Starting mileage: 19865 km
Day started: 09:30/10:00/10:30
Day ended: 20:00/20:00/22:00
A few more things to see quickly on the morning before leaving the Isle of Man on a Steam Packet ferry. First, Tynwald Hill, the site of the first Tynwalds, Viking parliaments of Man. Man argues with Iceland which of them has the longest running parliament in the world, and they do that mostly by making up the date of the first thing assembly (the Icelandic tingvellir is undoubtedly older by a few decades, but it wasn’t continuous).
Today a mound of earth gathered from all over Man marks the spot, along with a large park nearby. At the bottom of Tynwald Hill the signs marked with a four-pointed sheep skull point to a craft centre, but it’s a little more than a posh shopping mall with a few galleries nowadays.
Several of the kirks or old churches of Man hold collections of ancient stone crosses of incredibly meticulous and beautiful, Norse-celtic design. In another example of the perfect branding, the coolest of these designs, the chain-knots devised by the sculptor calling himself Gaut (runic writings on the crosses are very well preserved), are used throughout the Isle as logos, banners, and even incorporated into jewelry. The collection that’s the most easily accessible is the one at Kirk Braddan, less than a mile away from the outskirts of Douglas. There are eleven crosses there, a couple of which have the most fantastic carvings of dragons.
There was still a little time before the ferry check-in started, so we decided to drop by the Manx Museum in the centre of Douglas. We weren’t disappointed. I really cannot recommend this place enough – one of the finest museums we’ve seen so far, and of course completely free. It’s very well laid out, and holds plenty of artifacts from various digs all around the Isle; some of the items are casts of the originals which can be found elsewhere on Man, but most are originals.
It’s best to visit the museum at the end of your journey around Man; that way all the places you’ve visited suddenly sprout to life again. The pagan lady of Peel Castle, the ship burial of Balladoone, King Orry… all the items associated with the sites are on display in the museum, and more. The prehistory-antiquity section is just a small part of the whole exhibition, but as we were running short on time, we ran through the rest – the history goes all the way to modernity, with a display of TT bikes near the end.
The ferry gained speed past the Tower of Refuge – a small tower built on a reef in the middle of the harbour, to house castaways overnight before they were discovered by the townspeople – and we were on our way back to Liverpool, heading again towards Lancashire.
Lancashire was when our adventure with the van started; this is where we had left it to have the interior refurbished, and where we took it for the first journey, to the nearby Formby Point. Straight off the ferry we went to Formby Point again, to revisit the place once more.
Formby Point, owned by National Trust, is one of those enormous beaches of North-West England, facing Morecambe Bay to the north; in low tide, the sea recedes so far it’s an entire expedition to reach it. In high tide it comes back so fast people were known to perish in the turbulent waters if they weren’t careful enough.
On a good day – and we had a great day tonight – you can see all the way towards Snowdon and Llandudno in the south and Blackpool in the north, with the Tower and the Big Dipper rollercoaster clearly rising above the sands. The beach is strewn with remains of the tide – razorclam shells and seaweed; apart from that, it’s almost a desert.
We didn’t see any other sights that evening; we were only staying in Lancashire because of the visit at the garage near Chortley the next day, and we hoped to move on soon after that.
We had chosen this particular garage – Leyland Auto Diagnostics – based on the boasts on their website; the car really needed a specialist to look over, someone with good knowledge of air-cools as well as passion for them. James seemed to tick all the boxes. His diagnosis was dire: we needed a new carburettor, and it would take one more day to get it. Another day in Lancashire.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice place; the food is good, the towns are nice and the coastline is fantastic in places, even if a bit flat; there are great dune systems, wide beaches, and salt marshes full of birds: it’s not often that you see a barn owl in flight and a flock of lapwings on the same car ride. It’s certainly not a bad place to stay one day. But we certainly weren’t counting on having to stay three.
Luckily, the new Empi carburettor was delivered next day and installing it plus adjusting all the valves, spigots and flanges (don’t ask me, the only engines I know about are steam ones) took less than half a day, and we could finally make our way back north, at full speed. The engine was purring smoothly as it had never before, and for the first time we were confident we could go up the highest hills Cumbria and Scotland had to throw at us.
We stopped briefly at the The Port Of Lancaster Smokehouse in Lancaster docks; a lovely little place where the sea, the canals and the river all meet together. We decided to visit here once more one day, this time on a canal boat, and after picking up smoked eel fillets, brown potted shrimps and kiln roasted salmon, moved on. It was beginning to rain, and we were still in Lancashire.
The last hour of the day we spent in pouring rain at the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve; the reserve is huge – the distances between hides are counted in miles, and to some you need to drive up. It has a nice shop and café and on a sunny day it must make for a brilliant day out. The rain and gathering storm scared most of the birds away (but not keen twitchers we met in one of the hides) , including the famed marsh harriers, but we still managed to spot about fifty redshanks on a tiny islet in the middle of the swamp – after initially mistaking them for a pile of stones!
As we approached the campsite, the dark clouds piled on the horizon, and the wind was starting to pick up. Before it got dark, we were hit with the full force of a North Atlantic summer storm. It would last all through the night, shaking the van like an old ship.
And we were still in Lancashire.
We stopped at three very different campsites in Lancashire; the first one, Landsdowne, was a small C&CC site with very friendly and talkative owners, a porta-potty as the only facilities and a basket full of fresh veggies at the entrance, all for just £12 per night. The next night we stayed at a big marina in Garstang, right on the canal, with possibly the largest colony of campsite rabbits we’ve seen so far, and costing a whopping £21. Finally, we moored up at the Gibraltar Farm, not far from the Leighton Moss reserve, with some sense of deja vu from our visit to Land’s End: here was a campsite mentioned in the Cool Camping guide – so full of visitors of all ages and nationalities – allegedly right on the sea shore, but in weather so poor we could hardly see the edge of the field for rain. Luckily the next day the skies cleared and we were treated to a great view across Morecambe Bay. Gibraltar Farm costs £17 and apart from decent facilities has a shop in the trailer in the middle of the field. All prices listed with hookups.