La Palma, Canaries – January 2020: Walking Day 1 – The Southern Volcanoes

La Palma is a walkers’ and geologists’ paradise. For my first visit to the Canary Islands I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew it contained volcanoes and it was billed in the HF brochure as being very green, but in reality this small island – almost the same size of the Isle of Man, is very dramatic, with old and new volcanoes littering and influencing every tiny part of it and hints of all types of natural change occurring over geological time.

Day 1 walks are generally designed to ease walkers into an unknown terrain and to get the feel of what they are capable of achieving. The other walkers all opted for the ‘harder’ route which involved a small amount of ascent contouring around the side of hills with coastal views and a descent into Los Canarios. I opted for the ‘easier’ route, which meant I would have time to explore the small town, but more importantly I would have time to have a good look at the volcano visitor centre and take a walk along the crater rim. From there, both groups would walk through the extensive lava fields and past the latest volcano to erupt down to the sea.

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The view of the volcanic ridge to the north of Los Canarios, adjoining the Cumbre Vieja ridge. Below the small town to Los Canarios viewed from the San Antonio crater.

If anything, although there are other competing highlights, this was my favourite day. I walked along the San Antonio crater rim following the tourist route, but I was also able to explore the other side of the crater and have it entirely to myself. The light was better on this side and there was a greater sense of isolation and wonder at the achievement of the natural world. This volcano erupted in 1677 and therefore few plants and trees have had a chance to colonise the interior. The circumference of the crater is about 1 km, the depth 100 metres, and it’s height is 663 metres (2175 ft), so about the height of Snaefell.

The island is host to tens of volcanoes old and young, maybe more, and according to the Express in Jan 2019 it is already overdue another major volcanic eruption on a massive scale! It also hosts a myriad of astronomical telescopes on the ridges of many of the volcanoes and there is a miniature one at the visitor centre pointing to the Polaris star, which rather amused me.

Once we were all together again it was an continuous walk steeply downhill for over 2000 ft. In some places, the lava fields were tiny grains of pica, in other areas soft ash or small loose rocks and in others we were stepping over cobbles or bigger stones. We passed the Teneguía volcano which was more rugged than the San Antonio volcano with many more boulders; little natural vegetation has had a chance to grow yet, since this volcano only erupted as recently as 1971, following a previous eruption in 1949.

To the west we were able to see how the locals are making use of the new land created by these magnificent lava flows. Although the soil is very thin its temperate climate lends itself to growing grapes and wine is becoming relatively big business. The vineyards are evident all around the south, which also happens to have the sunniest and warmest weather of the island. There are several places where you can sample their wine, even in Los Canarios.

 

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I sat here, alone with my thoughts, relishing the peace and quiet around me.

The descent from San Antonio was very steep and rocky in places, and always interesting. The next photo shows we have descended a few hundred feet and shows the San Antonio volcano standing imperiously in its environment.

We had stopped to look at some hieroglyphs on the rocks at the suitably named Roque Teneguía. This is an outcrop of rock containing phonolite which is pale and contrasts with the surrounding grey basalt gravel (called lapilli).The meaning of the symbols is unclear, and is thought to be ancient artwork; similar patterns are found on the rocks in other places too, so most likely some form of communication. They are usually positioned near a water source. Some say they resemble Celtic hieroglyphs, other says they resemble water or fertility, but in truth, no-one knows. We do know that they are at least 500 years old, so were there long before the volcanoes in this region.

Ancient Rock Art

From here the terrain changes as we walk along the eastern side of the Teneguía volcano. Large lumps of rock and awkward looking shapes were abundant and the descent here was arduous in places. The paths look deceptively easy, and they have been thoughtfully designed and maintained, but often the rocks are very loose and it was easy to lose one’s footing any day of the week.

 

Compare this with the lunar landscape on the eastern side as we descend further towards at Fuencaliente in the coast, which of course is all  new land.

You can just see the salt pans in the photograph above. It is possible to walk around them, or visit the lighthouse, or have a beer in the cafe. For those who don’t want to walk you can get a bus from Los Canarios and save your knees! Not that I had a problem with knees; my problem was toes, but I will tell you all about that another time.

None of the other walks we did have such a sense of spaciousness. Every walk was beautiful in its own way, but maybe because I am an islander myself and spend a lot of time looking up at the sky and out across the sea, this day will remain in my memory for ever. And of course, we finished at the sea.

Distance – my full day was about 8 miles, much of which was messing about around the volcano; ascent: 600ft; descent 2400ft

To follow: Day 2 was a testing walk in the hills north of Santa Cruz, with a lot of steep ascent and descent with lovely wooded valleys and steep ravines to cross, but well worth the effort. A memorable day.

After the rain, the sun 19/01/20

What is more uplifting than watching the sun set on hills and coast? I was travelling back from Peel, a journey that usually only takes 25 minutes, but I was so mesmerised by the colours and shapes on the skyline it took me over an hour to get home. Here are some of the photos taken with my mobile, often from the car. The hills across the water are the Mountains of Mourne in Ireland, the distant cliffs and hills are from Niarbyl to the Sound, Cronk Ny Arrey Laa, and the pinker sky on other photos is mostly over South Barrule.

 

A Shapely Walk Around Douglas and Summerhill Glen- 4 miles

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The natural entrance to Summerhill Glen

Douglas is a surprisingly attractive town to walk around as long as you turn a blind eye to the less appealing aspects of its make-up and areas that look lost and forlorn or where some car park or development has emerged from nowhere and taken away all the character of the area. The Isle of Man does itself no favours by not caring enough about its heritage and there are too many derelict buildings or hideous erections that should never have seen the light of day, not even in an architect’s mind let alone in practice. It is too quick to destroy what history it has, as in the pending doom of the lone 18th century cottage which is being demolished to make way for a new ”by-pass” in Ballasalla, only approved by short-sighted politicians because Dandara promised to fund it as long as they could build xxx number of houses at the same time. But I digress…

You might say Douglas is much like any town. But look up, out, about and around the many old buildings  of the later 19th and early 20th centuries and you will see interesting shapes and objects that will surprise you. Roadnames with fingers pointing you in the right direction, canopies over shops that look as if they belong in Tunbridge Wells Pantiles area, attractive iron railings separating the Edwardian properties, squares of parkland and a crescent of housing reminiscent of Bath (though not as grand). Lots and lots of substantial Edwardian properties built to last, reminding us of the Isle of Man’s heyday when B &B’s sprung up in abundance to cater for the wild tourism that would swarm in on the ferry in the summer months.

I had been to the dentist on Woodburn Square and instead of walking back to the bus stop I went in the opposite direction, down roads I have never walked before, around the back of Nobles Park to the top of Summerhill Glen. The house styles are very varied and many are attractive with double fronts or bay windows, a row of chocolate box houses, one with a monkey puzzle tree in the front garden and sometimes very unusual houses. There were two houses side by side with windows in the upper elevations that looked as if they belonged in the 16th century as their small windows protruded out above the main house. There are many established trees in this area and it feels quite luxurious in places. There must have been a large country seat where Laureston Manor remains, now afflicted by the ever terminal illness of living apartments, but it still has its grounds and other houses have been built around the edge of its land, so the pathwork of land still retains its rich flavour.

I reached an area where most of the roads bear the name Victoria or similar, signs of anticipated grandeur and nobility – Victoria Road, Victoria Crescent, Victoria Avenue, Dukes Road, Upper Duke’s Road, Palace Road, Castle Hill – you get my drift, and here the roads are at the top of the wonderful cliff that skirts the whole of Douglas Bay and from where if you could only see through the trees there must be a wonderful view of the Bay. There are several very large buildings around here, many now converted for business use, again indicating that Douglas has at times been very wealthy.

All this was unexpected. This was not a planned trip but an idle walk through Douglas to get some fresh air with the idea of walking in daylight down Summerhill Glen. My first visit to this Glen was just two week’s ago when my son Matthew stayed with me for Christmas and we went to enjoy the illuminations which we did thoroughly enjoy in spite of the rain.

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Reaching the top of the Glen I followed the path down to discover a second more interesting path that enters the glen from the other side of the stream. I know most people are very happy with the modernisation of the paths in the glens but for me wide tarmac paths lose all the natural feel and magic of walking down a forested glen, so I was very happy to wander along the section that had not been tarmacked and watch the water meandering its way across the flat and boggy terrain, creating new rivulets here and there as it jumped over minor hazards on their way to join the main stream.

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The glen itself is very natural at the top and I found several interesting shapes in the stream and in the vegetation that sparked my interest. The stream is pretty with minor waterfalls along its ever downward and slightly winding trajectory. In the centre there is a flat area with wooden seats neatly positioned to enjoy the display the children (and adults) have created. It is not possible to follow the stream all the way to the sea as it goes underground whilst still quite elevated, but when I reached the shore to see where it finally entered the sea, I could hear a rush of water where it comes out behind the houses on Strathallan Crescent.

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The tide was out so I walked out into the bay and again I looked up at the lovely aforementioned cliffs and noticed houses half way up holding tightly on to the side of the cliffs, a pink house I had never noticed before with a curtain of trees behind it. Looking in the other direction out to sea, I walked out as far as the sand would allow me and came across boulders and seaweed that were as tall as me. I walked the mile or so back into town, and if you wished you could make a full circle of this walk.

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So, if you come to Douglas, take a bit of time to venture into those parts you don’t usually go and I’m sure you will find hidden treasures.

Below:  A slideshow of some shapes in Summerhill Glen

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I regret to say I did not take photos of the interesting properties I saw, but I will retrace those steps another time when I am armed with my camera and not just my mobile phone.

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