[From Ramsey Church Magazine 1896-7]
[by J Quine]
The largest rivers of the Island-the Douglas, the Glen Faba, the Sulby, the Laxey. and the Silverburn having towns and harbours at the mouths, no longer enter the sea in the ways of primaeval freedom, The Manx harbours are tidal, and are all picturesque: but in the harbour the river is lost.
Of the free and unfettered streams, the largest are the Lhen, the Santon, the Glenmeay, and the Cornaa : and these streams meet the sea in solitudes more solitary than the scene of the song-
I knew by the smoke that so gracefully curled
Above the green elms that a cottage was near ;
And I said if there's peace to be found in the world.
A heart that is humble might meet with. it here.
A line of sand dunes extends along the N,W. coast of Jurby and Andreas, clothed with turf and tufts of bent that scarce save the sandy soil from the abrasion of the sea winds. By a gap in the dunes the Lhen finds exit to the sea. On the slopes of the gap is a scattered hamlet. The coast road on the ridge of the dunes dips at the gap to cross the river, by a grey and lichen-crusted bridge. Above the bridge is a mill, with mill dust on windows and doors, and ferns dripping moist in the wheel pit and on the mill wall. It is a place with a modest air of antiquity. Four centuries ago Gilbert McHelly, the miller of Lanmore, and tenant of the fresh water fishery in the Lhen river, was also coroner of the shearing of Ayre. The rent of his mill was 20s, equal to that of a quarter-land farm ; and he paid for the privileged office of coroner the sum of 60s. The cottages around have sea gear much in evidence-boats, oars, nets, lines and fishing creels.
Below the bridge the river bends northwards. The slopes sweep smoothly down to the lips of the languid stream. Ribands of seaweed, corks torn from fishing floats, and the powder of dried foam are on the grass- floated in when stormy spring tides have swept over the beach and invaded the river channel. The beach forms a shingly bar- over which and through which the river spreads itself and in slender shallowness flows down to meet the tide; and the only trace of human neighbourhood is a winch fixed to stout posts, for hauling boats up on the beach.
The "river foot " of the Santon is a contrast to the Lhen in all ways but one, viz. that loneliness of the sea- shore intensified by the presence of a river-the sadness of the end, of the finite visibly and consciously losing itself in the infinite, a life losing itself in a greater life. Santon river finds its exit to the sea, not through a gentle gap in sandy dunes, but through a fierce tortuous ravine between sheer cliffs, clothed with the ivy that loves the sea, stunted sloe bushes, grass, fern, briars, and gorse. There are, throughout the sunless ravine, waterbreaks, sharps, shallows, twists and turns ; and deep pools at rocky corners. Adventurous feet, through many a century, have worn into smoothness the steps by which one can turn the corners above the pools, and round the bends at the base of the cliffs. Against the sea beach of a creek, closed in by rocks, the river is dammed into a long pool, in which wrack and tangle lie on the oozy bottom At the end of the pool the river breaks strongly through the dam of shingle, and flows impetuously into the tumbling billows. Round this creek the cliffs rise so high that the fields above are out of sight. The only trace of human neighbourhood is a zig-zag cart track down the steep on the north side, and a heap of wrack harvested among the rocks, out of reach of the highest tides.
The exit to the sea of the Gleanmeay river is not wholly unlike that of the Santon : inasmuch as it too passes through a ravine; but the way is straight and the descent more rapid, and on the river bank is a road. Down the easy descent one hurries beside the brawling riverstraight to the visible sea. The river delays not to burst out and and spread itself on the shingle and sand, and is lost, ere it meets the salt wash hoarsely calling to welcome it.
But here is less of the feeling of loneliness. Here is a new joy in the far extending strand, and the wider expanse of sea and coast,
The Cornaa is different from all these. The valley is open, with a broad river flat, the vista inland has woods on the slopes, farmhouses ,and cultivated fields in the middle distance, and beyond soaring high the purple ridge and skiey summit of North Barrule. The river flats are much encumbered with" gorse and delightful perplexities of mazy paths. At the seaward end the river settles within a prodigious mole of shingle, heaped so high as to shut out the view of the sea; and when a steamer passes along the coast one sees only the moving masts. Around the flank of this mole the river turns, and with rock on one side and shingle on the other, enters the sea by a deep tidal channel. On the top of the shingle is a shed and signal post. Around the side of the Barony hill on the south comes a file of telegraph poles that stop at the signal post. It is the point where the telegraph wire joins the submarine cable to England, There is not a brighter and sunnier valley in the Island. It is a place of solitude, but not of loneliness. The lofty mountains make it seem very low down; and the wide flats also help to cause the same feeling.
On the Cornaa river there was once a little port-when the farmers of Maughold kept herring boats of their own, and prosecuted the " back fishing " in the months of August and September. But every trace of that time has been obliterated. A mass of masonry some distance inland, the arrested Bellite Factory, gives a suggestion of old activities decayed. Nature is already softening the harshness of the crude building, and making it part of itself.
A characteristic of Manx roads is that the lines of the most ancient main road. have been abandoned at successive epochs for new lines on the same route ; and that in all parts of the Island the old roads remain-anon intersecting the new, anon trending away, it may be on the heights above or on the opposite side of the valley.
In the matter of the picturesque the primitive roads are by far the finest. The Island, with its hundred streams crossed by a multiplicity of roads, has, of course, innumerable bridges: but on the old roads there still survive not a few fords, with sometimes a footway of stepping stones-more commonly with foot bridges alongside. They are all pathetically picturesque. A musing hour spent on these foot bridges will be enough to preserve the scene in memory for ever.
Where was the ancient Sulby-the Scandinavian or pre-Scandinavian town? Most probably the hamlet of thatched cottages, midway between the Sulby Glen Station Hotel and the Starch Mill. The lane comes from the Gob-y-Volly side, crosses the modern road and goes to the river. Across the river it emerges on the Claddagh. At this point the river is some twenty yards across, and flows with a strong stream over a shingly bottom. The footbridge is upstream, strong and plain, not old enough yet to be picturesque. It is doubtful if there were ever stepping stones at this ford. The road on both sides slopes steeply into the river. The claddagh has been from time immemorial the scene of Sulby Fair. When fairs were fairs indeed ; when the claddagh was dotted with drinking tents, and crowded with cattle and Manx ponies, and carrane-shod Manxmen, clad in thick blue Manx frieze or brown homespun, shouting in hoarse high- pitched guttural, this ford for one day in the year at least, was a busy passage. The carts, loaded with women and children tired with the day of: pleasure, leaving the fair, must have jolted terribly down the slope, and sunk in the stream to the axles.
The ford is under the precipitous steeps of mountains dark in the afternoon shadows, but from the high foot bridge the outlook northward is over a sunny plain, and across willowy fiats to the tower of Kirk Andreas, and the low undulation of the Kirk Bride hills. Ash trees and sycamores, grow at the bases of the mountains and line the streams that come down the ravines on their sides, Gorse blooms in victorious possession along the river. Down stream is the high-pitched arch of Sulby Bridge, indicating where the modern highroad farther out on the plain, bends around this little corner and leaves it alone to keep its ancient air of the primitive days of the the Island.
Ballaugh also has an ancient village no less convincing than old Sulby, viz., at the Dollagh on the N.W. side of the river a little way from modern Ballaugh, and near the road to Ballaugh old church. The Dollagh has a small village common, and is approached by a ford and stone foot bridge. This stone is a mighty slab that makes the passenger pause as he sets his foot on it, and wonder from what quarry it was brought, and by what giant hands. The stream underneath is slender and gentle, spreading out into a shallow oval where the ford crosses it below the bridge. The houses at the Dollagh stand in irregular order round the three sides of the common, bounded on its fourth side by the river. This place is on a flat between the old highroad across the sandy dunes of Broogh Jairg on the sea side and the modern highroad along the base of the inland mountains.
Three churches are in sight; and the tower of the old church down at the shore cuts the horizon of a strip of sea out of which rises, like a purple flat-topped island, the Mull of Galloway. Finally one's eye rests on the gorse that lines the river banks clinging as to a remnant of its ancient undisputed heritage.
Near St. John's, to the west of Tynwald Hill, on a road of unknown antiquity, branching off to the left from Bishop Wilson's highroad and going through the fields to Poortown, is a most picturesque ford. It is on the lower part of the Rhenass River. It might well pass for the most secluded and quiet spot on the Island. The timber around the mansion-houses of Glyn Moar and Ballachrink shut it in. Slieu-whallin looks down on it. The splash of the mill-wheel at Bal-na-awin mill and a glimpse of the whitewashed mill gable indicate the kind of human neighbourhood.
Once over the shallow of the ford the waters are narrowed again, and break over a rapid underneath the footbridge. The lane beyond is narrow and sinuous between high banks, a paradise of primroses and violets, and seems to lead only further and further away from the world.
Are not Abana and Pharpar rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Seemingly not. What is there about the Rhenass river more than any ordinary river ?
You'll get leave. There's something anyway." It comes from the fairy haunted waterfalls. In its pools the Dippers baptized their disciples. Its waters have an invisible clearness. Do, but look, But there is something more. This lane is the way to the house of Nan Wade, a "wise woman " in her day, only less famous than the great "wise men" of the North-of Ballawhane and Ballajockey. This lane has had its passengers going to her house for sage advice and "herbs." The wise woman is dead, and the lane is untrodden.
Further down from the ford the invisible clearness of this sweet river is sullied by the lead-polluted and turbid waters of Foxdale.
The Old Castletown Road, a coach road of not long ago, crosses the Santon River by a ford, with a foot-bridge. It is in the open valley overlooked from the Castletown side by the new road which refuses " that way across the valley, and by the railroad, which takes still another, course. The descent on the Douglas side by Mullen-e Quinney is steep enough: but on the Castletown side it is monstrous;. The coach must have slidden down with chocked wheels, rather than ventured to roll. But the Santon Chronicler will have it that the old Jehus went down at a gallop. The ford itself is quiet and easy enough-the river moving unruffled out of along pool to warble over the shallow with scarce audible music. Underneath the foot-bridge, hangs by swaying chains, a long railing to hinder poetical cows from following the river downwards to the grassy flats below. At the top of the brae, towards Douglas, was the parish " pin- pound;" and on the easement of waste beside it, at the north of a cross-road, once the highroad at 'goodness knows what period' was the scene of Kirk Santon fair.
" Many's the bloody war that's took place here," said the chronicler. "There was fighting enough at that fair : and the men rolling down the 'brew' together till they tumbled into the river." Clearly all "prowesse" was not put down by Sir John Stanley in the 15th Century.
In a lingering backward glimpse at Santon River ford one notes that the strongest feature in the landscape is the air of mystery in the view down the valley towards the ravine near the sea. The river sinks deeper and deeper while the uplands on both sides rise into bare and wind-swept heights of cultivated fields with hard lines of stone walls, the only break to their bareness. '
In picturesque literature nothing has been treated more delightfully than rural mills, e.g., in "The Miller of Angibault," " Folle Farine," "The Mill on the Floss," and that mill in one of the short stories of R. L. Stevenson's " Merry Men." The Isle of Man is surpassingly rich in the number and variety of its old mills. The past conditions of Island life made our corn-mills important and numerous. The configuration of our glens and streams make them picturesque. The present conditions of life are tending to let them fall into disuse and decay. They are still picturesque, with an element of pathos, too visible where the broken wheel is seen in the dry-wheel- pit, and pigeons cluster and coo no more on the roof, as for example at the upper mill at Glenmeay, and Grenaby Mill in Malew.
Not reckoning woollen-mills and threshing-mills, but corn-mills only, there are between forty and fifty of them, nearly all of great antiquity. Thirty one of the existing mills are mentioned in the Manx Rent Roll of 1510, not including the Abbey mills which of course were in existence at the same period. No one can say how often they have been rebuilt since 400 years ago ; but the sites, the mill-races, the damheads, everything, are identically the same,
Of the southside mills the most picturesque are those of Kentraugh, Colby, and Grenaby ; perhaps also the Abbey mill at Ballasalla. Coming northwards there are two, each in their own way delighfully picturesque, viz., that of Ballahawin, near St. John's, called in the Rent Roll the "Mill of Tynwald" ; and Mullen-e-Cly, called in the Rent Roll the " Mill of Ballahigg," from the Treen land on which it stands. The Carlane mill and the Lhen mill, or as it is in the Rent Roll, the "Mill of Lanmore," on the coast of Jurby and Andreas respectively, both stand in slight depressions in the sandy dunes, the outlets of the curragh trenches.
One of the gems of this picturesque portfolio is the Cornaa mill in Maughold. It nestles low down beside the river on the Old Road over the Rhenab. There is a rude bulwark across the river, and above it a shallow ford. The mill race passes under the road, bridged with slate flags wedged from the riverside rocks in Ballaglass Glen. Below the mill is a fine salmon pool. The mill of Cornaa belonged in 1510 to John McCristen, of Altadale or Glen Auldyn, in Lezayre, who was at that time Deemster, and the most considerable person in the north of the island. In the days when the Kirk Maughold farmers kept their own fishing boats at Cornaa Harbour, and followed the "back" herring fishing in the months of August and September, the Cornaa was a place of consequence.
The two mills of Glenmeay claim partital mention. They have each features quite their own. One is on the open flat where Glen Rushen expands widest and is joined by another glen called the Sound, overlooked by the ruined church of Keill Worrey or St. Mary's. Lower down Glen Rushen contracts into the ravine of Glen Meay ; and its river drops by a steep stairway of cascades, the last of which is the Waterfall. At the head of this stairway is Glen Meay hamlet: and at this point is the second mill, its wheel down in the river chasm. The old horsepath to Dalby passes by its gable, and climbs the hillside by steps worn in the blue rock. The mill-dam is across the highroad, and a race passes under the road, just like that at Cornna in Maughold.
The mills that artists have painted most are Sulby, Baldwin, and Groudal.
Passing along the highroad through Sulby the village street gives no suggestion of the picturesque. Sulby Mill must be seen from the Claddagh side. From that point of view the backs of the houses, the gardens, and their. regular walls of the whitewashed mill with their multitudinous reflctions broken on the mirror of the water, compose into a singularly charming picture. This is one of Mr Nicholson's favourite spots. To compare lesser things with greater it is like Twickenham on the Thames, where the town street is ordinary and commonplace, but overlooking the river as seen from Twickenham Ferry is famous for its romantic beauty.
Baldwin Mill is another favourite subject with artists. Baldwin The incidental details of this view are all delightful - the millwheel rising high against grey walls; the little kiln with pyramid roof and wooden cupola; the odd irregular windows ; the ash trees along the steep banks ; the bridge and the vista of the vista of the glen with peeps of the gables, chimneys and stackyards of the upland farms.
Unhappily Groudal Mill is no more ; or rather, transformed into modernness by cement, it is now an engine-house for the water works, with tall chimney and cemented reservoir beside it. But the old mill as it was, lives still in one of Mr Nicholson's very best pictures, a small water-colour, in which the quiet grey of the lichened and weather-stained walls were seen and painted in an hour of poetic inspiration, as if with a premonition of being an historic record of a vanishing past.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2007