Tales of Glen Helen and an Autumn Feast, 12 Sept 2021

Well, I don’t know if it might be a healthy feast but there certainly was a host of fungus along the banks of the Glen Helen river two weeks ago. I had friends visiting and Glen Helen is a sure-fire winner for an absolutely beautiful walk, with variety and interest and it was an area they hadn’t visited before.

Over the last year or so, the paths have been widened to enable wheelchair uses to have easy access to the main waterfall and to benefit from these wonderful views. To me, this is our bit of Switzerland on this island, and perhaps because it is so niche and has a different ambience to the other glens it is even more special. There are some magnificent trees which stand proudly at the entrance to lure you in.

This is not a difficult path to walk along. It follows the river at just a height so that you can look down into it but not have to negotiate any slippery stones. There is a bench half way along, which for some reason has been placed with its back to the river, presumably to enable those in wheelchairs to stop and take a break, but it would have been far more sensible to turn it the other way round so they could actually see something. We Manxies do have our idiosyncracies – though I cannot count myself a Manxie, being a stop-over from only 7-8 years ago. It takes a lifetime to be called a true Manxie!!

The actual waterfall was a little lame on this occasion as we haven’t had a lot of rain, but still lovely as are all waterfalls. From here, there is a choice of paths. You can either go straight up a very narrow path which takes you to the top of the falls, or you can take the steps to the right that lead uphill into the woods. We chose the latter option. If you deviate very slightly from this you will see another section of waterfall, which is very lovely and makes you want to look around the corner and see where it goes. Retracing your steps, you climb gently upwards until you reach a roughly level path with follows the river all the way back to the car park. I cannot understand how I have never taken this path before, but I did enjoy it and it was on this section that we came across the ‘hundreds and thousands’ of different types of fungi. I could become quite absorbed in looking at these, but as I know nothing about them at all, I satisfied myself with taking photographs of them, some better than others. They were an array of colour too, not just boring beige or grey toadstools. The images below are a few of the very many we came across. There may be a few duplicates as they look very different as they decay.

This whole area was once pleasure gardens, created and designed originally by the philanthropist Mr. John A Marsden, who developed all the footpaths in the glen to highlight the natural beauty of the area. Where there are bridges now were stepping stones, so the falls would not have been accessible to anyone except the sturdy of foot, but would have been fun for children to cross.

There was so much to entertain you in the 1870’s, as long as you had a spare fourpence to enter the grounds – yes, you had to pay. Then you and the family could amuse yourselves with swings, skittles and croquet, and if you had a full 1 shilling you were allowed to fish in the river. At one point there was an aviary, a monkey house, seals(!), a bowling alley and even a small zoo. Sounds rather good. I think they should reinstate it as pleasure gardens, although now the glamping phase has taken over in the section close to the car park.

The car park has an interesting history too believe it or not. Just up the road from here is a white cottage called Sarah’s cottage, and you will notice a small stream runs beside it and then disappears, never to be seen again. Well obviously it has to go somewhere, and it goes under the road. Not so long ago there stood a hotel in this location and the stream flowed beneath it in its cellars. The hotel was knocked down and a car park concreted over it until… one day in 1980 a lorry driver (you could get them in 1980!) parked in an unfortunate spot, the driver hopped out of his cab for a call of nature, to simultaneously watch his lorry sink into the ground and a gap of 18″ opened up under one of the back wheels. In trepidation he moved his lorry and rang the authorities, who promptly arrived with a digger, but as they started to operate the machinery a whopping great chasm appeared 14ft deep and the whole car park disintegrated. I wonder what happened to the engineers who had initially designed the car park? Needless to say, there is now a reliable culvert underneath the existing car park, but do take care, you never know what may happen next. 🙂

As you can see from the map below this is only a short walk of about 2 miles in all, maybe 3 and perhaps 150-200 ft of ascent in all. For once I didn’t measure the distance or height. If you don’t know where this is, if you take the Douglas to Peel road, turn right at the Ballacraine crossroads where there are traffic lights (just before St. Johns) and Gleb Helen is a couple of miles up on a bend in the road. It’s always beautiful no matter what the weather or the time of year.

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