One of the best known glens on the Island, Glen Helen is on the western side of the Island, on the famous TT Course and 4 miles from Peel.
The glen has a children's play area, public toilets and disabled facilities. Refreshments are available at the restaurant. Access is by car or bus. There is a large car parking area at the entrance. This is a popular glen for coach parties to stop at. The glen has two rivers flowing through it, the Neb and the Blaber. Three quarters of a mile into the glen is the dramatic Rhenass Waterfall.
Glen Helen, formally known as Glen Rhenass had been acquired by Mr John A Marsden, a brush manufacturer from Seaview, Liscard, Cheshire, who also owned Liskeard Castle near Liverpool.
It was assumed that this glen was named after a daughter but there is no record of him having a daughter with the name Helen.
Mr Marsden laid out the glen with walks but originally most of the river crossings were by stepping-stones.
His planting scheme left the area around the waterfall open to enhance the contrast between the sheltered, well-wooded glen and the powerful waterfall, springing over natural rocks.
Marsden was keen to see the steam railway extended from the Douglas to Peel line out to the glen and this idea must have been taken seriously as on some of the contemporary maps the proposed line is shown as reaching the Rhenass waterfall.
After Mr Marsden the glen was owned by a Mr Bell who also opened a nearby slate quarry and it is believed the slate for the roof of Kirk Braddan Church was from this quarry.
When the private package of the Rhenass estate, known as Glen Helen, came on the market in 1867, it was purchased jointly by Mr William Quine (see Silverdale Glen) and Mrs T C S Moore.
In the early 1870s it was owned by The Glen Helen Hotel and Estate Company who converted the estate into pleasure grounds. Entrance could be obtained upon the payment of fourpence. This entrance fee included croquet, swings, skittles and admission to the vicinity of the waterfall. If you wished to fish in the river however, a payment of 1 shilling was requested and you had to provide your own tackle. Once the glen's increased, the walks were improved, and by 1876, bridges had been erected along with summerhouses and rustic seats. One of these was right above the Rhenass Falls and in a guide book of the time it was described as 81 ft 6 ins above the bed of the stream. The original supports can still be seen on either the waterfall.
Parts of these lovely grounds were laid out with ornamental shrubberies. The pleasure grounds had aviaries, a monkey house and even seals in the river. A sawmill shelter was converted into a bowling alley. The original cafe was used as an animal and bird house. The small zoo had attracted large numbers of visitors right up to the late 1950s. In 1957 it was reported that a badger had been found on the Mountain Road after escaping Glen Helen Zoo the previous summer. In the evenings dances were held.
The Forestry, Mine and Lands Board purchased Glen Helen in 1958 from Glen Helen and Pleasure Grounds for £4,300. It was the eighth glen to be acquired for the Manx people. The purchase included the Swiss Chalet restaurant, playground and buildings but not the public house or ballroom.
The car park was not purchased until 1979 when £900 was paid to Grace Chadwick, owner of the public house at that time.
Hotel and Restaurant
The glen's popularity continued and being on the famous TT Course, the house at the entrance to the glen was converted into a hotel. The hotel had a turret and the restaurant was capable of seating two to three hundred people at a time. The Swiss Chalet, which preceded the restaurant we see today, was burnt down in 1983. The Peel, Kirk Michael and Castletown fire brigades all turned out to fight the blaze at 6.45am on Monday 3rd January 1983. Little remained of the thatched structure and what left was so unstable that it had to be leveled. The glen was temporarily closed. The fire had destroyed a landmark that had already been threatened with demolition two years earlier because of a £25,000 estimate for roof repairs. At the time of the fire the chalet was run as a restaurant by father and son Vincent & Paul lles. The present restaurant designed in 1984 by architects Ellis & Brown in a sympathetic Swiss style, which complements the original Swiss Chalet and this design received a Civic Trust Award and was well thought of by the people as a suitable replacement for what had been a landmark.
The ornamental fountain at the beginning of the glen, is one of the few original items which is left from Marsden's time. It worked by water pressure from a little reservoir close by, but although the fountain was still able to work, it was in such a fragile state that the Forestry Board recently spent much time and work restoring it to its full glory.
Collapse of the Car Park
Getting back to the old hotel which stood on the site of the car park; this had a stream which flowed down from "Sarah's Cottage", under the car park, and through the cellars of the hotel.
This helped to contribute to the hotel falling into disrepair. It was decided in the late 1960s that the building was in such a state that it had to be demolished. They did this by allowing the debris to collapse into the basement and then constructed the car park over it.
All was fine until in the late 1980s when an unsuspecting lorry driver decided to park over this exact spot. After partaking of a spot of lunch, he felt the urge to answer a call of nature and chose to do this in a secluded spot just behind his lorry. Whether this was a quirk of nature or not, will never be known, for as he was looking around him he noticed to his horror, that under the rear wheels of the lorry was a hole about eighteen inches across. He carefully moved the lorry and phoned the Forestry Board to report the hole. Once the inspection team had arrived it was decided to bring in a mechanical digger to investigate further. Just as the bucket of the digger was being lowered towards the hole, the surrounding car park fell fourteen-foot down into what had been the basement of the hotel. When the debris from the demolition had been allowed to fall into the space, the wooden beams and supports had crisscrossed each other and had eventually rotted away causing the rubble on top to fall lower. On further inspection, it was discovered that the whole of the car park was in danger of collapse due to the underground stream, so a new concrete culvert was laid to channel the water away.
The glen itself suffered considerable storm damage in the gales of 1981 with a number of the original Beech trees on the upper end of the southern bank, being blown down. Under planting to replace them has now taken place.
Famous Visitors Plant Tree
The glen had two distinguished visitors in April 1933. The two famous flyers, Miss Amy Johnson, and her husband, Jim Mollison, were visiting the Island and were guests of the Peveril Motorcycle Club who were holding their dinner in the Glen Helen restaurant. To mark the occasion Miss Johnson planted a Douglas Fir tree, and a commemorative plaque was displayed next to it. This tree can be seen adjacent to the old Victorian fountain.
[Source: Manx Glens - A stroll through history]
[Acknowledgement: Suzanne Cubbon]