Glen Wyllin at Kirk Michael in the Isle of Man is a popular campsite with a fascinating history
Glen Wyllin, or Mill Glen, is situated on the western coastline of the Island at Kirk Michael. The glen has a children's play area and a good campsite. The road enables good vehicular access and access for those who are disabled. There is ample car parking in the lower section, which leads to the shore. This glen is also on the main Peel to Ramsey bus route.
Glen Wyllin starts almost at the foot of Sartfell and, like Glen Rushen and many others, it bears different names in its several sections e.g. Cooilldaragh Glen (Glen of the Oakwood Corner), the main valley is Glen Kiark (Grouse Glen) and the northernmost fork of the upper glen is Glen Na Malish or Maarliagh (Glen of the theft or robber). The upper glen, once known as Faragher's Glen after the miller Bob Faragher, has two rivers flowing down from the hills above Michael and this section of the glen includes the Cooildarry Reserve owned by the Manx Wildlife Trust. The middle part of the glen has a small cluster of houses and a tall eucalyptus tree, which was planted by a gentleman, Mr Green; this area then became known as "The Green". The lower section, which at one time was Corkill's Glen, had access to the shore and the popular camping site and this is owned by the Forestry Division.
Cooildarry has many exotic species of plants including rhododendron, which needs regular work to keep it under control. There are over fifty species of fungi in the glen and in the spring the woodland floor is carpeted with bluebell, primrose, wood anemone, lesser celandine and wild garlic. Among the thirty-five bird species known to have bred at Cooildarry are raven and sparrowhawk.
The Ordnance Survey Map of 1868 shows that there was a lily pond, walks and summerhouses in the glen. It was all part of the Ballacregga Estate and belonged to Robert Cowley and John Robert Cowell, two staunch Methodists, MHKs and well-known businessmen. They formed a syndicate in the late 1880s and to capitalise on the new tourist industry, they embarked on the venture of the Glen Wyllin Pleasure Grounds. The official opening took place on 5th July 1890. There was a toll office between the upper and lower glens where people would pay to go up or down.
The glen and pleasure grounds were a great success with visitors to the Island, and all went well until the 3rd February 1900, (known as Black Saturday), when Dumbell's Bank in Douglas collapsed. John Robert Cowell was to be a casualty in this disaster, which affected the whole of the Island. He resigned his seat in the House of Keys, gave up his directorships and left for America.
The land was sold off to Mr Alfred E Grundy from Wigan who wanted to re-open the "Fuller's Earth" workings in the upper part of the glen. This earth works had ceased operation prior to the start of World War I with the advent of cheaper soothing powders becoming available. Mr Grundy had no use for the 22 acres of pleasure grounds and sold these on to Edward Henry Corkill who had bought Ballacregga estate many years previously. Mr Corkill purchased this land mainly to provide extra grazing but he was also a shrewd businessman and, in 1907, with the help of his sister-in-law, Miss Emily Kinvig, the glen and pleasure grounds continued.
For the next 36 years, under the supervision of Miss Kinvig, the glen opened at the end of May and closed at the end of September.
Emily was also a stout Methodist so the gates were kept closed on Sundays. She ran advertisements in the Ramsey Courier and Douglas papers and also in the local guide books of the time. She also put up framed and glazed adverts in the railway stations, had an entry in the English Directory and Gazetteer, and even wrote an article for 'The Country Homes & Estates Journal', about the Glen Wyllin experience. A lot of Emily's time was spent organising Sunday School events, such as their picnics and parties. Some days there could be up to 40 private meals and two parties to cater for. An example of these parties can be seen in the meticulous records kept by Miss Kinvig. On the 21st May 1931 she catered for 144 children, 130 adults and 13 drivers from the Bucks Road Sunday school. Meat teas cost 1s.9d and sweet teas 1s3d. A lot of the fresh produce was supplied by the farm, including the salad vegetables, milk, eggs and butter. Ice cream was made on the premises.
Admission prices to the glen were 3d for an adult, 2d for a child and 1d for one of the local village children. Visitors could hire bathing costumes, hats and towels and the use of a bathing hut. Amusements consisted of croquet, putting, bowls, tennis, children's swings, boating lake and a hobbyhorse roundabout.
Special occasions, such as Eisteddfods, Chruinnaghts and Rechabite parades were celebrated in style in the glen.
The glen had quite a large number of local staff. Gardeners; waitresses, kitchen staff, someone to man the pay kiosk, someone to maintain the equipment and there were many other jobs needed to keep things running smoothly.
Mr Corkill at the age of 80 and Miss Emily Kinvig at the age of 70, decided to sell the glen, and after 36 years of successfully running the pleasure grounds, it was agreed, in September 1935, that the glen should be sold to the Isle of Man Railway Company.
The Railway Company remodelled the lake and gave everything a new lease of life. During the Second World War the Manx Home Guard used the glen for training weekends. The glen was still successful for a good number of years after the war, until, with the decline of the tourist trade, the Railway Company got into difficulties.
The glen was put up for sale and all the local people lobbied the Government to buy it, which they could have done for £12,000, but nothing became of it and the glen went slowly into suspended animation and decay. In 1967 advanced plans were in hand to develop the site which were to include a holiday centre comprising 120 self catering chalets, licensed restaurant, bar, shops, swimming pool, children's playground and other tourist attractions. It was proposed the centre would be open by 1969 and completed by 1972. It didn't happen.
The Forestry, Mines & Lands Board acquired it in 1978 for £28,000 from the Foxdale Spar Company.
The road down through the glen was transferred into Highways Board ownership in 1985 and became the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (now the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture).
This side of the Island is prone to erosion and major work has been carried out to stabilise the riverbed and banks. During 1991/92 the DHPP placed large rocks along the bottom of the cliffs in the fight against the elements and this seems to be working in protecting this particular area; however the old hatchery/mill has gone from the coast and a careful watch has to be made on the progress of the erosion. The area of the old boating lake, where scrub willow had been invading, was re-landscaped in 1992.
[Source: Manx Glens - A stroll through history]
[Acknowledgement: Suzanne Cubbon]