Who ever knew that Laxey had two wheels?
Mention the name Laxey in informed company and the chances are the response will be:
“Oh, the Laxey Wheel.”
Laxey Wheel. Singular. One of.
Deliberately staying in Laxey––in the excellent Shore Hotel, since you’re asking––it was inevitable that I would visit the Wheel. The Laxey Wheel is the largest water-powered wheel in the world. It is famous, not just throughout the Isle of Man, but beyond. Not so many months earlier, I had seen a TV show where Julia Bradbury had visited the Laxey Wheel. And what’s good enough for Julia is good enough for me.
I set off from the harbour-side in Laxey in good spirits, followed the road up the hill to the main part of the village and, there directly in front of me, was a big wheel. Now, if I am being entirely honest, it wasn’t quite as big a wheel as I was hoping to see but, nevertheless, as wheels went, it was a big one.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no entrance fee to look at the Wheel; in fact, I was able to stroll right up to it and look around. I was also surprised to discover myself the only visitor, but I justified this anomaly with the explanation that Laxey is, after all, a bit off the beaten track for most casual tourists and, big water wheels don’t necessarily float everyone’s boat.
I took some photographs from the bottom of the Wheel; took some photographs from a terrace overlooking it from above; took some arty snaps of drips of water falling off the paddles, however after about ten minutes I had exhausted most of the possibilities that the Wheel appeared to offer. It had been rather a long journey to get to visit Laxey for ten minutes’ sightseeing. In the back of my mind, I could picture Julia Bradbury standing on top of the Wheel, looking directly down on the rotating paddles. I surveyed the Wheel again. There didn’t seem to be any way to get on top of it. Perhaps it had been a special privilege for Julia Bradbury? But then when I look again, there doesn’t seem any possible way to get on top of the wheel, special privilege or no special privilege. I wonder if I have just imagined the episode. Perhaps Julia Bradbury never came to Laxey in the first place?
A plaque announces that the Wheel has an affectionate name: Lady Evelyn. One last look, but there is nothing more for it. I say goodbye to Lady Evelyn. Visit over.
I confess to being a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, Lady Evelyn was a big wheel. I guess, I was just expecting a bigger wheel. And, while I am still wallowing in this disappointment, there she is… Only half-glimpsed, some half a mile further on, rising above the treetops, is another big wheel. A properly big wheel.
This one is called Lady Isabella. If it is not too vulgar to reveal a lady’s vital statistics, she has a diameter of 21.75 metres and weighs over 50 tonnes. The purpose of Lady Isabella was to pump water out of the neighbouring Great Laxey Mine, which was once a source of silver, lead and zinc.
Unlike her––smaller––cousin, there is an entrance fee to visit Lady Isabella but, also unlike her––smaller––cousin, there is a spiral staircase, which leads to her summit and from which it is possible––à la Julia Bradbury––to watch her blades turning from above.
The view from the top of Lady Isabella is impressive, revealing the little ribbon of houses, which comprise Laxey village, in the valley; the green hills, which wind all the way to the summit of Snaefell; the electric railway; and the start of the Mines Trail, a woodland track, which can be followed––I did––to view the semi-derelict buildings of the original mine.
A visit to Lady Isabella is thoroughly worthwhile. The site is an interesting glimpse of a lost industrial heritage; the woodland trail provides a pleasant countryside stroll on a warm day; and, nothing against Lady Evelyn, but when it comes to wheels: size matters.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer E. C. Glendenny discovers more wheels than she bargained for in Laxey.
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