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.

Heather Walk on the Western Cliffs 18/08/21

I make no apologies for there being a surfeit of photos mostly of purple heather and yellow gorse, as this was today’s mission. The Isle of Man boasts a kaleidoscope of spectacular colours at this time of year but you will see none better than on the walk from Cronk Ny Array Laa to Port Erin. I can see many of these from my house and can watch the terrain change from green to purple and yellow from my bedroom window.

However, it was one of those days starting in sunshine, quickly fading into soft clouds. Then the clouds would part, leaving you tantalised by a glimmer of sunshine, only to have it taken away just as quickly and be replaced by the thick veils of Mananan’s cloak, meaning that a large part of this walk was undertaken in fog, not great for photos. As you watch the slideshow below, it does eventually brighten up and offer up some views. 🙂

I had grabbed a lift to my starting point with my friend Janet, who was travelling to Peel to do her stint at the Wildlife Trust shop. She dropped me on the corner in thick fog. Undaunted, I made my way to the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa. I wondered if I might be a little late in the season for my photographs as a lot of the heather on the eastern side of the hill was going over from what I could see.

From here, it is a steady descent to The Slock. There are usually fine views of the south, but given the weather, imagination was necessary. I hadn’t gone far when I met a lady carrying a very large rucksack up the hill. It turns out she is Portuguese and was hiking around the island. We had a very interesting half an hour talking about her journey, bus times and tide timetables before we each continued on our respective ways.

Just before The Slock, I found myself below the cloud line and I was able to enjoy the magnificent colours all around me. It was then a short climb up to Gob Ny Beinn. The cairn is slightly further along the ridge. I stopped here for a late late lunch in the… fog… before continuing down to Fleshwick. This is usually the most stunning section for colour but the mist had the better of it for most of the walk. Even so, it was beautiful and moody and so very quiet. All I could hear was the wind under my ear muffs. Yes, it is August, but it was cold enough to wear a t-shirt, thin jumper, light fleece and waterproof at times!

Mission accomplished and numerous photos in the bag, once at Fleshwick I debated with myself whether to bother with the climb up Bradda Hill. I wasn’t feeling great and I knew really my body had had enough, but if I am presented with a challenge that is achievable I am likely to do it. There was an alternative, low route home from Fleshwick, but it is less interesting, so the more challenging route won.

The route up to Bradda Hill is known as a fairly ferocious climb, though not difficult as long as you take your time. It is 500-600ft, but it is only the first 450ft that is quite steep. And there are plenty of stopping places. It is then an undulating walk along the cliffs to Port Erin. The scenery changes a lot. There are still significant patches of heather and gorse but not the unbroken expanses of the Carnanes or Cronk any Array Laa. It is easier to see the effect of farming too, as where there might be moorland is grassland. At this point, the clouds decided to relieve themselves of their moisture, so I packed away my phone and stepped out to make my way home.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon, but it took its toll on me. I had to go to bed and rest when I got in, and I haven’t been a lot better today. But ask me anytime, I’ll just keep going until I no longer can.

I will leave the photos to do the rest of the talking. If you can get out in the next few days you won’t be disappointed. The hills all around the island look spectacular.

Distance on the hills 6 miles + 1 mile into Port Erin; Ascent 1200 ft

Around Staarvey and along the Switchback Road, 13th Aug 2021

The tree lined avenue between St Johns and Tynwald Mills always cheers me. The colours and the dappled light look attractive at all times of year. Following this minor road over the bridge you meet the back road to Peel. I have often wondered where the track went immediately opposite the junction, and today I decided to find out.

I had been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust at Cooildarry with the young Watch group. We were investigating the traps Dawn had set, and the children excited meandered through the wood looking out for flags and traps, trying to guess whether there would be anything inside the traps – which were mostly positive with single woodmice ferreting about inside. We weighed them and measured them and sexed them. Then it was the hedgehog tunnels, with ink stained paper in the centre so that their footprints could be caught on the white paper either side of the tunnel. Only, we didn’t find hedgehog footprints, just a cat(!), mice and possibly a stoat’s footprints. It kept the children absorbed for about 90 mins.

From there, I stopped at the car park on the switchback road, which is a long 2 mile … switchback… with fantastic views towards Peel. There is a footpath uphill on the northern edge of the switchback, another footpath I had never walked along. It is a stony track suitable for bikes and pedestrians but not pushchairs or wheelchairs. Just as you take a rest, there is a chance to enjoy this surprise view, which you might expect to see in a mediterranean country rather than the Isle of Man.

If you keep on this path it takes you over the side of Knockharry, but I took the path to the right leading to Staarvey. There are wonderful views to the east but only occasional glimpses of the sea to the west as the path goes through farmland below the top. If you look very very closely, on the top left of the photo below you can just about make out the marquees at Patrick, signalling the Royal Show is on. This photo was taken just as I came off the rise but this view would soon be masked by the hills. The map tells me there are cairns close to the path but I must admit I didnt see them. This is a walk across fields full of cows, which as usual were interested to know what I was doing, but finally left me alone. Guess they think this is their land, not mine.

I am always amazed at the different atmospheres and vistas that this island gives us in different places; places where we walk or pass by regularly look so different from just a few feet higher up. I enjoyed this walk across the fields as there was a great variety of colour and the hay had been cut and it is clearly a living landscape. Some of the stiles were a bit iffy, particularly the one in the last field before the lane. I was tempted to climb the gate but persevered but it was impossible to find the rungs on the ladder on the opposite side of the fence on the photo below.

From here, I joined the road which was still a very pleasant, quiet walk down to Laurel Bank and around the hillside which eventually turned into the aforementioned track that had originally interested me. There are great views of Slieau Whallian and St Johns here, but my phone was out of juice so I wasn’t able to take any further photos and none of the switchback road which is disappointing. Another time. I turned right at the main road – this is a fairly busy back road and although it is fine to walk along it as a single person or even two or three people, I wouldn’t recommend it with a group. Just past the right bend I turned off onto the switchback road and followed this all the way back to the car. It is slightly uphill for about a third of the road and from then on small humps and hollows but nothing difficult or strenuous; just a delightful walk on a narrow lane with passing places. There was the odd car and cyclist, but this road is safe for pedestrians.

I haven’t been able to do much walking recently due to physical constraints (what’s new!) and jobs I have to do in the house, mostly putting things in the roof or decorating before my new carpets come. One job seems to create another. Then of course, I do have my ‘work’ teaching Psychology. I am thrilled to say that all my students, even those I assessed for another organisation, retained the grades I gave them, so if I have to assess private candidates next year I shall feel confident to help them all.

I shall be busy over the next couple of weeks with more Watch meetings for young people, helping at Ballachurry Nature Reserve and my usual duties at Scarlett Nature Reserve; and I still have more peatland to survey, so whether I can get out doing any serious walking we shall have to wait and see.

The walk I have just described shows how a short walk can be just as pleasant and rewarding as longer walks and revive the spirit.

Distance – just under 4 miles; total ascent 476ft; total descent 479ft

St Johns to Foxdale Circular – 8 miles

I planned this walk to save the best bit until last. This is one of the nicest of our disused railway lines that hasn’t been ‘upgraded’ and retains the natural wildlife around it. The rest of the walk is very good too!

I started at St. John’s and walked in an easterly direction along the railway track for about a mile. This is naturally flat, but this section isn’t especially inspiring, although some of the wildflowers waving in the fields looked magnificent. I crossed the Ballamodha Road, where there is an old station building and walked to the next road junction on the outskirts of Greeba. Here I turned right up the lane for a short distance and then the path leads off to the left. I had never walked this track before and it is very pleasant, providing excellent views of Greeba Mountain.

It is an upward path for about a mile, but not difficult. The highest point is 656 ft over this distance. It is a gentle slope on the side of a valley that eventually takes you to the Cornelly Mines. This makes a good coffee stop, and you can climb the stile and peruse the site if you wish. I declined this invitation, walking past the mines to go into the Archallagon plantation.

There are many routes through this, and I mostly took the track shown on the map, until I spied a field of purple wildflowers looking splendid against the backdrop off the mines. From then on I took a lesser path that would get me to the same destination. I came across some orchids beside the path, perhaps not at their best now, but nice to know they are there; and I watched as chaffinches flitted from branch to branch.

I left the plantation at the southerly car park and walked along the road for a short distance. I had noticed a short cut down to the hairpin bend at Foxdale, and this turned out to be a very attractive, if overgrown in places, footpath. It terminates just before the top reservoir. I kept to the less frequented lane to avoid the Foxdale main road, passing some lovely houses and the Kionslieu reservoir I visited a month or so go.

The reservoir at the hairpin bend

Now the wildflowers in this lane had changed from the meadow buttercup to cow parsley and harebells. This time, I took the lane at the top of the hill that leads down to Foxdale, passing by the towering Old Vicarage and church.

The lane leading to Foxdale

It was no distance from here to the start of the railway track that would take me to St. John’s. the old station building remains and the track leads below the houses on the top road, allowing us to see into their gardens and also appreciate that what you see of the houses from the road is only a fraction of the size they really are, as they are built into the hillside. The walk along here was just lovely, with the drop on the right deepening with every step. I could hear the water in the unspoilt stream bubbling away below, but there is not footpath beside the stream, so the vegetation has taken over and looks most attractive.

The track crosses the main road, though I continue to be puzzled as to why I had to climb the height of a bridge to rejoin it. Presumably it was in two sections at some point? From here to St Johns the path is sometimes more open, sometimes in trees, but giving you glimpses of the countryside in different directions. It was so pretty as the sun came out making everything look cheerful.

I saw very few people on this walk, just a few dog walkers in the Archallagon plantation and cyclists on the other footpaths. You can shorten this route in a couple of places, or if time is limited or you don’t want any hill-climbing, you could park in Foxdale, walk the railway line, and get the (occasional) bus back to St. John’s. All routes are beautiful. You won’t be disappointed.

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Scarlett Geology 17th July 2021

Here I am, back on my beloved island after visiting family in the uk for 2 weeks. My first activity on Saturday was a guided tour of Scarlett with Dave Burnett from the Geological Society, and organised by the Manx Wildlife Trust. If you are planning a visit here, always check their website for events while you are over.

It was another gorgeous day. Fortunately, this was a morning walk and talk so we wouldn’t be exposing ourselves to the hot manx sun – I never thought I would see the day when I would be saying that!

We started by looking down at the beach beside the car park. That might sound uninteresting until you look at what is beneath your feet. The limestone is made up of millions of crushed sea creatures, so that most of the time you wouldn’t have a clue as to what the limestone comprises as they have completely disintegrated. But here, there is heaps and heaps of evidence of times gone by, of the mediterranean type of climate, balmy seas and coral reefs that once was our island. Now, we are talking a long time ago, something like 330 million years, but when you think that the world is 4.6 billion years old, it isn’t really so long ago. Look down at your feet and attune your eyes and you begin to see another world of fossils. This isn’t the place to get too excited. You won’t find any dinosaurs here, they came and went after this time, but what you will see are fossilised remants of crinoids and corals, some of which are massive. Then you can imagine swimming in a warm sea surrounded by these beautiful animals and coming out to a… gin and tonic? Maybe not, but it sounds good doesn’t it. The photos below show corals.

We then moved further up the beach beyond the Wildlife Trust Centre and noticed that the limestone has more folds in it than at our original location. We were also shown some dykes lying on fault lines, which are gaps in the limestone where molten rocks from deep in the earth had intruded at some point. This material is known as dolerite, but is softer than the surrounding limestone so only some deposits remain. We were told that what we see at the beach is just the tip of the ‘iceberg’ and that the dykes run for kilometres inland under the ground and also go deep into the earth. These faults are minor but together they form of patchwork of faults under the Isle of Man, but don’t worry, an earthquake is not imminent (I hope).

Only slightly further on, the landscape changes again, and the smooth limestone rock is replaced by lumpy granular rock, containing large and small black and brown pieces of volcanic rock and other very fine rock which is ash. This combination is called tuff, volcanic ash which is spewed out during an eruption. Dave explained that sometimes eruptions are more gradual and the rock comes out of the earth as if out of a toothpaste tube creating a pillow effect, called ‘pillow lava’; and at other times when there is more water in the mix it explodes rather than a can of fizzy drink, and this is what tuff does. There is plenty of tuff to look at here. You will also notice that it is a lot sharper than the limestone. If you want to see pillow lava you will need to go further along the coast towards Pooil Vaaish.

We moved on again, and Dave showed us areas where all the rocks have lots of holes in them – these are called vesicles. As the molten rock, water and gas comes to the surface it forms bubbles which, if they do not explode, get contained within the solid rock. These are similar to pumice, which is created by the same process but to create pumice the explosion is frothier creating a lot of light bubbles. In the photo on the right you can see another white substance called Amygdalite, which is a mineral that infiltrates the rocks after it has cooled. It is not quartz, which is found extensively on the island, but is more likely to be a zeolite or calcite.

Just while he was explaining all this a pod of dolphins decided to give us a performance, so he lost most of his audience for a while as they leapt about in the water. In any case, it was time to go. It was such an interesting morning, and it has inspired me to look into the geology in more detail. The photos aren’t great, but at least it shows the Risso dolphins were there. And I finish with a peaceful view inland from this same spot.

Tideswell, Derbyshire – final day

I have really enjoyed my few days in Tideswell. The countryside is a perfect example of the UK’s traditional green and pleasant land and it has a timeless feel to it, despite evidence all around of progress and technology, in the forms of masts and wires, a variety of road signs, and cars parked in every nook and cranny on the streets, at least in the old part of the village where the houses were originally built for living rather than housing transport. Some of the properties are very old and opposite the church is a house whose front door is dated something like 1542. What stories that house would be able to tell.

Today, I did a short morning walk of about 3 miles, starting with a trip to the pharmacy to get some nail varnish for my Aunty in Retford, who I am visiting tomorrow. (When I was in Castleton yesterday I asked if there was a pharmacy and was told I would either have to go to Chapel-en-le-frith in one direction or Hathersage in the other, so there are clearly some disadvantages in living in remote beauty spots.)

I took the path that runs behind the cathedral to the higher lane and followed it north. The cathedral itself is worth a visit and has a magnificent stained glass window amongst other interesting artefacts.

I had selected a particular road route because I was hoping to avoid mud for once, and the map showed the road descending between two hills, but in reality that was misleading, although the route was still very pretty and it was almost a dale in itself, with a small stream and meadows of wild flowers alongside the road. I turned off the road to take a very straight track that leads to Wheston. This was wide and easy to walk on, and it followed the top of the hill so the views were wonderful. I had to wait while a tractor went past as there wasn’t room for both of us. Wheston is only a very small hamlet but does lead to the entrance to Peter’s Dale, a dale I have not visited on this occasion but shall do another time.

The route back to Tideswell was along another minor lane, and I enjoyed seeing the village from another angle. It is also nice to have an undemanding walk every now and again. So, here terminates my few days on my own, though I did meet up with son James and his daughter Emily yesterday and daughter Sarah this evening, so not entirely on my own. It is so good to see the family after such a long break, and I am looking forward to spending more time with them, and son Matthew, after my brief sojourn to Retford tomorrow.

I shall definitely return here. There is so much walking to do either from the village or within 15 mins of driving. The paths are well maintained and they criss-cross the countryside to give you miles and miles of roaming, meaning that you can vary your route time after time within a narrow area. And Tideswell itself is lovely and less commercial than some other villages and towns in the Peak District. I can recommend it should you decide to visit Derbyshire, even on a rainy day.

Blue John Caves and Cave Dale, Castleton

Continuing my brief time away in Derbyshire, I decided to visit the Blue John Caves at Castleton. It is many years since I have ventured down under the ground, possibly thirty odd years ago, as I remember writing a children’s story about it at the time and my young son, Matthew, now with a child of his own, illustrating it. I still have his pictures tucked away in a drawer at home.

I was there early, so there was no queue. I paid my money, requesting an OAP ticket, which prompted the seller to ask me if I could manage the 245 steps down and up! As it was I managed them better than some of the younger people.

The caves are well lit, and the steps are a manageable height. There is a handrail all the way down, which the guide insists is used all the time, and photographs are only permitted when we stop. Some of the caverns are huge, others only moderately large, and you have to remember that the miners did not have the luxury of neat steps to negotiate and then they had equipment to lug up and down as well.

The mineral called Blue John, is a form of fluorite, a semi-precious mineral, and takes its name from its purple/ blue colour, unique to the two caverns here in Derbyshire (this one and Treak Cavern a mile away), and only found in China otherwise. It is still mined today, in very small quantities, and you can expect to pay quite a lot of money for blue John jewellery. Castleton has many jewellers selling the same.

Then, of course, it was raining, so what else to do but get wet and walk up another dale. This was after I had finished shopping.

Cave Dale is situated in the heart of Castleton itself and leads back up between the limestone hills. It is about a mile long and it is a glorious dale, and leads you to the top of the range of hills, from which you can get splendid views for a climb of about 500ft, so just a bit more than climbing from sea level to Milner Tower in Port Erin. It is a very gentle, grassy, stony climb, so do be careful on the rocks as limestone is so very slippery when wet.

On the right you can see Peveril Castle towering above you. This is a Norman structure, and woe betide anyone trying to attack. This steep sides were an excellent protection. Below Peveril Castle is Peak Cavern, also known as Devil’s Arse, the only natural cavern in the area, and this is worth a visit. Speedwell Cavern is also excellent, and includes a boat ride.

Cavedale was initially a wet dale, but today the water flows underground. Initially carved out by glaciers, it then collapsed further, creating the narrow gorge at the start. Even two hundred years ago, there was a ‘roof’ to the entrance. So, just think, when you walk through Cavedale, you are walking through history and over the top of an extensive cave system, much of which has still to be explored.

Having reached the top, and only wanting a short walk I followed the top of the hill leading steadily down the grassy pasture to the trees close to Peveril Castle, where the path turns into a fairly steep, stony and slippery path. They views are fantastic, even in the damp, foggy air.

At the most, starting from the car park by the visitor centre this is a 3 mile walk, so an easy walk to do at any time of day, and there are many places to eat and drink when you return to Castleton, and of course, the main other Caverns to visit.

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 🙂