[From Mannin #7 1916]

Manx Coast Sketches

P. G. RALFE, M. B.O.U,


(Continued from page 363)

IN writing of Castletown Bay how many Pictures come unbidden to mind - the mountainous waves driven in before a south-west gale, bursting in long rollers on the sounding gravel of Sandwick; the seemingly calm surface when the wind is from the north, suddenly darkening under the gusts from the mountains-the dread of the amateur sailor; the ripple and glitter in the bright autumn weather and the eastern breeze; the green spaces of Scarlett, strewn with summer picnickers among the tumbled blocks of rock; the desolate duck pools, under the ruinous farm buildings on Langness, swept by the bitter February storm. Among Manx bays that of Castletown may best be compared with that of Douglas. It is more enclosed than the latter, and has a somewhat larger extent; its surroundings are altogether different. Castletown Bay lacks the immediate background of cliff and slope, but its distant views are much more extended, and its scenery is enhanced by the picturesque outlines of the old town and the fine buildings of the College in the centre.

It would here be out of place to dwell much on Castletown itself and its manifold associations; for our purpose it will be sufficient to note the low scarps of the limestone peninsula, from which rises the cluster of high grey houses, topped by the towers of the Castle and St. Mary's1; the neat unpretentious modern suburb along the eastern beach; the outer harbour, between the grey piers, whose bright waters and many small boats make so pleasant a picture at high tide in summer; the long inner creek, narrowed under its bridges, and reflecting the frowning Castle walls. Castletown is yet Castletown, and there is a sober dignity in its bare landscapes, which its people would scorn to exchange for the more modern and exciting atmosphere of the towns which have outstepped it in the race for prominence. To tell the truth, the weedy foreshores of low tide in Castletown bay in general are anything but inviting, but there is, as above indicated, a sandy beach of considerable extent under the fragment of Hango Tower (another relic of the Great Earl's time, built upon the tumulus of an early burial place), and extending along the sandy isthmus of Langness, at the head of the bay. The sandy beach is Sandwick2, and in the Middle Ages belonged, with rights of 'wreck and toll and bailey,' to Rushen Abbey. The old white house, bearing a date about the middle of the eighteenth century, and the names (if my memory is not at fault) of John and Isabel Corkill, which used to be a conspicuous landmark of this beach, has recently been pulled down. The idea is current at Castletown that there was formerly a much greater extent of sand along the shore, This must be correct with regard to certain spots, such as the well-known 'Fluking Dub' (a name found two hundred and fifty years ago), beneath Bay View, but is not generally borne out by the fifty years old ordnance sheet.

Here and there, in the bay beyond low water, but especially near the Seal Rock, are little sandy patches, locally named 'flakes.' These areas of clear water, well known to fishermen, are very striking amid the extent of sombre-coloured bottom. It appears to be a fact, though the memory of it is now almost lost, that the bay of Derbyhaven was once connected with that of Castletown, at the eastern corner of Sandwick, by a canal, passable only by small boats. Blundell, in the seventeenth century, mentions this communication and it is said that some traces, which the present writer has not seen, are still visible.

An agreeable feature of the shore in recent years, is the flock of swans which frequent the shallow portions of the bay and the harbour. Some of these every year nest in a carefully-guarded area at the head of the harbour.

Off Sandwick, and visible only at lowest low water, are the weed-covered tide-rocks, 'The Hoes.' Under the town itself is the longer Seal Rock, prolonged towards Scarlett in a far-stretching ridge, behind which are the 1agoon-like shallows of 'The Hole.' A little further to sea than the Seal Rock, is the curiously-named 'Lheah Rio3 (if that is really the correct spelling), a low-water ridge showing amid beds of huge tangle, a few knobs of bare volcanic rock similar to that of the stack of Scarlett.

On the western shores of the bay, a little beyond the last cottages of the town, the large old house of Knock. Rushen stands amid a cluster of trees. The estate takes its name, no doubt, from the conspicuous tumulus-like knoll behind it, one of a number of limestone outcrops scattered over the district, and possibly artificial as to its earth-covered top. At Knockrushen lived, in the time of the Civil War, William Christian, one of the leaders in the Manx Rebellion. He had married the heiress of the estate, and he died before the Restoration, so escaping the proceedings which proved fatal to his more celebrated namesake. Further towards the horn of the bay, old lime kilns are a conspicuous feature; a small pier which was built for the export of the lime is now in a ruined condition.

Fine shelves of limestone, broken by interesting dykes of volcanic rock, form the foreground to the Stack of Scarlett and its accompanying basaltic ridges. Along the edge of the crags a soft flowery sward lies, gay with sea-pinks, lilac-flowered squill and birds-foot lotus, in their season; seaward the dark rocks fall steeply into deep clear gullies and basins, the immemorial fishing grounds of Castletown folk. The place is beautiful in summer, but perhaps best worth seeing in winter, when a southwest gale drives the spray in seething waterfalls right over the forty feet high Stack and the balls of spume fly far inland over the fields.

The 'Treen' and estate of Scarlett in all probability take their name from the Stack, the most remarkable, though not the largest, of the many similar detached rocks round the Manx coast. Scarlett, as it ought to be called (the middle c difficult of pronunciation, having dropped out), seems to mean Skarf-clet-cormorant rock. The Stack is a frequent perch of the bird, and the name will thus be equivalent to that of the various shag rocks in other localities. Though of no great height, the Stack, from its outstanding position, commands a fine view; the bay to the west is open to Port St. Mary, and the bold precipices of the extreme south-west are well-displayed.

On Langness we took leave of the gorse and heather which forms much of the rough belt of vegetation on the greater part of the Manx coast, and we hardly meet with them again until this selvage again occupies the sea margin beyond Port St. Mary. Very different is the short smooth green turf, which meets the edge of the grey-green rock (largely volcanic ash), as we pass westward from Scarlett toward Poolvaish. A beautiful andcharacteristic plant of its flora is the purple milk vetch

There is little tide off the Stack, but a few hundred yards westward, off the point of Gob-y-Clee a low sharp dyke of harder rock, breaking through the ash, is a considerable current, to be reckoned with at certain states of the tide.

A little inland a small but conspicuous limestone knoll marks the first of four ancient sacred sites between Scarlett and Strandhall. No trace of a building, if any each ever existed, is now to be seen, but the enclosure of the burial ground is still marked. An attempt was once made to plough this up and it was said that it was avenged by dogs breaking loose and killing a large number of the sheep pastured in the field.

Close to this, on the smooth platform of ash, one of the Isle of Man steamers, about twenty years ago, ran ashore in a fog, while on the voyage from Dublin. The vessel ran up the shelf, almost to high-water mark, and few days later was brought off practically without damage. A little further west, on a small rocky peninsula, with traces of a moat on its landward side. is the remnant of one of the coast forts common in the Island. In the absence of excavation little can be guessed as to, its date or nature.

As we trend north-west along the same low rocky coast towards the inlet of Poolvaish and the farm of the same name standing at its head, a prominent object, a little inland, is the tall old mansion of Balladoole, and behind it rises the green limestone knoll of the Chapel Hill. One of the holy- sites of this coast we have already mentioned, two others are indeed mere sites, known only by persistent popular remembrance, and now and again by the exposure of a stone grave by the plough, but the Chapel Hill bears considerable vestiges of surrounding walls of some extent and of small buildings within them-seemingly a little church settlement, bearing in dedication to St. Michael, the name of Keeill Vael, common to a number of these ancient sanctuaries close to the sea. Here again, excavation may reveal facts of interest with regard to the nature and purpose of the erections.

Poolvaish is commonly interpreted as the 'Pool of Death,' a name to account for which if correct, there is now no story current. This is not a very likely place for wrecks, although in the writer's recollection one or two of a harmless nature have happened hereabout. The rocks are rich in fossils and the foreshore, which has considerable tracts of stony rubbish, is gay with the large frail flowers of the curious horned poppy. Another plant, very characteristic of the same kind of ground, is the insignificant-looking, though (to the Island) rare, wall pellitory. The ringed plover, a beautiful and interesting little shore-bird, nests upon the shingle-beds and curlews and oystercatchers find secure resting-places on the tide-rocks not easily reached on foot.

Close to the shore, on the eastern side of the inlet, are the well-known but not large or conspicuous quarries which yield the 'Black Marble' of Poolvaish, less in demand now than formerly. Inland, the country, viewed widely, from the coast margins, becomes more populous, and the villages of Ballabeg and Colby show up among their trees at the foot of the hills.

The large bay, on whose shores we now are, often entitled on maps ' Bay ny Carrickey,' seems as a whole to have no popular name, though it is one of the best marked, as well as the largest, of our inlets. Near its centre is the Carrick, one of the many Manx tide-rocks known by this name. The north-eastern corner of the bay, at which we now arrive from Poolvaish, after passing a number of small farm steadings, set a little back from the shore, is Strandhall beach, the first patch of sand since leaving Castletown and remarkable for the exposure at low-tide of stumps of trees, remains of some woodland of far-off times. From here to Port St. Mary, at the other side of the bay, there is an alternation of beach and rock, which lends variety to the coast. At the head of the bay, as its name implies, the mansion of Kentraugh 5, hardly visible from the sea, shelters behind its wind-swept trees, and the Colby stream descends to the shore from its uplands under Cronk yn Irree Laa.

Beneath Kentraugh to the west, is the sweep of the Ennagh, sometimes prosaically named the 'Brewery Beach,' a crescent of white gravel above a fine stretch of level sand, one of the most beautiful sea-side sites in Man. Of the large old brewery of the Gawnes, long in ruin, there is now little remaining and the house of Mount Gawne, with its long front, high over the shore, shares possession of the whole locality with only an unpretentious but pleasant-looking hotel at the east end and a cluster of houses, a kind of outlier of Port St. Mary, unromantically called 'The Smelt,' at the west end. Some day this beach will be surrounded by buildings, let us hope, more tastefully designed and arranged than those that occupy so many fine sites in our Isle.

Gansey Point, low but picturesque, juts out between Mount Gawne strand and Port St. Mary-a pleasant little corner of grass and rocks. Beyond, the somewhat dangerous Carthur rocks are exposed at low-tide.

Port St. Mary, affectionately called Port-le-Moirrey and 'The Port' by its old residents, is still mainly one long street, from its haven under the hill, where in the land-locked harbour, the sadly dwindling remnant of its fishing fleet shelters, to the white farm buildings of Ballacreggan near the head of Chapel Bay.

The large and pretentious modern houses at its northern end and the waste of vacant building plots at its southern, have marred its homely beauty, but it is still a charming place.

The town owes its name to the keeill, now quite disappeared, which stood on the shores of Chapel Bay-one of the many Manx dedications to the Virgin. The many industries connected with the fishing, which fifty years ago made it busy and prosperous, have failed or changed their character, but the style which they imparted yet to a great extent remains.

As the limestone changes to the slate west of Port St. Mary, the shore ceases to be that of a lowland. Strikingly abrupt, and pierced by dark caves, the cliffs rise as Perwick is approached, the slopes, bushy with gorse and briar and honeysuckles, descend rapidly from the old-world hamlets of Fistard and the Howe; the high pinnacles of the Shag Rock, the crag-shadowed strands of Colloway and Traie Vane, the steep escarpments of Noggin Head across the bay, tells us that a more imposing, if not a more beautiful type of landscape, is now to dominate the coast.

1 The latter tower has now lost some of its height and picturesqueness
2 Usually corrupted into Sandrick.
3 Pronounced, now at least, like 'Lee Ro'
4 A well-known isolated crag off the west coast of Denmark bears almost the same name-Skarreklit.
5 Kione-traie-strandhead,


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