Going Down to the Shore by Andrew Johnson MNH

report by John Slater

One glance at the almost capacity audience, jostling for seats, said it all. Andy Johnson is highly regarded as one of our growing band of star speakers and this new lecture had been eagerly awaited. It was billed on the latest of Sam Knight’s collectable posters as: “Fascinated by our relationship with the coastline and the sea, Andrew’s latest landscape investigations are focused on old routeways down to the sea and creation of rudimentary landing places”. We were hooked from the start.

As always, Andy’s illustrations to accompany the talk were excellent, beginning with the Nautical Museum in Castletown. This contains George Quayle’s private dock from 1790, recently thoroughly unearthed. It housed his private sea-going boat, The Peggy. This is now the subject of careful restoration and conservation.

We then stepped back in time, looking at maps showing Iron Age, medieval and Viking coastal sites. Given the varied nature of our coastline from rugged cliffs to exposed sandy beaches, it is impressive how these physical challenges were overcome, including variables of wind and tide. People and goods were carried to and from the island from the earliest times as well as harvesting the sea for fish, to eat and seaweed to fertilise the land. A quick count showed fifty sites in the 100 odd miles of coastline.

Many coastal place names are Norse, in origin. Many routes were private accesses and farm tracks, often wrack roads for seaweed. These may be quite devious. A long, straight road such as the route down to Niarbyl, has been imposed upon local landowners.

Many mines are located on the coast. This is convenient as ore can be shipped to where it can be processed or exported. It was only with the coming of the railways that heavy, bulky materials such as rock or metals could be transported to the coast for onward travel.

Limestone was quarried where it was readily available, such as near Castletown and either processed on the spot in lime kilns or transported for other purposes, such as construction of buildings. It could be loaded into boats at low tide and sailed out at high water.

Some routes to the coast are to lookout stations, whether for keeping watch for enemies or assisting friendly vessels attempting to navigate difficult, hazardous waters.

Customs and excise officers are never popular. Smuggling or the running trade as it was called here, relied on concealed access points, with temporary hiding places such as caves Goods were carried by man or pony over a network of paths and tracks.  Nowadays, the ponies have probably been replaced by drones or parachutes!

The Trust is looking forward to more of Andy’s ongoing research.

Our next meeting is on Wednesday, October the 18th at 7.30pm in the Centenary Centre. The film, Joyeux Noel, tells the astonishing story of Christmas, 1914 as part of our commemoration of the First World War. You will be moved. An admission charge of £3.00 will cover the licence fee.