This should have been a wellie walk and would have been had this not been a spur of the moment decision to catch the bus to Ballasalla to admire the trees beside the Silverburn before they lose their leaves for the winter. I was lucky. It was pouring with rain as I left home to go to the post office so had already donned my waterproof trousers and waterproof trainers. I was midway from home to the village when I made my decision and what a good decision it was. The trees were magnificent in their autumn glory and the river was flowing with all its might, furiously tippling and toppling over stones on its way to the sea.
I won’t bother you with the details but will leave you with some photos to enjoy. Maybe they will give you pause for thought, that bad weather can bring moments of joy and enlightenment that never can be anticipated, and to try would be to spoil the occasion.
I have been living on the island for 7 years yet this is the first time I have visited Earystane Nature Reserve, a hectare of land owned by Manx Wildlife Trust that can’t be more than three miles away from my house as the crow flies. I had worked out a short circular walk of about 4 miles, just perfect for an afternoon walk now that the clocks have gone back and the nights draw in early. Our walk started at the top of Colby. Take the Colby Glen road uphill for just over a mile until you run out of houses and where Earystane is signposted. We parked on the corner beside the nature reserve, but it is preferable to park in one of the lay-bys just before or after the entrance.
In the back of my head I thought this small site had only recently been converted into a nature reserve, but this is untrue. It was formerly the local tip and it was offered to the MWT in 1996 to transform it into a reserve and a local amenity. It has a most attractive natural tree arch over a good wide path suitable for wheelchairs that leads to a hide. At this time of year there weren’t many birds about, though we did see a small flock of goldfinches. The view across to the Carnanes is beautiful from the hide at any time of year. From here, there is a boardwalk which might be difficult for wheelchair users but would be possible with care. This takes you to a low wild wetland area of willow, shrubs and trees that would be called curragh in the north but is called moenay in the south (peat).
There is only one entrance or exit. From here our walk started. We followed the northwest track that leads to some old farms. We walked around the back of the farm called Ballamoar, where there is something that looks like a set of fence hurdles to negotiate. The path is clearly marked so do persevere. Where the path turns eastwards there was a huge field of turnips with no obvious pathway left for walkers. It was easy to traipse over the turnips but the farmer should have left a track through the field to avoid walkers damaging his/her crops. Reaching the other side, we met a few stiles and grassland taking us around the southern end of another most attractive dwelling to the A27.
We followed this road left for a short distance before turning right and right again down what I assume is the old road or farm track leading to Ballabeg. This was a little muddy in places but is a pleasant unspoilt grassy walk on a narrow lane, preferable to walking along the main thoroughfare.
As we met Ballagawne Road, we turned right and shortly afterwards left into fields. I had remembered this particular footpath to be extremely muddy but the last time I walked this path was 20 years ago, so I wasn’t put off. Things change …. or not. I was so busy finding the most sensible path through the heavy mud I forgot to take a photo to show you, so the one I show below is one of the more friendly patches of mud. There are very ancient boardwalks in parts, but I wouldn’t trust them to withstand the weight of too many people – they were very rocky in places with just two of us walking on them.
Despite the mud it had some nice sections, providing extensive views of the south. Wellies would have been better than walking boots but this is only a relatively short distance, and very soon you find yourself back on the edge of Colby where it was just a short walk back to the car. You can extend this walk by taking a diversionary path south over fields into the lower part of Colby then walking up the beautiful Colby Glen back to the car. If you have never visited Colby Glen then it would be a perfect extension to your walk. If you want to go this route, take the path over the fields beside the derelict house.
Ignore the elevation on the photo. I can’t imagine there was ascent of 423 ft as it is a mainly level walk. The distance is correct, however, and excludes the walk around the nature reserve.
It might not be easy to get on and off the island just now, but there are ways, and this was one of them. I had seen a post on FB saying that Shona Boats would be offering boat trips to the Calf of Man, either landing and leaving you there to have a wander, or giving you a full onboard tour of the the whole island to show off its wildlife and spectacular scenery.
I knew I was unlikely to see much wildlife, but I thought there may be seal pups at this time of year, but perhaps not too many birds or cetaceans. One of my fellow passengers was hoping to see puffins but I knew that was out of the question, and we didn’t even see the decoy puffins designed to lure real life puffins on to the Calf.
The weather was mediocre, an overcast day, a little cool but not too windy, so we could expect a fairly calm boat ride. Our trip was delayed slightly by one of the passengers getting held up by a road traffic accident in Douglas which meant a detour for them of some distance to reach Port Erin. Soon we spied their car zooming along the promenade eager to catch us before we left. We were a little short of time, as we found out when we returned. Had we been much later we would have missed our landing berth on the Raglan Pier but as it was all was well and we disembarked using the last possible steps.
I had attired myself suitably for gusty winds and spray, and was wearing various layers and had hat, scarves and gloves in my rucksack, all of which got used during the trip. We set off around the buoy that marks the edge of the old pier where once upon a time cruise ships would unload their passengers who would then spill into Port Erin to see the wondrous sights our lovely bay has to offer. This jetty has long gone, and I have only ever known this area to be a mass of rocks that spew up water magnificently in windy weather in winter and serve as a perch for shags and cormorants.
I have walked this coastline to the Sound from Port Erin many many times, but it is interesting to see the gullies and rifts in the rocks from a different perspective and to see how the land at the top mirrors or does not mirror the lower reaches of the cliffs. We were soon at the Sound and Kitterland where we saw our first seal, and another popped its head out of the water curiously wondering what we were looking at. Then we followed the eastern edge around the Calf to the Drinking Dragon, and from hereon, this was new territory for me as I have never gone all the way around this tiny island. It was here that the wind picked up and everyone reached for their winter woollies. I would tell you some facts about the Calf but unfortunately I couldn’t hear the guide as I was perched on the outer edge of the seating area and everyone else was in the middle, so naturally enough he talked to them and his words were lost in the waves to me. I wasn’t too concerned as I will do this trip again sometime and then I will remember to sit in the right place. It would have been good if he had used some kind of headset, but he didn’t. However, I caught a few words here and there about the shipwrecks in these treacherous waters and the longtails swimming across to the Calf.
There were quite a few seals and their pups, but there was very little else except Choughs, Oystercatchers, Gulls and Shags. We had some good and unusual views of the 4 old lighthouses and a few cliffs later we left the island and made our way back to Port Erin, feeling considerably cooler than when we set out. Even so, it was such an enjoyable experience to see the Calf in its autumnal state, and I had a sense of getting away from everyday life and an opportunity to be off the island for a couple of hours.
We were so unlucky. The group that went out the next day were escorted by some bottle-nosed dolphins back to Port Erin; instead we had the quiet of the sea and the gentle rocking of the boat as we reentered the harbour waters.
It’s hard to believe that I was only a stone’s throw from Douglas. The views were wide, soft and gentle with only the tenderest of hints of any kind of building. In the distance the top of the steeple of Onchan church could be seen, the rest hidden by the canopy of Molly Quirk’s Glen.
This was one of the walks offered as part of the Manx National Heritage culture weekends. I arrived at the meeting point totally unprepared as I had mistakenly dressed myself for an Onchan Town Tour and not a walk across fields or through glens. Luckily, I was wearing sturdy shoes and the terrain was not too inclement nor had we had our usual fill of rain, so still feeling embarrassed by my own ineptitude I informed the leader I would continue.
My friend informed me it was to be guided walk of two or three miles taking about three hours. Maybe this is why in my head I had thought it must be a town tour, as how can you take 3 hours to walk such a short distance? Well, I was soon to find out.
We started by walking up the narrow Bilbaloe Glen. This is a short side-shoot of the main Molly Quirk Glen and this small tributary takes you up on to the hills. Even before we began walking we were told about the history of an ancient bridge over this tiny stream which once bore the main road to Laxey. On the opposite side of the stream our guide pointed out a derelict building which had once been a vibrant methodist church but as methodism became stronger on the island it fell into disuse. As we reached the road there was a footpath sign to the left along a track, one I have never noticed before, and we followed this up to Ballakilmartin Farm, which is a total wreck. You can see it must have a busy, active farm at one time, but the current owner lives in South Africa and has no interest in restoring or even maintaining the property. We were shown the former coach house, cattle sheds and stables, and discouraged from exploring due to the state of the property. The main entrance to this farm was not originally from the east as we had just ventured but from the west where the old road would have passed alongside.
We followed the old road north for a short distance to the point where it is no longer obviously an old road, and on the right there is the remains of a keill, which you would never normally see or even know about (no photos, sorry, as it is only a collapsed heap in a bit of woodland). This is why it is so good to go out with informed guides who bring it all alive for you. We learned that this keill (a type of private church) was about 18ft x 9ft and the excavations have shown that it crossed the Onchan/Laxey road, meaning that it must have been in use before the original road was built. It is dedicated to St Martin, a French catholic saint from the 4th century, who is also the patron saint of beggars, drunkards and the poor! This walk was organised by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, so if you are visiting, you might want to contact them and see if you can join them for a walk www.manxantiquarians.com. You won’t be disappointed. Locals can join the society and enjoy lectures in the winter months and excursions in the summer.
From here, it was another hop skip and jump along the same trackway to another old farm, this time Ballig Farm, which was been in the same family for centuries, and where the Manx folklore writer Sophia Morrison spent a large part of her childhood. Unusually, we entered into its garden to spy a very special well. It has a stone entrance which protects the 17 steps down to the clear-as-a bell water, some steps being covered. Legend has it and the owner says that the water ebbs and flows with the tides, though in reality I think this is impossible. I suspect the water levels are due to an impermeable type of local rock, otherwise most of the Isle of Man would be underwater if this were the true water table given that this farm is 500ft above sea level.
Then, yet again, walking east along the same path we soon came to Mr. Kissack’s farm and buildings. He had built his own house on the land and had become a farmer having previously been a builder all his life. He looked very well and healthy with his new lifestyle and clearly this is his passion. However, hearing about machinery and cars was not to my taste so my friend and I decided to call it a day.
The remainder of the walk was just beautiful, initially along a wooded lane with just a few spectacular houses dotted along it until we came to the bridge leading down Molly Quirk’s glen. The story goes that Molly Quirk was robbed and murdered in this glen but there is no proof of this. Maybe had we stayed with the group the guide would have given us some interesting and more magical information about the glen. The paths are wide and easy to walk and with the golden leaves underfoot it was a very pleasant end to our walk. The total distance was indeed about 2.5. miles but as you can tell we were told a lot of stories along the way and the actual walking time was only just over an hour. You could extend this walk and continue along the stream into Groudle Glen, where you will eventually meet the sea.
This walk has peaked my interest to find these lesser known paths and to see how they connect to other areas.