Circular Walk around Tideswell, Derbyshire – 5th July 2021

I have been in the uk now for 6 days visiting my children and grandchildren. I have a few days off before continuing my visits and am spending it at Tideswell, staying at Rockingham Lodge. Tideswell is an ancient settlement, where Bronze Age remains have been found. It was originally called Tidiwall, relating to an enclosure created by the Saxon chief Tidi.

Tideswell Cathedral

Today, I walked via a back road to the edge of Litton, along a lane taking me to the heights of Litton Edge from where you can see views of Longstone Edge in the east and towards Buxton and the dales in the opposite direction – that is assuming you don’t get caught in a heavy downpour as I did, drowning out all distant views.

It’s worth taking a look at the organisation of the fields. The walls are located according to old farming practices and follow the routes of the plough drawn by oxen. They couldn’t turn easily at the end of the field ( rather like Jeremy Clarkson, if you’ve seen his farming programme), so developed specific patterns in the landscape, which were enclosed by walls in the Middle Ages.

At least I didn’t have thunder and lightning which we had for a couple of days in Matlock. As I set out, it did look threatening over Bill’s mother and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would have to don my rainwear.

I had never been on Litton Edge though I have been to Litton in the past. When I came off the sheep meadow I joined a lane to the left that would take me to the start of Cressbrook Dale. The Derbyshire Dales are always a surprise, being tucked in steep crevices in the otherwise relatively flat terrain. They began as a tropical lagoon 350 million years ago, with reefs, containing lots and lots of aquatic species, which died and lay embedded in the mud in the seas. Over these millions of years, the force of the underwater pressure created the limestone we see today.

Cressbrook Dale is very pleasant, and a walk you could easily take carrying your baby in a papoose or dragging your reluctant toddlers along the path. It is grassy and flat, albeit muddy in places. If you expect to see water in this dale you may be disappointed. There was certainly none in sight today, as it drains through the limestone until it hits the clay below. Only when the water table rises will dry stream become a wet domain.

The dry riverbed

It starts with open land engulfed by steep cliffs, looking very attractive, and Peter’s Stone sticks out like a sore thumb, enticing you to go and visit it. I was not tempted and stayed on the lower routes which soon after became a wooded valley, criss crossing through the dale, with birds singing in the trees.

Peter’s Stone, created by landslips

If you want just a short walk, you can turn off and up Tansley Dale which would take you back to Litton.

Route up Tansley Dale

Cressbrook Dale merges into Ravensdale at Ravensdale Cottages, and from here there is no direct route beside the non existent stream, although there is evidence of its hidden presence by the stepping stones across the riverbed. However, this particular path goes nowhere, so if you visit the stepping stones you have to return via the same route.

The path continues along a leafy lane until it meets a road, where it is most sensible to turn left, but I continued onward and upward as this appeared to be a pleasant path – and it was… only eventually you end up at the same place as you would have done on the lower route and missed out some pointless ascent.

So, I am now at Cressbrook, close to Home Farm. The footpath follows the River Wye, very much a river with lots of water – and is directed between some houses. There is a higher path if the river path is flooded. Keep right below the cliffs all the way to Litton Mill, via Miller’s Dale. In my mind, I had remembered Litton Mill as being a thriving place with a cafe and places to sit. Whether this is just my faulty memory or whether it has changed in the many years since I have been here, I don’t know, but it really is not an interesting place to walk through and you can’t walk beside the river (if you want to) until you are almost out of the village.

The river walk up to Litton is very pleasant, and today the reflections in the water were just beautiful. Be prepared for mud, there is plenty of it, and there are plenty of birds flitting about the greenery. Much of this area is owned by the Wildlife Trust, so designed to encourage nature to thrive.

As it was I was finishing my walk by going up Tideswell Dale. In many ways, this was my favourite dale of the day, possibly because it had a lot of wild flowers growing on the banks, and the stream seems very happy tumbling gently down the dale. It doesn’t have the steep sided cliffs of other Dale’s but it is just as delightful.

This was a reasonably long walk of 8-9 mile with just under 800 ft of ascent, mostly at the beginning and end. There are endless alternatives for shorter or longer routes.

Elm Trees at St Marks in danger

I often feel quite disillusioned by the various new developments proposed or granted permission on this island when there are so many vacant / untidy / derelict areas that really should be filled in first. I also lament the lack of real concern for a forward plan to develop and protect the beauty and natural life of the island (with notable exceptions such as the marine reserves and the Ramsey forest), and this planning permission does nothing to dispel my fears. Too often the edges are chipped away and once a precedent is set, it is easy to allow further destruction of natural habitats.

This elm tunnel at St.Marks is absolutely beautiful and is not a risk to drivers, as suggested. It is beautiful at all times of year but very special in the summer months. We have few enough deciduous trees on this island, and I cannot imagine there can be any sustainable argument for removing the woodland en masse.

If you feel you can support this petition, please do sign it and share with others so that this potential destruction can be brought to the attention of the general public and the IOM government and together maybe we can prevent this irreversible damage from occurring.

Foxdale circular – 22nd June 2021

This is the most peaceful walk I have done so far on this island. It was helped by it being a balmy day, but the nature of this walk took me by surprise.

I hadn’t walked on any one of the 6 miles of track or path, other than a very brief section on the road from St Johns to the mines. Every step was an exploration of something new, seeing the hills and fields I see every day but from a new perspective.

I parked at South Barrule plantation and walked the same quarter of a mile I had done in a previous walk to Stoney Mountain, but this time when I reached the plantation I turned left which would take me around the northern perimeter of the Stoney Mountain plantation. It is bit untidy at the start, and you go through what appears to be someone’s garden, but then it becomes a clear uninterrupted path. In fact, this is described as a green route. It is a real mix of terrain, from a grassy path, to a pebbly path, to a stoney path, to what appears to be a stream in places. It is level walking and an easy path. From here you do get wonderful views of the hills above the Peel / Douglas valley.

There is a choice of route once you finish the first mile. I turned left, walking down a peaceful lane. The wild flowers, grasses, horses and donkeys seem to own this section of countryside, and although not far from any ‘main’ road, I couldn’t hear any traffic and only occasionally glimpsed any vehicles. This road terminates on the Braiid to Foxdale Road, where the new mansion has been built. I walked easterly along the road for a very short distance, before taking the footpath to the left.

This led around the westerly edge of the Kionslieau Reservoir. I have never been here before and it’s wonderful, well worth a visit, if just to admire the view. The path has been very well maintained with a boardwalk over wetter parts. Unexpectedly, I came across more orchids beside the path. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should as my granddaughter video called me, along with my son, and somehow I managed to mix up the dials on my camera and got myself in a tizz as I couldn’t get it off panoramic view and didn’t know (and still don’t know) how to use it. I really should have stopped for longer, it was so very peaceful.

This path comes out on a minor road, or I thought was a minor road, except that I had to keep stopping for cars. It was a very pretty lane with meadow buttercups festooning the tall banks on either side. When this road turned to Foxdale I continued along the top, which gave me a good view of the observatory. Judging by the number of hens on the road, this part of the road does not get as much traffic. Just past the hens is a footpath going down the hill into Lower Foxdale. Be careful if you go this route as the footpath is to the right of the wide manmade track, but the sign is in the ditch, so you could easily miss it and have to retrace your steps to the top as I did!

This is actually a very splendid path, obviously not much used as it was quite overgrown in places. It did make me think that we really do not need to leave spaces between plants in our gardens. This was heaving with plants, butterflies and all sorts of insects. I enjoyed walking down here and I was glad I had my stick so that I could beat myself a path at times. It is not long before you do hear the hum of traffic and the path finishes on the main St John’s road.

I turned left, slightly uphill until I met the minor road to the right which leads to… absolutely nowhere. It crosses the disused railway line, which again looked very attractive in its spring attire. This is a bit of a hike uphill but it’s not difficult. Another time, I might walk back along the railway line for a short distance and then take the path up Glen Dhoo. This would be more interesting than road walking and also cuts off a bit of distance. I had never heard of Glen Dhoo, but I when crossed it at the top it looked quite a nice glen. But, taking the route I went, at the T junction I turned left and followed the road to the ford at Gleneedle and turned immediately left. This is shown as a dead end, but the dead end is a good mile away. It is a steady climb up to the top of Dawlish Ard, and from there it is a really pleasant walk contouring around the lower part of South Barrule, with view to die for. It is an easy, grassy path, and you follow this all the way back finishing in South Barrule plantation, where it is a short walk back to the car.

I really enjoyed my birthday walk. It will stay long in my memory.

Orchid Walk 20th June – Close Sartfield

We are spoiled with so many prolific wildflowers on this island, but none more so than in June at the Manx Wildlife Trust’s Close Sartfield Nature Reserve. Apparently, it has been estimated that there are at least 100,000 orchids on this reserve, a figure I can well believe from what I saw yesterday – or was that just one field? Um, I’m not sure now. Either way, it’s a heck of a lot.

This reserve is in the north of the island, located in fields behind the Curraghs Wildlife Park, so you could easily combine this short walk with a visit to our local animal park. In both locations you may be lucky enough to spot the itinerant wallabies, who can now be seen lolloping around most of the countryside at some time or other. Much as they are appealing I believe they can also be a nuisance, as was explained to us by Tricia Sayle who manages the reserves. Whenever they spot a nice piece of grass they will find a way to reach it by grubbing up fences, which then make it possible for sheep to escape much to the consternation of the farmers. Apparently, the wallabies are too lazy to jump over fences! But much as with Covid -19, we have to learn to live with them.As it happens we didn’t see any today. We were pleasantly surprised to have a warm sunny day, given that the forecast had been for dull or even rainy weather. As it was, sunhats were in order.

Immediately on arriving at the reserve we were delighted to see so many orchids tossing about in the light wind, protected by grasses only just slightly taller than themselves. Tricia explained that all the fields have manx names to reflect their previous occupation or describing the nature of the fields; and how it had taken much painstaking work to remove the gorse that seems unwilling to give up its habitat. In places, we could see where a birch woodland had been allowed to develop and how very quickly it establishes itself if left very much to its own devices.

There are often six species of orchid to be seen but I think we only saw four. Tricia explained that although they often look the same, there are subtle differences in the structure of the leaf, and how many have hydridised. These hybrids tend to stand tall and erect, being proud of themselves. I guess in time, without management, the whole field would eventually be taken over by the hybrids. But that’s why Tricia and her Midweek Muckers are there regularly tending the reserve, to make sure all flowers have the maximum opportunity to fulfil their potential.

It is a short, flat walk of about a mile if you include a visit to the hide. In the summer, the gates are unlocked and the paths are open, but out of season you cannot walk around the reserve other than to go to the hide. It is a lovely way to spend a quiet few minutes in the countryside. The best time to view the orchids is probably mid-June. How grand the display is depends to a large extent on the weather during the winter and spring, and this year has certainly produced a bumper crop.

I haven’t been out ‘proper walking’ for a while as my health isn’t what I should like it to be, but we are sorting that out and hopefully once I am back from England – I am going to see my children who I haven’t seen for more than 18 months and see my new grandchild who is now 7 months old, who is coming to visit from El Salvador (with his dad of course) -, I shall be back to my old self, clambering up hills and finding hidden nooks and crannies that keep me amused for hours. But you never know, I may manage something tomorrow to celebrate my birthday – or I may indulge in box sets, wine and a healthy meal instead. Who knows, but I will be back soon 🙂

Niarbyl Short Walk – 9th June 2021

It’s hard to believe how the weather can vary within such a few miles. As you will see from these photos, it was pleasant weather at Niarbyl (if very windy), but only a two minutes drive from there and I was shrouded in thick mist all the way back to Port Erin.

This was an unplanned short walk. I had been for a massage at Peel. Having such very painful legs and feet, I judged it was time to take myself in hand, and indeed I immediately felt the benefit of my treatment. My massage was followed by a quick walk round Peel, including a look at sofas in Paradise and Gell and a coffee on Peel beach. It seemed too early to go home and I intended to stop at Niarbyl and take a look at its tremendous views.

Of course, it was too much of a draw to simply look at the views, so I took the cliff path round to White Sands Beach, almost getting blown off my feet as I walked around the headland. It was very very blowy, but even so very enjoyable. It is barely half a mile’s walk to this lovely bay, but there are some ups and downs and some steps so not entirely flat, so not a walk if you don’t like steps. I always enjoy spending time on this mostly pebbly beach, and the wind was whipping up the sea nicely, creating white horses buffing up against the rocks. I was amused to think that the large rock with the seagull perusing the shoreline looks aptly rather like a seal.

Where the path goes uphill there is a sweet waterfall. I did clamber up the rocks to see the fall higher up, but the photo was disappointing. You can tell it is often windy here as the trees lean in towards the rocks, as if they struggling to keep themselves upright. It isn’t long before you reach the top of the cliff. Make sure you keep to the coastal footpath as there is a private path to the left, now marked private. It is possible to continue walking around the coastpath, but the actual path then takes you over fields to join the track from Cronk Ny Array Laa to Dolby.

I followed it left down to the tiny hamlet that has its own glen. There is a ford here, but the footpath neatly avoids this. From here, simply follow the now tarmaced road to Dalby and back down the drag to Niarbyl itself. There is a cafe here, and there are amazing views to the south from here on a good day.

This was a very short walk, just over 2 miles, so perfect for an evening stroll or to work off the excesses of a Sunday lunch, and of course you could extend it quite easily by continuing on the coast path further to the south and meeting the path at Eary Cushlin, making a 6 mile walk.

26 Peaks Challenge, Day 2 plus – Lhargee Ruy, Colden, Slieau Maggle

I had a plan – a good ridge walk, with a couple of detours onto the nearby hills, and this is largely what I did, with a bonus of it being a very pleasant circular walk involving Colden and Slieau Maggle.

I parked behind a convoy of cars at the Sartfell plantation. It was gone 10am when I started, and those walkers had long gone. I followed the path that snakes behind Slieau Maggle and largely around Colden’s tummy , to complete the section I had not done on Sunday. This took me to Lhargee Ruy and Sunday’s furthest point, Slieau Ruy. As you walk this section you get tremendous views to the west. It was a reasonably clear day so I could see some distance. It is so good for the soul. The photo below shows Cronk Ny Array Laa, South Barrule, Slieau Whallian, Beary Beg and Beary Mountain.

Having detoured Slieau Maggle, there is a choice of paths; a nondescript path leading southeastwards for those wishing to make their way to the Colden plantation and Injebreck, or continue on the main route for a very short distance and then turn left to take you around the haunches of Colden. This is a really easy route to walk, on a well made path. There are no clearly visible paths up Colden itself (or Slieau Maggle) from this direction although if you don’t mind walking over heather and gorse there is nothing to stop you heading straight up to the top. But this was not on my agenda just yet.

I had chosen this route so that I would not have the sun in my eyes, and at the same time I would enjoy extensive views to the south and west. Colden on the left blocks the views to the big hills, and I would be able to enjoy these on the return route later on.

After about 15 mins you will find that the path starts to climb, and you begin to leave Colden behind. There is a not so helpful signpost pointing to a path leading down the hill in the direction of Little London. Continue straight on and up and you reach a couple of small cairns indicting you are almost at Lhargee Ree. So far I have failed to find anything interesting to tell you about these hills. All I could find on a google search was how to pronounce Lhargee Ruy!

Just beyond this point the path from Crosby feeds in from the left at a gate and kissing gate. This is a walk I did with Ken a couple of years ago. The next section is a delight to walk along. A largely level grassy or peaty path that only becomes a little more demanding when you start the final climb up to Slieau Ruy. I didn’t loiter here long as this was not my focus for today. So far I had walked 3 miles. I had anticipated an overall distance of 7 miles. As the other day, at this point I had seen no-one at all and had the hills enitrley to myelf.

I returned down the same track to Lhargee Ruy where I perused the scene in front of me. The hills in the background were commanding my attention, but I also liked the look of the Creg and I could see what looked like a path circling around Colden where it would meet at the saddle with the Creg. It is not marked on the map, and in reality, without a compass or the necessary enthusiasm, it isn’t easy to find on the ground. As you get lower, the path is not visible and the terrain is a mix heather, gorse and …. bog.

So true to form, I thought I might take the more obvious path to the top of Colden and reach the Creg that way, but I found something more interesting to do, so that will be on my list for another day, as it is indeed another 1000ft top to bag. The path to the top of Colden is basically a sheep track, but it is visible and easy to follow. The contours are not particularly demanding and after about 10 mins you reach the top. It’s one of those hills where you think you are there and there is a bit more and a bit more. There is a cairn at the top, and no obvious paths off from here, just more paths like sheep tracks. There is a path which I thought would lead back to Creg, but I wanted a view of Slieau Maggle so I had to walk north on unchartered territory to gain a view of it. As I had passed it earlier, there was no obvious path up there, so I wanted to see whether there were any paths on the ground. I had gone a few hundred yards before I could see enough to make my decision, and yes, it looked like I would be able to climb Slieau Maggle joinng it not far from a plantation.

My peat surveying skills of walking on uneven land have stood me in good stead, so I decided to continue by blazing my own trail down Colden and on to Slieau Maggle. As I write this, I have just ascertained what Maggle means – testicle! Okay. Bit of a strange name for a hill. It wasn’t difficult at all, I have come across much worse in unfrequented parts of other hills. At other times of year or after rain it might be a little boggy and you might not like it, but today it was fine. I did see plenty of sphagnum moss which pleased me. I was even more delighted that when I reached the start of Slieau Maggle I had navigated to the only stile in the vicinity, purely by chance, but very rewarding. It’s a bit rickety, so be careful if you go over that.

From here, I simply took the easiest route to the very flat top. I didn’t bother with a map, so I guessed that as long as I was walking uphill I would eventually reach the top. Lo and behold, I came across a stake in the ground with stones placed around it, which I think must be the top. I didn’t quite know the best way off the hill, so I headed in an easterly direction when I would eventually meet the Injebreck road. I had no idea whether they would be a fence or gate to negotiate, or just barbed wire, but I was sure it would all work out. In fact, it was a great decision, as the moorland simply ebbs onto the road and I just climbed over the bank. From here is was a short walk back to the car. I almost did Sartfell and then thought better of it. I had only wanted a short day, and it had been perfect.

It was almost exactly 7 miles, with 1257ft of (easy) ascent and about the same amount of descent. Walking time was actually 2hrs 38 mins. The time stated on the map is the start and finish times.

I would do this walk again. It’s one I am sure my daughter, who has MS, would enjoy, and it’s one where you can let the kids off the leash too.

Surprised by Joy – Glen Maye 3rd June 2021

Sometimes the shortest walks can bring the greatest joy. I was on my way home from my hospice client at Nobles and decided to go a round-about route to pop in on Glen Maye to take some photos of the waterfall in dappled sunlight. My next watercolour project is this beautiful waterfall, so I wanted to know how the sunlight falls on the water, trees and leaves.

I hadn’t expected anything in particular, but it turned out to be a very special hour in the glen. The leaves were a vibrant green, and the sun caught the edges of the leaves and created reflections in the water I haven’t seen before. As we haven’t had a lot of rain recently, I was able to scramble down the bank into areas I don’t usually visit to get unusual views. In addition, the birds were singing loudly and the wind whistling through the trees.

It was so peaceful and calming that I continued through the glen down to the sea and then took the top route back to the car park. The wildflowers were abundant, but not often dramatic. It pays to stoop down and look at individual flowers to appreciate them, and sometimes you spot things you have never seen before. At the end of this short blog, I am attaching a video showing some of the wildflowers I encountered, most of which I can now name, so if you want me to indentify anything for you, just send me a message. The photos are only small files but they seem to take a while to download.

I feel so blessed to live here and to have such variety of countryside within a few square miles; there is something for every mood, every level of health and fitness, which is how I ended up here seven and a half years ago. All being well tomorrow, I shall be back on the hills, but I adore the gift of the glens just as much, each one similar and yet different, with their own identity.

This ‘walk’ was just two miles long, including standing in the river and walking backwards and forward along the beach admiring the flowers. It would be a great place to take young children to show them the beauty of nature.

26 Peaks Challenge Day 2- 4 peaks and 10 miles

This was Day 2 with a difference, hence calling it ‘2 minus’ – the difference being I was unable to go with the group yesterday and decided that I would make up for it by doing two circular walks involving the same peaks over the next week. The bonus is that I had never walked from the starting point I chose, or been up Beary Mountain, or made my way up the skirt of Slieau Ruy, so lots of new things.

The weather was glorious warm sunshine, only the sun was not strong enough to push through the haze in the distance, so my photos are somewhat lacking. The atmosphere was wonderful and being on my own I could choose when and where to stop and I shall long remember my extended stop on the slopes of Slieau Ruy taking in the vistas, brushed by a gentle breeze.

I parked at Tynwald Mills car park (St. Johns) and started my ascent immediately on crossing the main road from St Johns to Kirk Michael. There are two options here. Either follow the signpost for horses or take the left turn through the woods, which theoretically at least was the actual path. It was a delightful walk through the woods until it petered out at the stream, which meant I had a mini adventure making my way through the undergrowth in the trees to get to the top path (the horse path). It was fun anyway.

This path is clearly a very old path and once you reach a certain point it contours around the midriff of Beary Park (the hill with the mast that you can see for miles). This path is very accessible but stony. The path on the map shows it continuing to join the lane from Greeba, but there is a very pleasant path left which takes you to the southern edge of the Beary Park plantation and eventually joins at the crossroads to Beary Mountain. I then went into the plantation to bag my first peak over 1000ft, being Beary Park itself. Last time I was here, a year ago, it was completely shrouded in mist so it was nice to have views this time. If you are new to the island, if you continue on this path it eventually takes you back down the hill to Glen Helen, a very pretty stream and waterfall.

I retraced my steps to the crossroads. I could see a clear path ahead leading onto Beary Mountain. Bear in mind that the paths on the ground do not necessarily match those on the map, so you need to keep an idea of where you are eventually heading. In my case, I hadn’t actually decided and I was quite happy mooching around on Beary Mountain enjoying the countryside. The plantations too do not look like their designated areas on the map either and they are a little misleading. I never did find the Cairn (not that I was actually looking for it) but I am certain I went over the highest point of Beary Mountain, so that is Peak No 2 for today. Not that it seemed like any kind of peak being largely flat, and as I looked back, Beary Park peak seemed clearly higher. Of course, it must be an illusion, but you can see for yourself what I mean.

I followed a path that lead southeastwards skirting the forest, which I presume is the Glion Gill plantation, climbed over a gate and followed a non-descript path to the lower saddle of Slieay Ruy. It is on this slope, which I took steadily as it was relatively steep for my legs at the moment, that I stopped to admire the view. It was so peaceful. I hadn’t seen a soul all day, and I watched the pippits hopping from heather to heather and the clouds skimming across the sky. Pure joy.

Once I met the official path I veered left to the trig point and cairn of Slieau Roy (479m). I thought about continuing but I decided Lhargee Yuy could be attained on my 2nd trip out from a different direction. I then retraced my steps and continued on to Greeba Mountain. This is typical peat moorland with little else to comment on, except the extensive views in all directions; but still it was hazy and unfortunately there would be no great views for me today. There is no footpath directly down the ridge here, so it is necessary to follow the very stoney trail to the edge of the forest to make the descent.

I was struck by the immediate change in colour, from the dull greens and browns of the moorland, to the vivid bright greens of the vegetation and trees. This is an easy walk down a well trodden path, although longer than I remembered it, it being more than a mile from Greeba Mountain to the bottom. As you descend you can appreciate the soft colours of the farmland and the undulations of the middle valley, separating the north and south of the island.

I had a choice at this point, whether to walk along the road or cross over and walk along the heritage trail. I opted for the former and was pleasantly surprised by the number of wild flowers growing on the wayside, which made up for the constant noise of the traffic! Another time, I would probably take the heritage trail, but as my route was northwards at Ballacraine, it seemed sensible to keep things simple. However, it was over 2 miles on road. It’s worth keeping in mind that there are buses along this route so if you have had enough of walking, you can wait for a bus instead of taking either route.

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of this walk, and of course the miles and miles of views in all directions. I only saw a few pedal bikers in the distance and one family just before I hit the main road. For four hours I had seen no-one at all. Bliss. I finish this blog with some photos of the wildflowers I came across, and a final look back at one of the hills:

26, 1000ft + Peaks Challenge – Day 1; 22nd May 2021

I imagine the title will make some of you feel exhausted, turn over and go back to bed, but if I can do it as an OAP, so can you. Not that I’m sure I can do it yet. Having various infuriatingly only partially diagnosed metabolic problems makes hill-climbing often painful and extremely tiring to the extent I have to rest for several days afterwards. But this is who I am and what I have done all my life, though without so many encumbrances. I adore being out in the hills, wind, rain, snow, sun, I don’t care. If I stop now I will lose a lot of my identity and what gives me purpose in life.

These 26 peaks take in the majority of the Manx Slate hills, which run diagonally north east to south west. We didn’t start with Bradda Head or the Carnanes the furthest points south as these are just under 1000′.

Cronk Ny Array Laa (437 metres): We started out gently at the car park on the Sloc road towards the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa. I don’t usually have a problem with this, but the group started out fast (as groups always do) and I found it difficult to lift my legs or breathe. Not a promising start. When we reached the trig point of this our first peak I advised the leader that I may discontinue and that I would take it at my own pace. Cronk ny Array Laa means Hill of the Day Watch. The cairn above it is a burial plot dating to the late Neolithics. Just beyond this you will see a stone memorial citing the Manx Fisherman’s Evening Hymn, written by W.H.Gill.

Round Table: The next section was downhill, flat and slightly wet as we crossed the moorland to the Round Table and the crossroads taking you either around South Barrule, towards Niarbyl in the west, Colby /Ballasalla in the south or Port Erin in the south west. This looks such a short section and yet it always take quite a while to walk through the peaty moorland.This is the meeting point of 3 parishes and also denotes the separation of the Northern and Southern divisions of the land. Just over the road is a kissing gate, and to the right of this is a flat mound or tumulus, an ancient monument barely visible and never excavated. It would originally have been square, but the story goes that the soldiers used to argue as to who should sit at the head of the table, so they made it round. It is strategically located, given its tiny size. It is the highest point in the dip between South Barrule and Cronk Ny Array Laa, and from here you can see the sea in all directions, so it must certainly have been some kind of lookout, perhaps like a keep. If you want to go and look for this yourself, on the Colby/Ballasalla road there is large white stone on top the wall, and immediately behind it should be the tip of the hillock. You are looking for a raised area of just a few metres diameter with an indentation in the centre and the hint of a surrounding ditch.

The walk across the moor from Cronk Ny Array Laa

South Barrule (483 metres) : onwards and upwards, on a well defined track and then a stony path for about 180 metres. Now you start to feel the wind, but it was really quite a pleasant day, though hats and gloves were much in evidence. The path starts gently with some sections rising, a little like terraces. There are a few outcrops where you can stop to admire the view or have a coffee break. On both ascent and descent, you go through a stone rampart encircling the top of South Barrule. This was an enclosure of 5-6 acres, and within this have been found 85 round huts, the remnants of many of which can quite clearly be seen. The rampart itself is made of turf and faced with stones, most of which have tumbled away and lie strewn across the ground. This was an Iron Age fort. Radiocarbon dating of a hearth in one of the huts showed it to have existed since 524BC. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder why they picked here. It is one of the few places where (on a good day) you can see the Seven Kingdoms of Man, but it is also inhospitable, and is thought to have been inhabited partly due to climate change affecting the lower levels – plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

2nd Peak – yours truly in bobble hat and purple cagoule. Photo courtesy of Ken.

From here we made our way down through the gorse and heather in a northerly direction until we joined the Sloc Road and the Cross Vein mine workings (now defunct). Notice how barren the land is, almost like volcanic ash. The next section was road walking, but this is not an issue as there is hardly any traffic, until we took a detour for lunch in the Arrasey plantation. This was first planted between 1935 and 1967, and is continually being felled and restocked with Sitka Spruce, Pine, Larch and more recently Corsican Pine. After lunch we got our first view of the western coast and Peel, with field after field of soft green farmland, such a contrast to the higher moorland.

Slieau Whallian (383 metres): We walked around the edge of the plantation and rejoined the lane downhill until we reached a bend in the road at 210 metres where we turned uphill along a stony track. Under normal circumstances this would be the way to St John’s, but our leader had negotiated an extension with a landowner who kindly agreed to allow us to go onto his property so that we could reach our final top of Slieau Whallian. He had even put up ladders for us. Thank you so much, Mr. Farmer (not his name!); we appreciate your permission and your thoughtfulness. It was a very straightforward walk to the top and afforded us a wonderful view all the way back to our starting point and we could see all our stopping points in between. And of course we could see all the way to Douglas and beyond and Peel and the north in the opposite direction, with big hills right in front of us.

Then came perhaps my favourite part of the day. The hills are soft and gentle underfoot, but in places surprisingly steep, creating amazing vistas that somehow you don’t expect to see on this island. It’s not altogether obvious as there are few erratics scattered around compared with say Yorkshire or the Lake District, but the topography of the southern and northern uplands (over 200 metres) has been created by glacial drift, giving it its distinct undulating shallow upland basins and deeply incised streams/ glens. These round topped hills could be seen everywhere as we made our way down.

Our final descent was through the Slieau Whallian plantation. You have probably heard the story that it is called the Witches Hill – how they were put in a barrel with spikes inside and their body weight rolled it down the hill. I don’t imagine that would have been a pretty picture when they opened the barrel at the bottom! Our descent through the trees was far longer than I was expecting, but not difficult. The sun was glinting through the forest lighting our way, and eventually we made our way down to the back lane into St. John’s. Apparently my watch slightly undercooks distance and it was just about 10 miles; 1631 ft of ascent and 2769 ft of descent. My body battery was 79/100 when I started and 7 when I finished, and it has taken 2 days to get it anywhere near that level. I shall attempt Day 2 next Saturday and take it at my speed and hopefully make it through. I don’t give in easily.

Thank you to Ken for a great day, and to the group for being excellent company.

Wildflower Walk Port Soderick Glen – 15th May 2021

Another cool day with a blustery wind, very different from this time last year when we were bathed in warm sunshine for weeks. This was a short walk along the beautiful Port Soderick Glen to see what plants and flowers were coming into bloom.

I arrived early so had a brief walk down to the coast. I rarely see the cove when the tide is in so this was a (windy)treat. I was surprised to see a ‘new’ building nestling underneath the rocks, and our guide later informed us that there is more development planned for this area to include a resthome / apartments for war veterans. You can’t go further than the cove. This is not a coastal /beach walk at this point, though a short distance above you can walk to Douglas along Marine Drive. If you want to venture south, these days it entails a 1.5 mile detour inland before regaining the coastline, which is really disspiriting.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the glen. At this point we hadn’t had a lot of rain recently so the stream was fairly quiet. The trees are just coming into leaf and the spring greens are always refreshing, reminding us of new life and hope. And there are plenty of trees!

The first interesting plant we saw was a Garlic mustard, also called Jack-by-the-Hedge for obvious reasons. We were invited to taste it (along with several other leaves). It had a very pleasant taste, one that would be nice in salads. Other interesting plants were the beautiful Marsh Marigolds, standing majestically in their boggy terrain. The yellow colour was outstanding and you could see why the bees would make… a bee-line… for them. There were all the attractive spring flowers you traditionally expect to see in this type of woodland – golden saxifrage, wood sorrel, wood anemones, lady’s smock, bluebells in abundance. The native bluebells have a longer stem and the flowers seem to droop from the top. They also tend to be a slightly darker blue than the foreigners.

One plant that was pointed out to us to avoid was the hemlock water dropwort. There is plenty of this around. It is fairly tall and dark green with parsley shaped leaves, and it is poisonous. This one probably wouldn’t kill you, at least, not quickly, but there are others that do. This one would more likely make you vomit a lot and maybe hospitalise you, so please don’t eat it. Sorry, no photos but here is a picture from my book:

We learned of various plants that heal, from the common plantain to the woundwort, with the humble herb robert in between, that was regarded as a remedy for toothache, and the yarrow, seen all over the island, used to stop bleeding.

Then there were the more unusual species – the unique salmonberry, an imported shrub from the USA. This looks like an oversized raspberry. It grows in a couple of places along the glen. You really can’t miss it, with its long pendulous branches, shiny green leaves and at the right time of year its wonderful orangey-pink berries. Right now, the fuschia-pink flowers were just finishing and there were hints of the berries that would form beneath it.

The glorious pink flower of the salmonberry (Rubus Spectabilis)

To complete our walk, we followed the stream down to the sea, and there we found the omnipresent stonecrop, thrift, bittercress, stitchwort (looking beautiful at this time of year), and the less showy mousear snuggling amongst the grass. Simon pointed out some black lumps planted on some tree trunks. These are called King Alfred’s Cakes (look up the story if you don’t know it). They are actually fungi that survive for years on dead branches, mostly beech and ash. There was also plenty of sea scurvy. You will see this around the coast, looking like handfuls of dandruff on low stems. The other find was the sea beet, a relative of beetroot and swiss chard, also known as wild spinach, which is also edible. Again, you can’t miss it lining the pebble beaches. It only grows in well-drained areas and it doesn’t like shade, so the edge of the sea is a perfect location for it.

I do enjoy these nature walks. Simon Smith runs them. You can find details of his walks on Facebook (Wildflowers on the Isle of Man) or http://www.manxwildflowers.com

My next post will be rather different. On Saturday I did the first leg of the 26 peaks over 1000 ft on the Isle of Man. Look out for this in a couple of days.