. Beyond this is another little bay, Porte-Vullian, where the telegraph cable from England is landed on the island. From here the rocks rise rapidly to the precipitous headland of Maughold, named after the old pirate bishop and saint.
On the right of the landscape is the dangerous Port Mooar, south of Maughold Head, and facing the south-east. To anyone gazing over the panorama of the valley from Slieu-Lewaigne it will at once be seen that at one timeages long passed awaythe sea has flowed uninterruptedly from one of these ports or bays to the other, covering the greater part of the now fertile valley at his feet, leaving the towering headland, rising several hundred feet almost perpendicularly from the sea on its eastern face as a separate islet of itself, in like manner to the Calf of Man at the southern extremity of the island.
Turning to the left in a northerly direction, the road from this point rapidly descends, and after some little distance, when the spur of the mountain is quite passed, the whole of Ramsey Bay comes into view, ranging from Maughold Head to the Point of Ayre.
Far away over the clear green sea are seen in fine weather to the eastwards the lofty hills of Cumberland; and to the north over the low land of the Northern Coast of Ayre and the Solway Firth the peaks of the Land o Cakes are visible. The channel between the Point of Ayre and Kirkcudbrightshire is the narrowest between the Isle of Man and the British shores.
The traveller, approaching Ramsey by this road for the first time, cannot fail to be struck with the different contour the country north of Barrule presents. With the mountain, the clay-slate, rocky formation terminates. Northwards of the Sulby River, that falls into the sea at Ramsey Harbour, all is sand, a rolling expanse of low sandhillsa perfect contrast to the mountainous formation of the rest of the island.
Viewed from the road, as it descends towards the lovely Glen of Ballure and the seashore, the town of Ramsey and its surroundings form a charming landscape, with its small but commodious harbour.
If the visitor is fortunate enough to be at this spot during the rough season of the year, when a gale from the south or west is in full force, he will probably see safely anchored in the bay a fleet of perhaps between one and two hundred ships, of all nationalities, sorts and sizes, from the fishing luggers and nickies to the largest ships that traverse the ocean. It is a sheltered anchorage, well known and fully appreciated by all mariners whose courses lay through the Irish Sea.
On descending from the high lands, and before reaching Ramsey, there is to be seen a tall square tower surmounted by a flagstaff, standing on the spot where the late Prince Consort, the lamented husband of our widowed Queen, stood to view the prospect, and was erected as a memento of the royal visit.
Her Majestys yacht, with the Queen and royal children on board, had put into Ramsey Bay on her way from Scotland, and Prince Albert paid a short visit to the little townit was but a little town then and was taken up the spur of the mountain to view the country.
Before entering the town of Ramsey the road crosses the lovely Glen of Ballure, so celebrated for its variety of ferns and the reputation of being a favourite haunt of the fairies. Here on the roadside is the charming little house of Ballure which Mr. Hall Caine, in his novel The Manxman, took the liberty of appropriating as the abode of the hero, Philip Christian. A very short drive further on, and Ramsey, in my humble opinion far and away the most desirable residential town in Mona, is reached.
Those who visit the Isle of Man to enjoy its pure air, charming walks, bathing and fishing, with lovely scenery, quietness and freedom from the rough gaiety not to say rowdyismof Douglas in the summer or holiday season, will find all they seek for at Ramsey. With Ramsey as headquartershome no more enjoyable place can be found, especially for a family. Now that the railways are not only in existence, but extending, all parts of the island can be reached from there, and after visiting them and enjoying the views and sights there to be found, a return home to quiet Ramsay can be accomplished without undue fatigue.
If theatres, music - halls, dancing saloons and gardens are what the visitor has come to Mona for, Douglas, situated on its lovely baya bay that is a miniature replica of that of Naplesis the place where all these will be found to his or her hearts content.
If, on the other hand, in addition to lovely walks and excellent bathing, good trout fishing in the river that falls into the harbour and deep-sea fishing are desired, Ramsey holds its own. The sea-fishing in Ramsey Bay off Maughold Head on a summer or autumn evening is not to be beaten even off the Cornish coast.
There is such a charming variety and uncertainty in the sea-fishing herenot uncertainty as to catching anything, but as to what will be caught. A bite is at the hook, the line hauled in, and it brings up maybe a whitingay, many of them are about here. Another bite; up comes a fair-sized cod, a floundering skate or fluke, i.e. plaice or turbot, maybe one of those lovely butterflies of the sea a bright-red gurnard, perhaps only a gray one. If it is a real Manx conger-eel, look out for squalls, as very possibly the brute, if a big one, may evince a disposition to want the whole boat to himself. You need not fear, the Manx boatman will show the novice how to deal with and handle him.
An old saying is as mute as a fish, but some fish are not mute, and a gurnard as he lies at the bottom of the boat will growl and swear at you for catching him and taking him away from home. A herring utters a squeak on being taken out of the water, and conger-eels have been known to bark like a dog.
The glorious and exciting uncertainty of what a bite will reveal when the line is hauled in enhances the enjoyment of such fishing immensely. Ver. sat.:
Be sure and take a supply of prog on board when embarking on a fishing trip to the shadow of Maughold Head, particularly if there are youngsters on board with you; the sea air hereabouts is in vigorating, and appetites are caught as readily as fish.