We have friends who live on the Isle of Man, a once-Viking stronghold which lies in the Irish Sea between England and Northern Ireland. Once or twice a year we exchange visits. I’ve always been fascinated by the presence and the symbolic importance of lighthouses, and this trip offered the opportunity to discover a new one, in a wild and wonderful setting.
Our friends live close to the sea in the area just east of Ramsey. Mark is a keen walker and has explored most of the local paths. We had a morning to spare while the ladies visited the town. Mark proposed a walk to Mooar Bay whose return leg would take in the Maughold Head Lighthouse.
To me, a lighthouse is more than just its physical presence. These are quite ‘ancient’ monuments to mankind’s ingenuity and our desire to protect and guide those brave enough to sail on the unpredictable sea. I find in that a parallel to the mystical path, and those who have gone ahead to explore what appears to be a mysterious world where solid land gives way to the more shifting realms of our shared sea of underlying consciousness…
November is an enjoyable time to visit the island. The TT Motorcycle races are in the summer, when, for two weeks, the place is packed with tourists. In contrast, the pre-Christmas months are quiet, and you can often have an entire cove to yourself, as we did when we reached the farthest outward point at Mooar Bay: photos above and below.
Until Mooar Bay, we had been following the county lanes. Now, it was time to leave the security of the paved tracks and pick our way across the rocky shores and onto the coastal path – which rises steeply towards the distant Maughold headland and its lighthouse. The gentle walk soon became a lung-stretching climb, as we got our first glimpse of the lighthouse.
A lighthouse is a fixed object, yet it guides those who are travelling. Its light rotates – each one a unique number of seconds to complete a rotation. This warns the mariner to avoid the deadly rocks, but also shows them where they are, with reference to their nautical charts. A sighting of two such ‘blinking’ lights leads to a process of triangulation, whereby a ship can locate its precise position. Take two of these over an interval and you have a line of travel – the course you are on.
In the days before satellite-based location systems, this (and the stars, if you can see them) were all the sea traveller had to locate themselves, often in perilous and stormy conditions. After that, survival was down to good maps and even better seamanship.
It’s interesting and symbolic that the lighthouse helps mariners to locate themselves. We can compare this with the great works of spiritual writers whose power of description of the progressive experiences on the inner sea enables us to locate where we are in that great quest to arrive at an inner ‘us’. Guided by these lights, we leave behind the ordinary life of ‘the world and me’ and begin to take a different voyage – one where the shifting sea is very much a friend.
The climb was arduous, but, soon the lighthouse was not only ahead of us, but below… We stood in silence for a while. No words were necessary to augment the enduring edifice.
Beyond the lighthouse, the path continues to climb, until a new view is revealed. To our left and further south arose the spine of the North Barrule range of mountains, second only in height to the famous Snafell – the highest point on island, and one of the most fascinating challenges of the TT races, as the bikes climb the mountain switchbacks at over 150 mph.
Extending my lighthouse analogy, the darting and nimble motorbikes could be likened to our thoughts: useful in the moment, but unable to give us a secure path without the deeper aid of the road. The well-travelled road becomes our personality; but its routes are not the only way from A to B. Looked at from an ‘aerial’ view, we might come to some startling conclusions.
There was one more uphill section before we reached the highest point on the coastal path. From there we could see several miles along the coast to the sunlit buildings on Ramsey’s seafront.
It was at this point that Mark said that we were headed for what is known locally as the ‘Bus Shelter’. The reference being to a concrete building dominating the headland at the path’s highest point. The building was built and gifted to the walking community by the original owners of this section of the Brooghs at the same time as the land was gifted to the Manx National Trust.
The inscription is not clear, due to decades of weathering. It reads:
‘Part of these Brooghs were presented the Manx National Trust by Mrs E.M. Halahan and family in memory of Mrs A.E. Groves of the Varrey, Maughold.’
From here, the path is much easier, gently winding up and down so that height is maintained. Ramsey is a busy working port, and several ships were moored off the coast, awaiting clearance to enter and dock.
Finally, the path turned back inland, and we knew we were descending and returning to the road on which we had begun, two hours prior. But the adventure was not over…
There are many grand houses, here, and several directly overlook the sea. But the ancient paths and tracks that have direct access to the beaches and sea have been maintained. You can walk down what looks like someone’s drive and find yourself overlooking the beach – with stone steps down. When I took the photos, it was high tide; the beach was under several metres of water, but it’s there and accessible whenever the tide permits.
A popular pastime is to walk, a low tide, into Ramsey, which has an excellent social life. There are no worries about having a drink or two, and you can get the bus or the famous tourist tram home. The local stop is just up the road…
Soon, we were back home, with an hour to relax before setting off for a well-deserved Manx kipper lunch at the fishing port of Peel…. But that’s for another day.
Mind you, there’s a lighthouse in Peel, too…
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.