[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]

CHAPTER XIX.

TO THE SUMMIT OF SNAEFELL

SNAEFELL-the 'mere Saxon' may not object to being told that the accent is on the first, and not on the last and less important, syllable-presents no terrors to the climber.

Much of the ascent can be made in a carriage and pair, or, better still, in a motor-car, traversing what we call the Mountain Road' (connecting Douglas, via Keppel Gate, The Bungalow, and Ballure Glen, with Ramsey)-a model, by the way, of what a road should be, presenting a smooth, well-kept surface all the way. It is a veritable joy to the motorist, without a pedestrian in sight. This route leaves the visitor with an ascent of rather less than 1,000 feet to be made on foot.

Convenience, even to luxury, is, however, the portion of the visitor who chooses to make the journey in the electric tramway, which, starting from Laxey village, glides round the cone until it reaches a point within 40 feet of the apex.

This railway, which was opened on July 28, 1894, was the first mountain railway in the British Isles. As the trip to the summit still remains not merely the most important day excursion in the Isle of Man, but one in beauty and variety of interest unrivalled in any other part of the kingdom, it calls for more than passing mention.

We begin our journey from Douglas by betaking ourselves to a tramcar station which we shall find at the lower end of the Victoria Pier, near the Clock Tower. I confess at the outset that I must offer some explanation, and even apology, for so unpropitious an opening to the day.

The tramcar looks like an interesting survival. And so it is. The horse to which it is attached seems wholly conscious of the unkindly fate that has linked his fate to so time-worn a thing.

It a piece of strange irony that, though Douglas can boast at its very door a railway that gently and speedily carries you up heavy inclines and down steep declivities, through cuttings and across ravines, with electricity as the motive power, toleration of modern ideas should suddenly terminate at that front-door on the town's northern boundary.

I remember Mr. Alexander Bruce, who was then in the heyday of his influence and popularity- being at that time the moving factor in Dumbell's Bank, a magistrate, projector-in-chief of the tramway to Laxey and Ramsey and the extension to the summit of Snaefell-telling me how stubbornly he had contended with the gas interest in the Municipal Council to secure the right to run the electric cars the whole margin of the bay, to a convenient point in direct contact with the incoming and outgoing steamers.

Re pinned his faith on meeting the convenience of five or ten times as many passengers, speedier transit, and penny fares-cheap enough and sufficiently amusing to induce many visitors to make the journey round the bay, backwards and forwards, for an entire morning.

Monopolists, however, were sharp enough to perceive that theatre and hotel proprietors and boarding-house keepers were not going to see a brilliantly illuminated electric tramcar running past their front-door of an evening without desiring to secure the same brilliant illuminant for their own establishments.

Mr. Bruce's last offer to the Corporation was, as he represented it to me, to light the whole length of the Douglas promenades, without charge to the ratepayers, in return for the right of substituting electric power on the tram-route for the antiquated and wasteful one-horse arrangement still in vogue.

No better result followed. If you don't like the gas in Douglas-well, you can always get a candle !

Mr. Bruce's name and fame have suffered a bad eclipse since those days, but on this trip it seems bare justice to the memory of the man who, once the idol of a fawning multitude, passed out of this life amid a cloud of suspicion and a perfect avalanche of bitter reproach, to say that, despite the failure of many of his cherished schemes, the island is at this hour deriving real advantage from work he took in hand and strenuously pushed to completion, and that, if he had had his way, Douglas Bay on a summer evening would be now, from topmost window to water-edge, one glittering blaze of light.

On this sunny morning Douglas is a striking spectacle. Every window is thrown open, every door is thronged, the promenade is crowded, and waggonettes are starting upon excursions to popular resorts. Even the bay itself is alive with life-from the margin of the water, where the children are paddling in the surf, to the white wings of yachts out at sea, starting betimes to cruise the coast.

It would be impossible even to indicate all the features of interest. We start outside the Villiers Hotel, and proceed via the Loch Promenade, so named after former Lieutenant-Governor, who, by the happy chance of a visit from Mr. Gladstone, was destined to end his days a Governor of the Bank of England and a Peer of the realm.

At the first bend of the line we come to the Hotel Sefton, part of the large possessions of the late Henry Bloom Noble, whose estate is administered by trustees, of whom the late Dean Lefroy of Norwich was one. The house is now in the hands of Mr. Walter Keig, whose name, with many curious variations of initial (representing so many distinguishing keys'), was formerly known to every visitor through the agency of the Government Board of Advertising.

The Gaiety Theatre, adjoining the hotel, marks the beginning of the Harris Promenade, so called to perpetuate the memory of an aged and respected High Bailiff. The Central Promenade, in which the chief features are the Castle Mona Hotel and the Palace, brings us to the Queen's Promenade, at the end of which stands Derby Castle, once a private dwelling, now an hotel, with a dancingpalace and a stage covering the pretty gardens of a former age.

At Derby Castle a transfer is made to the electric car alongside. The line beginning at this point, sea-level, ascends the hill surmounted by the Douglas Bay Hotel (another enterprise in which Mr. Bruce took a more or less sympathetic interest), of which every window affords wondrous views of land and sea.

Rounding the corner, one gets a glimpse of a little cove, Onchan Bay or Onchan Harbour, and though both names are too imposing for so tiny an inlet, these high banks, with comfortable nestingplaces, make it a happy place for an idle afternoon.

On the right we pass the Mansion House, erected from plans by Mr. Baillie Scott to the order of another Scot, Mr. McAndrew. At Mr. McAndrew's death, the place, in some unaccountable way and for some unaccountable reason, became a kind of club-house, with sources of income no one could explain-one of the many premonitions of the coming of the island's financial storm. Mr. Richard Prestwich, of Manchester, is now the owner of this superbly-placed dwelling.

On the other side is the Howstrake Golf-Links, originally laid out by two golf celebrities whom Mr. Bruce brought over-Tom Morris of St. Andrews and George Lowe of Lytham.

Nowhere could be found more healthful conditions for play. The air up here is laden with ozone, dustless and pure.

Thereafter the electric tram route makes a cut direct, instead of hugging the coast-line of Clay Head. The first regular stopping-place is Groudle. It is a picturesque spot, with a stream flowing down the ravine. Lhen Coan is a miniature canon formed by a brook that flows into the Groudle below the hotel. But if there are young members of the party, there must be counted above all such beauty the unique experience of travel in the midget railway. This is a delight when the sheer abyss, the glittering waterfall, the rushing waters, and every variety of tree, fern, bush, or flowering plant, are not even a remembrance.

Neither must Garwick be passed without a halt. Here is Glen Gawne, and close at hand, in the corner of a field, there will be found an ancient burial-place, now described as ` the Cloven Stones.'

Tradition says that the Cloven Stones clash together, and living persons are declared to have observed this remarkable performance.

Another legend tells how a farmer, about to remove such an obstruction to agriculture, was warned by fire to let the great dead sleep the great sleep in peace.

Down on the sea-shore, under Clay Head, is the Hermit's Cave. Once, we are told, it was the home of a monk, who sought to serve God by much mortification of the flesh. And once (with even less foundation in fact) it was the hiding-place of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, when she was making a vain effort to regain her libertya pretty tale, of which the chief merit is that it is wholly untrue. The Duchess was never a prisoner in Peel Castle. She never set foot on our island. At the next bend of the line inwards we enter the Laxey Valley. Houses are dotted about both banks. Every cottage, resplendent in a fresh coat of limewash, set in its own little patch of garden, amid trailing creeper and flowering plant, is a picture of homely pride and sweet content.

Laxey is well worthy of a visit. There is the never-failing beauty of the Glen, on which Mr. Williamson has expended so much intelligent thought. Then, Manx homespuns have a reputation which even the island of Harris might envy. A visit should be made, therefore, to the St. George's Woollen Mills, which Mr. Egbert Rydings has established at this spot on lines that commended themselves to the heart of John Ruskin. A practical industry that produced big dividends in the old days of high-priced silver and lead is found in the old-established Great Laxey Lead-Mines, which may be also inspected. And last, but not least, there is the Big Wheel.

The Mountain Railway, from its station in Laxey to the end of the line immediately below the summit, is four and three-quarter miles in length. For two-thirds of the distance the line pursues a route directly upward. Objects on the eastern side of the island have faded from definite vision, or have been altogether obscured by intervening hills, when there bursts upon our view a glorious panorama of the island to the south and the west. The car glides on, ever upward, now in the full blaze of the sunlight, and now in the shade. We feel the keen air of the uplands ; we scent the nutty odour of the gorse ; we drink in the freshening exhalation of the soil; our eyes are cheered by the rosy bloom of the new heather.

Then the car comes to a stop. We step out into a pure, dustless, rarefied, breezy atmosphere of 2,000 feet up. From this elevation Ramsey lies at our feet to the north, partly shielded from our gaze by the intervening heights of North Barrule. Farther away, at a point where land and sea seem almost one, the white and rather ghostly figure of Point of Ayre Lighthouse faintly emerges from the fleecy clouds of sea-mist. Beyond an apparently narrow stretch of purple sea we see the hills of Scotland.

Eastwards St. Bee's Head is easily discernible, and colour on the fields can be distinguished in the hills standing in the forefront of that glorious range of hills we find in the English Lake District.

Douglas is not within our ken, but we can see the steamers speedily beating their way to the bay. Westward and southward there are such landmarks as Corrin's Tower on Peel Hill, the stern slope of Greeba, with South Barrule and Cronk-nyIree-Lhaa beyond.

Across the sea we can readily discern the Mourne Mountains of Ireland, and the glittering sun on the waters of Belfast Lough. To the south we perceive the island's limits in the Calf, and, away over the sea, the rough outline of Snowdon.

But interesting as it is to note the territory of every surrounding kingdom, it is still more so to glance over our island and evolve the identity of every cherished object-house, field, road, river, church.

Then the sea itself ! It is no longer the sea in ceaseless movement. From this height it is a sheet of burnished silver. Not a ripple seems to disturb its gleaming surface, and steamers are dotted about like toys on a baby pond.

All make-believe ! It is we who are afloat. See the white foam breaking about our stout hull. It is we, proud and aloof, who are sailing this sunlit summer sea. Our island is a great ship, moving silently to its invisible destiny.

A glorious panorama-a wholly unforgettable vision of beauty of earth and sea and sky.


 

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