MWT Wildflower Walk – Bradda Head

What else could you wish to do on a cool but sunny evening, other than walk along the cliffs, explore nature’s haven and watch the sun set?

A small group of nature lovers met at the Bradda Glen car park, wondering if we were at the right place, when our leader Andree Dubbledam appeared out of the blue, having confessed to falling asleep and almost missing the walk! Such is the laid-back attitude on the Isle of Man that nobody blinked an eye, half-suspecting that this could happen :-). We don’t have the famous manx idiom ‘Trai dy liooar’ for no good reason.

This was a very short walk, only about 1.5 miles in total, and started just steps away from the car park as Andree described how bluebells and ramsoms (wild garlic) colonise different types of terrain just yards away from each other, often on different sides of a path, and how the nutrients leech through the soil making this possible by changing the acidity of the soil. And how the pesky three cornered leek, being a very hardy comeover, and later stopover, is gradually denuding sites of their natural wildlife. It’s hard to be angry with it when it looks so beautiful, but then the bees really do like the bluebells. I didn’t know that the nectar sacs in each tiny flower bud on the bluebell refill every night so there is a constant supply for the birds.

The three-cornered leek

We also began to fall in love a little more with the sycamore trees. At this time of year the leaves were just coming into their lushious greenness, and if were to inspect the leaves you may well see aphids nestling in there, which will become food for the bluetits. Apparently they hibernate in the crevices of the sycamore and provide nourishment for birds during the winter months too.

Then there is the brilliant European Gorse in all its fine yellow, parading over the hills. You can’t miss it. It grows tall and bold, showing the world who’s boss. Occasionally, in between its wide shoulders you can spot samples of the less showy Manx Gorse, which is more compact and smaller. The Manx Gorse flowers later in the year from August to October, so you can expect to see one or other type of gorse flowering at most times during the year.

As we reached the mines area the turf is very very short and it’s hard to imagine that anything much grows here. How often have you stopped to look at what lies beneath your feet, or do you simply tread carefully on your way up to Milner Tower? Andree explained that the earth disturbed by the mine workings brings different elements to the surface that allows flora to grow that otherwise would not. One example of this is the dainty spring sandwort. Unless you are knee thigh to a grasshopper you will find yourself crouching down and searching amongst mosses and plantains to even notice this tiny flower, about half the size of your little fingernail, at best. You may be more familiar with the thyme and plantain, but even they were hard to spot. Hard to believe that some of these will become very noticeable plants as the summer comes along.

The self-conscious tiny spring sandwort

Beside one of the mine shafts we spent a few minutes (or rather Andree did) rummaging about in a very shallow muddy ditch looking for and failing to find any interesting specimens. He did point out a small hawthorn tree amongst the gorse and informed us that given a few centuries this area, if undisturbed, would revert to a natural small woodland.

At this point, shaded by the lofty Milner Tower, and wrapped around by an ever-present breeze, that was occasionally blusterous enough to lift us off our feet, the air turned very cool so rather than continue on along the cliff edge with the prospect of losing a group member off the side of the cliff, we turned inland to examine large tufts of grass. The main path is pretty much devoid of anything other than grass but to either side of it are these small hardened mounds with grass growing over them. One of two had very small areas of shaved earth and loose soil towards the top, which are an indicator of the living residents within. I’m sure you have heard of termite mounds; these are the manx equivalent and are the yellow meadow ants’ home. We didn’t see any because like any sensible creature if it gets cold you go inside, but we were assured that they would be there snuggling up, keeping warm and protecting their young.

The anthills are just a bit further down from here on either side of the path, though these could be some small anthills developing.

From here it was a short walk back to Bradda Glen, and for me a further walk back home along the cliff edge where I spied a number of other spring flowers that adorn the cliffs at this time of year, such as squill, sea campion, red campion, thift, primroses and the occasional brilliant white bluebell.

Glen Mooar to Jurby, Beach Walk 10.5 miles

I have so missed seeing this long expanse of beach during our several lockdowns. Being a respectful citizen I did not venture out very far during this time, but now with our new-found freedom I could once again visit this mega landscape.

I had intended to park at Glen Wyllin, but my mind was miles away and I turned off the main road early into Glen Mooar, so stopped there instead. It was a cool day but just right for walking. The tide was on its way out (absolutely vital for this walk) but was still not far enough out to avoid walking on the pebbles. The cliffs are quite steep, and at one time there was a cliff walk from here to Glen Wyllin, but you would be taking your life in your hands if you were to do this today, due to the various landslides. Nearing Glen Wyllin there is a significant evidence of this, as a fence lies stranded in the air atop the cliff and you can see where the path once went.

Indeed, when you get to Glen Wyllin, you can see the Canute attempts to hold back the tide by the many defence boulders positioned at its entrance, and on the other side of the stream there are further attempts to sure up the foundations of the nearby property. New houses built not that long ago that will be counting the days to when they fall into the sea. It won’t be for a while, but I think it will eventually happen!

At Glen Wyllin, which is one of the closest points to Kirk Michael, the cliffs become sandier and larger until you reach Orrisdale Head. the cliffs make interesting shapes and patterns and are fascinating to me. I think it is in this section that an ancient elk was discovered as the cliffs receded, allowing the animal body parts to tumble onto the ground below. This has been recreated and is in the Manx museum in Douglas. If the tide is in, it is still necessary to walk on pebbles, which is surprisingly tiring and amazingly not flat (!), and even as the tide goes out there are more substantial boulders to negotiate before you reach the fine sand, which really is fine to look at and walk on. My feet were tired of pebbles by the time I reached my lunch spot.

There are a couple of other entry points to the beach, so if you want a short walk along the beach back to Kirk Michael, there are many options, and if you prefer a mix of terrain you can walk one way along the beach and back along the old railway line, which is a very pleasant walk.

You have to be determined if you decide to carry on, as the pebbles continue and there appears to be no end in sight. As you round Orrisdale Head, you get fine views to the northwest of Jurby in the distance, with its church on the promontory guiding you in. This is as far as any sane person would want to walk if you are doing a return route. It was 5.5 miles to this point. There is a road access at this point, so, if you can find one, you can always get a bus back to Kirk Michael. It is, I’m afraid, mostly road walking otherwise for some distance.

I had timed my walk so that I reached just south of Jurby at Ballateare when the tide would be at its lowest, which would mean I would be able to walk back further out on the soft sand. Every now and again as I went past the cliffs I would hear the sounds or see the sight of pebbles and sand falling off the cliffs. It is wise to keep your eyes and ears open and not to walk entirely at the foot of the cliffs. Even a poor sheep had fallen off the cliff to its end, so we all need to be careful.

If you are walking way out along the sand, also beware of the incoming tide as it has a tendency to surge rapidly along channels and form pools which could mean you get cut off and have to wade through them to get closer to the shore.

If you need a breath of air, a sense of peace and to connect with nature, you can’t do much better than this. I saw quite a few birds: plovers, shags, oystercatchers, gulls, wagtails and some slimy animals embedded in the sand. Not sure what these are – I shall have to ask my expert friends. And the boulders and pebbles are all shapes, sizes, colours and type of rock. But above all, it is the sense of space, the sea and the sky that makes you feel glad to be alive on this walk.

Stoney Mountain Wardens Walk – 5 miles

I have lived here since 2013 and been visiting since the 1990s and yet I had never walked around Stoney Mountain, an outcrop of granite situated near Foxdale. Having said that, I met a lady yesterday who lives in Port St Mary, who said that despite living there for 31 years she had never been down Athol Glen in Port Erin. We do seem to become parochial living on this island.

I downloaded the Warden’s walk for this area which is actually about 4 miles total, but you will know by now that I tend to extend walks following tiny tracks to see where they go and this one was no exception. I parked the car at South Barrule plantation, walked down to the main road where I turned left. Even this showed me something I hadn’t noticed before – a pretty stream running down the side of the road by the side of the forest, looking very green. There was a variety of trees competing for sunlight and bidding to be the first to open their buds for the spring.

Path starts on the main Foxdale road

A short way down the road to Foxdale there is a well-marked path to the right taking you into Stoney Plantation. It looks and feels so different when walking, compared with viewing the forest from the road as you rush past at speed in a car. The plantation begins on a well defined wide track heading uphill and in a south easterly direction. In fact, this is the path you continue on until you reach the far southern end of the plantation, unless, like me you take one of the many bike tracks and go off exploring. My track took me off to the left. I had absolutely no idea where it would lead, but as long as I could glimpse the sun every now and again to know where south was, this did not concern me. It was an easy track to follow, if narrow, and led in between the sharp-pronged lower branches of the spruces and pines. The ground underneath was soft and springy. It was like wearing a comfortable pair of slippers once off the main track.

Every now and again you come across boulders of granite, some very large, and round mounds springing out of the earth taking you by surprise. These were obviously great fun for the bikers. It also shows how the different rocks create our landscape. I continued my wanderings downhill jumping over tree roots and dodging branches until I reached a clear entrance on the easterly side of the forest and then I took a very grassy path westwards and uphill again.

This path seemed to me to be unusual and not in keeping with the terrain. After a short distance I came across an abandoned farm, called a Tholtan over here. So this was why there was a good path up the hill. It turns out this was Cloghwilly Farm, quite a structure with many buildings of different sizes. The rust colours of the lichen on the walls were just lovely. I wondered who had lived here. It turns out it has quite ancient origins. You can read a little about this farm and tholtans on the following link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/irishwasa/23054670513

From here it was no distance back to the main path which I followed all the way to the southern perimeter of the forest. There were wonderful views of the big hills, and the gorse was a brilliant yellow, standing out against the various greens and browns in the landscape. In places, the trees have been felled and small shrubs are taking over until the area is replanted. I didn’t see the small lakes in the centre. The main path does not direct you there but it would be easy to make a diversion there for a quick coffee break.

Talking of perimeters, the walk then veers westwards all the way along the southern perimeter. You may think this sounds boring but it was very pleasant indeed. This far south the terrain changes into the grassy soil paths that we are so familiar with in the south, so it is very easy walking and pleasing because of the extensive views it provides of the south of the island. There are no means of detours from this path, except at one point where there is a field gate where you could enter back into the forest, but for the most part it continues all the way through moorland and scrub land, over a small muddy ford of a stream to join the main Foxdale road at its junction with the Ronague road.

From here, it is a gentle walk through the South Barrule plantation back to the car, and if you like, the coffee shop which is open all year. There is a Go Ape located here and I saw several people on Segways. Most of all there are the many bike trails taking you through a variety of beauty spots, so worth a visit if you haven’t been before, or even if you have. You can find details of this and other warden’s walks here:

https://www.gov.im/categories/leisure-and-entertainment/walking/forestry-wardens-walks/

If I were to do this walk again I would do it the other way round as the views would be more attractive, but either way, it’s a lovely walk 🙂 And to finish, some pictures of trees coming into life:

Colby, Cronk-e-dhooney, Colby Glen – 3 miles max

I did this walk on the first day out of lockdown 3 on April 19th. I had just been to my Tabata class in Colby (with FB Saraszestforlife, great class!) and wanted to stretch my legs a little more while I was nicely warmed up.

I walked along the main road in Colby to where there is a lane leading off to the right beside a stream. There used to be a small Methodist chapel on the corner but this has now been converted into a house. This is a very quiet lane with few cars, so safe to walk along with care. The tree-lined stream is delightful and is being maintained beautifully, presumably by the local residents. There is a path going alongside the stream but I think this is a private path.

it is a continuous walk uphill for about a mile, and at this point you come to a crossroads. Left to Ballakilpheric and right to Cronk-e-dhooney. In reality it is all one tiny hamlet, with another Methodist church in the corner. They are keen on churches round here! I turned right and right again and followed the more southerly of the two tracks which leads into the top end of Colby Glen. This was a soft grassy track following field boundaries, with views to north and south. The farmers were hard at work preparing the fields for their summer crops.

Colby Glen is only short, not even half a mile long, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in beauty. As you reach the upper part you can hear the gush of a small waterfall as the stream leaves the gently sloping plateau and tumbles into the glen.. but you can’t see it, until you descend into the green amphitheatre of trees and grass. The stream meanders around the edge of this area, with vines hanging down the vertical cliffs. It is a shallow stream with a big ego. There are benches here for you to enjoy your packed lunch and you can take the narrow path to see the mini waterfall leapfrogging over the rocks.

If you look up you can see the Colby Glen road at the top and there is an entrance to the glen just there. It has steps leading down and there is a bridge to take you over to the other side. In the summer time, when it is very green and lush, summer concerts are held here by local singing groups, but beware the midges if you choose to participate.

There is an undulating path taking you down stream along the sides of the hill, which close in a little, rather like a smaller version of Glen Maye, and you can hop and skip along this track until finally you have to cross over to the other side and take the road back down to the starting point. It is a shame that houses border the stream for the rest of its distance into Colby, meaning there is no alternative route to the road path. There are some very pretty houses and it feels like you are in an old traditional village, although like everywhere else, it has grown enormously in recent years.

This walk won’t take you more than an hour, and it’s one that children would enjoy as much as adults, though they need to be able to walk for themselves, as it’s not a route for pushchairs. I never tire of Colby Glen. It has an air of mystery and imagination.