[From Wood's Account of IoM, 1811]
From Peel to Kirk Michael.
PEEL is ten or twelve miles distant from Douglas. This town is chiefly remarkable for the ruins of its castle and cathedral. It is supposed to contain twelve hundred people. Since the loss of the smuggling trade it has been a place of little commerce. Provisions are cheap, and fish plentiful. The church in the town is dedicated to St. Peter.
Peel castle stands on a small rocky island, about a hundred yards west of the town; being separated from it by a channel, scarcely a foot deep at low water. The island is sometimes called Holme Peel. It is joined to the main land, southward of Peel river, by a strong stone wall, shelving to the top, built many years ago to secure the harbour. The entrance to this island is on the eastern side. There was formerly a flight of stone steps to the water's edge; but these are too nearly demolished to be of any use to the traveller, who is now obliged to clamber over the rocks. Turning to the left, he ascended several steps to the gateway in the side of a square tower of the castle, through which he enters. Immediately to the right is a vaulted guard-room,
The walls are flanked with towers, and enclose an irregular polygon whose area contains about two acres. The average thickness of them does not exceed three or four feet. They are built of clay-slate little hewn, and are coigned and faced in many parts with red sand-stone. The time of their erection is unknown. Here are the ruins of two churches; one dedicated to St. Patrick, supposed to be of great antiquity; the other to St. Germain, being the cathedral of the island, and built about the year 1245. The whole area is full of ruins of various buildings walls, and dwelling houses. About the middle of it is a square pyramidal mound of earth, terminating obtusely. Each of its sides faces one of the cardinal points of the compass, and measures about seventeen yards. It is surrounded by a ditch, five feet and a half broad. Time and weather have rounded off its angles. It is supposed to have been an eminence whence an officer might harangue his troops, or the burial place of some great personage; and the natives imagine that much treasure lies hidden under it.
Before the British government purchased the royalty of the island, this fortress was garrisoned by troops kept in pay by the Lord of Man. At the time of the sale, were removed from the remains of the armoury many matchlock muskets and other ancient arms.
St. Germain s is described by Waldron as being richly ornamented, and abounding in monumental inscriptions. At present, however, there is not in it a single piece of carved stone, and scarcely a vestige of any ancient funeral memorandum. The whole building is extremely ruinous, and has not for many years been used for any other purpose than a burying-place. Its dimensions are seventy six feet by twenty. Beneath the eastern part of it is the ecclesiastical prison, or dungeon, for those persons who were so miserable as to incur the spiritual censure. The descent is by eighteen steps of about ten inches each, a good deal broken, winding through a dark passage. The dimensions of the vault are thirty four feet by sixteen. The bottom is of earth; and at one corner are the remains of a well, uncovered, which must added; greatly to the dampness of the place. The only light or air is admitted through a small hole in the wall
St. Patrick's church stands a little to the westward of St. Germain's; all the buildings here being of the same material. Its windows have been circular. Nothing but the walls remain. Waldron mentions subterranean cells under the churches, respecting which I could not obtain any information from an old woman, my guide, except the report that there were such. He describes them thus: " Some of them have nothing in them to sit; or lie down upon; others, a small piece of brick-work; some of them are lower and more dark than others, but all of them, in my opinion, dreadful enough for any crime humanity can be guilty of; though it is suppose they there built with different degrees of horror that the punishments might be proportionate to the faults of the wretched prisoners. They have not been made use of since the times of popery." ;
The castle is said to be haunted by several apparitions, among which is that of Eleanor wife to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, uncle to Henry the Sixth. She was confined and died here, and her ghost has ever since been nightly heard to ascend a stone staircase, leading to a little house upon the wall.
Waldron tells the following curious story of an apparitionin the shape of a dog,. "They say that an apparition, called in their language the mauthe doog, in the shape of a large black spaniel, with curled shaggy hair, was used to haunt Peel Castle; and has been frequently seen in every room, but particularly in the guard chamber, where, as soon as the candles were lighted, it came and lay down before the fire, in presence of all the soldiers, who at length, by being so much accustomed to the sight of it, lost great part of the terror they were seized with at its first appearance. They still however retained a certain awe, believing it to be an evil spirit which waited to do them hurt; and for that reason forbore swearing and all profane discourse while in its company. But though they endured the shock of such a guest when altogether, none cared to be left alone with it. It being the custom therefore for one of the soldiers to lock the gates of the castle at a certain hour and carry the keys to the Captain, to whose apartment the way led through a church, they agreed among themselves that whoever was to succeed, the ensuing night, his fellow on this errand, should accompany him that went first, and by this means no man would be exposed singly to the danger; for the mauthe doog was always seen to come out from that passage at the close of day, and return to it as soon as the morning dawned, which made them look upon this place as its peculiar residence.
" One night a fellow being drunk, and, by the strength of his liquor, rendered more daring than ordinary, laughed at the simplicity of his companions; and, though it was not his turn to go with the keys, would needs take that office to testify his courage. All the soldiers endeavoured to dissuade him; but the more they said the more resolute he seemed, and swore that he desired nothing more than that the mauthe doog would follow him as it had done the others; for he would try whether it was dog or devil. After havings talked in a very reprobate manner for some time, he snatched up the keys and went out of the guard-room. In some time after his departure a noise was heard; but nobody had the boldness to see what occasioned it, till, the adventurer returning, they demanded the knowledge of him; but, loud and noisy as he had been at leaving. them, he was now become sober and silent enough; for he was never heard to speak more: and though all the time he lived, which was three days, he was entreated by all who came near him either to speak, or, if he could not do that, to make some signs by which they might understand what had happened to him, yet nothing intelligible could be got from him, only that by the distortion of his limbs and features, it might be guessed that he died in agonies, greater than is common in a natural death. The mauthe doog was however never seen afterwards, nor would any one attempt to go through that passage; for which reason it was closed up and another way made. This accident I heard attested by several, but especially by an old soldier who assured me that he had seen the mauthe doog oftener than he had hairs on his head."
Walter Scott alludes to this tale in the following lines of his Lay of the Last Minstrel
" But.none of all the astonish'd train
Were so dismay'd as Doloraine:
His blood did freeze, his brain did burn,
'Twas fear'd his mind would neter return;
For he was speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran,
That spoke the spectre-hound in Man."
Peel castle is overlooked by a contiguous hill, called Horse-hill, rising almost immediately from the base of the rock. Were the walls thick, it could never have sustained a long siege with the enemy in possession of this commanding eminence.(1)
From the ruins of the cathedral was stolen many years ago, a brass plate which had been placed over the tombstone of Bishop Samue Rutter, with the following epitaph, supposed to have been written by himself:
" In hac domo, quam a vermiculis
Mutuo accept confratribus meis;
Sub spe resurrectionis ad vitam,
Jaceo Samuel permissione divina
Episcopus hujus insulae: siste, lector,
Vide ac ride palatium Episcopi.Ob. 30mo die mensis Maii, 1663"
In the town of Peel is an excellent but very small inn, kept by Mr. Long from Cumberland.
The Peel river accompanies, on the right hand side, the road to St. John's. About two miles from Peel, on the further side of the rifler is an uncultivated hill; still haunted by the spirit of a murdered witch. She does not appear to mortal eyes, but every night joins her lamentations to the howling of the wind. The truth of Mank's stories depends upon the faithfulness of tradition. The island was much celebrated for its fairies and its witches. The poet Collins calls it the Elfin land; and Dr. Langhorne says it is the only place in the world where one should have the least chance of meeting with a fairy. The women were so much given to witchcraft that they would often sell wind to the mariners, inclosed in knots of thread. If only a little was wanted a few were to be undone, if much, many.(2)
I may remark, what I dare say has been remarked before, that a wonder often gains credit in proportion to the lapse of years. Even the cotemporaries whom history or poetry record to have believed in or actually witnessed miracles were sometimes seized with an incomprehensibly indifference or coldness, and attached little importance to their author. Gibbon says that considering the number of miracles wrought in favour of Aeneas, he sometimes doubts whether that celebrated hero should rather have been called impious than pious. A portion of the same spirit which formerly induced nations to kill their prophets was perhaps exerted in the punishment of witches.
Wherein this witch offended the people I could not learn. She shared the fate of Regulus, was put into a barrel with spikes inserted round the interior, and thus by the weight of herself and the apparatus rolled from the top of the hill to the bottom. The Manksman who related the story to me appeared to credit it himself.
Three miles from Peel is the Tinwald Mount of singular appearance and unknown antiquity. Its name is usually derived from the word tin or ting, signifying in the Danish language an assembly of the people, or court of justice; and wald, a field or place, or possibly fenced. A modern author derives it from the British word tyng and val, signifying "the juridical hill.." The way up the mount is by a flight of steps of turf on the eastern side. The diameter of the summit does not exceed seven feet. Round this, and three feet below it, is an annular plot about four feet wide; and below this, another six feet wide; and below this another still wider. The circumference of the outer circle is nearly eighty yards; all the angles are rounded, and almost the whole surface is of turf. The mount is kept clear of weeds, and is pervaded by an air of neatness;
At a little distance is St. John's chapel , rebuilt about twelve years since, destitute of pews, and used I believe, only on the day of the promulgation of the laws. The old chapel was for many years in so ruinous a condition that it served no other purpose than a sheltering place for the neighbouring sheep, driven from the open plains by storms or noon day heats. Whether the annual prayers were, during this period, dispensed with or read elsewhere, I omitted to inquire.
Grose's view of the Tinwald is very correct. The church has been rebuilt as it was before, except that a turret and a bell have been added.
Not any stone by way of fence or gate post is now visible.
Leaving on our right the Douglas road, we enter a solitary dell, two miles long. The sides are lofty, steep, rocky, end barren. From ten to twenty yards below the carriage way is a shallow river, murmuring over the pebbles; and the noise is occasionally increased by the tributary waters of a mountain torrent. In this glen is one cottage with a little garden; and nature has produced one tree, a stunted oak.
The first village that we come to is the pleasantly situated one of Kirk Michael, in a parish of its own name; and almost contiguous to it upon the shore is the village of Glenwillian.
The church, dedicated to the Arch-angel, is within an hundred yards of the inn. Opposite the entrance of the church yard stands upright, forming the center of a horse-block, a piece of clay-slate, seven feet high, eighteen inches wide, and between four and five inches thick. On the side furthest front the church is engraved cross, its length being nearly equal to that of the stone. On each side of it are various devices of Horses and riders, and of stags being seized by dogs. The other side, more defaced, somewhat different, but partakes of the same character. On the upper part of one edge of the stone, and on the rift hand, is the figure of a warrior with his spear and shield, and between his legs a cross. On the same edge are Runic characters. To shew the reader how little certain knowledge he can obtain on such subjects, I shall insert the translation of them by two antiquarians:
" Watter, son of Thurulf, a knight right valiant, Lord of Frithu, the Father, Jesus Christ."
John Prestwich, Bart.
'` For the sins of Ivalsir, the son of Dural, this cross was erected by his mother Aftride.',
On the edge of a stone in the church-yard is a Runic inscription, thus read and explained by Mr. Beauford:
"Uleifan funtree Gudean nom illean Reinti crund: son sfstr met muru funtree niis tolirluf cetlan cone, in e."
" We hope to live through the holy name of God; and by means of the mysterious tree on which his Son suffered an evil death our sorrow shall be washed away."
Colonel Townley says in his journal that he found on the outside of this-church-yard a venerable stone, displaying in the rude chissel work the figure of some mighty Danish chief in complete steel: that he " rescued the warrior from his ignomious concealment, took him into his carriage, and conveyed him to more respectable quarters."
Near the eastern end of the church is the tomb-stone of Bishop Wilson, with this inscription:
" Sleeping in Jesus,
Here lieth the body of Thomas Wilson, D. D.
Lord Bishop of this Isle;
Who died March 7th, 1755, aged 93,
And in the 58th year of his consecration,"
In the lower part of the stone his son, Dr Wilson, informs the reader that he is restrained by the express commands of his father from mentioning his character or bestowing praise, an therefore adds no more than one expressive line:
" Let this Island speak the rest."
In this parish is the pile of stones called Cairn Viael, probably raised in commemoration of some ancient chief.
A mile from Kirk Michael is the Bishop's palace, a modern building without state. His Lordship's domain contains between three and four hundred acres. The grounds are well wooded, and, besides a sea view, command the luxuriant land of the northern district.
One of the barrows in this neighbourhood Chaloner caused to be opened, and found in it fourteen rotten urns or earthen pots, placed with their mouths downwards. One of them, neater than the rest, was imbedded in fine white sand, but contained nothing more than a few brittle bones having apparently passed the fire: no ashes were discernible.
1 Having now finished the account of Castle Rushen Rushen Abbey, and Peel Castle, I here acknowledge my obligations to Mr. Grose from whose accurate descriptions I have, little deviated, unless obliged so to do by the devastation of time. For several parish memorandums I am indebted to Mr. Feltham.
2: Hollinshed's Chronicles.