Step­ping back in time

The mys­ti­cal Isle of Man feels like a dif­fer­ent world

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fiona Reynolds Fol­low her on Twitter @fionacreynolds

Fiona Reynolds en­joys the sim­ple peace of the Isle of Man

‘We wouldn’t have been sur­prised to hear the howl of the Moddey Dhoo’

THE ISLE OF MAN is a mys­tery to many of us, but, for fam­ily rea­sons, I’ve been vis­it­ing the is­land on and off over two decades, so I seized an in­vi­ta­tion to re­turn, to talk about my book to Manx Na­tional Her­itage. A place of heather-clad moun­tains, craggy shores, deep tree-clothed glens and char­ac­ter­ful min­ing and fish­ing vil­lages, the is­land has a feel of 1950s Eng­land, in which the pace of life is slower (ex­cept, of course, when the TT is on) and less com­pet­i­tive and where peo­ple stop to say hello. I felt a thrill as we flew in on a clear, frosty night across the blank Ir­ish Sea to­wards the twin­kling lights of Dou­glas and the dis­tinc­tive shore­line of Lang­ness.

The Isle of Man is small enough to drive around in a day and you can walk its 95-mile coastal path in just a few more, but I only had a morn­ing be­fore my talk in Dou­glas, so we set off early from our base in Peel, a fish­ing vil­lage on the west coast.

Although a sea mist had moved in overnight, it re­mained bit­terly cold with a fierce wind blow­ing. Shafts of light broke through the clouds as we walked through the vil­lage, head­ing for the har­bour. Peel is no clone town, but has an eclec­tic mix of indige­nous shops and the dis­tinct whiff of smok­ing kip­pers.

We passed the har­bour and ap­proached Peel Cas­tle, perched on the al­most-sep­a­rate St Pa­trick’s Isle. It’s one of the is­land’s old­est con­tin­u­ously oc­cu­pied sites and its ear­li­est build­ings, the round tower and St Pa­trick’s church, date from the 10th and 11th cen­turies. Its walled sur­rounds are of black, gnarled and wave-bat­tered stone and, as we bat­tled around it against a stiff­en­ing wind, we wouldn’t have been sur­prised to hear the howl of the Moddey Dhoo, the leg­endary black dog said to haunt the cas­tle.

Turn­ing south, we launched our­selves onto the coast path, thank­fully out of the wind’s full strength. This is a glo­ri­ous stretch of coast, with the path tak­ing us high above the sea cliffs of Cash­tel Mooar. Once we’d passed the scal­lop-shell dump, a place of gorg­ing for what seemed like thou­sands of seag­ulls, we had the cliffs to our­selves and could ad­mire the view to the south: an ever-un­fold­ing se­ries of sea-ridges—dalby Point, Bradda Head and the Calf of Man, framed by whip­ping waves in a choppy sea.

At Con­trary Head, we turned in­land, re­luc­tantly leav­ing the sea path as it con­tin­ued en­tic­ingly south­wards. Here, we hit the full force of the wind, so, gasp­ing, we pushed on to the high point of this lit­tle promon­tory, Peel Hill, where there is the Isle of Man’s dis­tinc­tive Cor­rin’s Tower, which is tall, square and for­mi­da­ble (it needs to be, against this wind).

It was built in 1806 by Thomas Cor­rin, a lo­cal landowner, to re­mem­ber his wife, Alice, who died in child­birth. He and their other child, a daugh­ter who lived un­til her thir­ties, are also buried in the small en­clo­sure be­low the tower. It’s a poignant and haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful place, with views north-east to the is­land’s high point, Snae­fell, north-west to the Mulls of Kin­tyre and Gal­loway and—we were lucky—south­west to the Mourne Moun­tains of North­ern Ire­land. We bat­tled on over an­other sum­mit and down to Peel. At the bot­tom, there was a quee­nie bap and a cup of tea: bliss!

As I gave my talk about beauty and why we should pro­tect it, I re­flected pri­vately on why the Isle of Man has been able to sus­tain its mys­ti­cal and dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter. Partly it’s be­cause the devel­op­ment pres­sures are less in­tense, but it seems to me that the is­land has an­other as­set: it be­lieves in its spirit and his­tory and wants to sus­tain it. Would that more places felt the same. Fiona Reynolds is the au­thor of ‘The Fight for Beauty’ (Oneworld)

A wood en­grav­ing from 1885 of the idyl­lic Peel har­bor, with the cas­tle in the back­ground

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