There are both blessings and curses involved with measuring the peat on the moors. The blessings come from knowing that the views I am seeing are views that few people see and the paths I tread have probably never been trodden by anyone. The isolation is bewitching, even though habitation can be easily seen only a couple of miles away. Today, I could see England in the form of the Lake District, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and each looked as if I could step over the water onto their hills.
The curses, or rather the one and only curse is the terrain. One minute you are walking on level ground, with bits of stone, grass and small undulations, the next you are walking through a bog or trying to find a way around it, and after that wading waist-high through swathes of heather, made worse on a downward slope where you cannot see your footing. It can be quite hard work, and you will use up your weekly ‘intensity minutes’ but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I have had two outings recently to South Barrule, monitoring the northern flank from the junction with the mines road up to the quarry and down to the plantation. It is further than you think, and although distance is irrelevant, I still covered nearly 3 miles yesterday on my sojourn and a couple of miles the previous time.
We are on the hunt for sphagnum moss, as I reported a while ago, and to measure the level of peat on the hills throughout the island. Previous areas I have surveyed have been somewhat devoid of moss, but there are some very large areas and deep peat in certain areas on South Barrule, but even so, they are in the minority. There is a lot of scrubby heather, gorse and grasses, and only in one section on the northwestern edge beside the quarry was there any sustained areas of bracken. An interesting find was a lighter coloured sphagnum moss in isolated wet locations, and in small patches. I didn’t notice many other flowers this time round.
So, I leave you with some photos of my days out in the hills from a few days ago. I have only surveyed half of my allocation on South Barrule so far, so still another two days to venture there at some point.
I had an hour to spare before Evensong at Peel Cathedral, just long enough for a brisk walk around Peel Hill and Peel Castle. I parked down by the marina and followed the road over the bridge, where there is a path that takes you up the hill. This gives extensive views of the coast to the north and Peel itself.
There is a variety of footpaths around Peel Hill, and you can choose the best one to take account of weather conditions. If you go all the way round Peel Hill I think it’s about 3 miles, but you can shorten it quite easily, as I did today. Peel residents are so lucky to have this walk on their doorstep, as well as the curved sandy bay and beaches. The cliffs to the north are low and easy to walk, so you can choose your walk according to your mood as well as the weather.
Having reached the first level area on the hill, I followed the track that goes around the back of Peel Hill, which is an even path until you reach the old quarry. There is then a narrow footpath that takes you uphill and around the coast, but you needn’t worry, it doesn’t go anywhere near the edge. This finally reaches the coast path on another col between the hills. You can turn right, or go up to the next peak to Corrins Folly, but I took the path over the tops on the left, where I eventually rejoined my original path. It is easy walking on grass, and there are a couple of short, steep downhills.
I still had some time to spare, so I did my usual sortie around the perimeter of the castle. I always have fond memories here as my son, grandchildren and I had a picnic up there on the rocks overlooking the bay – grandchildren I haven’t seen since November and unlikely to see in the foreseeable future 😦
From here, it was an amble on the front where an equestrian event was taking place on the beach. The prom was packed, as was the ice-cream shop. It is so good to see so many people out and about, including visitors from Guernsey.
If you are holidaying here, I can recommend the full walk around Peel Hill, or for those liking a longer walk, you could continue along the coast path to Glen Maye and get the bus back, or walk over the hills inland back to Peel, and have an afternoon tea at Harbour Lights.
Total distance: 2.8 miles; total ascent 358 ft
Today I have been out on South Barrule measuring the peat, so the next post will have a completely different feel to it.
Sometimes the simplest things can surprise you and make your day. This walk is only 4 and 1/2 miles, with a maximum ascent of about 250ft, so you might think nothing to write about. How wrong can you be?
It started with a journey on the steam train to Ballabeg, where I was the only one to disembark. Visitors beware – if you intend to get off at an unscheduled stop you need to tell the guard when you embark. I followed the road for a short distance towards the coast road and then turned off onto a delightfully overgrown and muddy path, where the tiny stream beside it would criss cross its way in front of you just to keep you on your guard. They were lots of speckled wood butterflies fitting in and out on this short path. It comes out on the coast road, where I turned left.
One of the joys of walking is making new discoveries. They do not need to be momentous, just reminders that life doesn’t stand still. As I walked along the main road to the farm I noticed a sign saying ‘sensitive verge’. I would never have seen this travelling at speed in a car, and now I shall look out for the wildflowers in spring and summer and watch how it develops.
I crossed the road at the farm, where I got another surprise. There was a lady looking out of the window; only on second glance, she was a cardboard cut-out. A short distance further down the lane that leads to Chapel Hill and I got another surprise. On the left was a plaque inviting me to sit down on the seat and enjoy the view. Of course, I must obey. It turned out to be a ‘talking bench’ and our very own ‘national treasure’ Charles Guard told me about the view in front of me and some of the history of buildings in the vicinity.
I then visited Chapel Hill, somewhere I have visited often. The Viking Ship burial site is looking rather unkempt but as usual the views are terrific and the light was dancing on the sea in the distance, giving it quite a magical feel. This is a place best visited with a guide who can tell you about the aeons of history of this site, from Bronze Age to Iron Age to Christianity and the defensive benefits of this location.
The Viking Ship Burial
View from Chapel Hill
Back to the lane and past Balladoole House, which Charles had reliably informed me was built in 1714 and has Queen Anne architecture. Maybe Manx Heritage will add a tour of this house to their events sometime in the future.
View to the north from the entrance to Chapel Hill
Soon enough I was at the coastline, joining it at Pooil Vaaish Farm. The tide was reasonably well out, but this section is perhaps not a place to linger. There are many wonderful spots as you enter Scarlett, with its interesting geology and flora. I was in my element here. As the tide was sort of ‘out’ I was able to mess about among the rocks. I am not good at knowing one rock from another, but these were definitely old lava flows. The rock was very grippy and safe to walk on, and you could see the gas holes in the some of the rocks. Also there were no fossils, which can be readily found just a little further round past the lime kilns and the visitor centre, where the rocks are limestone.
I have walked this walk many a time, but none more enjoyable than the one today, and what a lot of variety. If you are a visitor I would recommend either getting the bus to Fisher’s Hill, and ask the driver to drop you off at the corner, or get the steam train to Ballabeg. The walk I have described takes you to the centre of Castletown where you can get a bus back to either Port Erin or Ballabeg. Just make sure you get the right bus as one goes along the coast and another inland to Ballabeg and Colby. You could get the train, but the last train in the afternoon is relatively early unless its a special week like TT.
Distance: 4.6 miles, but less if you stick to the paths.
Total ascent 259ft (mainly clambering over rocks!); total descent 220ft
A great walk for all ages. Children as well as those in their second or third childhood will enjoy the walk along the coast in particular.
Being just one and a half miles cross country to Cregneash from Port Erin makes this a pleasant afternoon stroll, or an evening stroll if you have limited time.
There are countless routes to this quaint old village, which is always worth a visit at any time of year. I didn’t set out with a plan, other than to get some exercise, so I began by walking up Truggan Road, up the farm track to the Howe. The quickest way from here, but also the most boring, is to continue along the road, but I headed off in a westerly direction onto the moorland. This path is muddy at the best of times, but I did see some interesting flowers and quite a lot of sphagnum moss. I continued along the eastern side of Meayll Hill and joined the road at the quarry car park at Cregneash. If you are a visitor, there is a bus stop here that can take you down to the Sound or back to Port St Mary or Port Erin.
I stopped at the Cregneash cafe for a light lunch before making up my mind what to do next. With all the logistical problems caused by COVID-19 their opening hours are limited to 11am – 4pm Wednesday to Saturday only. What would normally be a busy, vibrant village cafe was today very quiet, with only a couple of visitors. It shows what a difference it makes when the coaches usually bring visitors to the area. The cafe has been redecorated with comfortable sofas as well as tables, and the food was very good, if limited to sandwiches, fantastic cakes and soup. I do urge residents and Guernsey visitors to pay it a visit and you will be able to have some easy walks to the coast from there, too.
I took a path that I have been meaning to try for a long time. It starts in the midst of the village beside a field of Loaghtan goats, who were bickering furiously and locking horns. This is a well made track going around the back of the hills to emerge at the coast just before Black Head. However, I took a very narrow track uphill and westwards, slightly overgrown with prickly gorse and heather (wear proper walking gear) which took me to my highest point of the day at Cronk Mooar. I then followed the coast path south to Spanish Head and traversed across the cliff to Black Head before returning to the standard path. The path descends to meet the end of the track I had begun on, and from there it is a steady climb up to the Chasms. There are two other tracks that you can take if you want to return to Cregneash, so it is easy to do a variety of circular walks of about 3 miles starting from Cregneash car park.
Once at the Chasms I chose the lower route which involves mostly descent, initially through the moor and grassland, and then through the sheep-strewn fields, all the way to Fistard and Glenn Chass. This is a level walk on good paths. The sea was like a mill pond today and with still air it was very peaceful and quiet.
Moorland and fields
Port St Mary
Most often I would continue on the cliffs to Port St Mary but today I chose to continue up the narrow lane at Fistard. There are some pretty stone cottages in this part of the village. On reaching the bend in the road, I forked left and took a well disguised path beside and behind a modern house, that leads to the top end of the golf course. Checking I wasn’t in anyone’s aim of direction I followed the path along the top of the golf course that leads to the final high point of the day, where there is a mast and views to the whole of the centre of the island. Walking down from here the path was slightly overgrown and uneven, but absolutely full of wildlife. There were speckled wood butterflies in abundance and a host of other flying insects amongst the greenery. This walk made me aware of the need for unruly vegetation with a mind of its own. There is no doubt that I saw the most wildlife and wild flowers in these areas.
The path comes out at the top of Truggan Road. I had never noticed the information sign accompanying the road sign explaining the significance of the name. It derives from the Manx word ‘Strooan’, which means stream, and apparently it used to have another descriptive word meaning ‘swift’ alongside strooan so the name of the road means “the road leading to the swift stream”, that being the stream that flows down Meayll Hill and divides into two- one flow going into Breagle Glen, and the other flowing through farmland beside the Ballahane housing estate; both of course join the stream beside the railway leading to Athol Glen and ultimately Port Erin beach.
A lovely afternoon walk, that can be taken in a number of different stages to suit your time and abilities, with a tea stop and buses (usually!).
Distance: Truggan Road, Port Erin to Cregneash via the moor – 1.87 miles; Total ascent 407ft; Total descent 89ft
Distance: Cregneash to Port Erin via Spanish Head, Black Head, the Chasms, and Port St Mary – 4.91 miles; total ascent 535ft; total descent 863ft