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24 September 2014

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You are in: Isle of Man > Places > Calf of Man explored

Calf of Man

Calf of Man

Calf of Man explored

If you think the Isle of Man is small, that's nothing compared to the island sitting just off its southern tip. The Calf of Man is small but has centuries of history to tell.

By most standards the Isle of Man is regarded as pretty small. By most standards - but by the standard of its sibling the Calf of Man - it’s positively massive.

This islet off the southern-most tip of the island is just one-and-a-half miles long by around a mile wide and at its highest point rises some 421 feet above sea level. It’s separated from the island by a narrow but treacherous strip of water known as the Calf sound.

Many ships have foundered here over the years, most famously the brig "Lily" in 1852. The vessel had lost some of her sails in terrific winds and ran aground near Kitterland - a patch of rock between the island and the Calf.

She was loaded with a variety of cargo including 60 tons of gunpowder bound for Africa. Days later during the salvage operation the gunpowder was ignited and the subsequent explosion could be heard over 20 miles away.

Calf of Man

Pointing the way

Twenty-nine of the 30-strong salvage crew were killed. A memorial erected in the 1990s now stands on land overlooking the scene of the disaster. Today the Calf is a bird sanctuary but it’s not always been this way.

Over hundreds of years of its habitation it has enjoyed a variety of owners and tenants dating back centuries. Records of it appear in Elizabethan times and there’s evidence that in the 17th Century an associate of Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon hid on the Calf for three years in order to avoid being sent to the Tower of London for allegedly taking bribes.

Agriculture in earnest began in the 18th Century and to this day you can still see the ribbed traces of the old style "lazy bed" cultivation. Sheep have been grazed there for hundreds of years and the rare Manx Loaghtan breed is still present.

This attractive brown-fleeced breed is recognisable by its horns on both ewe and ram and the Calf may have been their last bastion had foot and mouth spread to the Isle of Man during the outbreak a few years ago.

However cows, which amazingly were once swum across from the Sound to the aptly named Cow Harbour, haven't been present for some time.

Calf of Man view

Peaceful outlooks on the Calf

The Calf passed to the British Crown in 1828. It was permanently inhabited up until the first half of the last century when it was handed to the National Trust.

It’s now owned by the Manx National Trust and comes under the care of Manx National Heritage. Its history has left it with a motley collection of interesting buildings. The bird wardens who live full time on the Calf during the summer months live in an old farmhouse dating back to 1878.

They now enjoys splendid isolation as the lighthouse keepers, who also used to be resident, left several years ago following the automation of the existing light. Whilst there may be no keepers, there's no shortage of lighthouses.

Two splendid old towers date from 1818, whilst the squat modern design and it's now disused accommodation, was constructed in 1968. Not surprisingly perhaps, there is also no shortage of birds.

Whilst bizarrely the Calf has had its own postage stamps, one thing it has never had, is a pub. Perhaps this is what drove a warden in recent times to try and make wood sage wine during his tenure.

The resultant drink was, from all accounts, suitable for "laying down" and it's added rather ruefully "never picking up again".

last updated: 04/04/2008 at 15:03
created: 07/10/2005

You are in: Isle of Man > Places > Calf of Man explored

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