Or, in Manx: Ellan Vaninn, or simply Mann, not that we heard a word spoken spontaneously save one of the musicians in the Tynwald Hill pub in St Johns saying if it’s a tune for a Manx dance (a sort of gentle morris) then you should use its Manx title. It’s the land of my great-great-grand father (of whom more later) but I didn’t know much about it. Just spent a week there. Got blown away; it was windy. Rained too, but we had our sunny and fine enough days, sunny half-days. Shame about no clear nights; they say the sky at night is really something too.
From left to right, Castletown Station on the Steam Railway, Peel Castle, the Laxey Wheel and a T-shirt from ttdesigns that I bought because I fancied acknowledging that 16th of my DNA from Manx stock. It’s not so much a strange place as slightly off kilter. You see the three legs symbol everywhere. It’s possible, I think, to describe it as being futuristic in an old-fashioned way, the sort of thing a designer might come up with for old science fiction films. Which in a way is a bit like the island itself. Steam punk? It’s a contradiction, but where else could you (well, could I) find excitement in a view like this, from the faded holiday glory – mixed with its current regeneration it must be said – of Douglas’s seafront:
The electric railway! The Manx Electric Railway started in 1893 and two of the original trams are still in operation today; the youngest started work in 1906. It links the east coast towns and villages. There’s a branch line – the Snaefell Mountain Railway that clanked and creaked and rattled us to the top of the island’s highest point – at 2034 ft not technically a mountain – with great charm. The Isle of Man Steam Railway in the south, also on 3ft gauge, also has period compartment carriages, and engagingly licks along at speed with a fair head of steam.
Because it’s an island you are never far from all aspects of its history. Abandoned mines – lead, zinc, copper mainly – are plainly visible, a bleak prospect, bleaker still when you consider the miners’ lives, from inland roads. Came across the Cross Vein Mine – “popularly known as Snuff the Wind” – on the day Donovan was on the BBC morning news programme (modestly talking up his place in music history, no doubt – I only caught the tail end); his ‘Catch the wind’ will never seem the same again (not that it was ever a favourite).
In no particular order, few of my other favourite things:
- the seals at the Point of Ayre, almost as curious about us as we were of them, and the gannets diving straight down into the water for fish
- the abundant swallows zooming about where we stayed
- fuchsia hedges, a wide landscape all sorts of green, some great views, helpful people
- Fairybridge Bitter & Peel’s bustling and accommodating Creek Inn, where they also had a ginger ale on the pumps
- the memorial plinth at Castletown’s centre, raised by public subscription, but they couldn’t stretch to the man’s actual statue; a decent stone circle too, elsewhere
- the beaches and coves, the sometimes wild waves, rainbows in the waves’ mist, the colours in the sea
- the brown Loaghtan sheep
- the lemon drizzle cake at Brown’s on Ham and Egg Terrace at Laxey, near:
- the Laxey Wheel, a wonder of Victorian engineering; don’t know what the Lady Isabella (the living wife of a VIP) felt about giving her name to it though
- the state of the art iMuseum in Douglas, a stunning local and family history digital resource; public service cuts, what cuts?
- the bikers coming onto the island for TT practice week (the week before the actual motorbike races, when anyone can ride the circuit) as we were leaving it; no country, it seems, for young men
The book I took with me (another time) had a passage in it where they poached eggs – an old scouting trick, apparently – in hollowed out orange halves. When Val (Manx bred and a Manx dancer to boot) fancied a poached egg and bemoaned the lack of Lakeland silica poachpods I said what I’d just read. We had oranges! – and a fine breakfast we had of it on the week’s worst morning of weather. Hi Val and Paul, & thanks.
It’s Val too who tells of the Manx shrug of a phrase, “Traa dy lioar.” The closest I can get to anything like saying it is “trader law”, which isn’t quite right either, but is at least in the spirit of the thing, given that it translates as, “Time enough,”; maybe also something like, “It’ll do,” or “It’s good enough.”
I mentioned a great-great-grandfather. Here’s a bit of a mystery, tales to be told. Any help appreciated. Early nineteenth century, Thomas Quayle & Ann née Lace had a farm of 70 acres at Ballamylgyn, in the parish of Lonan. We found the farm; some of the original buildings are still there. They had 5 sons and a daughter, but the farm ended up with the youngest of the men, so who knows what happened there. The second oldest son, John Q, was born in Lonan in 1818 or 1819, but by 1841 had emigrated to Liverpool. (The basic stark choice for most men on the island was farming, the mine, the sea or emigration). In 1848 he travels to the USA from Le Havre on the ship Augusta with someone listed as Emma Quayle. In America later that year he had a son, John Q again, variously listed in censuses as born in New York or New Jersey. JQ père & Emma are back in the UK having another son, Alfred, in Glasgow in 1850 and a daughter, Matilda, in Cheshire in 1852. And then in December of the same year he’s marrying an Emma (Cottam, probably the same one who travelled to the US) in Paddington. Later they’re living in Cardiff before settling down in South London. What’s the story?