[from A Six Day Tour, 1836]
The rain, a foretaste of which we had on our return from Peel last evening, had been pouring in torrents all night, accompanied by heavy thunder, a thing unusual in this country, the air being generally kept cool by the sea breeze. It was not before nine o'clock we had at all any hopes of its clearing up, and suffering us to proceed on our expedition of pleasure. A beautiful sky, however, suddenly broke forth; one by one were the rolling clouds dispersed; the peering sun now showed his smiling countenance; and fresh and beautiful was the morn, like Venus from the wave, Dian from her bath, or Niobe with her tears scarce dried up, more brilliant even emerging from distress. Our route was this morning to Ramsey and the northern extremity of the island-our vehicle, an omnibus as heretofore. The country intervening between and Laxey is barren and uninteresting, scarcely rich enough to support three geese to an acre. Going down the steep declivity into Laxey, one of our horses fell on his knees, a circumstance not very unusual with these animals here, they are so much overworked during what is called the season. The proprietors of horses availing themselves of the maxim " make hay while the sun shines," drive these poor creatures almost off their legs in the summer, having little or no occupation for them during the long winter months. It were to be wished these fellows believed in the transmigration of souls, and could thus be taught, from prospective policy, humanity to animals.
In buying a horse, says a facetious writer, whose name I cannot now call to mind, you should always choose one that has been down on his knees, he will never fall again if he can help it; one that is stone blind is likewise preferable to a horse having the gift of his eyes, as not being liable to start on the road; advice, however, notwithstanding its speciousness, few would be inclined to follow.
We pulled up at Mrs. Fargher's, at the bottom of this precipitous hill, and administered to each of our four legged servants a quart of meal mixed in two quarts of water as some compensation for their misfortunes. As we passed the bridge over the rivulet that runs clown the bottom of this glen and opens just below in the sea, we had a beautiful peep up the valley, the foretaste of whose beauty made us only the more desirous to explore it, but time would not allow of this pleasure; we had sufficient occupation cut out before us for at least twelve hours, therefore postponed this gratification to a more convenient season.
While our carriage took the new line of road up the long and steep hill which leads out from Laxey, as into it, we took the old road, and leisurely walked to the top, where we met our conveyance again; this road is at an angle of about 35 degrees to the horizon, up which one would fancy it a matter of impossibility to ascend. The road between Laxey and Ramsey is the most insipid, tasteless, and uninteresting portion of the whole island.
The traveller cannot help observing, as he passes the cottages, and indeed farm-houses, along this road, and in many other districts of the island, the terms of familiarity and good understanding that subsists between the brute creation and the Christian inmates; dogs, cats, poultry, and pigs seeming to enjoy the shelter of the cottage roof and warmth of the blazing fire, on equal terms with their masters and mistresses, and being as friendly and complaisant to each other as the "rat, cat, and jackdaw," that a certain landlord in Shropshire used to exhibit to his guests after dinner, feeding from the same dish, to which they were invited by a whistle as soon as the cloth vitas drawn. What the consequences of such "cheek by jowl" intercourse must be, it is easy to guess, though I have not myself been edified, daring my rambles over this country, by the interesting spectacle so common in South America, and indeed in Spain and Portugal, where you may every evening see at the cottage doors of the peasantry, girls reclining with their heads in each others' laps, and (preparatory to some wake or dance) the heads even of the husbands in the laps of the wives, undergoing a very rigid and impartial scrutiny.
Within a couple of miles of Ramsey the prospect begins to brighten, when we first begin to peep over Maughold Head, and come down upon the pretty country surrounding Folien, and looking over the bay.
In Ramsey we stopped at Heelis's Hotel, whence, after having given the necessary orders for the table, we commenced our rambles. The Bay of Ramsey is very extensive, and well adapted for bathing from one end to the other, though the beach is overloaded with gravel and cobblestones, which make the footing rather uncomfortable. At the back of Ramsey, immediately under the base of the mountains, are the estates of Ballure and Claugh Bane, two of the sweetest properties on the whole island. Around by these, under the mountain cliffs, is a favourite walk, which, for picturesque beauty, surpasses any other the public have access to; from thence the town below, and plain beyond, whose bright sandy border is washed by the blue sea, is seen to great advantage. The walk from Ballure to Claugh Bane should be denominated the Lovers' Walk. Never was a more favourable scene for courtship; the sequestered path, beautified by over-hanging foliage, its romantic peeps over the extensive vale below, the brawling torrent, the sweetness of the mountain air, mixed with the odour of the wild flowers which profusely blow here, the violet, the blue-bell, the cowslip and primrose, form a combination which two young folks would find it difficult to resist.
" Oh, what without love would youth be,
What without youth is love."
The Town of Ramsey is in point of importance and appearance next to Douglas, and will probably be a rival of the capital itself in the course of years. The surrounding country is well wooded and richly cultivated. The long range of mountains which intersect the country from north to south abruptly terminate here, and look over a vast district of flat land, which it also shelters from the blighting influence of the south-west wind-and which probably will account for the superior appearance of the country round the north to the southern part of the island. A spirit of improvement has also made its appearance in this town: an elegant approach from the Douglas road has been substituted for the wretched lane which was the only access to the town some eighteen months back, and this new road will very shortly be taken up with houses, as soon as Ramsey and its beautiful precincts shall become more known to strangers and visitors. The market place has also been much improved, by the filling up of the narrow channel of the harbour which before rendered it almost useless-and a fine open space is now given to the public for their accommodation. This internal improvement was principally effected through the agency of Mr Thomas Kneale, in conjunction with one or two other gentlemen and merchants of the town
Let me thus publicly recommend to those gentlemen the propriety of some effort towards constructing a covered shed for the reception of marketable produce in the centre of that square. They might also, by applying their hands to the lever, effect the removal of the stone wall which encloses the Court-house, and throw open the whole space, and thus confer another public benefit on the town. Of what earthly use is the present enclosure, without it was in contemplation, at some future time, when the church-yards were full, to make this a burying ground or place of skulls.
Some attempts were made during the last summer to establish a Steamboat communication between this town and Liverpool, which notwithstanding the plentiful eating and drinking, by way of charge, on that occasion, and the subsequent explosion of song, toast, and speech, has dwindled into smoke, nothing now remaining but the recollection of the vivid and voluminous eloquence of Duggan, generally called the Manx Cicero, who in the character of public apostle, missionary, and mouthpiece, is usually invited to speak on such occasions.
The object, however, should not be allowed to fall to the ground without another struggle. The advantages that would accrue to Ramsey from a more direct communication with the surrounding shores would be unspeakable.
Some spirited, enterprising individual must take the lead in all these movements, or nothing will ever be effected. The mass of society of itself is like dead matter, requiring some extraneous application to overcome its own inertia but when once set in motion, the spirit of improvement may be compared to the progress of a falling avalanche; a thousand collateral combining circumstances may have been silently at work for years, in undermining its foundation, and preparing the way to its first footsteps-a breath of air, the least motion at last disturbs its equilibrium, and it is launched forth into its impetuous career, sweeping every thing before it in its progress, and increasing in power as it moves along.
The harbour of Ramsey is capable of very considerable improvement. Adjoining the harbour, is the extensive ship-building establishment of Messrs. Humberston, Taggart, and Co., of Liverpool, who turn out some splendid vessels, of five hundred tons register and upwards, from this yard. The anchorage of the bay is most excellent.
About a couple of miles along the shore to the south is Port Lague, which, with very little trouble, might be made a very efficient harbour for vessels drawing any water. Should the mass of iron-stone, which, I am led to understand, abounds in the the adjoining. head of Maughold, ever be brought into operation, a village will necessarily spring up here as being the shipping place, and it may possibly become a place of tolerable importance.
A ride to Kirk Maughold is well deserving the traveller's notice; from thence the mountain scenery, and especially the majestic outline of Barule, the Douglas road winding gradually along the side of the hill, the gracefully sweeping valley between, are beautiful beyond description. The general outline of the Manx hills is tame and interesting, but that of Barule from Kirk Maughold is far otherwise. Let no stranger pretend to have seen all the beauties of this country, that has not witnessed the towering grandeur of North Barule from Kirk Maughold.
The church itself is uninteresting, except from having a pretty chancel window. The churchyard is more extensive than any other in the island. It is probable that Kirk Maughold was once of much more importance than at present judging from this circumstance, and the remain of buildings round this neighbourhood. Moreover, this was at one time a city of refuge, on sanctuary for criminals to fly to, where they were safe from punishment under the protection o; the church. This privilege originated probably; with St. Maughold himself, who founded this colony, and who was cast ashore here in a leathers boat, with his hands manacled and bolts on his feet, a voluntary punishment which he imposed upon himself, as some salt of expiation or atonement for having been for some years previously the captain of a band of robbers in Ireland. The story of whose life has some coincidence with what was said of Dr. Blackbourne, bishop of York, who, previous to holy orders, was a buccaneer or freebooter, and, like friar Tuck, very becomingly laid down the bludgeon to take up the crosier, and exchanged, when occasion required it, the military coat and cap for the cassock and mitre. Neither has the expediency of such principles yet become obsolete; many worthy scions of mother church, with true " nolo episcopari" philosophy, receiving at this day, their half-pay with one hand and easter-offerings with the other. Such, indeed, was the shameless extent to which this practice was carried, that government was put to the necessity of making a specific regulation against it; and all retired officers now receiving their half-pay are obliged, it is well known, to make oath upon the holy evangelists (before fingering the cash) that they are not in holy orders.
" Oh for a forty-parson power, to chaunt
Thy praise, Hypocrisy ! "
Opposite the church gates is a singular antique cross, which has, in accordance with the paltry taste of most savages, been white-washed over; thus assisting the obliterating hand of time in defacing what little carving is yet distinguishable.
On the steep and precipitous side Holy Chair of the cliff overlooking the wave, is indwelt the chair of St. Maughold, celebrated in the meals of the church as conferring fecundity on barren women. The process is merely this, the thirsting damsel desirous of becoming
" As ladies wish to be who love their lords,"
has nothing more to do than take her seat in the holy chair, a glass of water is presented to her from the holy well, of which she drinks, and becomes instantaneously fertile. In the mysticism of this superstition, as in most allegories or fables, is lapped up some truth or moral, with which we might with advantage be acquainted. The interesting ceremony has for some reason or other been in disuse for a couple of centuries; when revived, there is very little doubt it will be found as efficacious as ever. This well is usually resorted to by the people of this country in great numbers, on the first Sunday in August; but for what purpose is more than they themselves know.
From Ramsey we directed our course to the point of Ayre; a little out of the town, along what is called the sandy road, we have a very pretty view of the precincts of Ramsey; this is also a very desirable site for small villas, with a good aspect. The mountains are nowhere seen to so much advantage as from the north of the island, in the parish of Bride, and the young and healthy plantations which cover their bases give the scenery great richness. In this parish lived and died, but a few years back, the ossified man, considered by anatomists as a great curiosity. This ossified lion had been growing upon him for years.
Before his death he was reduced to one mass of bony substance, and had only the use of a joint or two in his toes. He was buried in Kirk Andreas churchyard great efforts were made by medical men to get possession of his body after death, but his immediate friends were weak and superstitious enough to refuse them this donation. After one or two ineffectual attempts to carry him off, he was at last taken to Dublin, and is now in the possession of Dr. M'Cartney.
The point of Ayre is the extreme north of the island. The lighthouse is well worth visiting- while on the top we beheld the Alisa Crag steamer passing immediately below us. One might fancy the Mull of Galloway were within a stone's throw of this point, everything appearing there so distinct. The inhabitants of this part of the country have a tradition that the Mull of Galloway was at one time in fact but a stone's throw hence-and many ridiculous tales are brought forward, together with the custom of eating their pudding before meat at dinner, to corroborate this tradition. The space round the light house is one extensive waste or moor. The sand-hills which form the greater part of the extreme north of the island (the parishes Kirby, Kirk Andreas, and Bride) were formerly called St. Patrick's Isle, being separated from the mainland by an arm of the sea, running along what is called the Curragh, from Ramsey to Ballaugh.
Vast quantities of black oak are dug up along this bog, many feet below the surface, and some years ago the remains of a gigantic elk were discovered in the parish of Ballaugh, by Mr. Kewish, which was claimed by the Duke of Atholl, as lord of the manor, and presented to the Edinburgh Museum.
The following is a sketch of the head and antlers.
A fine - and beautiful specimen of the head and horns of the elk may be daily seen in the shop of Mr. William Gill, druggist, North Quay, Douglas, which is well worthy the attention of the curious. The whole northern district of the island, from the mountains to the sea, is well wooded and cultivated, and thickly studded with fine mansions and farms. Near the estate of Ballachurry is a curious embankment or fortification, of a quadrangular form, supposed to have been thrown up in the time of Cromwell.
Behind the village of Ballaugh is a fine glen. The new church was built about four years back, under the management of Messrs. Hansom and Welch. We proceeded through Ballaugh to Bishop's Court, and while we explored this beautiful estate, sent our horses and carriage on to Kirk Michael to bait and return.
As far back as the thirteenth century, this spot was the residence of the insular metropolitan, an ancient document recording the death of one Bishop Simon here in 1239. The bishops seem likewise to have occasionally resided at Ballachurry, but whether is meant the Ballachurry in the parish of Rushen, or in this neighbourhood, is what I have not been able to learn.
The present palace was remodelled and principally rebuilt by the last Bishop Murray, though the arrangement generally is clumsy and inconvenient in the extreme. He also added the pretty little chapel to the mansion, and diffused his taste likewise over the gardens and pleasure grounds, which were much beautified by him, and the domain generally greatly improved. Fine full-grown timber (said to have been planted by Bishop Wilson) plentifully surrounds the palace and gardens, and a lovely glen of great extent adds to the allurements of this beautiful retreat. There is not decidedly a finer situation for a gentleman's seat, or a better estate on the Island, than that of Bishop's Court. Five hundred acres of excellent land, and two thousand per annum, form together a tolerable compensation for the weighty " care of all the churches". Of its present worthy occupant, as of others that have preceded him, it may without severity be said,
" Contentedly he sleeps the night away
And just does nothing all the day."
Bishop Ward has however, some title to the high consideration of this country, being principally instrumental in building eight new churches since he took possession of the see; and though the secret of such surprising labours consists in keeping the begging-box constantly on the move round, great credit is due for the unremitting assiduity and application necessary for such an undertaking.
" Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo."
An ordinary man, with the common tact and generalship of the world, would have acquired immortality by half this amount of beneficial labour properly applied; but strange to say, this ecclesiastical Hercules, who sows churches and ministers over the country as Deucalion would sow teeth, is scarcely thanked for what he has done.
The Bishops of Man were formerly approached on the knee; but this obsequious custom was abolished by Hildersley. The Bishop of Sodor and Man (unlike the other Bishops) has no vote in the House of Lords, though through courtesy allowed a seat. The principle of this is obvious; as holding his barony of a subject (before the sovereignty of Man was vested in the Crown) he could have no seat in the Upper House; but it is now a political question, whether the Bishop of Sodor and Man has not a seat as well as vote de suo jure in the Upper House, as holding his barony from the King. The present Bishop being the first appointment of the Crown to the See since the purchase of the sovereignty from the House of Atholl, I give it as my opinion that the present Bishop Ward has as unquestionable a right to a seat and vote in the House of Lords, and built upon the same tenure, as any of the Right Reverend Bench of Lawn Sleeves.
The homage which the bishop formerly yielded for his barony, was the holding of the lord's stirrup, when he mounted his steed at Tynwald
The Bishoprick of Man is at best a useless sinecure, and might be dispensed with; the Archdeacon performing all the duties of the supreme Dignitary of the diocese as efficiently as they are performed at present. It is probable this arrangement will be made very shortly, and an additional income, with Bishop's Court, given to the Archdeaconry for this purpose.
After rambling over the gardens and pleasure grounds of Bishop's Court, we found our carriage waiting for us as we returned from exploring the beautiful glen, into which we stepped, and drove back again to Ramsey to dine.
We could not pass the lovely glen of Sulby without turning out of our track to catch a momentary peep at its beauties. Yon bold rocky promontory overhanging the mouth of the valley, is Primrose Hill, from its commanding and romantic position well suited for the site of some 'lone tower,' could another Curran be found for this purpose. Let us climb to its summit, we shall be amply repaid by the view from thence. The gushing stream which flows from this sylvan recess, is the river of Sulby, which winds its way over the plain to Ramsey, then loses itself in the sea. Looking over the face of the country, we see the churches of Ballaugh, Jurby, Kirk Andrew, the blue sea filling up the hollows of the undulating valleys in the horizon. Beyond all, in the extremity of the picture, the mountain coast of Kirkcudbright and Cumberland, in every variety of outline; immediately below our feet, a country like the land of Canaan, overflowing with milk and honey, and abounding with every thing " pleasant to the eye or good for food."
From Sulby Bridge to Ramsey, the road is now through a continued succession of beautiful estates, luxuriantly planted.
The parish of Leyzare may be considered in this as in every other respect the garden of the Island. In this parish too is a very beautiful new church, in the early English style of architecture, with double lances windows, designed and carried into execution by the Messrs. Welch architects, the site of which could not be more happy or picturesque.
The estate and house just below, down this noble avenue of trees, is Ballakalingan; yet a little further, and we come to the seat of Deemster Christian, who has very injudiciously taken an old house as a foundation, and built and added to it until it became something decent and commodious. The torture a design has necessarily to undergo in being accommodated to such a plan of operation, and the disadvantages generally attendant on this ill sorted union of old and new, are generally pretty evident, as exemplified here.
It appears that deemsters or judges were in former times generally chosen out of the families of Christian and Cannell, like the Jewish priests out of the tribe of Levi; for which we might be at a loss to account, except on the obsolete ground of hereditary wisdom. It is now an axiom of natural economy, that the breed of men, as well as cattle, is improved by crossing.
We sat down to an excellent dinner at Heelis's at seven o'clock, and, after a merry ride home reached the Castle again before midnight.