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.