BIG WHEEL KEEPS ON TURNING

Staring up in awe at the blazing red, 72’ diameter wooden water wheel the lyrics of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” come to mind:

“Big wheel keeps on turning.  Proud Mary keeps on burning………”

We are on the Isle of Man and today our proud Manx friend and tour guide, Ally, has bought us to see the “world’s largest operating water wheel” – The Laxey Wheel.

Thankfully I mounted my wide-angle lens onto my Canon because trying to capture the sheer size of the wheel when you are up close is almost impossible.

The Laxey Wheel, located on the north-eastern side of the small Irish Sea island, was built in 1854.  The wheel’s job was to pump water out of the “Great Laxey Mines” complex in the nearby hills – a lot of water.  Indeed this massive wheel is capable of extracting over 1000 litres per minute from mine shafts the extend to  1500’ below the earth’s surface.

The water that feeds the wheel runs along a beautifully designed viaduct. Towering above the landscape the white washed stone arches of the viaduct provide avid photographers with some wonderful “perspective” shots.

Visitors to the Laxey Wheel complex can visit one of the old mine shafts that leads into the Glen Mooar part of the Laxey Mines.  A short track leads from the wheel up to the shaft’s entrance and, after donning a hardhat, you can walk 100’ into the mine. Be warned though.  Even if you are not claustrophobic, the short trip into the mine will get your attention.

Immediately on entering the shaft the temperature begins to drop and the water logged walls and low roof drip all around you.   The narrow gauge rail lines disappear into the darkness and the shaft seems to close in around you. The shaft is fenced off around 100’ into the mine but by this point you are in far enough to gain a sense of how brave and tough the Laxey miners were.

Exiting the mine into the bright, cool day is like being born again.

If, after a visit to the mineshaft, you are up for another challenge you can climb up to the top of the beautiful tower in which the Laxey Wheel is mounted.  A narrow, “one-person-at-a-time”, spiral staircase allows visitors to get to the top of the tower and view the surrounding hills and the Laxey Valley.   The climb also means that you get to see the very top of the 6’ wide wheel as it rotates gracefully – a very calming experience after the steep climb to the top.

After all the exercise and a lot of photos we walked down the hill to the small café located near the wheel.   Visitors can take in some of the café’s delightful offerings while listening to the water flowing from the wheel and into the nearby stream. We settled on the obligatory tea and scones.

The Laxey Wheel is open from 10am – 4pm in winter and 9.30am to 5pm in summer. The very reasonable entry fee of £5 goes toward keeping the “Lady Isabella” (as the wheel is called) turning for the generations to follow.

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