Alex Madrell braved the journey north to give an amazing, illustrated talk on the Manx coast. More than a touch of courage was involved in the tales as we often joined him in a lifeboat battling through monstrous seas and fierce currents.
Underlying Alex’s talk was the need to photograph everything around you, natural or man-made. Anything or anyone will be swept away by the most powerful current of all – time. We were invited to look at pictures, just a few years apart, sometimes, to see buildings or areas swept away or dramatically changed. Once- beautiful countryside is replaced by heedless development. Species of plants or animals, once taken for granted on land, in the air or sea may now be rarities. Once-familiar faces are gone and their storehouse of memories, knowledge and experience with them.
Alex rattled off the Manx names and meaning for every headland, inlet and rock as they appeared. We were fascinated and full of admiration!
Naturally, the South of the Island was the principle focus. Features such as suicide rock with the names of unfortunates engraved into it stuck in my memory.
In common with other land- masses, the Island rose higher above the sea as the ice from the Ice Age receded. We climbed 17 – 22 feet, leaving caves no longer touched by the sea and rivers cascading down newly formed cliffs. What a pity no one was around over most of the intervening years to photograph this. It still amuses me to consider that what we think of as solid land is merely a raft floating on the denser rocks beneath and still moving over the surface of the planet. The fascination of geography and geology!
Lighthouses were explored inside and out. Why two on the Calf? If they are in line you are heading for Chicken Rock and a premature meeting with your maker, so change course!
The eventual construction of a light on the Chickens was so important. Alex has landed on many occasions for maintenance. Apparently, a causeway links the two groups of rocks and no, you don’t just land there like the Tower of Refuge!
Alex gave a dramatic account of the fire in the Chicken’s Lighthouse in the1960’s and the courageous rescue of the keepers. It is now, automatic, as are the other lights around the Island.
Some of the salty tales were from years ago, such as the paddle steamer that sank a U-boat by riding over it, the dreadful explosion of the brig, ‘Lily’, commemorated at the Calf, were accompanied by recollections and sometimes, by photographs. Early photographs of characters of the past were particularly moving, as was the eerie tale of the father not needing to read a telegram that confirmed the death of his son, the night before. He had appeared in a dream, apologising for having been drowned off the Orknies!