Glen Helen

Glen Helen

One of the most visited glens during the height of the Victorian and early Edwardian period. Jenkinson writing in 1874 gives the history of its development:

It is a pleasant drive through the narrow secluded glen, but there is nothing of special interest until the beautiful miniature Suspension Bridge and the Swiss Cottage are reached. Here the scenery is remarkably beautiful ; hills covered with foliage rise on every hand, and the crystal stream winds pleasantly at their feet.

Glen Helen Entrance and bridge

The Suspension Bridge is a very pretty object. It spans the river, and leads to the slate quarries, which were opened five years ago, and are now extensively worked.

Suspension Bridge (Phillips c. 1875)

These quarries, and also the lovely Swiss-like cottage and grounds around, belong to Mr. R. Bell, a Glasgow merchant. The slate is of a deep blue colour, and of a very durable material. It is principally used for roofing on the island ; the Kirk Braddan new church and other important buildings are covered with it, and occasionally there are consignments to Glasgow and other places. The slate being also suitable for tombstones, chimney-pieces, and cisterns, &c., works for dressing it have been erected close to the quarry, with a saw-mill driven by water power.

The Swiss Cottage was built about thirty years ago, as a private residence, by a Mr. Marsden, of Liverpool. It stands on a small rivulet, in which fish may occasionally be caught by holding a line out of one of the windows.

To Mr. Marsden the public are indebted for ornamenting, and thereby making this the most beautiful glen on the island. He planted about a million trees, and was awarded a premium by the managers of the Woods and Forests Department in England. Here is a variety of wood, such as Scotch fir, larch, sycamore, ash, oak, hazel, chestnut, &c., apparently in a thriving condition, thus proving that timber, the one great desideratum on the island, might be advantageously introduced, not only for its scenic effects, but also as a commercial speculation. It is to be hoped that some proprietors will follow Mr. Marsden’s example, and by planting beautify other glens, so as to make them vie with this most lovely spot.

After Mr. Marsden’s death the cottage passed through many hands, but fortunately for the visitor it is now tenanted by a Mr. Clague, formerly a confectioner in Douglas, who provides refreshments of every description. Almost all beverages not requiring a licence may be had, and there is always ready a supply of excellent cheese-cakes and home-made confectionery, with milk, eggs, &c., from the adjoining farm.

The tourist may enter the cottage free of charge, but to visit the grounds, where croquet, swings, skittles, and other sources of amusement are provided, the charge is 4d. each person, and this includes admission to the waterfall and grounds in the neighbourhood, where the traveller may enjoy himself and wander at his will. Tickets, 1s. each, also include trout-fishing in the stream, but Parties must provide their own tackle.

The Rhenass Fall is about a mile farther up the glen, the latter being called Glen Helen, after a daughter of Mr. Marsden. The best plan is to follow the path with the stream below on the right. A few hundred yards from the cottage is a summer-house, where a ril is seen descending the opposite bank and forming some pretty cascades. All the way up the glen the stream flows musically along a rugged bed strewn with large boulders, and hills rise on either side, those on the right being entirely covered with trees, but it is to be regretted that on the left there is hardly one remaining of the many formerly adding so materially to the beauty of the place. Most of them were destroyed by fire. The ground has been replanted within the last few months.

Rhenass Fall

Just where the stream divides into two branches, the water on the left hand winds through a narrow gorge and makes a descent of about 20 feet, forming the Rhenass Fall. The cascade itself f is not large, nor one of great beauty, but the picturesque rocks, and wooden bridge spanning the chasm, with the surrounding foliage, impart to the place an aspect in the highest degree romantic and pleasing. Here the lover of nature may loiter and muse for hours not unpleasantly.

Ascending by a winding path, and arriving at the top of the fall, the chasm is found to be spanned by two footbridges, where are wild picturesque rocks, through which the water eddies and rushes with loud deafening sound, and forms three or four other falls, which some will consider better than the one observed from below. Any feeling of disappointment that may have been felt by those who have expected the water to make a longer descent, will be succeeded by one of satisfaction and wonder, for every spectator on standing here and looking down the sylvan glen, with its beautiful silvery stream, must feel that he is gazing on a truly lovely scene, one which will bear comparison with any of a similar nature in the British Isles.

 Swiss Cottage was built by Henry Robinson; the manager John Clague (and part-owner William Quine) were staunch Methodists with a temperance agenda hence initial absence of alcohol until the company was sold. According to Peter Kelly the chalet was designed by James Cowle and built 1876. The Robinson connection might be behind a story that the Swiss Cottage Chalet was originally erected by the Mormons with lower rooms designed for baptising converts. This is stated as fact in Dearden and Russell's A Postcard tour of the I.O.M. vol 4 and hinted at by Canon Stenning in his County series book on Isle of Man. Henry Robinson, the builder, was a leading member of the Congregational church (which did believe in full imersion adult baptism) , his architect brother John's second wife had converted to Mormonism (though John never did), however by the mid 1850's the Mormons were a spent force and totally extinct on the Island by the 1890's, no Mormon biography mentions Glen Helen, thus I suspect it is a later invention - it may derive from John Quine's novel Captain of the Parish which deals with a mormon preacher and is set around Glen Helen.





Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001