It’s not every day that you get to spend time with a national hero.  Sir Chris Bonington led the first successful ascent of Mount Everest via its treacherous southwest face in 1975.

Sir Chris had been invited to the Island by John Wannenburgh of the Isle of Man Sporting and Dining Club as their guest speaker.   Our itinerary on the morning after his talk included The Chasms, Cregneash and Calf Sound.

Showing off the Island in superb, spring sunshine was a real treat. Although not particularly well known for its rock climbing, our first visit was to The Chasms in the south of the Island.  Sir Chris was very taken by the Sugarloaf Rock at The Chasms, describing it as the Isle of Man’s version of the ‘Old Man of Hoy’, which is a 137m sea-stack in the Orkneys. He made a quick technical assessment and explained that Sugarloaf Rock was a two-pitch climb (whatever one of those is! -my proudest climbing achievement is managing the stairs at home without oxygen).


Next stop Cregneash Village.  An accomplished photographer in his own right, our guest got straight on with taking shots of the thatched cottages, the four-horned Manx Loughtan sheep and artisan dry –stone walls.  He was full of questions about the Island’s geography, language, history, parliament and independence.   Inevitably, conversation turned to the Isle of Man TT Races.  Comparisons with motorcycle road-racing and extreme mountaineering were not lost on Sir Chris.  Individuals still having the free choice to do dangerous things that might not be for all of us was part of his fundamental outlook on life.


Sir Chris left a lasting impression on me.  With a string of letters after his name including CVO, CBE and DL, I thought I might be a bit overawed - not a bit of it, Sir Chris was friendly, confident and understated in his manner.  He is the sort of man in life who you would willingly follow and do your best for, whether he was the captain of your local rugby team, a lead climber or a military officer going into battle.  Irrespective of what generation in history he was to be born into, this man was going to be a heroic leader.   I couldn’t help but feel moved by the look in his eyes when he recalled the close pals he’d lost on mountaineering expeditions.

Back to our itinerary.  Sir Chris took in the dramatic view from Cregneash down to the Calf of Man where we headed next.  Out came his camera again for some shots of the resident Grey Seals basking on the Kitterland Rocks with the Calf of Man in the background.  Now in need of some refreshment, we sat out in the sun on the veranda of the Sound Cafe for some delicious cream scones and coffee.

The day came to a close all too soon with a farewell handshake at Ronaldsway Airport.  Sir Chris though, vowed to return next year to walk the Isle of Man with his wife.

Related

Cregneash
Museum
Harry Kelly's Cottage at Cregneash

Settled on an upland plateau overlooking the Calf of Man, Cregneash village was one of the last strongholds of the Manx language and customs which characterised the crofting way of life. Step inside the Manx cottages to see how crofters lived through stories, skills and craft demonstrations.

Calf of Man
Landmark
Boat returning from the Calf of Man

Located amidst spectacular scenery half a mile off the southern tip of the Isle of Man, the Calf of Man is a small island extending to approximately 600 acres. An ideal destination for birdwatchers to visit, with it being home to a number of species of birds, including a number of seabird colonies and thousands of migrating birds on route.

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