There are four walls and a forward facing window. It’s a premium cabin on board the Ben My Chree. Out of Douglas for Heysham. Sounds like a racehorse but it isn’t. It’s a boat. Not a ship, a boat. It’s the passenger ferry from the Isle of Man. We are on it. In fact we are ensconced in our luxury cabin relaxing. All is quiet. The World Athletic Championships are on the TV and each family member is either quietly watching, reading the paper or buried in their laptops. Or both buried in laptop and watching the athletics. It’s easy enough to do. There are lots of gaps between races and lots of repeats of races, analysis, interviews and a look forward to the next round, heat or episode.
It isn’t particularly accurate to use the word episode. It isn’t as if track and field is like a soap opera or documentary, although the material may be there. “Shock off field antics of top runner”. “Athlete in for the high jump” etc. Athletes should not have the time to mess about off field. They need to stay focussed. Keep off the booze. And the fags. Live a healthy lifestyle.
That isn’t to say they shouldn’t enjoy themselves. A bit of relaxation does you a bit of good. Helps the performance on the track. The occasional trip to the cinema on a Wednesday night. Visits to the seaside and a nice walk along the promenade. No ice creams though. Yueuch. No good. Think of the calories. Bad calories. Have fruit instead.
My personal preference is for peaches, when in season, and bananas. I also like strawberries and cream though I am not an athlete and therefore don’t need to stay clear of the cream. Unless you talk to my wife. Mrs Davies.
This boat is comfy enough. The sea is calm. The sky is cloudy. We are just passing some sort of oil rig. Gas maybe. I don’t know. This luxury cabin is in marked contrast to a day trip to Liverpool many years ago. “The lads” were off on a day out. On the way there everyone spent the time in the bar, except me. I was seasick. When we arrived in Liverpool the outgoing boat had a bomb scare and had to return to the quay. In consequence there was no room for our boat and we had to stay mid river for two hours whilst they checked out the other one for bombs.
That was the last thing I needed having spent the whole crossing being ill. We got to Liverpool and set off for the shops. The we hit the fair at New Brighton where everyone except me indulged in more beer and ice cream. Finally before getting back on board the boat we had a meal at a restaurant near Pier Head. Steak.
Most of the afternoon I had spent recovering from the outward journey. I was now just starting to feel good again as we boarded for the return trip. I spent the trip home in the bar whilst the boys were ill over the side! It was an experience!
When we travelled on the boat as a family we always booked a cabin. It’s a lot easier to survive bad weather if you are lying down. When I left home and used to travel across to University at the beginning and end of each term a cabin wasn’t an economic prospect. Instead all the students used to get on early and head for the bowels of the boat where there were benches you could stretch out on. The first few trips were extensions of the parties we used to have after the school exams. Term for most people started and finished at the same time so there was always a quorum of people you knew on the boat. We would head for the bar and while away the trip with a few beers.
Gradually as people became established at their places of higher education the number of familiar faces on the boat gradually dwindled to zero and the focus grew on surviving the often rough Irish Sea weather.
I recall one end of term when I turned up at Pier Head on a Friday night for the midnight boat. The midnight boat was a good one to catch. It went a lot more slowly and you could kip overnight. I had my usual sausage and chips in the caff at the bus station at the Pier and then wandered down to the boat.
Problem. There was no midnight boat. The boat was there but it wasn’t sailing until the next morning. These were the days before the internet. You couldn’t simply go online and check the schedule. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Pier Head in those days was pretty rough place to be of an evening. I could hear sounds of violence.
I chatted with the bloke at the top of the gangplank who, recognising my dilemma, took an executive decision and let me on board. This was “highly against regulations” but needs must. I spent the night in my sleeping bag in one of the passenger lounges. The cleaning ladies who turned up the next morning had a bit of a shock when I lifted my head above the seat to see what the noise was. Hey. A student’s gotta do what a student’s gotta do.
Travelling in those days was far more adventurous than it is now. I often used to hitch hike places, including to see my grandmother who lived about 200 miles away in South Wales. My longest hitch was from Greece to London but that’s story in itself.
Considering that the internet wasn’t around for much of my adult life and therefore the Third Law cannot have applied it has all gone quickly enough.
3rd Law Part 59 here
3rd Law Part 61 here
The sea is calm. Occasional waves run feebly up the beach. A fishing boat ambles across my field of view and I can see the mountains of Mourne, shadowy forms in the far distance. The herring gulls congregate loudly and there is a slight chill on the early morning breeze. Peel Castle remains a solid defence against the neerdowell.
6.30 am and the world is at peace. I wish I could paint. The rocks change colour as they rise out of the sea. Seaweed studded pastel brown crowned with a darker blacker band that fades upwards with streaks of mineral white that is gradually obscured by a topping of greenery. The real crown is the castle that sits around the top of the island.
The sun bursts through behind me as I look out to the west. The boat has moved out of my field of view though I can still see its wake and I now notice the buoys that mark the lobster pots on the sea bed.
Yesterday I saw a boat offload a big haul of crabs. Five half ton bags and fifteen crates. Good money at the market though the fisherman declined to enlighten me as to how much. He must have known.
I come here year after year. The early morning is the best time. The family still sleeps. The place isn’t totally deserted. Dog walkers and resolute joggers move on by. How many sailors are asleep in the yachts that fill the marina?
This year the “Dreamcatcher of Menai” is nowhere to be seen. Maybe it’s gone off on a cruise. That’s what you do with yachts. There is no point keeping them in the harbour all year round. Their whole purpose is world travel. How big the world is up to you. If I had such a boat I think I’d want at least to make some medium sized journeys. I don’t feel driven to brave the transatlantic run but certainly a jaunt to the Mediterranean calling in at suitably picturesque fishing ports en route.
Harbourside restaurants are a must. Maybe even the occasional industrial dock with a characterful bar known only to the locals and the visitors that arrive from the sea.
A shiver of relaxation runs down my back. This is a very peaceful scene. A dog barks but at first I can’t see it. Now it appears with its owner on the broken shell beach and trots up the slipway. An engine fires up out of sight behind me and fades away.
Behind the beach and beyond the castle is the breakwater with its white lighthouse. Nearer, on the right, the harbourmaster’s office guards the entrance to the harbour. There is no movement there now as the tide is out. A fisherman casts his line at the very end of the breakwater. That must be his yellow van. The scene on the breakwater is very different to the beach. There is evidence of humanity. The side door of the kiosk is open and the shutter slightly raised. It is about to open up for business.
A pickup truck joins me. In the bay four boats are tied up to buys. Waiting for the tide so that they can enter the harbour. I’ve noticed the environment here is different to the mainland. Outboard motors are left affixed to boats and fishing rods are in full view. Nobody is going to steal them.
The bay is full of ducks accompanied by the snouts of the two or three seals that live here. I don’t know what it is about this summer that brings so many ducks. This is not normal. Usually it’s herring gulls.
From the top of the breakwater I look for basking sharks. There are none. In all my years of coming I’ve only ever seen one but I look every time. Ever the optimist. They are out there somewhere. The volume of the gulls has increased. Maybe it’s time to get up and get looking for food. Maybe a threat has appeared. I can’t see but they are moving this way. The breakwater can be a risky place to be with so many gulls in the air. There is a fair percentage chance of being hit by droppings.
A small red car with a sit on top canoe turns up. Bloke clad in a short wetsuit gets out. Disappears around the back of the kiosk and then leaves again.
The gulls settle on the roof of the lifeboat station, a sturdy red stone building in the lee of the castle. It’s great fun to watch the lifeboat being launched. Adds to the mix of the summer holiday. I’ve never seen one being launched in anger, as it were.
The whole scene is getting lighter. I’ve been here for fifty minutes now. Nearly time to get back and make the tea. I think I’ve sussed the increased gull presence. A fishing boat arrived ten minutes or so ago. They think there may be pickings. I don’t think so. I think it’s just getting ready to go out. The RLNI flag flutters in the breeze. There is more activity now.
Life on board the yachts must be fairly calm. They are bound by the tides. At the moment there is nothing for them to do but just wait. Stick the kettle on and brew up.
A walker arrives. Time for me to go.
3rd Law Part 56 here
3rd Law Part 58 here
Early up and the weather at first glance looks good for traveling. This was somewhat deceptive as we were later to find out. A slow journey to Douglas behind a driver unaware that she was allowed to travel faster than 25 mph was compensated for by the fact that because we were towing a trailer we were second onto the boat and second in line to get off. Yo!
The “Snaefell” was a lot more cramped than the Mannanan that brought us to the island. Still we settled into our reserved seats and ate our croissants, baked by my fair hands shortly before leaving the house. What a pro!
Now every person in our family has something to contribute. Specifically at sea it is Joseph who is a bellweather for rough times ahead and promptly chundered into a well placed sick bag taken from the back of the seat in front of him.
It was not long before he was joined by a chorus of small children from the seats around us with a smattering of adults thrown in to provide harmony in the lower octaves. The sweet smell of vomit began to waft across the cabin…
Back to it’s wet and windy ways, the Isle of Man drove us into Douglas again for a spin on the horse trams.
We arrived almost and hour before the first horse so we “did” Strand Street for the third time. Once along Strand Street is too many times. I can’t understand why people would bother.
Finally the tram. At £12 for the family to go one way along the prom the horse trams were seemingly making an enormous contribution to the Manx economy. I drove to the other end and picked the others up, more due to pressure of time than anything else but assisted by the cost.
Lunch was at Green’s vegetarian restaurant at the Steam Railway Station at the end of the harbour. My old mate Crell and his lovely wife Renate proved pleasant company surrounded by railway memorabilia. A passer by was flagged down to take the obligatory team photo and we said our farewells vowing not to leave it another ten years.
Back in Peel we caught no fish again and finished off with the tour of Moore’s kipper factory, “the only remaining traditional kipper curers”. Interesting enough though I did leave the tour feeling somewhat smoky eyed. Also found out the source of the saying “on tenterhooks”.
Stop press. Day 8 and it’s a result. At long last our first basking shark sightings, just two or three hundred metres off the breakwater. I tried to get some photographs but some analysis on the laptop is required before I can confirm that I have the hard evidence. The photos just looked like lots of pictures of waves when I looked at them on the camera. The sharks were definately there though.
The rest of today is all planned out, for me at least. This afternoon it is golf with dad in one of the Peel Golf Week competitions followed by a team dinner out with the Shimmins, Kellys and Fletchers at Coasters in Douglas.
A wet and windy start to the day keeps the crowds at bay. No fishers at the end of the quay and indeed we conclude that they are right and elect to shark watch instead. Still no sharks to see though, despite the admission from a friendly tourist that they had seen fifteen from the Foillan Beg excursion boat yesterday.
In fact at this early stage of the day there are few people around although the presence of around ten cars is somewhat puzzling. The answer lies in the lifeboat house as the tractor trundles out to the end of the ramp and some lifeboatmen distribute rubber batons down to the water. The lifeboat is about to return!
Joe and I move to a vantage point atop the breakwater and keep lookout. There are no boats in sight. Anywhere!
Then I see a small dot on the horizon. Just a bow wave at first, but gradually growing to be discernible as a lifeboat. The boat rounds into the shelter of the harbour, drops four crew members off at the steps and then begins the process of being hauled out of the water. It is all exciting stuff for a landlubber and takes probably an hour or so, including the washing down and cleaning.
By this time the quay has become crowded and the sun has broken through. It is set up nicely for our afternoon of gorge climbing.
Ballaglass Glen is the scene for this. A beautiful walk down with a tree canopy above keeping the sun from ever penetrating to the water itself. The scene might be a tropical jungle as dripping mosses mix with tall ferns, fallen trees and the river roaring over the rocks below.
We climb down into the water and begin our upwards journey through the rockpools and raging torrents fuelled by last night’s rain. Two hours later, soaked, scratched and bruised but satisfied we emerge through the trees to the carpark.
The annual Southern Agricultural Society show is held at Great Meadow near Castletown. A perfect sunny day set the ideal stage for a day out at the show. It’s a great family day out.
Horses, great brutes of bulls, cows, uncooperative sheep, yapping show dogs, poultry, rabbits, lawnmowers, fridges, picnic tables, cess pits, smoothie makers, cookery displays, vintages tractors and agricultural machinery (including baling machines), beehives, chairoplanes, bouncy castles, slides, Isle of Man Bank, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, WI Refreshment tent, cars, Recruitment Consultants, ice cream vans, burger bars, milking machines, smoothies, potatoes, dahlias, onions, green beans, marrows, roses, apple pies, fence posts, quilting, rhubarb, radish, beetroot, raspberries, blackcurrant, gooseberries, cauliflower, strawberries, cabbages, lettuce, carrots, coconut shy, straw hat, picnic, brass band, car park queues.
Later, Great Union Camera Obscura followed by a spin to the breakwater in Peel. The Seacat is in on a day trip from Belfast. We enjoy a cold beer outside the Creek Inn followed by a meal outside in the garden back at the house.
“This is a further and final invitation for passengers Davies and Burton to proceed to gate sixty eight for flight T3 4386 Eastern Airways to the Isle of Man”. I didn’t know who passenger Burton was, but passenger Davies was definitely, and inescapably me. Pushing aside the immediate feeling of unfairness, I hastily polished off my well-earned glass of wine, gathered my belongings, and hurried off in the direction of the departure gates.
It had taken me three and a half hours to get to this point, and had started with the mid-morning decision to leave work at midday, a little earlier than planned. A warning bell had been clanging all morning after Classic FM’s traffic and travel news at 8.30am. The usual place. The right turn at St Fagan’s. After her usual introductory banter about bagels, or her evening out yesterday, Jay-Louise Knight had announced that there were serious problems on the M5 somewhere. I couldn’t remember where. I decided to err on the side of caution and set off very early for Birmingham airport. So when I hit traffic in a very unusual place I was initially quite confident. I had plenty of time. But an hour later and scarcely two miles further on, I was showing signs of stress, and was wondering whether my ticket was flexible enough for a free transfer to the evening flight. But I needn’t have worried. Although there were further threatening ‘Queue Caution’ signs, none of these came to pass and I arrived at Long Stay Car Park 1 with enough time and in a calm state of mind.
The screens in the main departure lounge had showed I had twenty minutes before boarding, and I had decided to relax with a glass of wine and look forward to the weekend ahead. “This is a further and final invitation for passengers Davies and Burton to proceed to gate sixty eight for flight T3 4386 Eastern Airways to the Isle of Man”. It certainly hadn’t been twenty minutes, and I definitely hadn’t heard a first call. By the time I got to gate sixty eight, Passenger Burton had got there before me, and I was the last to step aboard the bus, taking in my stride the faintly accusatory glances from the eight other passengers.
As we soared over the Irish Sea I looked down on the water glinting in the sun, and found myself smiling. A weekend at home in Peel ahead of me.