[from A Six Day Tour, 1836]
I had now performed the Tour of Man, and seen almost every bye-lane and tavern throughout the country; there remained only the ascent of Snafel and visit to Kirk Michael. A picnic party was fixed upon at the Castle for this day at the head of Laxey Glen, which afforded a favourable opportunity for the purpose. Extensive were the preparations for such an expedition. Every horse and ass in the neighbourhood was in requisition at an early hour. The best method of ascending Snafel is decidedly in the saddle, though carriages may be driven to within a short distance of the summit. Of provisions it was determined there should be no deficiency, and the larder of the Castle was racked of all the cold meat and pies within reach-tongues, chickens, hams, lobsters, crabs, cheese, porter, ale, wine, and spirits, being packed together in heterogeneous confusion, and presented to the eye of the spectator a sort of :Noah's Ark of cold victuals. We were accompanied in our expedition by many persons from the town and neighbourhood. Our place of rendezvous was in the crescent. Pleasure occupied every breast, and mirth sat on every face- and "the voice of the turtle was heard in the land," when the signal was given for our march and, as we wound up Summer Hill, resembled the Canterbury Pilgrimage, except that we had no bagpiper to lead the van. We composed indeed a motley assemblage. The ride to Laxey I have before described.
We had now reached the bridge, and turned our horses' heads up the glenthe quiet rural beauty and repose of which we were of course much charmed withwhich seemed to grow upon us as we ascended. Strangers are not aware of the picturesque sweetness of this mountain recess-watered by a clear rivulet broken into every fantastic form of channel by jutting rocks and large bolder-stones, rolled down from the mountains by the winter torrent, and sometimes carried to the very mouth of the stream on the sea shore. About half a mile from the bridge is the Paper manufactory of Messrs. Topliss and Co. We now came to where the road is divided and branches off into two separate gullies; that to the right leads to the celebrated Laxey minesthe other to the summit of Snafel. The Laxey lead is much richer in silver than that of Foxdale, yielding on an average seventy ounces to the ton. After winding along the side of the mountain for another half hour, we fixed upon a beautiful situation, overlooking the valley and river we had left behind, for encamping-where we secured our horses in the best manner we could, and proceeded on our march to the summit. After a long and weary walk, during which our restless curiosity, like that of Lot's wife (though without its punishment), tempted to frequently to look back, we at length arrived on the top of Snafel, the centre of the British dominions.
The point of Snafel, like that of Snowdon, is crowned with a rude pillar of stone, surmounted by as rude a column or post, probably as a mark for some trignometrical survey of the country. How shall I attempt to describe the glorious prospect from this inconsiderable peak-for though its height above the level of the sea be scarcely eighteen hundred feet, not half the height of Snowdon or Ben Nevis, it embraces an extent and scope of prospect by no means equalled in the British dominions. For here, in the centre of the empire, we have a bird's eye view over a surface of not less than three thousand square miles; the shores and hills of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, brought into one focus together. What expanding sentiments, throbbing emotions, sublime reflections, historical recollections, rush into the mind at once, on beholding such a scene-hence too we may exclaim,
" Creation's heir, the world, the world, is mine.''
Yon grey and hoary cliffs in the south, mingled masses of light and shade, whose summits are lost in the clouds, form the giant range of Snowdonia, on the highest peak of which (still called in the language of the country the Place of Presence,) the venerable Druids,-those mysterious rulers of a people that from the shores of the Caspian and Thracian Bosphorus deluged the whole of western Europe with their offspring, the only distinct remnants of whom are now to be found in the mountain fastnesses and recesses of Gaul and Britain,-were wont to offer up their sacrifices, and hold communion, like the Jewish Lawgiver on the summits of Horeb and Sinai, with the Deity. On those everlasting barriers the brave Llewellyn successfully resisted proud Edward's power-nor fell, until treachery had effected, what the impetuous valour of the Saxon cohorts had hitherto been unable to accomplish. Still further on the right, scarcely perceptible in the distance, the heights of Berwyn and Cader Idris and Plinlimmon, towering in majestic grandeur over the beautiful Bay of Cardigan and the subject shores of South Wales.
Yon graceful hills in the far west, whose deep blue outline so beautlfully contrasts with the rosy sky and sparkling sea, the foam of which for ever wets their green bases, are the mountains of Mourne in Ireland, the land of tears and blood, sorrow and suffering; they look over the valleys and plains of the province of Ulster, behind which the glorious Apollo takes his last peep of lingering day.
Following the prospect on, in the north we have the dark and dreary shores of Galloway and Kirkcudbright; some indistinct glimpses of the Cheviot hills, which have witnessed so many deadly feuds of border clans, and beneath which was thrown up, in ages past, the wall of Adrian, upon the departure of the Roman legions, to protect the enervate Britons from the invasions of their more warlike neighbours the Picts and Scots.
On the east again we distinctly view St. Bee's Head, in Cumberland. In the back-ground, the bold outline of Helvellyn, and occasionally the bleak summits of Ingleborough.
Contracting the sphere of vision, we re-cross the many coloured sea, studded with innumerable sails, and dwell upon the little world below, laid like a map at our feet.
In the extreme south, the Bay and Harbour of St. Mary-and, in a direct line with the Carnarvonshire hills, the frowning Castle and peaceful Town of Rushen, the scene of so many eventful circumstances in the annals of Man-obscured by yon dense haze, Douglas, the commercial metropolis, fast rising into opulence and greatness-just below, apparently but a stone's throw, the vale, river, and village of Laxey, which we have but just left-and veering round with the compass, beyond this graceful and majestic Peak of Barule, Ramsey, the theatre of so many battles for the crown and throne of the Isles, and whence also issued the fleet of Summerlid, consisting of one hundred and sixty vessels, for the invasion of Scotland in the twelfth century. Such indeed was once the naval greatness of this country, that the surrounding kings and princes constituted its monarch High Admiral of all the Seas, and the Arms of Man was then a ship in full sail, with the superscription "Rex mannae et insularum." When, however, it became tributary to the surrounding countries, and was tossed like a tennis ball from hand to hand, doing homage to the sovereign of ascendant power, its Arms were very properly changed to the THREE LEGS, with the motto "Quocunque jeceris stabit." Beyond Ramsey we see the extensive plains of the north-and at the bottom of that gully, which intersects two ranges of hills, lies Sulby, hid from our sight by these mountain masses in the foreground-and turning to the west again, down this winding way, so frequently lost to the sight, are the pleasantly situated precincts of Kirk Michael, which after our pic-nic refreshment we propose visiting, and returning by St. John's to Douglasfarther to the south again, Peel Castle, with its turrets and towersand Curran's pre-eminent Folly beyond.
Among these mountains formerly abounded a species of wild hog, called purs, of a small breed; and the hog rent, yet to be seen in the lord's book, shows also that a sort of tax or tithe of this kind was once exacted of the natives-they are now totally extinct.
After a hearty refreshment with our pic nic friends, in conjunction with a companion, I took the mountain road to Kirk Michael, leaving our more jolly companions to enjoy themselves more leisurely, and gather up the fragments that remained.
Kirk Michael is very pleasantly situated under the foot of some high hills; some little distance from the shore looking towards the north west, the Scotch and Irish coasts being almost constantly in sight, now black and overshadowed by clouds big with impending storms, and now again bright with the smile of sunshine, seeming at such time like some fairy-land afar off, too beautiful for mortal habitation.
The road along the shore to Peel is very picturesque; a little beyond the village, on the shore road, is Glen Willan, a sweet little retirement, which with a little art and labour might be converted into a most lovely spot. The stream which waters it, the banks which enclose and shelter it, the gardens and plantations which adorn it, are the elements which, if modified by a master hand, might make this a paradise of itself. The whole of the property of this glen should be in the hands of one man, before one might expect its beautiful resources to be properly put forward. One might with as much effect malice an issue in a wooden leg, as attempt to combine a number of country people in any undertaking of feeling and taste.
The principal object in the village is the beautiful new Church, lately built by Mr. John Welch, Architect, of the transept form, the masonry of which is beautifully executed.
The celebrated Kirk-Michael Cross stands before the entrance to the Old Churchyard, with which the learned pundit, professor of the antique, may as effectually puzzle himself as with a book of Christmas riddles to which there is no key.
In the Churchyard, immediately on entering, is the tomb of the celebrated Wilson, who was so famed for his piety, that, while walking the streets of' London, people knelt down to receive his blessing-of whose ecclesiastical polity Lord Chancellor King remarked that, " if the ancient discipline of the church were lost, it might be found in all its purity in the Isle of' Man." Some idea may be formed of the universal respect which this good man had acquired, from the fact of Cardinal Fleury successfully interceding with the French minister (when that country was at war with England), and obtaining an order to prevent the privateers attacking the Isle of Man, "OUT OF RESPECT TO BISHOP WlLSON." The life of Bishop Wilson has been briefly yet ably penned by the late Rev. Hugh Stowell, Rector of Ballaugh.
We baited our horses at Gee's Hotel, a very comfortable family house, and as pleasant a country residence as any in the island. This place is noted for being the resort of wedding parties- when a young man from Douglas or Castletown gets married, he drives over with his wife and friends to Kirk-Michael, gets a good "blow out," and returns. There should be some stated forms to go through on such occasions; I have seen raw country fellows quite at a loss to know what to do with themselves until the evening arrived, and looking as foolish in the Churchyard, after the ceremony was over, as though they had committed some misdemeanor, and had been detected. The better class of folks usually trip over to Loch-Lomond, Ullswater, or Killarney, to spend the honey-moon; but it is enough for your every-day people without poetry or sentiment to go home and get to bed, and to their daily labours again as usual in the morning. A more agreeable practice was dictated by the Jewish Lawgiver, which, however, would scarcely suit these busy, yet bare bone times; " when a man hath taken a new wife," says Moses, `'he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business, but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken."
Our modern cits begrudge even a month's idle dalliance bestowed upon their better halves.