The whole country may be in disarray thanks to the Coronavirus, but where I am right now, no-one would ever know.
I was in two minds whether to continue with my planned holiday to the UK, but given that everything was still going ahead, i.e. boats, planes and trains, well not so much planes with the collapse of Flybe, I resolved to proceed as planned.
Well, not entirely as planned as I was booked on a Flybe flight, which then became as expensive alteration to my plans as I was obliged to use the ferry costing me £267.50 for me and the car, with a seat and WiFi being extra.
The journey was actually very pleasant – a smooth sailing sat amongst a crowd of netball and hockey players on their way to play in Lancashire. Travel down from Heysham on the M6 and A49 was uneventful and at least I wouldn’t be on a crowded train of potential virus sufferers.
I was especially thankful to be in the car when I arrived at picturesque Church Stretton, as Longmynd House is positioned up a steepish hill, which would not have been fun to walk with a suitcase and umpteen pairs of walking boots.
I had come very well prepared given that Shropshire has had such rains and floods in recent weeks, so I doubted that one pair of boots would be enough, and given that I am a messy walker, I would also need a range of other outerwear too. And having the car meant that I could throw in anything I like, which was a luxury I rarely encounter as I usually travel light.
The HF house is large, with a fantastic lounge offering panoramic views of Caer Caradoc and its range of soft topped grassy hills. I was suitably impressed with its wonderful location. I was eagerly greeted by one of the walks leaders, and the manager and team who preside over the house were very friendly and obliging so it was all very promising.
The evening was spent eating and drinking – there is always a lot of food at HF holidays, and the walks leaders introduced themselves and their walks for the following day. Not a mention of any type of virus so clearly it doesn’t exist, not here at least.
It was a good start to the holiday and the other guests were very friendly, so I knew I was in for a good week’s holiday.
With Storm Ciara threatening to curtail activities in the next few days and a free day, I decided to catch up on my old favourite and walk from home around the coast, taking in the Sound.
I started from the beach at Port Erin. It was not a particularly nice day, overcast and rather gloomy and a little chilly, but it is always good to get outside and dust off the old cobwebs.
I walked up Ballfurt Lane to St Mary’s Lane and turned left to walk along the top road to Port St Mary. At this point I decided to call in home (!) and pick up a woolly hat, and as the day progressed I was so glad I did. The sun wanted to come out but it wasn’t trying very hard and it became very blowy, giving me a taster of what was the follow at the weekend.
When I reached Port St Mary I followed the Underway which is always spectacular when the tide is in as it was today. The seabirds were having a field day as the wind must have whipped up fish close to the shore and they were competing for the best catch.
At the harbour where one is no longer protected from the southeasterly wind the seas were swelling, fast and furious. I had walked about 2.5 miles at this point and had planned to call in at the Golf Course cafe for a coffee, but this was closed for refurbishment so I carried out on the path.
Going round Perwick Bay I bumped into a friend who was monitoring the birds for a survey, today mostly shelducks and oystercatchers on that bit of the coast. I followed the route down the road to Glen Chass which ultimately leads to the Raad Ny Fooillan and grassy footpaths, which one has to share with sheep. There is an alternative route that takes you up higher and on to the Chasms, but I always like the low route as it gives wonderful views of the rocks around the Sugar Loaf and the opportunity for a tiny bit of scrambling.
By this time, the wind had really got going and I didn’t want to venture too close to edge once I was past the Chasms on Spanish Head. It reminded me of a time several years when I was following this route and the wind was so powerful I had to give up at this point and head to Cregneash as I could barely stand upright. It wasn’t like that today.
The day might be dull but the mountain gorse brightened up the walk significantly. It truly was this yellow and it was delightful.
Ascending the slopes to Black Head I followed the deviating route that hugs the coast. This gives on the first look at the Calf of Man, the small island detached from the Sound. Chicken Rock lighthouse looked cold and forbidding today. I am including a photo to give you a flavour but it’s not one of my best as it is out of focus though it does create a chilling mystical feel. Even the Drinking Dragon’s head is right down.
7 miles and it was lunchtime when I reached the Sound Cafe. It was reasonably busy. It is always a welcome sight on rough days, knowing that however cold or wet you might be, a warm coffee and hot food awaits (as well as toilets). For those not wanting to continue on, it is possible to catch a bus back to Port Erin, but they are not especially frequent.
For those of you who are new to my blog and I have quite a few new followers recently, thank you, I have a chronic condition which leaves me depleted of energy, and breathing and moving my legs can be a little tricky right now. The sensible part of me considered stopping here, but the outdoor and nature lover in me won the day and I carried on, it has to be said with some considerable difficulty along the cliffs to Port Erin. The weather perked up at this point, and although still windy the sun managed to creep through the clouds occasionally and I was well rewarded for my efforts.
Notice the Kamikaze sheep on the photo above. You feel if the first one jumps the rest would follow… like sheep! Quite why or how they had got themselves in that position I will never know. It wouldn’t be the most sheltered position.
Once back at Port Erin I went to the Health Food shop and had a pot of camomile tea before walking home. I was back at 2.15pm having had fish and chips at the Sound as well! The full distance was 10 miles, but that includes lots of ins and outs that you don’t need to do, such as calling in at my house. 8-9 miles is more common for this route. You can also get the bus or train to Port St Mary, which avoids almost all the walking through villages and allows you to concentrate on the footpaths. And you can escape off the cliffs at the Chasms and go to the lovely hamlet of Cregneash where you can get a bus back, or follow a shorter walk over Meayll Hill/The Howe to Port Erin. So, there are lots of options if you want shorter walks.
Distance: 10 miles
Ascent: 1732 ft
Descent: 1572 ft
Maximum elevation 1,028ft.
Saturday’s ‘walk’ (yesterday) was a wander over the Snaefell Hills taking measurements of the peat. I am just awaiting some photos then I will tell you about that. Meanwhile, keep safe and warm and well away from Storm Ciara.
The final day promised to be interesting. We would start on the eastern side of the Cumbre Nueva, in the hills behind our hotel, scramble up some heady paths through the oldest volcanic rocks, reach a open green picnic area, and then descend on the other side walking across more recent lava flows, finishing in El Paso, the terrrain on the west and east escarpments being wildly different.
We were following what would originally have been an ancient path linking one side of the island to the other, rather like you find in the passes above Coniston in the Lake District. You could sense the spirits of bygone fellows leading their donkeys carrying their wares on their backs up and down these steep and narrow paths.
The Cumbre Nueva (translates as New Summit) contains the sharp spine of hills that we could see yesterday leading off to the south from Caldera Taburiente to the Cumbre Veija (Old Summit). The harder walk were heading off on the ‘volcano route’ of the Cumbre Vieuja, which sounds like a child’s paradise: lots of craters in a small area to play around in. A part of me wanted to do that walk, but I knew they would set off fast and I want to enjoy the scenery and not be on a forced route march. Cumbre Nueva being slightly smaller than its neighbouring friends with a maximum height of 2100m is rather softer in appearance than the other craggy volcanos surrounding it. and maintains a steady transpiration rate as it is mostly within the cloud forest height range, so it is lush and green. There are many pines on the eastward side whose lines are only broken where the lava has had its strongest grip. On the eastern side the vegetation is more varied and more abundant – tree heathers can grown to 4 metres in height., whereas on the western side they are more stunted in growth due to the lava flows and also to the strong winds which buffet that side of the mountains.
At the bottom of this map is a marker point called Montana de los Tomillos at 1522 metres. That is the point where you change over from east to west. If you enlarge the photo you will see a green path to the right saying Pared Vieja on the east side. We started somewhere along that path, walking continuously uphill for an hour and a half.
Then we reached El Pilar which is an area that has been cleared to some extent to allow locals and tourists to make the most of the wonderful countryside. You can drive up to this point, there is a small visitor centre, toilets and a snack bar in season. It is very pleasant and cool, although the sun can still creep through the trees. One remarkable thing about this island is its taxi service. Every now and again where a path meets a track you will come across a green sign saying TAXI with several taxi numbers and prices to different places. They are very geared up for walkers and try to discourage vehicles by offering this service, and they are not expensive. The Refugio de La Pilar is a wonderful starting point for a walk. You can do at least six different walks from this starting point and I would have loved to have been able to spend time messing around exploring all of them. Maybe that will be for another visit.
As you leave El Pilar you cannot fail to notice the Volcano Montano Quemada of Tacande, which erupted as recently as 1470-1490, similar to other volcanic eruptions in the south, and indeed the terrain is very similar. You can see the black ash sliding down the hillsides and there are only a few loose boulders here. This ‘sand’ was procured by the locals over the years to make paths and gardens, but that practice has now been forbidden. This tiny loose rock was created when magma was thrust into the air, forming shiny black granules cooling rapidly as it hits the ground. This is called obsidian and it looks like glass. Everywhere we looked you could see it glistening up at us, but try to pick one up and it would mysteriously disappear. I did finally manage to bring a couple of tiny pieces home, along with some volcanic pumice!
This was a very pleasant walk down, with some open areas and lovely shaded areas in the pines. This was the first time there was evidence of water, admittedly not flowing right now, but there were channels in the lava which would allow the water to flow freely when it does rain. The rainy season is meant to be between November and February but as everywhere, the climate is changing and they have had little rain this winter. The annual rainfall is about 327mm p.a, compared with the Isle of Man that has 1139mm p.a, so you can see that if is dries up here they will be in serious trouble.
Throughout this holiday we had come across all kinds of lichen, which of course only grow in healthy terrains. They hung from the trees and where they fell off, it felt quite hard and leathery. The photo below shows such a lichen dripping from a tree, with the backdrop of the Punta de les Roques which is the last part of the volcanic ridge and the first part of the Caldera de Taburiente.
The further down we went we lost the sandy rocks and found ourselves walking over a very craggy lava flow that went all the way down to El Paso. This had been incorporated into the gardens of the local houses
And here we could hear the sound of birds as we went through more pine forests, casting their magical spell on us all as we passed through them.
Nearly at El Paso, we had our final trek over some tricky lava and a few minutes later we were at the Visitor Centre and the bar, where we sat and waited for the harder walkers who were not so far away. The fact that the lava continues right down to the road makes one very much aware that this is a living landscape and that it will always have the final say over mankind.
In this last photo, you can see the whole of our route on the eastern side and reminisce about all the wonderful things we saw.
Distance: 6 miles
Ascent: 948 ft (all in the morning)
So ends a truly memorable holiday, so inspiring that I have already booked to go walking on one of the other Canary Islands this time next year. For now, I shall resume normal service and report on walks on the Isle of Man, starting this coming Saturday with a report on Peat Monitoring which we plan to do if the weather is suitable.
Thank you for following this blog, and keep in touch.
For a small island, it sure does pack a punch. The volcanoes in themselves are enough to take one’s breath away but it also has its calmer, more serene side where most people live scattered across the hillsides.
I took a day off instead of walking as my poor (big) toes were throbbing, I had blood blisters under both nails, the toes were swollen and painful and the thought of another long descent was not appealing. You will be pleased to know I don’t have a photo of my feet! On Day 3 I had a leisurely morning, caught up on some sleep and watched some of the Australian Tennis Open. Our hotel was magnificent. We were staying at the Parador de la Palma in Breña Baja, an ancient ‘suburb’ of Santa Cruz where they grow tobacco, apparently on a par for quality with Cuban tobacco. The hotel is relatively modern with extensive grounds which have been landscaped beautifully. It has a pool and a gym, neither of which I frequented, a lounge and a bar and a lovely enclosed patio area where one could sit and listen to the sound of water as one drank one’s wine, read one’s book or engage in mindless chatter. And of course a restaurant. The food was out of this world and there was so much to eat I am glad to be home, otherwise I would end up a big fatty! So, all in all, a day off was very appealing.
In the afternoon, having written some postcards, I thought I should venture out to post them and explore the local community, wearing comfortable pumps which would not put any pressure on my toes. It is impossible to avoid uphill but at least I was on tarmac. Off I went, expecting a gentle ramble, which indeed it was. I found myself turning this way and that and two and half miles and a 1000ft later, I decided it was time to turn back. I was already in the foothills of the Cumbre Veija by this point where the cloud forest begins and it was trying to drizzle. It was a happy ramble in that I was able to nose into people’s gardens, which were generally large houses or smallholdings. It is noticeable that most of the houses are two storey. No large tower blocks here. As I turned onto the top road I felt I could almost have been in the wild west. Imagine those big doors on the photo below are saloon doors and imagine horses tethered up in front – imagination can run away with you here :-). The variety of vegetation on the hillsides was remarkable and so many wild flowers were out, many of which we only see in late summer, if at all. Most noticeable were the ‘dying swans’ of Echium which grow all over the island.
The next day was the scheduled day off. I knew I had to get some new footwear if I was to continue with the organised walks so I go the bus into Santa Cruz and bought a pair of HiTec walking trainers that were a full size bigger than I usually buy. They were cheap, costing me 50 Euros which included 3 pairs of socks. I had a walk around Santa Cruz which has some nice alleys , squares and drinking places such as the Calle Real, the main cobbled street, but I was not in the mood for exploring.
Santa Cruz is the capital of the island but not the largest city which is Los LLanos on the western side. It is positioned on an old lava flow that emanated from the volcano easily visible to the south of the city. It only has a population of 15,674 in 2018, so about 2/3rds the size of Douglas. The total population is 81,863, which is slightly surprising given that so much of the terrain is inhospitable. Santa Cruz does have one very strange claim to fame. Every 5 years it holds an event called The Descent of the Virgin of the Nieves, when there is a peculiar dance performed, called the Dance of the Dwarfs. Grown men over 6ft tall assume costumes of bishops then go into a shed and come out as dwarfs, with enormous triangular hats, and do a polka!! They don’t just do it once, but over and over again, all through the night. There is another annual tradition called Los Indianos, where all the locals dress up in white, men in posh suits and ladies with their parasols and straw hats, and talcum powder is thrown all over the place. Quite how or why these traditions have emerged is a deeply kept secret, but it does make one wonder what other plants might be growing on the island. If you are interested in visiting Santa Cruz there is a Naval Museum, churches with fine architecture and some interesting houses on the front.
I had wanted to visit Los Llanos as it has an archaeological musuem, so I boarded the no 300 bus, paid the driver 2,60 Euros and off we went up and over the hills and through the tunnel to the other side of the island. I hadn’t a clue where to get off the bus, but I was fortunate in that I spotted a road sign to the museum so hopped off at the next opportunity. This is definitely worth a visit. I think it cost 4 Euros, but I could have had a pass for only a little more which would have given me access to other museums elsewhere. Of course, it explained about the volcanic construction of the island, but it also talked about the shepherding way of life and there were various artefacts and a few old bones to examine. I spent about an hour there before wandering around the rest of the town.
The west of the island has a totally different feel to the east which is more humid. As you come down the long windy hill into Los Llanos you cannot help but notice the vast number of cream-coloured greenhouses that look very much like low level warehouses from above, and it lends it a commercial feel. The greenhouses protect the bananas which have become a large part of the island economy. They are very dense bananas and relatively small, compared with the ones that are imported to the UK. Formerly the main product was sugar cane.
Los Llanos itself contains several roads that stretch uphill like boulevards, with established trees in the centre. It is quite a bustling town and has a happy feel to it, with cafes in the centre where tourists and local mingle. In one of the streets there are 11 Indian Laurel and Royal Palm Trees that were imported from Cuba, and indeed these are the symbol of the city. They are very dramatic and beautiful. Although not the capital city which is Santa Cruz, Los Llanos is bigger, with a population of 20,171 in 2018. It appears to be a sprawling city as other smaller towns are very close, such as El Paso, but each has its own identity. Los Llanos is unlikely to claim the capital spot as it lies 325 metres above sea level so cannot compete with Santa Cruz for trade in quite the same way.
Having done my city tours, I got the 300 bus back, but managed to get off at the hospital and change to the no 35 which stops outside the Parador. I had enjoyed my day. I managed to wear in my new boots without causing any more problems to my toes and I was all set then for out Day 5 Walk which was to be an absolute treat, walking about the largest and highest volcanic crater on the island – and I shall tell you about that, tomorrow.
Douglas is a surprisingly attractive town to walk around as long as you turn a blind eye to the less appealing aspects of its make-up and areas that look lost and forlorn or where some car park or development has emerged from nowhere and taken away all the character of the area. The Isle of Man does itself no favours by not caring enough about its heritage and there are too many derelict buildings or hideous erections that should never have seen the light of day, not even in an architect’s mind let alone in practice. It is too quick to destroy what history it has, as in the pending doom of the lone 18th century cottage which is being demolished to make way for a new ”by-pass” in Ballasalla, only approved by short-sighted politicians because Dandara promised to fund it as long as they could build xxx number of houses at the same time. But I digress…
You might say Douglas is much like any town. But look up, out, about and around the many old buildings of the later 19th and early 20th centuries and you will see interesting shapes and objects that will surprise you. Roadnames with fingers pointing you in the right direction, canopies over shops that look as if they belong in Tunbridge Wells Pantiles area, attractive iron railings separating the Edwardian properties, squares of parkland and a crescent of housing reminiscent of Bath (though not as grand). Lots and lots of substantial Edwardian properties built to last, reminding us of the Isle of Man’s heyday when B &B’s sprung up in abundance to cater for the wild tourism that would swarm in on the ferry in the summer months.
I had been to the dentist on Woodburn Square and instead of walking back to the bus stop I went in the opposite direction, down roads I have never walked before, around the back of Nobles Park to the top of Summerhill Glen. The house styles are very varied and many are attractive with double fronts or bay windows, a row of chocolate box houses, one with a monkey puzzle tree in the front garden and sometimes very unusual houses. There were two houses side by side with windows in the upper elevations that looked as if they belonged in the 16th century as their small windows protruded out above the main house. There are many established trees in this area and it feels quite luxurious in places. There must have been a large country seat where Laureston Manor remains, now afflicted by the ever terminal illness of living apartments, but it still has its grounds and other houses have been built around the edge of its land, so the pathwork of land still retains its rich flavour.
I reached an area where most of the roads bear the name Victoria or similar, signs of anticipated grandeur and nobility – Victoria Road, Victoria Crescent, Victoria Avenue, Dukes Road, Upper Duke’s Road, Palace Road, Castle Hill – you get my drift, and here the roads are at the top of the wonderful cliff that skirts the whole of Douglas Bay and from where if you could only see through the trees there must be a wonderful view of the Bay. There are several very large buildings around here, many now converted for business use, again indicating that Douglas has at times been very wealthy.
All this was unexpected. This was not a planned trip but an idle walk through Douglas to get some fresh air with the idea of walking in daylight down Summerhill Glen. My first visit to this Glen was just two week’s ago when my son Matthew stayed with me for Christmas and we went to enjoy the illuminations which we did thoroughly enjoy in spite of the rain.
Reaching the top of the Glen I followed the path down to discover a second more interesting path that enters the glen from the other side of the stream. I know most people are very happy with the modernisation of the paths in the glens but for me wide tarmac paths lose all the natural feel and magic of walking down a forested glen, so I was very happy to wander along the section that had not been tarmacked and watch the water meandering its way across the flat and boggy terrain, creating new rivulets here and there as it jumped over minor hazards on their way to join the main stream.
The glen itself is very natural at the top and I found several interesting shapes in the stream and in the vegetation that sparked my interest. The stream is pretty with minor waterfalls along its ever downward and slightly winding trajectory. In the centre there is a flat area with wooden seats neatly positioned to enjoy the display the children (and adults) have created. It is not possible to follow the stream all the way to the sea as it goes underground whilst still quite elevated, but when I reached the shore to see where it finally entered the sea, I could hear a rush of water where it comes out behind the houses on Strathallan Crescent.
The tide was out so I walked out into the bay and again I looked up at the lovely aforementioned cliffs and noticed houses half way up holding tightly on to the side of the cliffs, a pink house I had never noticed before with a curtain of trees behind it. Looking in the other direction out to sea, I walked out as far as the sand would allow me and came across boulders and seaweed that were as tall as me. I walked the mile or so back into town, and if you wished you could make a full circle of this walk.
So, if you come to Douglas, take a bit of time to venture into those parts you don’t usually go and I’m sure you will find hidden treasures.
Below: A slideshow of some shapes in Summerhill Glen
I regret to say I did not take photos of the interesting properties I saw, but I will retrace those steps another time when I am armed with my camera and not just my mobile phone.
This week saw the last of the steam train journeys until next spring, so what better way to go into Douglas than to hop aboard at Port Erin and disembark at Port Soderick to walk the 5 miles into Douglas.
Here is the Kissack, no 13, waiting to leave Port Sorderick. As I walked down the lane I encountered a convivial lady sportingly cleaning up the road for vehicles as all the drains were blocked by the autumn leaves and the excessive rainfall of recent days, leaving great puddles. That’s what I call neighbourliness.
I walked through the glen which was a little on the muddy side. I never known the Crogga stream to be so loud as it made its way downhill and then softened as it gained the lower reaches, just every now and again bubbling over the rocks.
Reaching Port Soderick Bay, I never cease to amazed how this area was once a bustling pleasure beach, with all kinds of attractions and businesses – outdoor games, a camera obscura, Thomas the ‘novelty card’ printer, roundabouts and such time as well as the now defunct and removed Falcon Cliff lift that enable to tourists to have a leisurely (if ugly) route to the top of marine drive, where they could get the horse tram all the way to Douglas. It seems like another world. I do remember the hotel which was always good for a coffee but that has also long since gone. They are always talks of renovating this area. If so, maybe they could reintroduce the story of the Enchanted Isle off Port Soderick, which was sunk beneath the seas by the magician Finn McCool along with its inhabitants which were turned to granite pillars; the island rises out of the sea every seven years for just 30 minutes, when the inhabitants will be restored to life if they can place a Bible on the island in that time.
I followed the muddy path alongside the road to the top of the hill where I took the cover photo. These hills are steeper and higher than they look here at about 300 ft high. They are mostly the typical Manx group of rocks comprising mudstone, siltstones and sandstones of the Lonan formation. They form the standard thin and craggy beds of slate that were distorted by the uplift of mountain formation in the Silurian and Devonian period, and in places these are very dramatic. At Keristal, close to Port Soderick, and towards Douglas you will find large slabs of paler sandstone giving a softer landscape.
In places the rocks are quite architechtural, as here, close to Douglas Head gate house.
Marine Drive was constructed and the tramway opened in 1896 and was not the wide roadway as it appears today. In places an overhanging iron roadway was made to get around some of the tricky rocks and this section was suitably named ‘Horses Leap’. However, it was all dismantled between 1947 and 1949 partly due to rock falls. It was converted into a roadway in 1956 and over time it became a walkers’ paradise and the central section closed to vehicles. It is easy to see why when you walk the route.
Having had only coastal views and wonderful skies, including an enticing rainbow as I reached the Whing (the steepest and most contorted of the rocks), it is all over too soon and soon the path starts sloping making its descent into Douglas. Looking at the clouds over the mountains I had time my walk just right.
A very pleasant walk of 5 miles and about 733 ft of ascent, but it is very easy after the intial ascent and just little ups and downs along the way.
I had been to Peel Cathedral for Evensong. It was a very special evensong, with the very musical group Voces Insulae providing the choral repertoire. It was absolutely beautiful and the bible readings too stood out above the norm for some inexplicable reason. The cathedral was particularly resonant today. I guess some days are like that.
Having started out as an inconveniently wet night and morning, it had now brightened up, so I strolled down to Peel beach where the wind had whipped up froth that looked like candyfloss. I then did the circuit of the exterior of Peel Castle, passed the spot on the point where my grandchildren, son and I had had a memorable picnic about this time last year. As I came round to Fenella Beach you could imagine St Patrick’s island cut off from Peel as great swathes of sand seem to almost continue seamlessly from one side of the harbour to the other.
I then traversed the low route contouring around the east side of Peel Hill back to my car, intending to get home in good time to cook my tea before the ‘Strictly’ results show,. Peel look very colourful and appealing in the soft late afternoon light.
I just had to pop in to my favourite glen on the way back for a bit of magic. And I was not disappointed. As you can see the fairies had made their ring to dance around, though they hid in the undergrowth when I turned up.
I could hear the waterfall well before I could see it. It was spewing out copper and peat coloured water and although there was quite a torrent it was nothing like I had witnessed a month or two ago.
On one side of the ravine, the water was dripping down the side of the rocks looking life hanging vines.
I managed to watch Strictly – no surprise as to who was sent home there then – then settled down to watch ‘Millionaire’ as well, when I decided to make some fruit cake to take out tomorrow on my first walk with the Island Walking Festival’s Weeks’ Walks, so I dodged out in the intervals and I now have a full stock of food to take with me tomorrow.
I shall be walking from Snaefell along the tops to Ramsey, and on Wednesday doing a circular route taking in Greeba Mountatin, before I leave the island for a little while to visit family and have a week’s holiday with HF in the Lake District. I will try and write a blog about each of these walks that I haven’t ever done before!