Saturday, 30 April 2011

A few days on the sunny Isle of Man

Very early last Tuesday Chris and I set off for Manchester Airport to board a Flybe Dash 8 for four days relaxation in the lovely Isle of Man. I think we missed the rain that was due by over-flying it, as soon after take off we entered cloud, a weak front that we popped out of just before landing.

By 9:00am we were at Ronaldsway airport and a fifteen minute bus journey took us from there to Douglas Promenade, dropping us off about half way along that fine sweep of Douglas Bay.

As usual, please click on an image twice to bring it up full-size.

Our Flybe Dash 8 at Ronaldsway, 9:00am Tuesday 26th April 2011

Douglas bay, looking towards the sea terminal

We left our bags at the hotel (too early to check in) and headed up to the north end of the Bay, Derby Castle, where the Manx Electric Railway has its southern terminus. A tram was waiting there, and it had in tow an open-sided trailer car with slatted wooden seats. It was a pleasant morning, so we decided to sit in this rather than the enclosed tramcar itself.

A 'Manx Electric Railway' tramcar and open trailer at Laxey

The seventeen and a half mile ride on the Electric Railway is one of life's 'musts'. It follows the east coast of the island to Ramsey, sometimes weaving deep into the valleys or 'glens' before heading back out to the coast, and sometimes giving majestic cliff-top views of the wild coastline. About half way is Laxey, where the Mountain Railway up to the summit of the islands highest mountain, Snaefell, begins. At the Laxey stop we decided to move from the open trailer into the enclosed tram as the sea breeze was a bit 'fresh' despite the lovely weather.

Ramsey was a bit of a disappointment; the harbour was characterful, with its working fishing boats, but the town itself felt a little 'tired' and it took us some time to find a suitable place for lunch. Having rejected several plain looking cafes we came across the 'Swan', which offered reasonable pub food and a nice pint of Okells (the local ale).

Fishing boats in Ramsey harbour

The Electric Railway rattled and clanked its way back down the coast to Douglas, where we checked into our hotel. For a small charge, we were upgraded to a 'suite' at the front of the hotel, with a sea view!

Wednesday dawned even brighter than Tuesday had been. A speciality of the hotel's breakfast menu was Manx kippers and poached egg cooked to order, which were absolutely superb. After breakfast we decided to go 'up the mountain' on the Snaefell Railway. We purchased 3-day passes which give unlimited travel on the buses, the Electric Railway, the Steam Railway, the Snaefell Railway, and the horse trams which from May onwards clip-clop along the promenade at Douglas. These would take care of our transport needs for the rest of the holiday.

We caught a bus to Derby Castle, then the Electric Railway to Laxey where the Snaefell Railway commences.

Interior of a Manx Electric Railway car on the way to Laxey

Two Snaefell Mountain Railway cars at Laxey, awaiting the climb to the summit

The 3' 6" gauge Mountain Railway climbs up the Laxey Glen, past the famous Laxey Wheel, and on up into wild mountain country. It clings precariously to the sides of the valley, with a continuous steep gradient and many sharp turns. It is entirely 'adhesion driven', which means it relies on the grip between steel wheel and rail for traction though there is an emergency brake working on a separate centre rail which can be applied should the car begin to skid downhill on the rails in slippery conditions.

The Laxey Wheel (Lady Isobella) as seen from the Mountain Railway

The Mountain Railway climbs up the Laxey Valley towards the 2,036 foot summit of Snaefell. In this view from within the car, the aerials on the summit can be seen on the horizon (you may need to enlarge the image by clicking on it (twice) to see the aerials clearly).

Below the summit, the railway crosses the road at 'Bungalow', on the TT motorcycle race Mountain Course, and there is a memorial to TT rider Joey Dunlop here. The track then crosses to the west side of Snaefell, before curving around the summit in a continuous climb to the top, where the hotel is undergoing some renovation. It was still open, however, and after admiring the fabulous views in a stiff wind, we retired inside for a cup of tea.

Evidence of building work at the summit hotel, but it was still open for refreshments

Looking down to 'Bungalow' from the summit, to the point where the TT mountain course is crossed by the Mountain Railway

The Laxey Glen from the summit, looking east. The line of the mountain railway can be seen about 2/3 of the way up southern side of the Glen. 'Bungalow' is to the right, just off the picture.

Chris at the summit, braving the cool breeze at this height!

The view to the west, across Sulby Reservoir

On the way down, we cross with car no.2 coming up from Laxey

It was much warmer 2,000 feet lower down, back at Laxey, so an al fresco lunch at the Mines Tavern fitted the bill. Superb rare beef sandwiches and Okells IPA, next to the Electric Railway; can life get better? (OK, a steam railway would have been the icing on the cake!). You could tell the landlord of 'The Mines' takes his ale seriously; next to each beer pump was a small tasting glass of that beer, so you could 'try before you buy'. Why can't all pubs do that?

Chris at our lunch table outside the Mines Tavern, Laxey

During lunch, some interesting cars arrived for a rally on the island. Two of them initially parked next to the pub, but were told to move on to the car park around the corner. Pity; I rather thought they added to the vintage atmosphere at Laxey.

Interesting cars at Laxey, just about to be moved to the car park

After lunch, we set off to have a close look at the Laxey Wheel. The fifteen minute walk took us past the vintage cars, and here are some pictures of them:

We continued past the row of ex-miners' cottages where the cars were parked and followed a track up the valley to the Laxey Wheel. On the way we passed some 4 and 3 horned sheep, a breed unique to the island.

A rare breed of sheep, unique to the island

The Laxey Wheel, or 'Lady Isobella' as she is named, produces 200hp and was built to drain the extensive mine system in the Laxey area. The water to drive the wheel is collected from streams on the hillside and fed to a cistern, from where an underground pipe leads it to the wheel, then up the tower (with the spiral staircase around it) to emerge at the top where it drives the overshot wheel. A crank on the wheel's axle moves the pump rod backwards and forwards, and the viaduct adjacent to the wheel supports the pump rod and carries it to the point on the hillside where a 'T-rocker' converted the 'backwards and forwards' movement to 'up and down' movement, to drive the pumps at various levels in the mine.

Water is fed underground and then up the white tower, to drive the wheel from the top (it's an overshot wheel, much more efficient than earlier undershot wheels). A crank on the wheel's axle moves the pump drive rod backwards and forwards.

The pump drive rod is supported on the viaduct in the foreground, and on reaching the hillside drives drainage pumps in the mine.

We climbed the spiral staircase around the tower to emerge onto the narrow platform above the wheel, from were this picture of the rod viaduct was taken.

The rod viaduct carries the pump drive rod from the wheel to the pumps in the mine

Chris feigns a fear of heights on the high and exposed platform above the wheel

Click on the 'play' arrow of the video below for a short film with sound of the wheel working, taken from the platform above it:

We returned to Laxey in time to take another trip to Ramsey on the Electric Railway, this time all the way in the open trailer as the weather was warmer than it had been yesterday.

High above the Irish Sea, between Laxey and Ramsey, we look back from the open trailer of our tram at the southbound service to Laxey and Douglas. The views down to the coast from this section are just superb, as the picture below conveys.

On Thursday, the super weather continued so we decided to go south from Douglas; to Port Erin. The Isle of Man Steam Railway links Douglas to Port Erin, and years ago covered a lot of the island. Today just this one route remains. Like the Electric Railway and the Horse Tramway in Douglas, it is narrow gauge (3 foot gauge).

The coast south of Douglas, seen from the Steam Railway

We caught the 09:50 train from Douglas Railway Station (our travel passes getting us there by bus from our promenade hotel, and of course allowing access to the Railway itself). This was the first train of the day so was quite full, and we travelled the length of the line to Port Erin.

The station at Santon, typical of the smaller stations and halts on the line

At one intermediate station we came across a crowd of men in orange hi-viz jackets and some on small portable step ladders, busy photographing a locomotive. Our train came to stand not far from the cab of the much-photographed other locomotive, so I shouted across to its driver asking what was going on. "It's a photographic charter", he replied. "Oh, and this engine's been turned around to have its boiler pointing towards Douglas. All the others face Port Erin".

Members of a Photographers' charter gather to to photograph 'C. H. Wood', which has been turned the other way around to the rest of the IOMSR loco fleet!

A closer look indicates that the 'spit& polish' evident on the loco has been applied inside her cab as well

The end of the line. Port Erin terminus, and our loco (No.12, Hutchinson) runs round her train for a short spell 'on shed' before working the train back to Douglas, bunker-first

Port Erin bay

After a walk around the town and along the front, we settled on this delightful beach-side cafe for lunch. My crab bagette was lovely!

After lunch we enjoyed the sea views. I think this remarkably tame Jackdaw was hoping for a bit of lunch himself!

No.13 'Kissack' powered our train back to Douglas

The bus took us from Douglas railway station to Derby Castle, where we enjoyed a drink or two in the sunshine at the 'Terminus' pub

I love this sign. Beats 'Hollywood' any time!

For our last day (Friday 29th) we watched a bit of the Royal Wedding on the hotel room TV, which reminded us that today was a Bank Holiday and there would only be a 'Sunday service' on the buses. We had originally thought of getting a bus across to Peel on the west coast, but such buses would be few and far between, and anyway it was far too nice a day to spend much time on a bus! So we decided to head south so we were going the right way to get to the airport for our evening flight home. The Steam Railway took us to Ballasala, where we found an excellent pub for lunch.

After lunch, we relaxed in the sun in the pub garden, and I nipped down the road to see the two mid-afternoon trains pass each other at Ballasala station.

First to arrive was C. H. Wood from Port Erin, where it crosses with the Douglas to Port Erin train.

After a few minutes, No12 (Hutchinson) arrived from Douglas

Hutchinson's driver blows the whistle prior to moving off for Port Erin

The relaxing afternoon in Ballasala passed quickly until it was time to catch the bus to the airport in plenty of time for our flight home.

Our Flybe Dash 8 at Ronaldsway ready to provide the 18:40 flight to Manchester

The flight home. Not very busy, and the passengers are spread evenly along the length of the cabin of this long, thin aeroplane, to ensure the pitch trim remains comfortably within limits

The flight home was smooth; these modern turboprops (the Dash 8 originally a de Havilland design - not that I'm biased!) climb fast and quietly. One minute we were earthbound at Ronaldsway, there was a push of hard accelleration, we pitched up into the air, clunk-clunk the gear came up, and the island receded behind us faster than I could make out the landmarks. Twenty minutes or so later the beaten silver sea became dotted with wind turbines and the yellow of the Lancashire coast hove into view. We were over Wirral, looking across to Seaforth and then Liverpool itself, the Liver Building and the cathederals clearly visible. Liverpool John Lennon Airport slid under the wing (I couldn't see our aeroplane out on the apron, but we were at about 8,000 feet). Runcorn Bridge, ICI Weston Point, Budworth mere and Pickmere, Knutsford services on the M6, and the colourful May Fair on Knutsford heath passed below.

The Railway Inn at Mobberley was off to the left so we were landing on 05 Right, the newer runway at Manchester. A slight bump announced our touchdown, and 30 minutes after leaving the Island we were de-planing at Manchester.

What a great break!

And finally, as so much of this holiday used the Electric Railway and the Steam Railway to get around, click on the 'play arrow' of the video below for a short film taken on the trailer car of the Electric Railway while travelling to Ramsey on Thursday.


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