“Castletown Bay note we in brief, Double-tongued with rugged reef Treach’rous as the midnight thief;”
Manx, the islet measures approximately 1½ miles long by no more than 1 mile wide. Rising to a highest point of 421ft (128m), the rocky cliffs around the Calf’s northern perimeter are home to seabirds. Inland, the ground slopes away southwards around a dish-shaped centre grazed by Manx Loaghtan sheep. Worked prehistoric flints and early Christian graves found here point to its earlier occupants. Farmed since the 18th century, it is now a nature reserve and bird observatory, owned by the Manx National Trust. Two wardens live on site from March to November. Their role includes monitoring and caring for the island’s bird life, including the rare Manx shearwater, guillemots and razorbills. Dessie Robinson worked as a warden on the Calf for two years. “Gannets from Ailsa Craig and Pembrokeshire come to the Calf to feed. I could watch them all day long. When there’s a shoal of fish, to see them fall upon the water is incredible.” Often cut off from Mann by bad weather, the wardens must be enterprising and self-sufficient. “Living on an island like the Calf, money means nothing. The only currencies are alcohol or something sweet,” says Dessie, who now helps maintain a variety of Manx National Heritage sites, including Cregneash. “Once the autumn gales start coming in, it’s hard. October can be unbelievable with the wind. Sitting in the farmhouse writing up reports of the year with birds that have visited, you can be stuck indoors for days,” he says. “What I loved about living on the Calf was that if anything goes wrong, you have to fix it. You have to be resourceful. I liked the self-sufficiency.”
Well preserved history
Further along the coast, at the mouth of Silverburn River, is Castletown, Man’s ancient capital. At the heart of the town ›
Looking across the Sound to the Calf of Man (far left). Dessie Robinson was one of two wardens on the Calf for two years. He learned to be self-sufficient while he was there, as the islet is often cut off from the main island (left).