[From Mannin #2, 1914]
Gob yn Ushtey and Cronk ny irey lhaa
THE ISLE OF MANN has become a place of strange contrasts. The venerable ceremony of the Tynwald Day, submerged amid a multitude of trippers, half-amused, half-indifferent, is no unfit type of the mingling of old and new in our national life.
When we look at modern Douglas, on the eve, for instance, of the August Bank Holidaythe variegated traffic of the long promenade, whose crescent line of lights is after dusk so marvellous a sight, the thronged pleasure resorts, the bright shops, the massive stone piers, the huge and swarming steamersor, passing from the town, see the long procession of crowded waggonettes, along the hilly roads, the little railways bearing their crowds of pleasure-seekers even to the very summit of the Isle, we sometimes ask ourselves if anything of specially Manx life can long survive the overwhelming flood of alien influences, if any of our boyhood's scenes can long retain the old-time charm. Truly these things represent a phase of Island life that is, and must be, to many of our residents the all-important one. Yet, at no great distance (for no distance in Mann can be great) we have scenes which for centuries have changed but little, or not at all: the white farm houses, each with its cluster of trees; the upland fields, sloping, wind swept, with wonderful hedges of flowering gorse; the green willowy levels of the curragh; the high fells, grass, or heather-clad, silent, except for the bleating of sheep through all the summer hours; the fishing pools, rock-shadowed, fern-hung, of the clear trout stream in the lovely inland glen; the long sandy barrens of the Ayre, given over to the lapwing and the garey vreck But most of all, it is on the remoter coasts, as the boat sways on the long passing swells, that even in sum mer calm, throb and echo in the deep caverns under the crags of Maughold Head, or plunges in the green seas off Scarlett, in the sparkling autumn weather, that we can forget the flight of time, and realize how superficially, after all, modern change has affected our Insular nature.
To the lover of scenery and wild life, there is no Manx district more fascinating than the coast between Fleshwick and Dalby. Here alone the main mountain range of the Island, not its lower spurs, strikes the sea. A succession of lofty brows falls steeply from the summits to the cliffs, the latter, indeed, usually not very high, but picturesquely varied by headland, strand, and stack. Exposed to the mild western wind, and watered by abundant moisture trickling down their crevices and over their faces, they show a richness and beauty of vegetation unrivalled even in Mann.
Guide books have little to say about this region, and to most even of Manxmen it is an unknown land. On the Ordnance sheet we find here a succession of strange looking names, unintelligible to English-speaking people, names of jutting points and hidden recesses, rocky hi11side outcrops and isolated stacks.* Sometimes their names of fifty years ago seem now to be forgotten. Others differ more or less from the present day nomenclature. This may sometimes arise from the mistakes of the Government transcribers, patient and painstaking as they were; sometimes from the corruptions of a generation to whom the Manx language is no longer familiar. The interpretation of some of them is simple enough in Gaelic; others, in their present form at least, cannot readily be deduced from any language, being perhaps much altered Scandinavian Possibly these obscure names could be explained by a scholar who, being versed in Gaelic and Old Norse, had also an intimate knowledge of the localities or natural features designated.
Along the whole extent of this coast-line there is no inhabited house, nor does cultivated land approach the shore. Human occupation has hardly left its mark Could the hermit who perhaps 1400 years ago first established himself at Lag ny Keeilley, revisit the scene of his ministrations, he would find the ravine scarcely changed. Some lines of stone walling, themselves now of considerable age, and a distant wire fence alone would be unfamiliar. The pre-historic hunter and fisherman might watch for the rabbit to issue from beneath the same earthfast boulder, might hook the crab from the same tide-crevice, might cast his line from the same grey ledge into the same deep pure water. The plough has never been driven over these slopes, the creeks have never been quayed. Perhaps indeed, an even deeper solitude than that of 2000 years ago broods over this region, for the primitive methods by which man nourished his life in the wilderness have for the most part been abandoned, and he has withdrawn himself to regions where his labour is more easily and largely remunerative. The exploration of the sea-side mountain line is easiest by boat. It may indeed be reached by road from Dalby or from the south-side villages. One road almost strikes the coast line at the Slock, and a track from Dalby leads straight into the heart of the region at Lag ny Keeilley, but to follow on foot the coast is extremely toilsome owing to the roughness of the ground, and the deep gullies to be crossed or rounded, while the strands and caves are scarcely attainable by land. Only here and there can sea level be reached. From the Slock a headlong and circuitous scramble down sheep tracks, and amid huge blocks of fallen stone brings you to Slock Strand, or if your nerve is good enough, the old mine track, a better marked, but even more dizzy descent, will take you to the same beach. At Pheastul also, you can descend the very steep green brow, among heather and gorse and primroses, to the flowery ledges and flows of stony rubbish where the herring-gulls nest almost at the edge of high tide. There is an easy way down at Lag ny Keeilley, and thence if the tide be low, and you do not mind wet feet, you can wade and clamber at the bottom of the crags all the way to the Ushtey.
Such exploration is adventurous and interesting, but the ordinary man will see the place best by boat from Dalby or Fleshwick; and it is from the latter little mountain-shadowed bay that excursions are most readily possible.
If Fleshwick, as Mr. A. W. Moore thinks, means "green spot creek," it is appropriately named-its narrow strip of culture opening out to the shore amid the steep uncultivated hills. Pretty as Fleshwick itself is, its chief charm is in its outlook. To the left, indeed, the impending brows of Bradda at once block the view, but on the right, over the clear waters of the Bay Moar, the mountain line recedes in long majestic perspective, the green field, white strands, and long reef of Dalby terminating it. Solitary as this extended line of mountain and cliff may be, it can hardly be called stern or savage. A Manx landscape rarely is so. Penetrating its recesses on foot, or by boat-in the long cave where the green water sways above the rocky floor, or on the great hill slopes, green, purple and golden, which descend to a waveless August sea of sapphire and flame, the great far-off mass of the Mourne mountains showing grandly in the utmost west-in the moist warm air of the inward recesses, draped with great glossy fronds of fern, on the swards thickly starred with campion and primroseS-on the broken ground overgrown with briar and hemp-agrimony, where the sunny air is laden with the scent of honeysuckle and meadowsweet-one forgets the high winds and beating showers of a Manx winter, and thinks of some fabled island of Calypso, or of the ocean margin of some tropic land, where, amid a summer that never fades, the human race, in fancy at least, remains for ever young.
The "Bay Moar" is peculiarly liable to sudden and very transitory squalls of wind, even in the calmest weather. These squalls from the high ridge are also felt landward, and are described by Mr. C. Roeder as "Gaarderyn Slock" (Mx. N. & Q. p. 8.)
Just on the east of Fleshwick Strand is a little halfroofed opening in the rocks called Ghaw Ving: "Gully of sound or music"-in itself insignificant, but with some fairy lore attached to it (see Roeder, Manx Notes and Queries, p. 43). The word "Ghaw," in this district so often applied to these narrow creeks, is interesting. In various forms as Gja, Geodh it is found in Iceland and the Hebrides and other spheres of Scandinavian influence. In Mann the word seems confined to the south west though the thing is found all over our rocky coasts. A few hundred yards further north there is another Ghaw,,' Ghaw Hooil, which, in a well-formed arch, pierces through a half-detached promontory Is the latter half of the name English, "Hole," or Manx, Hooil"-Eye ? On either side of the "Ghaw Hooil," rises a lofty stack with a green top and steep sides, respectively Cronk Aittin (Ashen) and Cronk reoaie (Hill of Gorse and Hill of Ling) The vegetation on them still justifies their distinctive names and teaches us the long permanence of the features of plant life. Still a little further the stony gorge called Raclay*splits the hillside almost to the top; a little isolated rock called Raclay Castle lies off its foot. Hereabouts in the broken ground and clefts in the rocks breed jackdaws in numbers. In such natural fastnesses jackdaws very often house in the Isle of Mann, but this is the last colony northwards until we reach Dalby. In the intermediate space the place is taken by the bird's nobler relative the chough.
P. G. RALFE.
To be continued.
1 North of "Slock" several of the stony knolls crowning the ridge hart the name Burrow (Scand. Borg: fortress, fortress-like rock). Borg has In Manx become Burrow as Berg has become Berry. The Burrowers are respectively "Mooar" big, 'Menagh" middle, and "Sodley" furthest.
2 Pronounced Rakely. Mr. Moore suggests Scand. Rar: nook for the first part. The "clay" is perhaps Cloaie: stony.