A Walk to the Top of Douglas Head.

When the tourist has become acquainted with the town, visited the Old and New Piers, the Promenade, and the Iron Pier, he should walk to the top of Douglas Head, the promontory on the south side of the harbour.

Here, after a short pleasant stroll, he will obtain a magnificent view of the town and bay of Douglas, the principal mountains in the island, and a glorious expanse of sea, with the heights of Cumberland and Wales in the distance. Once having visited this spot it will in all probability become his favourite haunt ; and if the weather be fine he will be amply repaid for the slight toil of the ascent, by the grand panoramic prospect, and the invigorating effect of the pure breezy atmosphere.

On the top of the headland is the Douglas Head Hotel, which is crowned with a round tower, and is a prominent object when seen from the bay. Although this hotel is situated in so commanding a position few persons take up their abode here, it being used principally as a day-house, where refreshments are obtained by the numerous visitors who daily, during the season, wend their way to the summit of the hill.

The south side of the Quay may be gained by crossing the river at the Douglas Bridge, or by ferry-boats, which ply at three places ; one near the Steam Packet Office, another at the Market Square, and a third a little higher up, at the Fleetwood Corner. At the ebb of the tide the ferrymen erect temporary footbridges for their passengers. The charge for crossing the ferry is a halfpenny each person. During the winter months the first boat is discontinued.

When over the river the road runs to the left, by the South Quay, and at the gas works branches and gradually ascends, and passes close by some large quarries in the slate rock, the principal source whence the supply of stone for the buildings of Douglas was obtained.

Presently there is a good view of the bay and the principal buildings of the town ; also the Old, New, and Iron Piers, Tower of Refuge, Castle Mona Hotel, and Onchan village.

Passing Taubman’s Terrace on the right, and on the left some gardens, a photographic gallery, Fort William, and Fort Anne tower, a road branches to Fort Anne Hotel.

The road bends to the right and ascends steeply, with the Douglas Head Hotel a fine object directly in front. After passing the back entrances to the private residences of Ravenscliffe House and Harold Tower, a lane on the left is observed, which conducts to the Port Skillion gentlemen’s bathing-place. A few yards beyond the lane the tourist will be struck by the great beauty of the view of the town and of the bay, which is of surpassing excellence, and perhaps of its kind equal to any in the British Isles.

The new breakwater, the jetty, and the Old and New Piers are seen jutting into the water, and the Tower of Refuge is a pretty object on the Conister Rocks. Harold Tower, Ravens-cliffe, Fort Anne Hotel, and Fort William are close to on the left. Commencing at the Old Pier are the Imperial Hotel, St. Barnabas’ Church, the Court House, St. George’s Church, two Independent Chapels, St. Mary’s Chapel, Scotch Kirk, House of Industry, and St. Thomas’ Church, with many noble-looking terraces rising from the shore one above another to the top of the high ground. Behind these, in the distance, are seen the Asylum, and the Grand Stand on the Race Course. Glancing back to the shore the eye wanders past the well-timbered grounds of Villa Marina and the Castle Mona Hotel, to the Crescent, Strathallan, Derby Castle, and Onchan village and church. Beyond Derby Castle are seen the tempting little creeks of Port-e-Vadda and Port Jack, and on the farther side of Onchan harbour are the headlands of Bank’s Howe and Clay Head. High above all these are the mountains Greeba, Slieu Beay, Colden, Carraghan, Pen-y-Pot, and Snaefell.

Whesi the open ground is reached, by keeping near the edge of the cliff some pretty peeps may be had down the wild picturesque rocks, where the sea is constantly dashing and forming beautiful silvery spray. The grounds are bounded by a wooden fence, covered with thorns, and there is a notice-board warning persons not to trespass. On the other side of the fence is a game preserve. It is to be regretted that visitors are prevented strolling any farther along the cliffs and rocks, for there are some delightful nooks. One, which is situated about ¼ mile beyond the fence, is named the Pigeon’s Cove ; near to it is an opening called Quirk’s Cave, in which, about thirty years ago, resided a stonemason named Quirk, an eccentric character ; and not far distant is a cleft down which once went a hare followed by a whole pack of hounds ; a man on horseback was in close pursuit, but fortunately the horse saw the danger and leaped over the gulf, which to this day bears the name of the Horse Leap. Near the same spot there are the Nuns’ Chairs, two hollow rocks, resembling elbow-chairs, one above the other, in which it is said the nuns of the adjacent convent were occasionally punished in ancient times.

" On the slightest accusation," so runs the story, " the poor nun was brought to the foot of the rock, when the sea had ebbed, and was obliged to climb to the first chair, where she had to remain till the tide again flowed and ebbed twice. ‘ihose who had given a greater cause of suspicion were obliged to ascend to the second chair, and to sit there for the same space of time. Anyone who endured the trial, and descended unhurt, was cleared of all aspersion that had been thrown upon her. Such a lengthened exposure to the elements probably occasioned the death of many of these unfortunate sisters. We are elsewhere told, that if the sentence of death were passed against a female she was sewed up in a sack, and thrown from the top of the rock into the sea. This must have been the Tarpeian rock of the Isle of Man."

These Chairs, the Horse Leap, Pigeon’s Cove, and Quirk’s Cave can be reached in a small boat from Douglas, and they may be seen by those who go by boat to Port Soderick.

At the Douglas Head Hotel is a bowling-green. The charge for admission to the green is 3d. each person. There is also a dancing platform, open during the season from three to ten o’clock, admission 3d., a quadrille band being in attendance. Archery, Aunt Sally, and quoits are also advertised as forming part of the amusements of the place. in the rooms of the hotel is a valuable lot of antiquities and curiosities, and on the outside of the building may be seen a working model of the big wheel at Laxey. Persons are allowed to enter the rooms and inspect the curiosities, whether they spend anything in the hotel or not. The tower is built on the site, and partly composed, of an ancient landmark.

No one ought to visit Douglas Head without descending to the point where is situated the lighthouse, and there watch the sea breakers rushing furiously amongst the wild and contorted rocks. At all times it is a fine sight, but at full tide and in rough weather it is indeed magnificent. A path extends a short distance amongst the rocks, and allows of good vantage points being obtained.

Two keepers and their families reside at the Douglas Head lighthouse. Strangers may visit the building any week-day between sunrise and sunset, without charge. Few will, however, take advantage of the privilege, and give so much trouble, without offering a small recompense. The lighthouse was built in 1833 by the Insular Harbour Board, and was handed over to the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners in 1859. It is about 80 feet high, and has a reflecting white light and an Argand burner, visible 16 miles off.

A path behind a wall leads from the lighthouse to the secluded little creek of Port Skillion, which is a few yards distant. This is a delightful bathing-place, and specially prepared with a concrete platform for the bathers.

" Here the bold swimmer plunges to display
The cunning of his art ; with arms spread wide,
Head, breast erect, he buffets with the spray."

The improvements have been made for the public generally, but more especially for visitors to the island. They were commenced in 1870, and continued at intervals during that year and the years 1871—72—73. The undertaking has been a voluntary work, and involved an outlay of between 6001. and 7001., 5001. of which have been advanced by the promoter and designer, Mr. R. Archer, Douglas. To complete the improvements further contemplated about 2001. more will be required. The sea-water at Port Skillion is remarkable for its purity, the bottom being discernible at a depth of more than twenty feet. The concrete piers are 336 feet in extent, and are so planned that swimmers can plunge into the deep water at any state of the tide. There is also a platform for the convenience of bathers, from which they can plunge into the sea when the water is at various heights. The place during the season is in charge of competent persons, who supply towels and bathing drawers at 1d. each, besides lock-up dressing-boxes at a charge of 2d. Persons not requiring the loan of these can bathe free of charge. During the summer months a ferry-boat plies regularly between this point and the Old Pier, and parties can also arrive or leave at the adjoining lighthouse landing-stage.

To regain the road some steps have to be ascended to the Battery, on the platform ofwhich are two 32-pound guns. They are used by the Douglas Volunteer Artillery Corps, which numbers 120 men, and is commanded by Captain Joseph Torrance. It is the only Volunteer Artillery Corps on the Island, and there is only one Rifle Volunteer Corps, viz. that at Douglas, numbering 80 men, under Captain James Spittall. In 1816 a small fort was made at this spot, the only trace of which is a portion of an old wall. Close to the Battery is the Powder Magazine, and here the tourist overlooks the concrete breakwater, which is in course of construction. The workmen are observed quarrying the stone, mixing the sand and cement, and making the blocks. A fine view is obtained of Fort Anne Hotel, and its beautifully-wooded grounds. There are also spread before the spectator the pier and harbour, and most of the town and bay of Douglas.

On again reaching the road, Fort Anne Hotel may be visited. It is a large house seated in a pleasant position, and commands an excellent view of the town and its bay. The breakwater, jetty, Old and New piers, and the Tower of Refuge are immediately below. There are two cannons placed in front of the house ; but the one which is fired when the steamers are entering the harbour from Liverpool and Barrow is much smaller, and kept indoors. The hotel will accornmodate sixty visitors. It was built as a private residence by the eccentric Thomas Whalley, usually called Buck Whalley, some 70 years since, was subsequently the residence of Sir William Hillary, Bart., and then was converted into an hotel.

When the South Quay is reached, it is advisable, before crossing the river, to walk to the jetty, which was built in 1837, of limestone. The men in the small boats stationed at the end of the breakwater, supply air to the divers who are working under the water and busily preparing the foundation. The divers generally commence work in summer at about 6 AM. and leave at 5 P.M., remaining below two hours at a time. Strangers are not permitted to visit the breakwater on land without leave, but a boat may be taken to where the men are at work. When the break-water is finished it will be 1000 feet long, 50 feet thick, and 38 feet above low-water spring tides. At the outer end there will be a circular head and lighthouse. The estimated cost is 114,0001. A sea-wall of similar materials is being built on the south side of the harbour, forming an approach to the breakwater 45 feet wide. Sir John Coode, CE., London, is the engineer-in-chief, and Wm. Powell, Esq., C.E., Fort Anne Tower, Douglas, is the resident engineer.

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Douglas Head

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2000