A Visit to King Orry’s Grave – Laxey

Who is King Orry, you say, and why is he buried on a hillside on the outskirts of Laxey? King Orry was a Viking warrior who conquered the Isle of Man in 1079 and set up the Kingdom of Mann and its associated legal system, now famous worldwide. Sounds exciting doesn’t it, until you realise that the grave system where he is buried is at least 3000 years older than King Orry and therefore these graves must originally have been created for someone else and/or their families. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story!

This was a walk organised by the Archaeology section of the Isle of Man U3A –https://u3asites.org.uk/isle-of-man/page/85570. Despite living on and breathing the island for many years I had never visited this site, mostly because I falsely believed the site was in someone’s garden! Part of it is in a garden but the house and garden are now owned by the Manx Heritage Society and the footpath goes directly behind the house so that the site is accessible at all times.

Enough of who owns it. What is it, I hear you ask? There are two sites, adjacent to each other but separated by a steep road. When it was created it would have had spectacular views to Snaefell in the west and the sea to the east, assuming the area was not entirely covered with trees, in which the burials might be in a forest! It is hard to imagine either option when the area has been built up since and the views are obscured. Both sites consist of chambered cairns, with mighty stones propping up the entrances, perhaps not on the scale of Stonehenge, but still dramatic in their own right. Imagine the effort hewing and transporting each of those lofty stones from a distant quarry, over hill and down dale. Each site has a forecourt, where family members and tribes would gather around a hearth to commemorate their ancestors or add a burial to the site and these are clearly seen. It is believed they were created by farmers but surely such magnificent structures would have been made for the elite of the area? The entrances into the grave systems are low and narrow, and would always have been so, designed in this way to show the path from life to death. There may also be other unknown reasons for this design, to perhaps keep animals out or keep in nasty smells, who knows :-).

The site closest to the road (as in cover photo) is impressive, measuring 12 metres x 4 metres. It is on a slight slope north east to southwest. Imagine it as it would have been, a long barrow covered by soil and grasses, with a small stone entrance and its forecourt. You wouldn’t have been able to see the chambers unless you were inside. This one has been excavated twice, but only a few relics were discovered, including animal bones, fragments of pottery and a bowl. It is likely the tombs were raided over the 4000 years they have stood there. Unfortunately, this eastern site was damaged when a house was built in the 1800s. A large section was dug out, so it is impossible to know the full extent of this grave, or what was removed.

Across the road behind the house. Gretch Veg, and beside the fast flowing stream is the second grave system dedicated to King Orry. This is a slimmed down version of the western graves, with very large boulders laying down one side of the grave, and it has a stepped appearance. It does have quite a mystical feel to it. At the head of it a very very large 3 metre high boulder stands impressively looking over the grave, and is called King Orry’s Stone. This grave system has not been excavated, but according to Moore, in his 1891 book of “Surnames and Place Names”, an iron sword was found in this location, so maybe King Orry does lie beneath the soil, after all. Who knows?

For more information read: https://manxnationalheritage.im/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/King-Orrys-Grave-Access-Guide-2021.pdf

Following this visit, we went to Lonan church, but I will save that for a separate post as it is of interest in its own right.

Tales of Glen Helen and an Autumn Feast, 12 Sept 2021

Well, I don’t know if it might be a healthy feast but there certainly was a host of fungus along the banks of the Glen Helen river two weeks ago. I had friends visiting and Glen Helen is a sure-fire winner for an absolutely beautiful walk, with variety and interest and it was an area they hadn’t visited before.

Over the last year or so, the paths have been widened to enable wheelchair uses to have easy access to the main waterfall and to benefit from these wonderful views. To me, this is our bit of Switzerland on this island, and perhaps because it is so niche and has a different ambience to the other glens it is even more special. There are some magnificent trees which stand proudly at the entrance to lure you in.

This is not a difficult path to walk along. It follows the river at just a height so that you can look down into it but not have to negotiate any slippery stones. There is a bench half way along, which for some reason has been placed with its back to the river, presumably to enable those in wheelchairs to stop and take a break, but it would have been far more sensible to turn it the other way round so they could actually see something. We Manxies do have our idiosyncracies – though I cannot count myself a Manxie, being a stop-over from only 7-8 years ago. It takes a lifetime to be called a true Manxie!!

The actual waterfall was a little lame on this occasion as we haven’t had a lot of rain, but still lovely as are all waterfalls. From here, there is a choice of paths. You can either go straight up a very narrow path which takes you to the top of the falls, or you can take the steps to the right that lead uphill into the woods. We chose the latter option. If you deviate very slightly from this you will see another section of waterfall, which is very lovely and makes you want to look around the corner and see where it goes. Retracing your steps, you climb gently upwards until you reach a roughly level path with follows the river all the way back to the car park. I cannot understand how I have never taken this path before, but I did enjoy it and it was on this section that we came across the ‘hundreds and thousands’ of different types of fungi. I could become quite absorbed in looking at these, but as I know nothing about them at all, I satisfied myself with taking photographs of them, some better than others. They were an array of colour too, not just boring beige or grey toadstools. The images below are a few of the very many we came across. There may be a few duplicates as they look very different as they decay.

This whole area was once pleasure gardens, created and designed originally by the philanthropist Mr. John A Marsden, who developed all the footpaths in the glen to highlight the natural beauty of the area. Where there are bridges now were stepping stones, so the falls would not have been accessible to anyone except the sturdy of foot, but would have been fun for children to cross.

There was so much to entertain you in the 1870’s, as long as you had a spare fourpence to enter the grounds – yes, you had to pay. Then you and the family could amuse yourselves with swings, skittles and croquet, and if you had a full 1 shilling you were allowed to fish in the river. At one point there was an aviary, a monkey house, seals(!), a bowling alley and even a small zoo. Sounds rather good. I think they should reinstate it as pleasure gardens, although now the glamping phase has taken over in the section close to the car park.

The car park has an interesting history too believe it or not. Just up the road from here is a white cottage called Sarah’s cottage, and you will notice a small stream runs beside it and then disappears, never to be seen again. Well obviously it has to go somewhere, and it goes under the road. Not so long ago there stood a hotel in this location and the stream flowed beneath it in its cellars. The hotel was knocked down and a car park concreted over it until… one day in 1980 a lorry driver (you could get them in 1980!) parked in an unfortunate spot, the driver hopped out of his cab for a call of nature, to simultaneously watch his lorry sink into the ground and a gap of 18″ opened up under one of the back wheels. In trepidation he moved his lorry and rang the authorities, who promptly arrived with a digger, but as they started to operate the machinery a whopping great chasm appeared 14ft deep and the whole car park disintegrated. I wonder what happened to the engineers who had initially designed the car park? Needless to say, there is now a reliable culvert underneath the existing car park, but do take care, you never know what may happen next. 🙂

As you can see from the map below this is only a short walk of about 2 miles in all, maybe 3 and perhaps 150-200 ft of ascent in all. For once I didn’t measure the distance or height. If you don’t know where this is, if you take the Douglas to Peel road, turn right at the Ballacraine crossroads where there are traffic lights (just before St. Johns) and Gleb Helen is a couple of miles up on a bend in the road. It’s always beautiful no matter what the weather or the time of year.

Ballaglass Glen with the U3A – 7th Sept 2021

With visitors from the UK over for a week, this was the ideal introductory walk to show them a part of the island that they might not otherwise see. Indeed it did seem to take an age to get there down the twisting roads in the valley around Maughold, not helped by my missing a turning earlier on. It takes about 45 mins from Port Erin.

It is always a very green area, maintained well by the local farmers and with some stunning countryside. It is some time since I have been to Ballaglass Glen, certainly well before our first lockdown. We met our U3A group, all people well known to me, and my family visitors were delighted by the warm reception they received.

The route follows a recognised track pretty much all the way to the coast, through beautiful woodland that goes above the Glen itself. There are a few ups and downs but by and large it is a very straightforward path. As you descend to the mouth of the small river, the area opens up into some fine wetlands. It is a great place for either lunch on the beach or throwing pebbles into the river or sea, which themselves have been thrown up by the sea over centuries. It is quiet and peaceful here, though surprisingly busy for an arbitrary Tuesday, though I was reminded it was the last day of the school holidays which may account for the numbers of families there today.

The route follows a minor road uphill for almost a mile until we take another even more minor road to the right which will ultimately take us off road for 300 metres to Cashtal Yn Ard (Castle of the Heights), a site of archeaological interest. It is a group of impressive standing stones that have stood here for the best part of 4000 years. It was originally a lot larger, one of the biggest megaliths in the whole of the British Isles, being 130 ft long, and containing 5 chambered cairns in a ‘horned barrow’. It is thought it may originally have been for a chieftain, and then over time it has become a communal burial ground for his lucky family. As with many of these ancient sites, one has to imagine it completely covered with turf and soil with a majestic entrance at one end, in this case, the west end where there still stands two mighty stones which would have been the archway into the inner sanctum.

This was our lunch spot with tremendous views over the North Barrule on the western side and the sea on the eastern side.

From here, we carried on along the same road in the northerly direction until we came to the wooded stream that is Ballaglass Glen again. There are a couple of wonderful houses nestling in this glen, and one kindly has a permissive path that allows visitors to walk among the trees inside the glen and enjoy the mini and greater waterfalls along this short distance back to the car. There are a number of paths so don’t take the first one that goes off to the right as you will miss some of the wonderful views if you do.

This is a short walk of just about 4 miles with a maximum height around Cashtal Yn Ard of about 150 metres ( just under 500ft). You only need 90mins – 2 hrs to simply do the walk, so a pleasant morning or afternoon stroll for anyone.

Santon to Ballasalla and more

The last two weeks has been very varied but with few opportunities for a good walk. In addition to my usual activities I have been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust introducing young people to nature and getting them enthused. For my part, my exploits were a little more dramatic than planned with a tumble on mossy ground grazing my arm and leg on one of the events and then on Friday at Ballaugh Plantation when we were hunting dragonflies and pond-dipping, my face became a meal for any biting insect that was around, so I now have a very spotty face.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit The Mallards in Santon, a new project creating a botanical garden which is the brainchild of millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, funded by himself. I had been here a few years ago and was looking forward to seeing how it has developed. The aim is to capture various moods and habitats that will be sustainable and provide a long term future for species that are not usually found on the Isle of Man. There will be (amongst other things) a Japanese garden, cascading waterfalls, historical living fossils, wetlands, an amphitheatre designed to be used occasionally for outdoor activities. I won’t see all this come to fruition in my lifetime and most of it is still under construction but it was interesting to hear about their plans and I shall enjoy watching it develop over the next 10-20 years.

Following this visit, I walked down to Port Grenaugh which is about a mile downhill from Santon. The walk along the coast here is magnificent, winding in and out of the cliff edge, round deep bays and through a gorge. It does not involve a huge amount of ascent. In fact, I only climbed a total of 500ft from start to finish and it is all in short doses. It is a normal sandy cliff path, a little uneven in places and if you have a stick you might find it useful to help to balance you from time to time. Having said that, it is perfectly manageable without one, with care. There is a slightly tricky short and steep downhill section in Santon Gorge for you to negotiate but you are soon over this. Although the gorge is treelined, this is always one of my favourite sections of this path as the stream is beautiful and the colours gorgeous and you go through a small area of wetland where you can see different wildlife. It is a very peaceful area. I saw a Speckled Wood Butterfly and a Large White Butterfly, and a little further on, Common Blue Butterflies and a Foxmoth caterpillar – very popular over here.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The walk starts with a road walk, albeit very pleasant, down to Port Grenough, that follows a stream all the way down to the bay. The path then takes the beach for a short distance and then goes along the cliffs for some 2-3 miles. There are great views to the north and south as you walk along and some interesting rock formations. About half way along you descend to a bay, have another short walk along a pebbly beach before ascending the cliffs again. There are many stopping points and if you are lucky you might see some dolphins out in the bay. From Santon Gorge, where we have to go inland, we cross the river and follow the path back to the coastline. The path is signed to the left and there is a broken wall, so you can enter the grassland sooner if you prefer. Keep walking left through a gap in the gorse and this takes you to an old promentory fort, which the U3A Archaeology leader would be able to tell you all about. I think this may have been a large fort as there is another embankment on the southern side as well. It was here that I spotted an owl pellet, which was rather surprising, but I didn’t take a photo of it I’m afraid. From here it is only a short distance to the airport runway extension that you can walk round to take you to Derbyhaven and Castletown, but I followed the perimeter fence into Ballasalla to get the bus home.

My walk was 5.65 miles, with a total ascent of 499ft and descent of 561ft. My Garmin tells me the highest point at any time was 163ft so you can see this is well within most people’s capability.

Heather Walk on the Western Cliffs 18/08/21

I make no apologies for there being a surfeit of photos mostly of purple heather and yellow gorse, as this was today’s mission. The Isle of Man boasts a kaleidoscope of spectacular colours at this time of year but you will see none better than on the walk from Cronk Ny Array Laa to Port Erin. I can see many of these from my house and can watch the terrain change from green to purple and yellow from my bedroom window.

However, it was one of those days starting in sunshine, quickly fading into soft clouds. Then the clouds would part, leaving you tantalised by a glimmer of sunshine, only to have it taken away just as quickly and be replaced by the thick veils of Mananan’s cloak, meaning that a large part of this walk was undertaken in fog, not great for photos. As you watch the slideshow below, it does eventually brighten up and offer up some views. 🙂

I had grabbed a lift to my starting point with my friend Janet, who was travelling to Peel to do her stint at the Wildlife Trust shop. She dropped me on the corner in thick fog. Undaunted, I made my way to the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa. I wondered if I might be a little late in the season for my photographs as a lot of the heather on the eastern side of the hill was going over from what I could see.

From here, it is a steady descent to The Slock. There are usually fine views of the south, but given the weather, imagination was necessary. I hadn’t gone far when I met a lady carrying a very large rucksack up the hill. It turns out she is Portuguese and was hiking around the island. We had a very interesting half an hour talking about her journey, bus times and tide timetables before we each continued on our respective ways.

Just before The Slock, I found myself below the cloud line and I was able to enjoy the magnificent colours all around me. It was then a short climb up to Gob Ny Beinn. The cairn is slightly further along the ridge. I stopped here for a late late lunch in the… fog… before continuing down to Fleshwick. This is usually the most stunning section for colour but the mist had the better of it for most of the walk. Even so, it was beautiful and moody and so very quiet. All I could hear was the wind under my ear muffs. Yes, it is August, but it was cold enough to wear a t-shirt, thin jumper, light fleece and waterproof at times!

Mission accomplished and numerous photos in the bag, once at Fleshwick I debated with myself whether to bother with the climb up Bradda Hill. I wasn’t feeling great and I knew really my body had had enough, but if I am presented with a challenge that is achievable I am likely to do it. There was an alternative, low route home from Fleshwick, but it is less interesting, so the more challenging route won.

The route up to Bradda Hill is known as a fairly ferocious climb, though not difficult as long as you take your time. It is 500-600ft, but it is only the first 450ft that is quite steep. And there are plenty of stopping places. It is then an undulating walk along the cliffs to Port Erin. The scenery changes a lot. There are still significant patches of heather and gorse but not the unbroken expanses of the Carnanes or Cronk any Array Laa. It is easier to see the effect of farming too, as where there might be moorland is grassland. At this point, the clouds decided to relieve themselves of their moisture, so I packed away my phone and stepped out to make my way home.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon, but it took its toll on me. I had to go to bed and rest when I got in, and I haven’t been a lot better today. But ask me anytime, I’ll just keep going until I no longer can.

I will leave the photos to do the rest of the talking. If you can get out in the next few days you won’t be disappointed. The hills all around the island look spectacular.

Distance on the hills 6 miles + 1 mile into Port Erin; Ascent 1200 ft

Around Staarvey and along the Switchback Road, 13th Aug 2021

The tree lined avenue between St Johns and Tynwald Mills always cheers me. The colours and the dappled light look attractive at all times of year. Following this minor road over the bridge you meet the back road to Peel. I have often wondered where the track went immediately opposite the junction, and today I decided to find out.

I had been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust at Cooildarry with the young Watch group. We were investigating the traps Dawn had set, and the children excited meandered through the wood looking out for flags and traps, trying to guess whether there would be anything inside the traps – which were mostly positive with single woodmice ferreting about inside. We weighed them and measured them and sexed them. Then it was the hedgehog tunnels, with ink stained paper in the centre so that their footprints could be caught on the white paper either side of the tunnel. Only, we didn’t find hedgehog footprints, just a cat(!), mice and possibly a stoat’s footprints. It kept the children absorbed for about 90 mins.

From there, I stopped at the car park on the switchback road, which is a long 2 mile … switchback… with fantastic views towards Peel. There is a footpath uphill on the northern edge of the switchback, another footpath I had never walked along. It is a stony track suitable for bikes and pedestrians but not pushchairs or wheelchairs. Just as you take a rest, there is a chance to enjoy this surprise view, which you might expect to see in a mediterranean country rather than the Isle of Man.

If you keep on this path it takes you over the side of Knockharry, but I took the path to the right leading to Staarvey. There are wonderful views to the east but only occasional glimpses of the sea to the west as the path goes through farmland below the top. If you look very very closely, on the top left of the photo below you can just about make out the marquees at Patrick, signalling the Royal Show is on. This photo was taken just as I came off the rise but this view would soon be masked by the hills. The map tells me there are cairns close to the path but I must admit I didnt see them. This is a walk across fields full of cows, which as usual were interested to know what I was doing, but finally left me alone. Guess they think this is their land, not mine.

I am always amazed at the different atmospheres and vistas that this island gives us in different places; places where we walk or pass by regularly look so different from just a few feet higher up. I enjoyed this walk across the fields as there was a great variety of colour and the hay had been cut and it is clearly a living landscape. Some of the stiles were a bit iffy, particularly the one in the last field before the lane. I was tempted to climb the gate but persevered but it was impossible to find the rungs on the ladder on the opposite side of the fence on the photo below.

From here, I joined the road which was still a very pleasant, quiet walk down to Laurel Bank and around the hillside which eventually turned into the aforementioned track that had originally interested me. There are great views of Slieau Whallian and St Johns here, but my phone was out of juice so I wasn’t able to take any further photos and none of the switchback road which is disappointing. Another time. I turned right at the main road – this is a fairly busy back road and although it is fine to walk along it as a single person or even two or three people, I wouldn’t recommend it with a group. Just past the right bend I turned off onto the switchback road and followed this all the way back to the car. It is slightly uphill for about a third of the road and from then on small humps and hollows but nothing difficult or strenuous; just a delightful walk on a narrow lane with passing places. There was the odd car and cyclist, but this road is safe for pedestrians.

I haven’t been able to do much walking recently due to physical constraints (what’s new!) and jobs I have to do in the house, mostly putting things in the roof or decorating before my new carpets come. One job seems to create another. Then of course, I do have my ‘work’ teaching Psychology. I am thrilled to say that all my students, even those I assessed for another organisation, retained the grades I gave them, so if I have to assess private candidates next year I shall feel confident to help them all.

I shall be busy over the next couple of weeks with more Watch meetings for young people, helping at Ballachurry Nature Reserve and my usual duties at Scarlett Nature Reserve; and I still have more peatland to survey, so whether I can get out doing any serious walking we shall have to wait and see.

The walk I have just described shows how a short walk can be just as pleasant and rewarding as longer walks and revive the spirit.

Distance – just under 4 miles; total ascent 476ft; total descent 479ft

St Johns to Foxdale Circular – 8 miles

I planned this walk to save the best bit until last. This is one of the nicest of our disused railway lines that hasn’t been ‘upgraded’ and retains the natural wildlife around it. The rest of the walk is very good too!

I started at St. John’s and walked in an easterly direction along the railway track for about a mile. This is naturally flat, but this section isn’t especially inspiring, although some of the wildflowers waving in the fields looked magnificent. I crossed the Ballamodha Road, where there is an old station building and walked to the next road junction on the outskirts of Greeba. Here I turned right up the lane for a short distance and then the path leads off to the left. I had never walked this track before and it is very pleasant, providing excellent views of Greeba Mountain.

It is an upward path for about a mile, but not difficult. The highest point is 656 ft over this distance. It is a gentle slope on the side of a valley that eventually takes you to the Cornelly Mines. This makes a good coffee stop, and you can climb the stile and peruse the site if you wish. I declined this invitation, walking past the mines to go into the Archallagon plantation.

There are many routes through this, and I mostly took the track shown on the map, until I spied a field of purple wildflowers looking splendid against the backdrop off the mines. From then on I took a lesser path that would get me to the same destination. I came across some orchids beside the path, perhaps not at their best now, but nice to know they are there; and I watched as chaffinches flitted from branch to branch.

I left the plantation at the southerly car park and walked along the road for a short distance. I had noticed a short cut down to the hairpin bend at Foxdale, and this turned out to be a very attractive, if overgrown in places, footpath. It terminates just before the top reservoir. I kept to the less frequented lane to avoid the Foxdale main road, passing some lovely houses and the Kionslieu reservoir I visited a month or so go.

The reservoir at the hairpin bend

Now the wildflowers in this lane had changed from the meadow buttercup to cow parsley and harebells. This time, I took the lane at the top of the hill that leads down to Foxdale, passing by the towering Old Vicarage and church.

The lane leading to Foxdale

It was no distance from here to the start of the railway track that would take me to St. John’s. the old station building remains and the track leads below the houses on the top road, allowing us to see into their gardens and also appreciate that what you see of the houses from the road is only a fraction of the size they really are, as they are built into the hillside. The walk along here was just lovely, with the drop on the right deepening with every step. I could hear the water in the unspoilt stream bubbling away below, but there is not footpath beside the stream, so the vegetation has taken over and looks most attractive.

The track crosses the main road, though I continue to be puzzled as to why I had to climb the height of a bridge to rejoin it. Presumably it was in two sections at some point? From here to St Johns the path is sometimes more open, sometimes in trees, but giving you glimpses of the countryside in different directions. It was so pretty as the sun came out making everything look cheerful.

I saw very few people on this walk, just a few dog walkers in the Archallagon plantation and cyclists on the other footpaths. You can shorten this route in a couple of places, or if time is limited or you don’t want any hill-climbing, you could park in Foxdale, walk the railway line, and get the (occasional) bus back to St. John’s. All routes are beautiful. You won’t be disappointed.

.

Scarlett Geology 17th July 2021

Here I am, back on my beloved island after visiting family in the uk for 2 weeks. My first activity on Saturday was a guided tour of Scarlett with Dave Burnett from the Geological Society, and organised by the Manx Wildlife Trust. If you are planning a visit here, always check their website for events while you are over.

It was another gorgeous day. Fortunately, this was a morning walk and talk so we wouldn’t be exposing ourselves to the hot manx sun – I never thought I would see the day when I would be saying that!

We started by looking down at the beach beside the car park. That might sound uninteresting until you look at what is beneath your feet. The limestone is made up of millions of crushed sea creatures, so that most of the time you wouldn’t have a clue as to what the limestone comprises as they have completely disintegrated. But here, there is heaps and heaps of evidence of times gone by, of the mediterranean type of climate, balmy seas and coral reefs that once was our island. Now, we are talking a long time ago, something like 330 million years, but when you think that the world is 4.6 billion years old, it isn’t really so long ago. Look down at your feet and attune your eyes and you begin to see another world of fossils. This isn’t the place to get too excited. You won’t find any dinosaurs here, they came and went after this time, but what you will see are fossilised remants of crinoids and corals, some of which are massive. Then you can imagine swimming in a warm sea surrounded by these beautiful animals and coming out to a… gin and tonic? Maybe not, but it sounds good doesn’t it. The photos below show corals.

We then moved further up the beach beyond the Wildlife Trust Centre and noticed that the limestone has more folds in it than at our original location. We were also shown some dykes lying on fault lines, which are gaps in the limestone where molten rocks from deep in the earth had intruded at some point. This material is known as dolerite, but is softer than the surrounding limestone so only some deposits remain. We were told that what we see at the beach is just the tip of the ‘iceberg’ and that the dykes run for kilometres inland under the ground and also go deep into the earth. These faults are minor but together they form of patchwork of faults under the Isle of Man, but don’t worry, an earthquake is not imminent (I hope).

Only slightly further on, the landscape changes again, and the smooth limestone rock is replaced by lumpy granular rock, containing large and small black and brown pieces of volcanic rock and other very fine rock which is ash. This combination is called tuff, volcanic ash which is spewed out during an eruption. Dave explained that sometimes eruptions are more gradual and the rock comes out of the earth as if out of a toothpaste tube creating a pillow effect, called ‘pillow lava’; and at other times when there is more water in the mix it explodes rather than a can of fizzy drink, and this is what tuff does. There is plenty of tuff to look at here. You will also notice that it is a lot sharper than the limestone. If you want to see pillow lava you will need to go further along the coast towards Pooil Vaaish.

We moved on again, and Dave showed us areas where all the rocks have lots of holes in them – these are called vesicles. As the molten rock, water and gas comes to the surface it forms bubbles which, if they do not explode, get contained within the solid rock. These are similar to pumice, which is created by the same process but to create pumice the explosion is frothier creating a lot of light bubbles. In the photo on the right you can see another white substance called Amygdalite, which is a mineral that infiltrates the rocks after it has cooled. It is not quartz, which is found extensively on the island, but is more likely to be a zeolite or calcite.

Just while he was explaining all this a pod of dolphins decided to give us a performance, so he lost most of his audience for a while as they leapt about in the water. In any case, it was time to go. It was such an interesting morning, and it has inspired me to look into the geology in more detail. The photos aren’t great, but at least it shows the Risso dolphins were there. And I finish with a peaceful view inland from this same spot.

Tideswell, Derbyshire – final day

I have really enjoyed my few days in Tideswell. The countryside is a perfect example of the UK’s traditional green and pleasant land and it has a timeless feel to it, despite evidence all around of progress and technology, in the forms of masts and wires, a variety of road signs, and cars parked in every nook and cranny on the streets, at least in the old part of the village where the houses were originally built for living rather than housing transport. Some of the properties are very old and opposite the church is a house whose front door is dated something like 1542. What stories that house would be able to tell.

Today, I did a short morning walk of about 3 miles, starting with a trip to the pharmacy to get some nail varnish for my Aunty in Retford, who I am visiting tomorrow. (When I was in Castleton yesterday I asked if there was a pharmacy and was told I would either have to go to Chapel-en-le-frith in one direction or Hathersage in the other, so there are clearly some disadvantages in living in remote beauty spots.)

I took the path that runs behind the cathedral to the higher lane and followed it north. The cathedral itself is worth a visit and has a magnificent stained glass window amongst other interesting artefacts.

I had selected a particular road route because I was hoping to avoid mud for once, and the map showed the road descending between two hills, but in reality that was misleading, although the route was still very pretty and it was almost a dale in itself, with a small stream and meadows of wild flowers alongside the road. I turned off the road to take a very straight track that leads to Wheston. This was wide and easy to walk on, and it followed the top of the hill so the views were wonderful. I had to wait while a tractor went past as there wasn’t room for both of us. Wheston is only a very small hamlet but does lead to the entrance to Peter’s Dale, a dale I have not visited on this occasion but shall do another time.

The route back to Tideswell was along another minor lane, and I enjoyed seeing the village from another angle. It is also nice to have an undemanding walk every now and again. So, here terminates my few days on my own, though I did meet up with son James and his daughter Emily yesterday and daughter Sarah this evening, so not entirely on my own. It is so good to see the family after such a long break, and I am looking forward to spending more time with them, and son Matthew, after my brief sojourn to Retford tomorrow.

I shall definitely return here. There is so much walking to do either from the village or within 15 mins of driving. The paths are well maintained and they criss-cross the countryside to give you miles and miles of roaming, meaning that you can vary your route time after time within a narrow area. And Tideswell itself is lovely and less commercial than some other villages and towns in the Peak District. I can recommend it should you decide to visit Derbyshire, even on a rainy day.

Blue John Caves and Cave Dale, Castleton

Continuing my brief time away in Derbyshire, I decided to visit the Blue John Caves at Castleton. It is many years since I have ventured down under the ground, possibly thirty odd years ago, as I remember writing a children’s story about it at the time and my young son, Matthew, now with a child of his own, illustrating it. I still have his pictures tucked away in a drawer at home.

I was there early, so there was no queue. I paid my money, requesting an OAP ticket, which prompted the seller to ask me if I could manage the 245 steps down and up! As it was I managed them better than some of the younger people.

The caves are well lit, and the steps are a manageable height. There is a handrail all the way down, which the guide insists is used all the time, and photographs are only permitted when we stop. Some of the caverns are huge, others only moderately large, and you have to remember that the miners did not have the luxury of neat steps to negotiate and then they had equipment to lug up and down as well.

The mineral called Blue John, is a form of fluorite, a semi-precious mineral, and takes its name from its purple/ blue colour, unique to the two caverns here in Derbyshire (this one and Treak Cavern a mile away), and only found in China otherwise. It is still mined today, in very small quantities, and you can expect to pay quite a lot of money for blue John jewellery. Castleton has many jewellers selling the same.

Then, of course, it was raining, so what else to do but get wet and walk up another dale. This was after I had finished shopping.

Cave Dale is situated in the heart of Castleton itself and leads back up between the limestone hills. It is about a mile long and it is a glorious dale, and leads you to the top of the range of hills, from which you can get splendid views for a climb of about 500ft, so just a bit more than climbing from sea level to Milner Tower in Port Erin. It is a very gentle, grassy, stony climb, so do be careful on the rocks as limestone is so very slippery when wet.

On the right you can see Peveril Castle towering above you. This is a Norman structure, and woe betide anyone trying to attack. This steep sides were an excellent protection. Below Peveril Castle is Peak Cavern, also known as Devil’s Arse, the only natural cavern in the area, and this is worth a visit. Speedwell Cavern is also excellent, and includes a boat ride.

Cavedale was initially a wet dale, but today the water flows underground. Initially carved out by glaciers, it then collapsed further, creating the narrow gorge at the start. Even two hundred years ago, there was a ‘roof’ to the entrance. So, just think, when you walk through Cavedale, you are walking through history and over the top of an extensive cave system, much of which has still to be explored.

Having reached the top, and only wanting a short walk I followed the top of the hill leading steadily down the grassy pasture to the trees close to Peveril Castle, where the path turns into a fairly steep, stony and slippery path. They views are fantastic, even in the damp, foggy air.

At the most, starting from the car park by the visitor centre this is a 3 mile walk, so an easy walk to do at any time of day, and there are many places to eat and drink when you return to Castleton, and of course, the main other Caverns to visit.