Ballaglass Glen with the U3A – 7th Sept 2021

With visitors from the UK over for a week, this was the ideal introductory walk to show them a part of the island that they might not otherwise see. Indeed it did seem to take an age to get there down the twisting roads in the valley around Maughold, not helped by my missing a turning earlier on. It takes about 45 mins from Port Erin.

It is always a very green area, maintained well by the local farmers and with some stunning countryside. It is some time since I have been to Ballaglass Glen, certainly well before our first lockdown. We met our U3A group, all people well known to me, and my family visitors were delighted by the warm reception they received.

The route follows a recognised track pretty much all the way to the coast, through beautiful woodland that goes above the Glen itself. There are a few ups and downs but by and large it is a very straightforward path. As you descend to the mouth of the small river, the area opens up into some fine wetlands. It is a great place for either lunch on the beach or throwing pebbles into the river or sea, which themselves have been thrown up by the sea over centuries. It is quiet and peaceful here, though surprisingly busy for an arbitrary Tuesday, though I was reminded it was the last day of the school holidays which may account for the numbers of families there today.

The route follows a minor road uphill for almost a mile until we take another even more minor road to the right which will ultimately take us off road for 300 metres to Cashtal Yn Ard (Castle of the Heights), a site of archeaological interest. It is a group of impressive standing stones that have stood here for the best part of 4000 years. It was originally a lot larger, one of the biggest megaliths in the whole of the British Isles, being 130 ft long, and containing 5 chambered cairns in a ‘horned barrow’. It is thought it may originally have been for a chieftain, and then over time it has become a communal burial ground for his lucky family. As with many of these ancient sites, one has to imagine it completely covered with turf and soil with a majestic entrance at one end, in this case, the west end where there still stands two mighty stones which would have been the archway into the inner sanctum.

This was our lunch spot with tremendous views over the North Barrule on the western side and the sea on the eastern side.

From here, we carried on along the same road in the northerly direction until we came to the wooded stream that is Ballaglass Glen again. There are a couple of wonderful houses nestling in this glen, and one kindly has a permissive path that allows visitors to walk among the trees inside the glen and enjoy the mini and greater waterfalls along this short distance back to the car. There are a number of paths so don’t take the first one that goes off to the right as you will miss some of the wonderful views if you do.

This is a short walk of just about 4 miles with a maximum height around Cashtal Yn Ard of about 150 metres ( just under 500ft). You only need 90mins – 2 hrs to simply do the walk, so a pleasant morning or afternoon stroll for anyone.

Santon to Ballasalla and more

The last two weeks has been very varied but with few opportunities for a good walk. In addition to my usual activities I have been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust introducing young people to nature and getting them enthused. For my part, my exploits were a little more dramatic than planned with a tumble on mossy ground grazing my arm and leg on one of the events and then on Friday at Ballaugh Plantation when we were hunting dragonflies and pond-dipping, my face became a meal for any biting insect that was around, so I now have a very spotty face.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit The Mallards in Santon, a new project creating a botanical garden which is the brainchild of millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, funded by himself. I had been here a few years ago and was looking forward to seeing how it has developed. The aim is to capture various moods and habitats that will be sustainable and provide a long term future for species that are not usually found on the Isle of Man. There will be (amongst other things) a Japanese garden, cascading waterfalls, historical living fossils, wetlands, an amphitheatre designed to be used occasionally for outdoor activities. I won’t see all this come to fruition in my lifetime and most of it is still under construction but it was interesting to hear about their plans and I shall enjoy watching it develop over the next 10-20 years.

Following this visit, I walked down to Port Grenaugh which is about a mile downhill from Santon. The walk along the coast here is magnificent, winding in and out of the cliff edge, round deep bays and through a gorge. It does not involve a huge amount of ascent. In fact, I only climbed a total of 500ft from start to finish and it is all in short doses. It is a normal sandy cliff path, a little uneven in places and if you have a stick you might find it useful to help to balance you from time to time. Having said that, it is perfectly manageable without one, with care. There is a slightly tricky short and steep downhill section in Santon Gorge (this is really called Port Soldrick on the map) for you to negotiate but you are soon over this. Although the gorge is treelined, this is always one of my favourite sections of this path as the stream is beautiful and the colours gorgeous and you go through a small area of wetland where you can see different wildlife. It is a very peaceful area. I saw a Speckled Wood Butterfly and a Large White Butterfly, and a little further on, Common Blue Butterflies and a Foxmoth caterpillar – very popular over here.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The walk starts with a road walk, albeit very pleasant, down to Port Grenough, that follows a stream all the way down to the bay. The path then takes the beach for a short distance and then goes along the cliffs for some 2-3 miles. There are great views to the north and south as you walk along and some interesting rock formations. About half way along you descend to a bay, have another short walk along a pebbly beach before ascending the cliffs again. There are many stopping points and if you are lucky you might see some dolphins out in the bay. From Santon Gorge, where we have to go inland, we cross the river and follow the path back to the coastline. The path is signed to the left and there is a broken wall, so you can enter the grassland sooner if you prefer. Keep walking left through a gap in the gorse and this takes you to an old promentory fort, which the U3A Archaeology leader would be able to tell you all about. I think this may have been a large fort as there is another embankment on the southern side as well. It was here that I spotted an owl pellet, which was rather surprising, but I didn’t take a photo of it I’m afraid. From here it is only a short distance to the airport runway extension that you can walk round to take you to Derbyhaven and Castletown, but I followed the perimeter fence into Ballasalla to get the bus home.

My walk was 5.65 miles, with a total ascent of 499ft and descent of 561ft. My Garmin tells me the highest point at any time was 163ft so you can see this is well within most people’s capability.