[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
THE desolate island called the Calf of Man was once the retreat of a man named Bushel, who was a sort of appendage of the great Lord Bacon. When Bacon died, Bushel's mining speculations were beyond hope, and Bushel himself was a ruined man.
It was then that Bushel bethought himself of the Calf. ` In obedience to my dear lord's philosophical advice,' Bushel resolved to test his repentance of his 'former debauchedness ' by leading a life of self-abnegation, subsisting on 'herbs, oil, mustard, and honey, with water sufficient.' The old legend was revived: 'The Devil was sick; the Devil a saint would be.'
Certain old guides give descriptions of 'Bushel's grave,' but it is doubtful if this is anything more than the site of an ancient post of observation in days when the Calf had some strategic value. Relics of a remoter past, however, have been discovered. One of these is sometimes described as a coffin-lid. It is a stone fragment, bearing engraved figures and symbols, of which it would be hazardous to attempt an interpretation.
The Calf Island was for long years the property of the Stevensons of Balladoole, in Arbory. In 1643 James, seventh Earl of Derby, secured it by an exchange of Intack lands (in-take lands from the commons) in the parish of Lezayre, known as Close Chairn, or The Lord's Close. The Earl further agreed to render the Stevensons 5,000 puffins annually.
The Lord's interests passed to the British Crown at the purchase of the rights of sovereignty from the Duke of Athole in 1765.
The Crown next appeared as sellers, and the Calf was bought at public auction in the Douglas Market-Place by Sir George Drinkwater. By the marriage of the daughter of the latter the island passed into the possession of Colonel Carey, whose successor is the present holder-and, maybe, seller.
The lonely land has an interest, a history, and a beauty peculiarly its own. I have made the islet my home for a week at a time, and nowhere in the wide world have I experienced, within the space of one week, a tonic so refreshing to health, spirits, and imagination.
Any visitor with the leisure and taste for such a holiday should endeavour to stay at least a night or a week-a month, if time allows. The Calf is unique. The atmosphere is as dustless as on the deck of a ship in mid-Atlantic. As an antidote to hay-fever or ailments of the throat and nose it is a priceless boon. As a relief to sleeplessness and tired nerves it is without a rival.
The islet lies to the south of the Isle of Man, and is separated from the main island by two narrow but dangerous channels, known as The Sound and The Little Sound. The distance between the two islands cannot be more than a quarter of a mile, and in the height of the season, when the weather is favourable, boatmen will row visitors across this narrow streak for a shilling per head.
The passage, however, is encumbered with rocks, each of which has its own tale of disaster to tell. Tidal currents meet, and on fine days a distinct line of ruffled water marks the place, presenting the strange phenomenon-the sea at two levels.
But there are many days when strong north-west winds prevail, and it becomes a hazardous-nay, a foolhardy-experiment to attempt to reach the Calf at all. The tide rushes through. these narrow passages with great velocity, eight, or ten or more miles an hour, breaking in wild fury upon jagged rocks and hidden shoals. Under no circumstances therefore, should the trip be made without the aid of skilled seamen thoroughly familiar with these treacherous cross-currents.
The lessee of the Calf Island is Mr. Thomas Clague, who lives at Port St. Mary. With him arrangements should be made. Take train from Douglas to Port St. Mary. Here Mr. Clague will find fishermen who will row or sail over to the Calf for about eight shillings.
If the boat is small and the tide favourable, the fishermen will take visitors through the Chasms, adding thereby one more delightful experience to an altogether delightful holiday. We pass under Kallow Point and cross Perwick Bay. Rounding the Sugar-Loaf Rock (of which every photographer is eager to secure a plate), we enter Stacka Bay, with Black Head marking its western boundary. The coast-line is an unbroken series of mountainous cliffs.
Spanish Head is the southernmost point of the Isle of Man. Doubt is sometimes cast upon the legend that any of the ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked here in 1588. It is pointed out that Speed's map, ' only seven years later than the date of the Armada,' gives this headland as Spaloret.
Spanish Head is evidently a corruption of that name.' Passing the slip regarding the date of Speed's map, I am tempted to observe, as Max M üller has wittily put it, ' sound etymology has nothing to do with sound.' It is not conclusive evidence by any means, but I have seen an old carved chest presumed to be made from the timbers of the ill-fated vessel that struck here, and affording some proof of authenticity.
Between the main island and the tiny rocky islet Kitterland-so called after one of our adventurous Norse ancestors, of whom various strange tales are told-is the narrow passage known as The Little Sound. At low-water hardly more than fifty yards separate island from islet.
Between Kitterland and the Calf Island is the more considerable passage known as the Calf Sound, four or five times as broad as its namesake. The Thousla Rock, which stands midway in this channel, is a mere rock, hardly larger than a dining-table, and is visible only at low-water. It has its own tale of sorrow.
The Calf Island is faced on every side by steep cliffs. A landing may be made at Cow Harbour, on the north coast, directly opposite the Thousla Rock. There is a road up to the farmhouse, and thence on to the two disused lighthouses, which stand in a line directly facing the Chickens.
Visitors are received at the farm and in the lower of the two lighthouses. Choosing the lighthouse, and mounting the circular staircase, and, lastly, the ladder to the old light-chamber, a glorious view may be obtained of islet and sea. The Mull Hills, with the little village of Cregneesh (as well as one of the historic stone circles in this neighbourhood) perched on the side, and facing the eternal sun, are nearest at hand. Beyond, there rises Bradda Head. Slieu Carnane, Cronk-ny-Arrey Lhaa, and South Barrule. More westward we have a glimpse of the Niarbyl and Contrary Head, with Corrin's Tower on the saddle of the round-backed horse.
When darkness has come down upon the scene, and the only illumination is the fitful glare of the new Chickens Lighthouse in the sea, it is a weird and strange experience to see big ships, chiefly those from Canada, taking from the St. Lawrence the North of Ireland route to the Mersey, come up out of the darkness, and, rounding this rock at close quarters, pass from us into oblivion without a sound.
In the daytime there are other vessels-coasting steamers, colliers, and the like-making this point at almost a stone's-throw. Jack afloat, like Jack ashore, woman-lover always, does not mind exchanging playful signals with the ladies of the party.
But to know the Calf in its impressionist mood one must be up betimes-four o'clock-on an autumn morning. The opening of doors, the shuffling of the dog as he rises and shakes himself free of his sleepy self, our own footfall, reverberate along the stone-paved passage and up the chilly stairway. The whole place fills one's imagination with the oppression of a tomb, from which one must instantly seek deliverance into the open air.
Steal out into the darkness. Not a gleam of breaking day has shown its first pale cold light on the horizon; the wind sighs round the house with mournful insistence; the sea looks sombre, heartless, and cruel; and the flashing light of the beacon in the sea only serves to cast a ghostly glamour on every object it gathers in its far-reaching sweep. Soon the light on the horizon grows brighter, and the sun clothes the whole scene with reality and refreshing warmth. Another day has begun.
A simple experience admittedly, but one not easily outmatched, so far as I know, save on the bridge of a ship in mid-ocean at break of day.
The islet is barely more than a mile and a half across at any point, or, roughly speaking, some five miles in circumference. The surface is pleasantly undulating. Swept by the full force of every wind that blows, there is not within my remembrance a single tree on the island, if I except a struggling stem that gathers courage in the protecting shield of the farmhouse.
The population consisted at the time of my visit of the shepherd, his wife and daughter, and two farm-servants.
Two men and a maid on a desolate island! What story might not be evolved? William Black used to say the stories were not all told, and that while two men and a maid were left on the earth the novelist had all the essential materials for the exercise of his craft. Then I leave the reader to pick up the threads of my lost romance.
There are a few fields under cultivation within sight of the windows of the farmhouse. Cattle are reared for the island market, and outside the fencing there is ideal pasturage for a considerable flock of sheep. Most of the islet is overrun with rabbits, which may be numbered, seemingly, by the ten thousand.
I found the rabbits coy and keenly alive to sound and smell, requiring as much stalking almost as deer. But life on the Calf is close to the conditions of primitive Nature. Days begin at sunrise, and close an hour or two after sunset. The rabbit affords excuse for long hours spent in the open, resting at full length on the grass, and shielded by some friendly gorse-bush or large boulder.
If shooting is the one objective, walk through the tall bracken. Every twenty or thirty yards there is a patch of open green lawn, and never a one may be encountered without sighting a rabbit as he darts across the gun.
The rabbits are in the grass, they are in the midst of the bracken, they are among the rocksthey are everywhere. On the cliffs, looking down to the shining sapphire sea, more rabbits may be shot than can be safely secured. Leave the place for an hour. A myriad birds will digest the meal, and not leave a scrap of fur to tell the tale of their repast.
If the reader is a candidate for shooting honours, let him bring a silent-cartridge magazine-rifle, and try his skill with rabbits as they gambol at distances of 250 yards. Or, for variety, let him match his wiles with the wild-duck as they settle about a small lake in the centre of the islet.
These are the features of the sport on the Calf as I have encountered them.
Of the restfulness of the place what can I say? No letters or telegrams (unless you give the fishermen directions to leave all such at Cow Harbour) ; no shrieking trains ; no racing motors to leave you in clouds of choking dust; no newspapers ; no parsons, policemen, or publicans; no taxes and no laws-no anything at all, except the air of heaven and the food of man in plain but rich abundance.
In a word, Utopia-with a return ticket