Glens and Old Lonan Church, 1st Feb 2022

There are stories in these glens, ones of murder, mystery and ghosts. The U3A walk started at Little Mill at the top end of Onchan. The path down into Molly Quirk’s Glen is always slippery so do take care. It is a very pleasant walk through the trees and over the stumps keeping a little height above the river. It is quite an open woodland here, no doubt helped by the numerous instances of thefts and vandalism over the ages, reported crimes occuring as late as 1964 and 1972. The biggest crime was the supposed murder of Molly Quirk, aka Margaret Emmeline Isabel Quirk, the one time rich landowner, but there has never been any evidence to support this. Even so, you might see her ghostly shape appearing from within the trees from time to time.

The river is small at this point until the bridge at Whitebridge Road. There has been a bridge here since 1634, impeding the transition from Molly Quirk’s Glen to Groudle Glen. This was rectified when a path was constructed under the bridge, mostly courtesy of the Onchan Rotary Club (thank you!) in a timely 3 months in 2001!

Groudle Glen (Glion Ghroudal to give it its Manx name) owns its success to local entrepreneur Richard Maltby Broadbent who created this lustrous woodland in the late 19th century, planting hundreds of trees – beeches higher up, pines and larch lower down, replacing a lot of marshy scrubland. In the spring it is a delight with numerous bluebells forming a blue canopy throughout the glen. It is therefore a largely manufactured glen, with the exception of its own noticeable natural feature – the slimline canyon, where the water topples over the Manx slate down to the sea. Not only did Broadbent create a natural haven he incorporated the Alton Towers of its day, with all kinds of attraction in the valley and along the coast. To think, in its hey day the glen attracted 100,000 vistors each season!

We followed the woodland path beside the river to the Little Isabella waterwheel and pumphouse (used for pumping water up to the Groudle Hotel, built by you-know-who). This has been restored in 2021 and is working again, and it looks very smart. Just beyond here is a small station, part of Broadbent’s legacy. We walked along the tracks up to the lime kiln and then took the old packhorse path (now lane) from Douglas to Ramsey on to the top of the cliff to make our way to Old Lonan Church. If we didn’t know it before, we knew now just how windy it was!!

It is good to follow ancient tracks and to imagine who has walked these paths before. Who knows? Maybe the Culdees from Ireland who founded the old church? The contrast of scenery is dramatic, from the closed-in valley to the rolling hills and distant mountain vistas. Old Lonan Church (aka St. Adamnan’s Church) is tucked away off the well-beaten track and its spirituality is rooted in antiquity. It was originally called Keeill-ny-Traie, which means Chapel by the Shore, though it’s hard to see quite which shore it is referring to, unless Port Groudle.

St. Adamnan was the Abbott of Iona between 679-704. He has a rich pedigree being the biographer of St. Columba. However, he liked to rock the boat and was excommunicated for translating the Mass and scriptures into Manx. I wonder if these still exist?

The church itself has seen several make-overs, and the archaeology tells us this is a very ancient site. It is believed that the Irish missionaries first made their mark here in AD447, which is only just after the Romans left Britain. It would have been a very simple site. In the grounds you will see the Wheel Cross, which is one of the oldest true Gaelic crosses in Britain. It is 8ft high and in these early stages of Christianity it would have been the central gathering place for worship, almost having the status of an altar.

The oldest part of the church (12C) is that which is now derelict contains “poor holes” which the infirm or leprous could still receive alms without entering the church. In 1190 the land was given to St Bees in Cumbria, and there is evidence from the sandstone lintels that stones were imported from England to create the doorways. The old church is bigger than the new church which was restored by John Quine (vicar) in 1895. The location of this church was not useful for the parishioners which is why new churches have come and gone to cater for modern needs, but this church has been restored and is immensely peaceful along with its beautiful grounds, which contain a shelter with other simple gaelic crosses.

Having taken our lunch here we retraced our steps to Groudle Glen and the port. In the 16C there was a thriving Mill here and lakes with lily pads, but the Mill has gone and the lily ponds hard to find. The Glen was sold to Onchan Village Commissioners and the holiday village which still exists was sold to a private buyer.

We followed lanes and roads back to our starting point in Onchan. One really gets the feeling of housing threatening the natural countryside, being just a stone’s throw from the glens of Molly Quirk and Groudle.

A fascinating, easy walk, that can be done in about 3 hours, without too much ascent.