[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
MAN is an island in the Irish Sea, lying north-east by north and south-west by south, and, speaking roughly, about midway from the coasts of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. The nearest points to the surrounding coasts are as follows: Point of Ayre to St. Bee's Head, in Cumberland, 28 miles; Caigher Point on Calf Island, or Langness Point, to Anglesey, 42 miles ; Contrary Head, Peel, to Strangford Lough, in Ireland, 262 miles; Point of Ayre to Burrow Head, in W igtownshire, 16 miles. The entire length of Man is about 33 miles ; the breadth nowhere exceeds 12 miles.
The total area is estimated at 145,325 acres, of which foreshores account for 4,025 acres ; roads, 1,667 acres; and water, only 313 acres.
The rugged coast-line of Man starts from Maughold Head, on the south side of Ramsey Bay, and proceeding southwards past Douglas and Port Soderick, and round by Castletown, Port St. Mary, the Calf Island, and Port Erin, ends a little to the north of Peel, on the west coast. This scenery is unsurpassed in any part of the British Isles. The cliffs, as at the Sugar-Loaf Rock, Black Head, and Spanish Head, often rise from the sea and tower high over our heads, presenting a sheer outline of striking magnificence.
Maughold Head is rendered familiar by the work of many artists with brush and camera, but not so the much more striking pictures of rugged beauty to be found on the south. Here the coast for miles presents no vantage-ground for the photographer, and the sea is not always kind to those who make their voyage of discovery in a small boat.
I recall days when the waters slumbered, lying like a lake, without so much as the tiniest wavelet to disturb the glassy surface-nothing but the almost imperceptible heave of the ceaseless tide. Choosing such a day, the visitor may well make a trip in and out of the Chasms-spacious chambers, galleries, and halls, in which the nuptials of the laughing mermaids and the merry mermen are celebrated, with Father Neptune looking on, and high carnival is held whilst the sun shines without.
From a point slightly to the north of Peel, and round Point of Ayre to Ramsey, there is an almost entire absence of rocky headland. A low sandy cliff, with a sandy beach sloping gradually into the sea, generally prevails. Sometimes the sand on the beach is white and fine, and looks in the sunlight, as at the White Strand, like the coral beach of a tropical island.
The surface of Man, for the most part, is hilly, and it might be spoken of as universally so, if we excepted those flat tracts about Ballaugh and Andreas, and the unbroken fields of shingly ground, with a layer of sand, lying beyond the Bride Hills down to the sea.
All islands-certainly all small islands-have a marked and distinct beauty as we approach them. In this respect no island presents a picture of greater beauty and grace than the Isle of Man. To a Manxman that first view of the land, lying like a great sleeping lion with his head resting upon his paws, never fails to bedim the eye. It is more than a vision of beauty; it is more holy than any martyr's shrine-it is home.
The hills have their culminating point in Snaefell, the centre of a group of hills covering the middle part of the island. Snaefell rises to an elevation of 2,034 feet. It presents no lofty precipices, or rude, jagged, rocky headland. The feature of all the mountains is an outline smooth and rounded; their feet are seemingly in the sea. As we approach nearer, the impression is conveyed of hills twice or thrice their actual height, losing themselves in that purple haze which, as we have seen, always clothes the uplands, ready, at the call of the magician, to spread itself over the surface of the surrounding sea.
North Barrule, slightly to the north of Snaefell, is an elevation of 1,842 feet, occupying a position overlooking the town of Ramsey. Other elevations in the same central range are Slieu Choar (or Clagh Ouyre), 1,808 feet; Pen-y-Phot (or Beinn-yPhot), 1,772 feet ; Sartfell, 1,560 feet; Carraghan, 1,520 feet; Shen Reay (or Ruy), 1,570 feet; and Greeba, 1,383 feet.
A low-lying valley stretches across the island from Douglas to Peel so low-lying that no insuperable engineering difficulty would present itself in an effort to connect the sea on either side, as is affirmed was once the case, and as certain of the place-names en route would go to prove.
South of this division of the island we have a new range of hills, of which South Barrule (1,585 feet) and Cronk-ny-Iree-Lhaa (1,449 feet) are the most noteworthy elevations.
At a point overlooking the sea at Dalby village and the Niarbyl, on the west, we have the hill known as the Round Table. It is of no great elevation, but it often has a fleecy tablecloth of white sea-mist laid upon its flat top, and, set in the midst of beautiful stretches of moorland, it forms one of the most charming, least discovered, and wholly unspoiled picnic-grounds in the locality.
Within the bounds of so small an island it is impossible to find rivers of any size, but such as there are pass through glades of surpassing loveliness.
The Sulby, which drains the central mountain range, shapes its course through the beautiful glen formed by Slieu Monagh (1,257 feet) on the one side and Mount Karran (1,084 feet) on the other.
The Awin-Glass (River Grey, Bright or Green Cregeen's Manx Dictionary suggests more than one definition) drains the same high moorlands, but flows south and east, and when joined by the waters of the Awin Dhoo (River Dark, or Black), flowing through the central division of the island, forms a body of water from which salmon and trout are drawn in astonishing numbers and 'Areight for the size of the stream.' The waters of the Glass and the Dhoo empty themselves into Douglas Harbour.
The next most considerable stream of the island is unhappily nothing more than a white, poisonladen body of water, which empties itself into Peel Harbour. The Neb rises in Foxdale. The Rhenas, in confluence with the Blabae, joins it at the foot of Slieu Whallian (1,093 feet), near St. John's, where the highroad runs along the foot of the mountain towards Patrick.
The Rhenas and the Blabae come down from the central mountain range through a glade now known as Glen Helen, and so named after the daughter of a former owner.
Glen Helen is a matchless picture of sylvan beauty. High up we have the heather-clad moorland, with patches here and there of cultivated land. Gorse, bracken and rough grass, with here and there a bed of dainty flowering plants, in which the orchid has a place, gather where the plough and the sickle may not do battle with the stony ground ; but farther down, sheltered from the full fury of the gales and yet in the gladsome light of the sun, we find the banks of the glen covered with one closely-knit forest of fir, sycamore, elm, and mountain-ash.
Near St. John's, where the Rhenas has merged its identity with that of the Neb, the crystal stream is polluted by the waters that come down from the Foxdale lead-mines. It is a strange irony of fate that a river which rises in purity and is cradled in such a joyous glade should end its career in humiliating squalor.
Peel is still famed of the fisherman, and time was when the fresh waters of the Neb yielded their delectable harvest. The Neb's present contribution to the happiness of the world is a poisonous outpouring, which even the sea must find it difficult to neutralize. Some day Peel will awake and cherish every gift of the gods, but that time is not yet.
The only other river of any consequence is called the Silverburn, which drains the southern mountainrange. The Awin Argid, or River of Silver, is not without features of beauty, particularly in the neighbourhood of Colby, a sweet village, hid away from the sea and the rough swirl of an Atlantic breeze. At Colby, the fuchsia, which is one of the distinctions of the entire island, grows out of doors in all the luxuriance of a greenhouse. The outlet of the Silverburn is at Castletown, on the south. Such are the chief geographical features of the island. Having disposed of them as briefly as I dare, we may pass to aspects human in character, and therefore more human in interest.