[From Mannin #9, 1917]

Manx Coast Sketches
III.-Port St. Mary to Port Erin

PERWICK (the name curiously, and as one would think, incorrectly emphasised on the second syllable) would be a very attractive beach if its foreshore were not so rocky. It has a fine background of cliff and brow, on the eastern side the scarp overhanging it with extreme steepness. The Shag Rock, one of the many sherries of that name along the Manx coast, is a picturesque object, and always justifies its name by the group of large black birds perched on its pinnacles. Nearly opposite there used to exist on the grassy cliff edge, so thick in May and June with the little lilac hyacinths of the vernal squill, traces of an ancient coast fort. The site is now included in the precincts of the villa which has barred the circuit of the bay, and I do not know whether any vestage of the remains is yet to be seen. Underneath are dark sea-worn caves, where tame pigeons become wild, nest in ancestral conditions.

A series of little strands succeeds with little caverns, one of which is fabled to pierce the headland, passing under Port St. Mary to the Chapel Bay. Past the new Hydro, a pleasant lounge and charming view-point on a summer day, comes the ravine of Glen Chass, with one of the deserted mine works so characteristic of Mann, and then the wilder strand of Colloway, of which an unexpected feature, reached through a tangle of tall briers and ferns, is a wide mine-hole whose entrance is barred by a deep and sunless pool, a somewhat weird little scene, but probably with no more romantic memories than those of vain hope of profit and total loss of capital, the common fate of the lesser Manx mining schemes.

Traie Vane, one of the many 'white strands' of the Isle, is the last of the Perwick beaches towards the southwest. Its overhanging crags and dark caves verge on the shelved headland of Kione-y-Ghoggan, which commences the series of grand cliffs culminating in Spanish Head. Colonies of the herring gull now begin; through the summer the pure-plumaged birds are conspicuously perched on the ledges, and their clamour (they are the only rock-breeding birds here which make much noise) is always in the ear. In the dark recess beyond Kione-y-Ghoggan lies the isolated rock called the 'Anvil,' and, close to it opens one of the finest and most regular of Manx sea caves, filled for all its far penetratory length with deep green sea water. On this coast there is, however, loss need to dwell, as it is described in every guide boolc, and shown to every visitor. From the further end of the recess opens the dark chasm of the 'Hall,' pierced through the cliff to Bay Stacka, the passage of which is the thrill of the tourist, giving to the townsman a delightful sense of adventure without corresponding danger. Over the east end of the Bay Stacka, towers the great pinnacle from which it derives its name, set with its rows of murmuring guillemots and razorbills; above are the 'Chasms,' seaming the richly heather-blossomed ground which descends to the shore, in steep rushes of broken stories and earth, a famous nesting-ground for gulls. Between Stacka and the Calf Sound the sheer cliffs form the great promontory of Spanish Head, perhaps the finest of all our rocky headlands. The name is found as far back as the beginning of the eighteenth century; the story which accounts for its origin is not found in print till more than a century later. There will always, in the district at least, be found people to believe in the 'tradition', but it may be remarked that it would have been strange if so recent and remarkable an event as the wreck of a vessel of the renowned Armada had been handed down by tradition alone, and that it is improbable that members of a hostile crew would have been allowed quietly to settle down on the scene of their ship Spanish names, of which we have no trace. The idea of Spanish origin for dark-complexioned folk is common to various parts of the British Isles. If any of our inhabitants could be proved to be of such origin it would be more reasonable to attribute their ancestors' arrival to the trade communication which in later years undoubtedly existed between our Island and Spain.

Spanish Head needs no legend to render it attractive. Its sheer precipice, the deep, clear seas which wash it, the dark caves at its base (one of them is a noted nesting place for shags), the rush of the currents through the Sound, the animation of the varied sea bird-life which throngs it, make it a scene unmatched in the Isle. The two grandest of our surviving rock-birds, the Peregrine Falcon and the Raven, find shelter here still, but the Eagles, whose eyrie, according to Dr. Crellin, must have been somewhere in this neighbourhood, have been extinct for nearly a century. Puffins, whose distribution is, in the Isle of Man, more restricted than that of the allied Razorbills and Guillemots, breed in multitudes in holes of the higher and greener parts of the cliffs; they are birds of a quaint and comic personality, and in the nesting season allow of a very near approach. On the Sound side of the Head is one of the rare (in Mann) colonies of the Kittiwake Gull. On the narrow ledges around a cavernous recess, these beautiful white and grey sea-birds place their rough nests high above the swelling waters, and their shrill, plaintive clamour contrasts with the deep muttering chorus of the Guillemots arrayed in rows above and about them.

As we pass into the Sound the precipices gradually decrease in height, until the ferrying places to the Calf are reached. The Bay-ny-Breechyn, into which a brook tumbles in waterfalls, is passed, this place is called Breeches Bay because of its two long, narrow forks. Above it on the west side, is Burrow Ned, with traces of one of the many peninsula forts of our coast; this jutting point affords a fine retrospect of the wild and lofty coast.

On Craig-y-Jaghee, an outstanding tide-rock, fish, or, some say, puffins, used to be fished for the Church. West of Burrow Ned there are relics of old mining trials, and a steep, rocky inlet called Ghaw-ny-Spyrydd, a cave which was said to be haunted by a buggane, and also, like others in various places, to go under the headland to the Port Erin side of the Island. So far as I could judge from a rather superficial look at the place, there is nothing remarkable about this dark, gloomy fissure, nor does it penetrate far.

The Island ends in a beautiful piece of smooth greensward, the 'Parade,' with Kitterland opposite, splitting the current-vexed channel. On either side of the 'Parade' are steep little ferry-creeks, Cabbyl-Ghaw and Ghaw-ny-Keyree, so called from the custom of transporting the animals to and from the Calf. The cart-road comes down here from Cregneish, and a little way up its course is the site, marked by one large upright boulder, of the most southerly of our many primitive Keeils.

The Calf island being, except tiny Kitterland, our only adjacent Island which stills retains its insularity, has always been an object of peculiar interest to Manxmen. It has never been easy of access, and sometimes, through lack of regular communication and restrictions of proprietors, all but inaccessible. We look across the narrow strait, and think of the opposite islet as a home of rare and strange things, and are rather disappointed when we find that after all it is much like our own side of the channel.

Yet the Calf is a beautiful place, with a sense of freedom in its isolation, and the wide prospects of its high uncultured surface. There are indeed some fenced fields near the one farm house, now the only inhabited place, but they are of small area compared with the wastes of heather and bracken and natural pasture. The islet is rich in flowers, sheets of hyacinths and primroses cover its green inland slopes and the rough places of its great broken seaward brows; ground ivy in places makes a profuse carpet on its high land and fills the air with aroma.

In bird-life also it abounds, Gulls and Puffins, Shags, Razorbills and Guillemots, are more abundant and more easy of approach than generally on the mainland. On its flat southern peninsula, among the tufts of rosy-blossoming sea-pink, you walk among the nests of herring gulls and lesser black backed gulls, carelessly strewn over the ground.

The Calf seems in old times to have possessed more importance than now attaches to it. The Great Earl of Derby was anxious to have it in his possession for purposes of 'national defence,' and succeeded in persuading the then proprietor, Richard Stevenson, to relinquish it to him in exchange for certain property in the North. It was also agreed that Stevenson and his heirs were to have five hundred puffins (then a coveted article of food) yearly, which recompense however was after a time somewhat meanly, as it would seem, discontinued and refused.

In the eighteenth century, John Quayle, C.R., attempted in vain to acclimatise red deer and grouse, and fitted up a 'banqueting house.' It was during the Quayle holding that the fine sculptured stone, bearing a. representation, in Byzantine style, of the Crucifixion and now in Castle Rushen, was found on the site of a Keeil on the summit of the islet, over the western cliffs. The remains of building now at this place can hardly be those of this chapel, and there seems to be no trace either of it or its enclosure. Is there any authority for identifying this, as the Ordnance Survey does, with Bushel's House. It seems a most comfortless site for a dwelling. Blundell (1648) says that Bushel led a hermit life in the cave of a hollow rock, and mentions 'his pendant bed, such as the hammock of a ship.' In 1789 the islet had, as now, but one inhabited house, tenanted, as Townley tells us, only by an old man and his old wife, who guarded the rabbits and puffins, 'two main articles of traffic and profit belonging to the island.' Rabbits have continued to our own time to be an article of traffic; puffins (i.e. sea parrots) still abound, but the more famous Calf puffin (the Manx shearwater, Alumnus Anglorum) is long extinct.

Jenkinson, one of the most observant of our guide book writers, says 'close to the sound, and on the northern shore of the Calf of Man, is a circle of upright slabs of slate, larger than any similar circle in the Isle of Man'. I mention this because the relic seems to be unnoticed by any other writer. The most pleasant part of the Calf, as a habitable place, is the ravine opening south from the farm house to the coast. In it are a few small trees, and an old mill-building and its dam. On the Ordnance sheet this ravine is called 'The Leodan,' which is simply 'the glen,' with the curious intrusive D, often met with in the speaking and writing of Manx words. The ellision of the initial G also throws light on the origin, which puzzled Mr. Moore, in the name of the Lhen, or Lhen Moar, in Andreas, which has undoubtedly the same meaning, and is so understood in the neighbourhood, that being emphatically 'the valley' of the district.

The Calf has to east and west respectively, two fine outlying masses of rock, the Burrow and the Stack. The Burrow is richly clothed with vegetation, and has many gulls, both herring and black-backed nesting on it. On its summit are curious traces of building, never scientically investigated, and of uncertain purpose. The Stack, a barren double pyramid, is on the landward side very steep, and on the ledge on this, overlooking the deep, narrow strait, is a fine Guillemot colony. The Stack is easy of access from a boat. On it you may actually walk amongst nesting Razorbills. Opposite, are the steepest and most impressive, though not the highest cliffs of the Calf, with the two abandoned lighthouses on their summit, and another Kittewake settlement at their base.

Kione Roanyr, the north-east point of the Calf, has also very steep sides, with many sea-birds, and a long narrow chasm, Ghow Yearn, opens behind it.

Compared with the eastern coast of the Mull promontory, its western side, that from the Sound to Port Erin, attracts little attention. It is almost wanting, strange to say, in sea-bird life, but it has some high precipices, and at Aldrick a repetition on a small scale, of the phenomena at the Chasms, deeply-rent and fissured brows of rock. The name of 'Bay Fine' for another inlet is explained by fishermen as owing to its shelter from every wind. A creek on the Calf has the same name, for the same reason.

As Port Erin is approached, the view of the lovely bay, with Bradda beyond, is very fine, were only the new lodging-houses less aggressive.

Port Erin is almost without history. The very meaning of its name is uncertain. Its face has been its fortune. Yet it retains its ancient holy well, Saint Catherine's, in good preservation, and there are still traces, somewhat hidden away, of the old fishing hamlet, which was its original. We may hope that time will tone down the newer features while it does not alter the striking outlines of the hilly background nor the charm of the cultured country below, with its many pleasant farms and villages. The district of detached villas to the north has in it a little promise. Port Erin will not again be a primitive place, but it may take an aspect more tasteful and dignified.


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