23 October 2009
Back to the twilight years – of the Isle of Man Railways. Stan Basnett is an acclaimed transport enthusiast, photographer, writer and speaker so, if it hadn’t been for the Town Hall diversion, it might have been the first time we’d have to put up the ‘House Full’ sign. No one was disappointed - the evening sped by all too quickly.
Stan’s perfectly judged illustrated talk was based on his book, Trains of the Isle of Man, The Twilight Years. This is one of a series of titles - that on buses having just been published and featured in the Examiner. I hope to have the whole set on my shelves, eventually!
The geographical position and the geological importance of the Island were the starting points of the talk. The exploitation of the minerals required by the Industrial Revolution coupled with the notion of holidays rapidly increased Victorians’transport needs. Mining was putting impossible demands on horses and carts. Rock to be cleared and ore to be handled and shipped was crying out for railways and it all came together beautifully. The added bonus of passenger travel and the developing tourist trade gave a great lift to the whole enterprise. The central position in the middle of the Irish Sea meant easy access and short journey times.
The Peel line was the first to open, closely followed by Port Erin. Ramsey felt left out and, after some delay, a company was formed, called the Manx Northern Railway. This ran from the very busy junction at St Johns, with its mineral line up to the very important mines at Foxdale.
There are many books on the history of Manx railways, including the extensive tram system on the east coast and the once popular line along Marine Drive. Just a handful of Victorian entrepreneurs would get the whole lot sorted out, again for us. Just think of the number of vehicle journeys between Peel and Douglas that could be saved! Every village in between has been expanded along with the increased need for parcels and bulkier goods. We don’t need a ‘green’ lobby to persuade us of the advantages.
We have a very special, ‘members only’ evening at 7.45pm in the Centenary Centre, 19th November. This is to celebrate our 20th anniversary. If you are a member and need tickets, ring Bill Quine on 844938.
Pam Quine, 842234, has a few tickets left for our Christmas party at 7.30pm in the Corrin Hall on Tuesday, 15th December, but hurry!
16 October 2009
Psychic phenomenon apart, most of us can only be in one place at one time. A wonderful family holiday took us across for most of July, so I missed what proved to be a delightful walk up Colby Glen with Brian Rae. This trip is one that ought to be repeated. Thanks, Brian.
The Trust is at its most healthy during the summer with outdoor trips. The last of these adventures has just taken place with part two of our conducted tours around St Johns, with John Kennaugh.
A lovely evening saw the Arboretum car park full and John surrounded by a cheery throng, including many who had the benefit of sharing his childhood memories. This included my wife and her sister. I envy them and many of their friends who can still enjoy this sense of continuity and the sense of stability that it brings. What a contrast to the harum scarum, fragmented life that so many lead today!
John began by pointing out that the car park was once the farmyard to the house next door and that the single storied building on the other side was a slaughterhouse with the butchers next door. This was in pre-abattoir days when slaughtering was a natural part of the farming cycle. The original church school, now housing a Tynwald exhibition, was pointed out, as was the pinfold opposite where stray animals were penned until the owners paid a fine for their release. The church wasn’t a parish church, when built, the village being cared for by St German’s, now the cathedral, in Peel. The church was designated a Royal Chapel in 1961. This date was commented upon as Helen and I were told by Canon Dixon, that our marriage was the first event recorded in the new register. It’s good to be first, somewhere!
We looked at the boundary wall to the processional way, noting that a stone had been removed from the stile, in 1945, to save King George V1 and his Queen from having to climb over. This is opposite the start for the original TT. Plaques commemorate this on the walls of Nikki and Nigel’s splendid restaurant, due to open at any moment.
Crossing the road we passed over our stolen railways at St John’s junction, furiously busy for many years with the Peel – Douglas, St John’s to Ramsey and Foxdale lines. What madness grips the minds that fail to revive the Douglas link, at least. Multi-storey car parks and fancy traffic schemes probably cost more – certainly environmentally!
From the Patrick Road we crossed the Foxdale line, descending into the glorious but under-visited Forestry park, noting the splendid shooting range at one end and the new DAFF headquarters nearing completion.
Just enough space to mention the 14thc, courthouse opposite the football and cricket clubs and the mill, behind, before recording, once again, our thanks to John.
How do we manage to keep discovering new and wondrous things to visit and enjoy? Is this part of the magic that is Peel, glowing in its gorgeous setting? Is it the fascinating history reaching back into the most ancient of times, wreathed in mists of legend and lore? What we do know, is that our lives are too short, to encompass it all. One certain strength is our people and the wonderful welcome they always extend. This was demonstrated, once again, when Paul and Fiona Russell invited us to tour their wonderful Glenfaba Mill.
For only the second time in the Trust’s history, we had to limit this visit to members only, the first being a visit to the Merchant’s House, in Castle Street, to view the restoration works, now continuing with one of our daughters. We felt that we could be overwhelmed and we nearly were! There must have been nearly seventy members present.
The evening was hot and sunny, the setting, by the River Neb, exquisite and the famous Peel welcome at its best.
Paul and Fiona Russell have really thrown themselves into caring for this lovely building and the machinery it still contains. Fortuitously, they had recently enjoyed a visit from a group of mill conservationists so this gave them a bit of a start. The level of interest was high, as many of us had longed for years to get inside this fascinating set of buildings, dating from 1850. A goodly number of us had visited Canon John Sheen’s working mill at Kentraugh, generously open from time to time, so our appetites were whetted. The glorious prospect of seeing the wheel repaired and turning once more was in all our minds, as was the prospect of what could be achieved from the power of the river, including ‘free’ electricity!
As we climbed, floor by floor, we appreciated the many functions that were necessary, as well as milling the grain. This included drying in a kiln. Damp grain would just make a paste and clog the stones. Remember, we are looking at a pre-grain dryer era. If this was not watched, carefully, with the hot grain being regularly turned, it could and sometimes did, ignite, sending flames out of the windows!
Oats were milled, as well as wheat and quantities of pearl barley, an essential in Manx broth. Each product required its own equipment and specialised techniques. A constant need was the requirement to dress the stones to make sure that they milled efficiently with the all-important radiating grooves retained. The control of the water supply is essential.
There are some excellent websites on mills and milling and good publications on Manx mills.
Refreshments and photographs were on sale, to help in the continuing restoration work, which we happily commend and support. Congratulations and thanks, Paul and Fiona.
Following his training as a forester, Peter tried a variety of work until this post came up, eight years ago. He has made a point of always having a camera with him and shared some of these delightful scenes with us. They ranged from distant sea views to a close-up of a frozen waterfall with a mass of star-like spikes.
A surprise, for many, was the number of abandoned houses deep in the plantations, as well as the abandoned crofts and tholtans more visible on open hillsides. Some of these gave pause for thought, certainly in current planning philosophy.
The slide show, admirably presented, was based on the series of twelve pamphlets Peter has produced under the title, Warden’s Walks. They are cleverly graded in degrees of difficulty, with 1 being the most gentle in Ballaglass to the most demanding in distance and steepness, number 12, the Hiker’s Trail. The time and distance is on the outer cover, varying from 2 miles and 1 hour to 11miles and 6-7 hours. An easy to follow map is on the inside with way points clearly marked, accompanied by directions at each point. There’s even a page of what to look out for. The three grades of difficulty are rather amusing – Muscle Loosener, Muscle Stretcher and Muscle Builder! Don’t be put off – you can dip into a section, perhaps with transport at each end.
Most of the walks include refreshment points nearby. The vision of a suitable liquid for quaffing does much to encourage. Sensibly, the walks are arranged so that the uphill bits come first, leaving a pleasant amble down to the starting point. I’ve got all twelve in front of me and I’m determined to try any that have eluded me, so far. You can get the leaflets from the Forestry Board at St John’s or from tourist outlets. They are brilliant!
In the opening paragraph, I referred to ‘gasping’. No, this wasn’t because of the walks, it was because of the number of people in our midst who obviously loath the Island and are contemptuous of those trying to care for it. Interspersed with gorgeous views were pictures of mounds of dumped materials. These included the contents of a sitting room – 3-piece suite, tables and t.v. Other dumps included cars or abandoned litter from drinking sessions and barbecues. What is in the minds of these people? We also saw the damage wrought by vehicles on and off green roads. How can this conflict of interests be met?
However, our principle feeling was one of gratitude for the work that is being done to care for our lovely Island and our personal thanks to Peter.