Heather Walk on the Western Cliffs 18/08/21

I make no apologies for there being a surfeit of photos mostly of purple heather and yellow gorse, as this was today’s mission. The Isle of Man boasts a kaleidoscope of spectacular colours at this time of year but you will see none better than on the walk from Cronk Ny Array Laa to Port Erin. I can see many of these from my house and can watch the terrain change from green to purple and yellow from my bedroom window.

However, it was one of those days starting in sunshine, quickly fading into soft clouds. Then the clouds would part, leaving you tantalised by a glimmer of sunshine, only to have it taken away just as quickly and be replaced by the thick veils of Mananan’s cloak, meaning that a large part of this walk was undertaken in fog, not great for photos. As you watch the slideshow below, it does eventually brighten up and offer up some views. 🙂

I had grabbed a lift to my starting point with my friend Janet, who was travelling to Peel to do her stint at the Wildlife Trust shop. She dropped me on the corner in thick fog. Undaunted, I made my way to the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa. I wondered if I might be a little late in the season for my photographs as a lot of the heather on the eastern side of the hill was going over from what I could see.

From here, it is a steady descent to The Slock. There are usually fine views of the south, but given the weather, imagination was necessary. I hadn’t gone far when I met a lady carrying a very large rucksack up the hill. It turns out she is Portuguese and was hiking around the island. We had a very interesting half an hour talking about her journey, bus times and tide timetables before we each continued on our respective ways.

Just before The Slock, I found myself below the cloud line and I was able to enjoy the magnificent colours all around me. It was then a short climb up to Gob Ny Beinn. The cairn is slightly further along the ridge. I stopped here for a late late lunch in the… fog… before continuing down to Fleshwick. This is usually the most stunning section for colour but the mist had the better of it for most of the walk. Even so, it was beautiful and moody and so very quiet. All I could hear was the wind under my ear muffs. Yes, it is August, but it was cold enough to wear a t-shirt, thin jumper, light fleece and waterproof at times!

Mission accomplished and numerous photos in the bag, once at Fleshwick I debated with myself whether to bother with the climb up Bradda Hill. I wasn’t feeling great and I knew really my body had had enough, but if I am presented with a challenge that is achievable I am likely to do it. There was an alternative, low route home from Fleshwick, but it is less interesting, so the more challenging route won.

The route up to Bradda Hill is known as a fairly ferocious climb, though not difficult as long as you take your time. It is 500-600ft, but it is only the first 450ft that is quite steep. And there are plenty of stopping places. It is then an undulating walk along the cliffs to Port Erin. The scenery changes a lot. There are still significant patches of heather and gorse but not the unbroken expanses of the Carnanes or Cronk any Array Laa. It is easier to see the effect of farming too, as where there might be moorland is grassland. At this point, the clouds decided to relieve themselves of their moisture, so I packed away my phone and stepped out to make my way home.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon, but it took its toll on me. I had to go to bed and rest when I got in, and I haven’t been a lot better today. But ask me anytime, I’ll just keep going until I no longer can.

I will leave the photos to do the rest of the talking. If you can get out in the next few days you won’t be disappointed. The hills all around the island look spectacular.

Distance on the hills 6 miles + 1 mile into Port Erin; Ascent 1200 ft

Around Staarvey and along the Switchback Road, 13th Aug 2021

The tree lined avenue between St Johns and Tynwald Mills always cheers me. The colours and the dappled light look attractive at all times of year. Following this minor road over the bridge you meet the back road to Peel. I have often wondered where the track went immediately opposite the junction, and today I decided to find out.

I had been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust at Cooildarry with the young Watch group. We were investigating the traps Dawn had set, and the children excited meandered through the wood looking out for flags and traps, trying to guess whether there would be anything inside the traps – which were mostly positive with single woodmice ferreting about inside. We weighed them and measured them and sexed them. Then it was the hedgehog tunnels, with ink stained paper in the centre so that their footprints could be caught on the white paper either side of the tunnel. Only, we didn’t find hedgehog footprints, just a cat(!), mice and possibly a stoat’s footprints. It kept the children absorbed for about 90 mins.

From there, I stopped at the car park on the switchback road, which is a long 2 mile … switchback… with fantastic views towards Peel. There is a footpath uphill on the northern edge of the switchback, another footpath I had never walked along. It is a stony track suitable for bikes and pedestrians but not pushchairs or wheelchairs. Just as you take a rest, there is a chance to enjoy this surprise view, which you might expect to see in a mediterranean country rather than the Isle of Man.

If you keep on this path it takes you over the side of Knockharry, but I took the path to the right leading to Staarvey. There are wonderful views to the east but only occasional glimpses of the sea to the west as the path goes through farmland below the top. If you look very very closely, on the top left of the photo below you can just about make out the marquees at Patrick, signalling the Royal Show is on. This photo was taken just as I came off the rise but this view would soon be masked by the hills. The map tells me there are cairns close to the path but I must admit I didnt see them. This is a walk across fields full of cows, which as usual were interested to know what I was doing, but finally left me alone. Guess they think this is their land, not mine.

I am always amazed at the different atmospheres and vistas that this island gives us in different places; places where we walk or pass by regularly look so different from just a few feet higher up. I enjoyed this walk across the fields as there was a great variety of colour and the hay had been cut and it is clearly a living landscape. Some of the stiles were a bit iffy, particularly the one in the last field before the lane. I was tempted to climb the gate but persevered but it was impossible to find the rungs on the ladder on the opposite side of the fence on the photo below.

From here, I joined the road which was still a very pleasant, quiet walk down to Laurel Bank and around the hillside which eventually turned into the aforementioned track that had originally interested me. There are great views of Slieau Whallian and St Johns here, but my phone was out of juice so I wasn’t able to take any further photos and none of the switchback road which is disappointing. Another time. I turned right at the main road – this is a fairly busy back road and although it is fine to walk along it as a single person or even two or three people, I wouldn’t recommend it with a group. Just past the right bend I turned off onto the switchback road and followed this all the way back to the car. It is slightly uphill for about a third of the road and from then on small humps and hollows but nothing difficult or strenuous; just a delightful walk on a narrow lane with passing places. There was the odd car and cyclist, but this road is safe for pedestrians.

I haven’t been able to do much walking recently due to physical constraints (what’s new!) and jobs I have to do in the house, mostly putting things in the roof or decorating before my new carpets come. One job seems to create another. Then of course, I do have my ‘work’ teaching Psychology. I am thrilled to say that all my students, even those I assessed for another organisation, retained the grades I gave them, so if I have to assess private candidates next year I shall feel confident to help them all.

I shall be busy over the next couple of weeks with more Watch meetings for young people, helping at Ballachurry Nature Reserve and my usual duties at Scarlett Nature Reserve; and I still have more peatland to survey, so whether I can get out doing any serious walking we shall have to wait and see.

The walk I have just described shows how a short walk can be just as pleasant and rewarding as longer walks and revive the spirit.

Distance – just under 4 miles; total ascent 476ft; total descent 479ft