Brush With Oblivion!

I’ll get to the drama which inspires the headline in due course. The boys were walking from Laxey to Derbyhaven, almost at the southern tip of the island. Again there is controversy between them as to how far that is, but let’s agree on “about 22 miles”. It was, by all accounts, pretty hard going in places… especially over the last few miles.

Ramsey arrival

As usual, all the details follow…

A bacon butty start to the day again, 15 minutes earlier than yesterday on the grounds that we’ve a fair journey to get the ramblers back to Laxey. As it was, we set off just as the 08:30 news ending. Siri wanted to take us ack over the mountains, the same way we returned from Laxey last night. However, on the not unreasonable grounds that the weather was likely to still be “closed in” we agreed to Bernie’s suggestion that we go via Douglas instead. At 17 miles that route is actually shorter, though it is nominally a few minutes slower.

Sure enough as we approached Douglas we got caught up in the last vestiges of its rush hour. Certainly far more traffic than any of us have seen since Lancaster!

In the end the journey back to Laxey took 50 minutes or so. The wind had dropped somewhat since last night according to the weather guy on Manx FM, but you wouldn’t know it as Dave & Bernie set off into the teeth of it.  

Setting off

 

I traced my way up the valley to Laxey Village where the Manx Electric Railway station is located. I parked up at the bottom of the road up to the Laxey Wheel where there’s 18 hours free parking (intended to deter local residents from leaving their vehicles here, I think) 

It was 09:35 as I handed over £16 for my one-day-adult-unlimited-all-forms-of-public-transportation “card”. (It was pretty much just a till receipt). There’s a cafe on the station but it didn’t start serving until 10:00 – which with a 10:10 train, was cutting it a bit fine so I didn’t bother at that point. A couple of Snaefell Mountain Railway empty cars pulled (one turned out to be reserved for a coach party) and a little later a MER car and trailer arrived and shunted into the siding for a later service to Douglas. My service originates at Douglas. For quite a while I appeared to be the only non member of staff knocking about.

 

Snaefell Mountain Railway car

Laxley Station

 The coach party to go up the mountain in their private train arrived at 09:55. It seemed a little incongruous to watch a party of OAPs access the station by walking up the track on the, albeit quite fine and even, ballast. To be fair, this is one of two legitimate accesses and indeed is the only way to get to The Mines pub. 

OAPs arriving

Laxey Station

Then a film crew turned up, complete with Julia Bradbury who is evidently doing one of her walking programmes. I counted six other people in her crew, but the end result will no doubt be edited to portray her as enjoying her walk all on her own. I was to see them again on my return journey, filming beside the railway line.

TV crew arrive

It was a lovely run from Laxey to Ramsey. I chose to ride in the open trailer car which was chilly, but zipping my coat up worked wonders. The views over the coast were everything I hoped for and more.  On arrival at Ramsey it was entertaining to watch the powered car draw forward and set back onto the other line while the guard “fly shunted” the trailer into the headshunt. The power car then ran back and coupled up. No doubt a very well practiced operation.

Fly Shunting at Ramsey 

For the run south I decided it would be better in the saloon. It was certainly warmer and the seat was slightly more comfortable than the bench in the open car. It was much more crowded though and not nearly as good for photography.

Then the drama at Dreemskerry level crossing. Like most level crossings, this one is “controlled” by a Give Way sign, requiring road traffic to allow the train priority. I’d used several of these yesterday as a car driver,  but had the benefit of there being no (advertised) train service. That didn’t mean I didn’t have a really good look before crossing any of them, though. I did have some concerns at a few of them where the road crosses on the skew – the view to the near side especially in such circumstances can be very limited. That is the configuration which applied at Dreemskerry. 

A typical leval crossing

(This is Cornaa level crossing not Dreemskerry but it gives a good idea of the scene)

I was on the offside of the carriage, three rows back and so I saw the silver Mercedes van (or at least its roof – the rest was masked behind a wall) approaching the railway over to our right. Quite clearly the train driver saw it too and was ready. Sure enough, the van driver made a token gesture of slowing down, checking only in front of his bonnet and pulling straight out in front of the train. To be fair, a combination of his angle of approach and the busy side of his van meant he was totally blind to the left. 

The fastest any train goes on this line is 25 mph, and that’s only when they’re going downhill. We were climbing out of Ramsey so I doubt our speed was more than 15mph when the driver made an emergency brake application. We came to a dead stop on the crossing with the van passing literally inches in front. The probability is that the first clue the van driver had was when he cleared the crossing and all he would see in his mirror was train! The train drivers whistle prolifically (albeit the whistles are a bit tinny) on the approach to all crossings (good job they don’t run at night, for several reasons!) and in this instance our driver had the whistle wide open as soon as he saw the van.

In the end there was no contact and although I saw the van brake lights flash briefly, he obviously decided stopping after the event wasn’t in his interests and so we resumed our journey. I overheard the train driver assuring a passenger later that occurrences like that are very rare. I’m not so sure. I assume the train driver would be required to report it as, by any measure, it was a “near miss” and/or a “dangerous occurrence” under Health & Safety law.

The reaction to the incident by the other passengers was quite comical. There were some mild swear words and the van driver’s mental state was questions. There was wide variation of opinion about the make of van. One lady was certain it was a people-carrier, but her husband gently told her she was wrong. The same lady declared vehemently that the vehicle had gone through a red light and again her husband had to tell her that there are no lights.

The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful. There is single line working from Groudle Glenn as the southbound line is being renovated on the approach to Douglas. This required us to reverse through the trailing crossover and set off to Douglas with the driver clutching a single line staff. All a little out of the ordinary if not exactly exciting.

I spent the few minutes at Derby Castle station at Douglas photographing the sea front then got straight back on for the service to Laxey. The next (and last) northbound service is two hours later and I didn’t fancy spending that time at Douglas.

Douglas Seafront

On returning to Laxey I made another attempt to get a cup of tea at the station cafe.  This time there was no-one behind the counter. I waited a few minutes then gave up. If they don’t want my money…?

I got back to the car and set of back toward Douglas. I followed the route of the railway down on to the Promenade. There were ample spaces to park up, and similarly, plenty of signs to ‘town centre parking’ but I didn’t stop. I didn’t feel the need to. 

Instead I navigated a route through the centre and found myself picking up signs for Castletown and The South. The A5 is a quite a busy road, especially by northern Manx standards, so I wanted to get onto something quieter. The A25 did that and while it meant doubling back a bit it took me to Port Grenaugh. 

Port Grenaugh

 

This is an odd place. There are quite a few properties dotted along the lane down to the sea, many of them with work being done – white vans and trades’s lorries abounded. Has there been some recent flooding? Even at the bottom some workers were milling around in hi-vis gear near the ‘beach’ but I couldn’t work out what for. 

The cove at Port Grenaugh isn’t as dramatic or scenic as Port Cornaa but there was quite a bit of bird life. I didn’t linger long, not least as I hadn’t had any lunch. I drove through Ballasalla but nothing caught my eye so I carried on for the couple of miles to Castletown.

This is another pretty place with the obligatory photogenic  harbour, a castle which gives the place its name and, significantly, a couple of small supermarkets. I noted with some homely pride that the foot swing bridge over the harbour entrance was made by Handyside of Derby.

 

Handyside Bridge

Castletown Harbour

Castletown harbour

Castletown Market Square

The Co-op provided me with sandwiches for lunch. A lot of the shops are empty – one street in particular seemed like a ghost town. The was even an empty estate agents!

I returned to the car and drove out to the appointed rendezvous point at Derbyhaven and settled in. 

Derbyhaven

 

They arrived around 18:35, having rung at 17:30 to say they were only a mile away. A detour forced on them by some works at the airport perimeter, I gather. An only mildly stressful journey home (there’s some really straight roads on the south of the island as we discovered) and only one missed turn, we were back for 19:00. Bernie has decided he and Chappers are having curry in again tonight. Good job I bought those burgers from the Coop, although again as Bernie has pointed out there’s already plenty in the fridge so I wouldn’t go hungry and he’s right. 

Rumours of a minor conflagration may or may not be greatly exaggerated.

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