Peat Survey on South Barrule – Sept 2020

There are both blessings and curses involved with measuring the peat on the moors. The blessings come from knowing that the views I am seeing are views that few people see and the paths I tread have probably never been trodden by anyone. The isolation is bewitching, even though habitation can be easily seen only a couple of miles away. Today, I could see England in the form of the Lake District, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and each looked as if I could step over the water onto their hills.

The curses, or rather the one and only curse is the terrain. One minute you are walking on level ground, with bits of stone, grass and small undulations, the next you are walking through a bog or trying to find a way around it, and after that wading waist-high through swathes of heather, made worse on a downward slope where you cannot see your footing. It can be quite hard work, and you will use up your weekly ‘intensity minutes’ but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have had two outings recently to South Barrule, monitoring the northern flank from the junction with the mines road up to the quarry and down to the plantation. It is further than you think, and although distance is irrelevant, I still covered nearly 3 miles yesterday on my sojourn and a couple of miles the previous time.

We are on the hunt for sphagnum moss, as I reported a while ago, and to measure the level of peat on the hills throughout the island. Previous areas I have surveyed have been somewhat devoid of moss, but there are some very large areas and deep peat in certain areas on South Barrule, but even so, they are in the minority. There is a lot of scrubby heather, gorse and grasses, and only in one section on the northwestern edge beside the quarry was there any sustained areas of bracken. An interesting find was a lighter coloured sphagnum moss in isolated wet locations, and in small patches. I didn’t notice many other flowers this time round.

So, I leave you with some photos of my days out in the hills from a few days ago. I have only surveyed half of my allocation on South Barrule so far, so still another two days to venture there at some point.

Ballabeg to Castletown 10th Sept 2020

Sometimes the simplest things can surprise you and make your day. This walk is only 4 and 1/2 miles, with a maximum ascent of about 250ft, so you might think nothing to write about. How wrong can you be?

It started with a journey on the steam train to Ballabeg, where I was the only one to disembark. Visitors beware – if you intend to get off at an unscheduled stop you need to tell the guard when you embark. I followed the road for a short distance towards the coast road and then turned off onto a delightfully overgrown and muddy path, where the tiny stream beside it would criss cross its way in front of you just to keep you on your guard. They were lots of speckled wood butterflies fitting in and out on this short path. It comes out on the coast road, where I turned left.

One of the joys of walking is making new discoveries. They do not need to be momentous, just reminders that life doesn’t stand still. As I walked along the main road to the farm I noticed a sign saying ‘sensitive verge’. I would never have seen this travelling at speed in a car, and now I shall look out for the wildflowers in spring and summer and watch how it develops.

I crossed the road at the farm, where I got another surprise. There was a lady looking out of the window; only on second glance, she was a cardboard cut-out. A short distance further down the lane that leads to Chapel Hill and I got another surprise. On the left was a plaque inviting me to sit down on the seat and enjoy the view. Of course, I must obey. It turned out to be a ‘talking bench’ and our very own ‘national treasure’ Charles Guard told me about the view in front of me and some of the history of buildings in the vicinity.

I then visited Chapel Hill, somewhere I have visited often. The Viking Ship burial site is looking rather unkempt but as usual the views are terrific and the light was dancing on the sea in the distance, giving it quite a magical feel. This is a place best visited with a guide who can tell you about the aeons of history of this site, from Bronze Age to Iron Age to Christianity and the defensive benefits of this location.

Back to the lane and past Balladoole House, which Charles had reliably informed me was built in 1714 and has Queen Anne architecture. Maybe Manx Heritage will add a tour of this house to their events sometime in the future.

Soon enough I was at the coastline, joining it at Pooil Vaaish Farm. The tide was reasonably well out, but this section is perhaps not a place to linger. There are many wonderful spots as you enter Scarlett, with its interesting geology and flora. I was in my element here. As the tide was sort of ‘out’ I was able to mess about among the rocks. I am not good at knowing one rock from another, but these were definitely old lava flows. The rock was very grippy and safe to walk on, and you could see the gas holes in the some of the rocks. Also there were no fossils, which can be readily found just a little further round past the lime kilns and the visitor centre, where the rocks are limestone.

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I have walked this walk many a time, but none more enjoyable than the one today, and what a lot of variety. If you are a visitor I would recommend either getting the bus to Fisher’s Hill, and ask the driver to drop you off at the corner, or get the steam train to Ballabeg. The walk I have described takes you to the centre of Castletown where you can get a bus back to either Port Erin or Ballabeg. Just make sure you get the right bus as one goes along the coast and another inland to Ballabeg and Colby. You could get the train, but the last train in the afternoon is relatively early unless its a special week like TT.

Distance: 4.6 miles, but less if you stick to the paths.

Total ascent 259ft (mainly clambering over rocks!); total descent 220ft

A great walk for all ages. Children as well as those in their second or third childhood will enjoy the walk along the coast in particular.

 

Cregneash and Coast 9th Sept 2020

Being just one and a half miles cross country to Cregneash from Port Erin makes this a pleasant afternoon stroll, or an evening stroll if you have limited time.

There are countless routes to this quaint old village, which is always worth a visit at any time of year. I didn’t set out with a plan, other than to get some exercise, so I began by walking up Truggan Road, up the farm track to the Howe. The quickest way from here, but also the most boring, is to continue along the road, but I headed off in a westerly direction onto the moorland. This path is muddy at the best of times, but I did see some interesting flowers and quite a lot of sphagnum moss. I continued along the eastern side of Meayll Hill and joined the road at the quarry car park at Cregneash. If you are a visitor, there is a bus stop here that can take you down to the Sound or back to Port St Mary or Port Erin.

Cregneash from the back lane

I stopped at the Cregneash cafe for a light lunch before making up my mind what to do next. With all the logistical problems caused by COVID-19 their opening hours are limited to 11am – 4pm Wednesday to Saturday only. What would normally be a busy, vibrant village cafe was today very quiet, with only a couple of visitors. It shows what a difference it makes when the coaches usually bring visitors to the area. The cafe has been redecorated with comfortable sofas as well as tables, and the food was very good, if limited to sandwiches, fantastic cakes and soup. I do urge residents and Guernsey visitors to pay it a visit and you will be able to have some easy walks to the coast from there, too.

Cregneash Tea Rooms

I took a path that I have been meaning to try for a long time. It starts in the midst of the village beside a field of Loaghtan goats, who were bickering furiously and locking horns. This is a well made track going around the back of the hills to emerge at the coast just before Black Head. However, I took a very narrow track uphill and westwards, slightly overgrown with prickly gorse and heather (wear proper walking gear) which took me to my highest point of the day at Cronk Mooar. I then followed the coast path south to Spanish Head and traversed across the cliff to Black Head before returning to the standard path. The path descends to meet the end of the track I had begun on, and from there it is a steady climb up to the Chasms. There are two other tracks that you can take if you want to return to Cregneash, so it is easy to do a variety of circular walks of about 3 miles starting from Cregneash car park.

Once at the Chasms I chose the lower route which involves mostly descent, initially through the moor and grassland, and then through the sheep-strewn fields, all the way to Fistard and Glenn Chass. This is a level walk on good paths. The sea was like a mill pond today and with still air it was very peaceful and quiet.

Most often I would continue on the cliffs to Port St Mary but today I chose to continue up the narrow lane at Fistard. There are some pretty stone cottages in this part of the village. On reaching the bend in the road, I forked left and took a well disguised path beside and behind a modern house, that leads to the top end of the golf course. Checking I wasn’t in anyone’s aim of direction I followed the path along the top of the golf course that leads to the final high point of the day, where there is a mast and views to the whole of the centre of the island. Walking down from here the path was slightly overgrown and uneven, but absolutely full of wildlife. There were speckled wood butterflies in abundance and a host of other flying insects amongst the greenery. This walk made me aware of the need for unruly vegetation with a mind of its own. There is no doubt that I saw the most wildlife and wild flowers in these areas.

The path comes out at the top of Truggan Road. I had never noticed the information sign accompanying the road sign explaining the significance of the name. It derives from the Manx word ‘Strooan’, which means stream, and apparently it used to have another descriptive word meaning ‘swift’ alongside strooan so the name of the road means “the road leading to the swift stream”, that being the stream that flows down Meayll Hill and divides into two- one flow going into Breagle Glen, and the other flowing through farmland beside the Ballahane housing estate; both of course join the stream beside the railway leading to Athol Glen and ultimately Port Erin beach.

A lovely afternoon walk, that can be taken in a number of different stages to suit your time and abilities, with a tea stop and buses (usually!).

Distance: Truggan Road, Port Erin to Cregneash via the moor – 1.87 miles; Total ascent 407ft; Total descent 89ft

Distance: Cregneash to Port Erin via Spanish Head, Black Head, the Chasms, and Port St Mary – 4.91 miles; total ascent 535ft; total descent 863ft

Skies over Black Head

 

 

 

 

 

Guernsey – final day 30/08/20

With only a morning left, I had my last opportunity to visit any local attractions, and as Little Chapel was less than two miles from my hotel at La Villette, this seemed the perfect choice for my final walk.

The interior of the island is much quieter than the main thoroughfares and Guernsey has many publicised ‘Routes Tranquilles‘, the equivalent of our Green Roads. I was able to make use of many of these, which I imagine were farm roads in years gone by.

You will recall that the island claims to have no hills. Of course, it is not entirely flat, and inland it has a regular pattern of small hills cut through by attractive streamlets. I walked 7 miles inland this morning, and even then I managed to climb over 809 ft, so you can see this is a surprisingly undulating island. The highest point on Guernsey appears to be Hautnez at 111 metres, which is near the airport. Many of the cliffs are of similar height.

But today was pure countryside and brown and white Guernsey cows, and tiny villages with magnificent buildings.

The Little Chapel is very beautiful. I was expecting just one area for worship but there were a number of small chapels, all equally beautifully adorned. Creating it must have been a real labour of love and I could imagine using it for personal worship. Somehow it doesn’t feel as if it ought to be a tourist attraction.

Having visited the chapel I went to the village of Les Vauxbelets and followed the route tranquille up to the Candie Road. I turned left as I had spied a walking path through woodland that interested me at Les Fauxquets. This was a pleasant walk, though the end of the path was unfortunately very muddy, making a mess of my new shoes.

I followed the Route des Talbots with the Talbot Valley on the right. It is very picturesque with some beautiful houses. I then took side routes, that lead to St Andrew church. From this point I followed more routes that were ‘tranquilles’ but unremarkable and I was soon back at Mouilpied, the small village close to La Villette. I was back in time for a lunchtime pint in the bar, and later on a cream tea to keep me going until I arrive back on the Isle of Man.

 

So what have I gleaned of Guernsey these last few days?

1) it has far too many people and cars

2) the coastline to the south and south east is magnificent walking country.

3) their number plates contain only numbers, usually 5 digits but I saw one today with only 4

4) they have a good bus service, but narrow lanes therefore all journeys are slow, and if you happen to be behind pedestrians or cyclists, very slow

5) they build very large walls around their properties in the main town

6) books are cheap. My copy of Les Contemplations cost £3.71.

7) the footpaths are good but many do not contain waymarker signs. The scaled map is very good.

8) their post boxes are blue and set into walls.

9) many of the villages have their own ‘abreveur’, pumps which provided water for the local villagers

10) although the village names and places look and sound as if they are french, the pronunciation is different, more anglicised

11) it has a lot of cows

12) it is inundated with reminders of its war time histories

13) I didn’t pass a single shop on any of my walks, except beach cafes and, naturally, in the metropolis that is St Peter Port

14) if walking the coastline, be prepared for hundreds of steps! Continue reading “Guernsey – final day 30/08/20”

Guernsey Day 4 – coastal walk 29/08/20

This was my last full day of walking, so I started out early from the hotel finding a new route down to Petit Bot Bay.

Others had already arrived by the time I got there, mostly children and their parents who I think were about to go kayaking. There was already one group in the water. There is a cafe here, but as it was not yet 10am it had not opened.

The climb onto the cliffs is fairly strenuous, with something like 160 steps. I tasked myself with counting them today. Over the full day, I think I climbed 800 steps as well as encountering the standard undulations. It is worth the climb as the views are terrific and you get a sense of accomplishment too.

The coast path goes inland to cross streams in a few places and the paths weren’t always easy to find. To make matters worse ( or better), the Guernsey National Trust has purchased various areas around the cliff path and there are numerous routes within these areas, should you decide to veer off the regular track to explore. On one such occasion around Les Corbieres I did not quite end up back on the right path and found myself on a path slightly more inland than intended. Not that it mattered. This was a fairly long walk anyway of between 9 and 10 miles and I was more interested in reaching my destination than being pedantic about which path I took. However, because of this detour I did not visit the German Observation Tower at the top of this post, though I saw it for many miles thereafter.

There are only two places on this section of the coast path where you can get drinks so make sure you take plenty with you in case they aren’t open. It hasn’t been very warm for late summer but even so my stocks of water were getting low towards the end and I was concerned about getting dehydrated. There is a cafe and a bus terminus at the end of this walk, so it is easy to replenish your stocks and get back to your starting point, although buses are only once a hour. I had thought of going to see Little Chapel as I had finished by 2pm, but there were no buses going to that area at all on a Saturday.

The paths look very similar to the walk I did the other day, so instead of describing the route, I will leave you with a gallery of photos of the walk. I must say, I think this south western point is prettier and quieter than the eastern side around St Peter Port, and the houses I saw were much less showy.

Tomorrow, I shall walk to Little Chapel and return to my hotel for afternoon tea before my mid afternoon pickup for the airport.

Overall distance: 9.17 miles; total ascent 1414 ft; total descent 1762 ft

Guernsey Day 3 – St Peter Port, 28/08/20

Overnight the rain had been teeming down, waking me up several times. I decided a day doing touristy things might be the best solution and involve at least some indoor activities.

No sooner had I reached the bus stop and the rain pelted down. I was glad to embark the no 81 bus even if it meant an ultra tedious 4 mile 40 min journey to St Peter Port. It makes Traa Di Liooar seem almost instant in comparison. It isn’t even an interesting route – it goes down little residential lanes that go nowhere in particular and the inevitable visit to the local hospital en route.

When I finally reached St Peter Port, I had already decided to go to the Candie Gardens, which were reportedly very pleasant. Should it rain, it handily also contains the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery. I followed the quaint Main Street, though I must admit I was disappointed not to see more local shops. There were all the usual department stores such as Boots, M&S, WH Smith but very little else it seemed on first acquaintance. Thankfully, there was a charity shop so I bought an umbrella and gave Cancer Research £3.50.

It says in my guide book there are ‘no hills’ on Guernsey. Would someone please tell me what I have just climbed then a couple of times today at 300 ft each! What strikes you most about St Peter Port is the amount of huge stone walls and the many steps up these non-existent hills. It looks like a grand fortress or a town that has barricaded itself in against the enemy. In fact, this is true of previous centuries; even if it hasn’t been invaded for a long time, it still bears witness to its past.

Candie Gardens were quite pretty but nothing out of the ordinary. The museum and art gallery is good, though it hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be. There are quite a few exhibitions concerning the war, which is clearly important to the island and interesting for many people. There were three different sets of art exhibitions. One by an artist with big colourful designs; another of incredible photographs of sea animals in microscopic detail; and yet another of more traditional paintings and a sculpture ( for want of a better word) of butterflies by Damian Hirst – the central photo below. This was staggeringly good and intricate and it was hard to take ones eyes off it. You want to expand that photo to enjoy its intricacies. I wonder how long it took him to complete it?

‘Brush Marks Heaven and Earth’ by Jonathan Skelton
Resurrection by Damien Hirst (2016)

The shop did contain items for sale created by locals and the glass ornaments were beautiful, and I could not resist buying something for my grand-daughter whose birthday is next week which will make her smile 🙂

It had already been pretending to rain while I was in the gardens and when I came out of the museum, it started up again in full fury. Undaunted, I continued with my plan to visit the Chateau des Marais, which looked on the map to be a modestly sized ancient mound. Of course, it was too wet to consult the map so I had to use my mind map to get me there, which did a fairly good job.

This was much more impressive than I was expecting, given that it was tucked away behind and between housing estates, on what had previously been sea-fed marshland, all now clearly drained centuries past. It was a huge area, with an outer moat and stone wall, a large grassy area, then another moat and stone wall leading to the inner sanctum. Look at the height of those ramparts over the moat! I shouldn’t beef this up too much as there are no other ancient remains. However, in its heyday it would have been a beacon standing out in its marshy hallows and it would have been very effective as a defence. The passage of time has taken its toll.

The notice-board did inform me that there had been a castle or defensive fort on this parcel of land for at least 800 years. The outer wall and moat had been built during the Napoleonic wars, when they feared invasion. Even in WWII they built a concrete command bunker on the main footprint of the original castle, which can clearly be seen.

The grassland, not visible in the photos above, or the old ‘Bailey’ is full of flowers and is almost like a nature reserve, and butterflies and dragonflies were plentiful. It is little oasis away from the hustle, bustle and noise of the town, especially the cars. The sun came out and so did the locals with their lunch packs.

From here, I walked down to the sea front and sat on the sea wall admiring the view and getting a wet bottom from stupidly sitting in a puddle. I had to walk for a good mile along the prom knowing that all the cars passing by me would be aware of my predicament, but finally I dried off. This could almost be Castletown Bay couldn’t it? It is called Belle Greve Bay, meaning ‘beautiful shore’.

I had rung Hauteville House and was fortunate to be able to be included in the 4pm tour of Victor Hugo’s house in exile. I had a bit of time to kill, so I found the location and walked to the top of the hill, where there was a bench with fine views across the bay to Helm and Sark, and wrote my postcards.

Hauteville House is not to be missed. You cannot just turn up, you have to book and they are almost at the end of the season now. It is a masterpiece of ingenuity. What a character Hugo must have been, a philanthropist, an artist, a collector, a recycler, a philosopher, never mind his literary credits. I am not so sure he was as successful in his relationships – probably too independent-minded for that. It is an inspiring and intriguing house, never settling for the mundane. He was already wealthy before his exile and he clearly had one of those minds that doesn’t switch off, always looking for the next project. I bought a copy of ‘Les Contemplations’ and have already started re-reading some of his evocative poems (in French) – it’s always best to read poetry in its native tongue if you can.

I didn’t take any photos other than the views from his balcony and his garden, but you access photos and more history at www.museums.gov.gg/Hauteville

And there my day ended as it had begun with the 40 min bus ride to the hotel, but this time the rain had ceased and it was a very pleasant evening.

Considering this wasn’t a walking day, I still walked nearly 10 miles. Tomorrow I am walking more of the coastline westwards from the hotel, which I am really looking forward to.

Guernsey Day 2 – La Villette to St. Peter’s Port 27/08/20

I had been warned by the taxi driver that this is quite a strenuous walk with a lot of steps, so I knew what to expect.

I set out early in the morning and was on the cliffs shortly after 9am. I decided to miss out Icart point and start with a gentle route down to Saints Bay, following another gladed valley. I soon hit the coast path contouring around several small bays, including Bon Port to Jerbourg Point.

At Moulin Huet car park, be careful to follow the map and descend along the road. The path then takes you through some light woodland before you ascend once again on the open coast path. There are one or two ins and outs on this stretch giving some variety to the walk, but whenever you turn a corner, the views are splendid. Renoir created some of his masterpieces here and there are several information boards showing you the view he was capturing. Below is one such scene.

There are two viewpoints mentioned on the map on the Jerbourg peninsula and it is worth taking your time here. The close up view of Les Tas de Pois d’Amont (translates as Pea Stacks) which have been visible all the way around this large cove is magnificent. The path continues around the point to join a lane which leads to the Jerbourg hotel. If you have had enough of steps by this point you can while away your time in the hotel having a cream tea, and then catch the bus (no 81) which will take your on a tour of the island back to St Peters Port.

 

I do not say this lightly, as the next section begins with a lot of descent and more steps, in the sure knowledge that you will have to ascend the same amount before long. This is a kinder path and slightly more undulating than straight up and down and you get the first views of Helm and Sark and the Castle at St Peters Port.

I had set off in fine sunshine, and pleasantly warm. I was also aware of dark clouds looming over the land and I was forlornly hoping that I might escape rain. This was not to be, but thankfully there was some tree cover and I waited patiently for a gap to appear in the lashing rain before I continued. Patience was clearly not a virtue and was going to make no difference, so I set off again for Fermain Bay, where I could see a cafe beside the beach. It was just about noon and I had walked 6 miles. I enjoyed some warming cups of coffee, had a chat with a local who had been swimming and I think wished he hadn’t bothered and ate my packed lunch. The tide was almost in but it looks to be a lovely beach and on a nice day I bet the locals come down here.

There was a brief respite so I set off again, yes, you can guess it, uphill again through woodland at Ozanne Steps and past some houses that had the most scenic and uninterrupted views of the sea. Leaving that path, it takes you to the Clarence Battery at Les Terres Point, an outpost that has guarded St Peters Port for centuries. From there it was a steady descent along La Vallette into St Peters Port.

I didn’t spend much time here today. I wanted to get back to the hotel, dry off and catch up on some sleep! So I boarded the bus, which showed me the delights of the area and dropped me off outside my hotel – very convenient.

I don’t know how many steps there were altogether, but it must be hundreds as there were usually about 30-40 minimum on each ascent. The total distance was 8 miles, descent 1726ft and ascent 1427ft. This walk started with descent, and it is this combination that makes it a little tiring. But it is so rewarding, and if you have a fine day, I would recommend it.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is not great, so I am thinking of doing a hop on hop off bus tour to the other side of the island and maybe do a bit of shopping.

Continue reading “Guernsey Day 2 – La Villette to St. Peter’s Port 27/08/20”

Air-Bridge Guernsey – Arrival Day 26/08/20

What an eye-opener! From the sky Guernsey looked to be a highly populated possibly overcrowded little island. In the taxi, I was struck by the amount of traffic, but once I got to my hotel south of St Peter Port at La Villette, I discovered a different world, of long lost lanes, attractive stone cottages, cows(!) and a most magnificent coastline only a mile away.

From what I have seen in the few hours I have been here, this is an island that cares for itself and looks after itself. The houses in the villages are well maintained and look as if they follow tradition. There is evidence of many former farms dotted around and even the new houses are made to blend in with the natural stone of their predecessors.

Typical former farmhouse on Guernsey

When I arrived it took me a while to get my bearings as I thought the airport was near the main town, when in fact it was in completely the opposite direction. This being so, my first amble took me in a different direction from that where I wanted to go 🙂 Thankfully, my trusty Garmin watch knew where I was going, so I soon discovered my error. It would have been useful to find out where I was staying before I went on holiday, as I was guessing from the word ‘go’, and usually I am better prepared. On this occasion, I hadn’t given my short break a moment’s thought beforehand.


So here I was, an hour and half after arrival and three hours left before the restaurant closed. Time to explore. This time I went in the right direction and after a mile I was on the cliffs admiring the sea and shoreline. I couldn’t stop there, so after a cursory look at the map I decided to head westwards or if looking at the sea – to the right! The cliffs were so inviting – so inviting I would break into a hop and a skip or even a little jog every now and again. The sunlight was glinting behind the cliffs in front of me me and I made a mental note that this walk would be best undertaken left to right in the morning another time.

There are a number of ups and downs on this stretch of path but nothing too demanding. The paths are very well maintained and look natural (note IOM govt), and there are many sections with stone and sandy steps which are easy to traverse. The path reminded me very much of sections of the South West Coast Path which I did with my third son, Matthew, when he was a teenager.

The cliffs are interspersed with shady glens leading down to the little beaches. I am looking forward to exploring more over the next few days, but I know it will be over too soon.

I am trying to extend my holiday to 5 days. The hotel has room for me but the flights are fully booked, so I must make the most of my four days here.

Total distance: approx 3.5 miles, 489 ft of descent, 500ft of ascent.

Carnanes 24th August 2020

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, we had wall to wall sunshine, today the rain is pelting down and the wind attempting to uplift anything not securely attached.

I had arranged to meet my friend at the ‘lower’ car park for a walk around the Carnanes. Only deciding which was the lower car park proved interesting on the day, and I had to drive back to the car park with the benches and the amazing aspect over the southern coastline.

This was perhaps the slowest walk I have ever done, but also one of the most enjoyable as we pottered around the hills, stopping to enjoy the sights at various points and having a natter over a sandwich or two. It is such a joy to have time, when the hours don’t matter, and as long as you are home before dark no-one will notice how long you have been out.

We set off from what I call the top car park, but is in fact the lower car park and took the farmer’s track onto the heathland of the Carnanes. The sun was strong and bright so we decided to walk south to north to avoid squinting all the way along the tops. 

 

We contoured around the southern end of the Carnanes peaks, which afforded us terrific views of the Calf of Man, Bradda Head, the sea and skyline, and we took the first of our many stops at this point so that we could take it all in.

The heather and gorse were out displaying a wonderful variety of pinks, purples and yellows, but not quite as dramatic and colourful as other years. The bees and butterflies were out in abundance, buzzing and flittering around the heather. This section of the walk is one of my favourite places on the whole island. There are a few rises and dips in the terrain and a handy cairn stopping point for lunch, before a steady walk along the top to the highest point with a dramatic cairn and the wonderful title of Lhiatteeny Beinnee (301 metres), which translates as ‘side of the summits’. This seems slightly odd as this is the highest point and the slope that follows down to the Sloc is called Gob ny Beinn, which translates as ‘point of the summits’. But what a view of Naribyl and Peel.

It was on Gob Ny Beinn that we felt the wrath of nature as the midges attacked us with full force, and both of us were bitten on any part of our neck and face that was left uncovered. I have big wheals in several places on my neck today. I remembered, too late, that I have had this problem here before, though why they like that area of the path I don’t know.

On reaching the Sloc(200 metres), our lowest point of the day, we turned north along the ruptured green road, favoured by cyclists of all descriptions, a group of whom passed us on their afternoon ride. This path contours around the east side of the hills, gradually increasing in height, and gives fine views across the meadows and countryside around Colby and Ballabeg. From here you have a panoramic view of the south east of the island as you pan down from the Chibbanagh Plantation at the Braid, close to Douglas and peruse the eastern coastline past the airport, down to Castletown and Ballabeg and the fine expanse of Carrickey Bay.

View to the south from the green road

As we reached the Carnanes, two smaller peaks with Cairns, not necessarily marked on the OS map, we went to the top, this being our last high point of the day. This is an interesting geological feature with intrusions of quartz. Interestingly, less is know about the geological structure of this section of our island.

We stopped to admire the differing displays of heather, gorse and ling at the various points on the hills. Ling seems to be very prevalent in certain areas. Until today, I had not realised that Ling is a separate subtype of heather, being called Calluna Vulgaris, whereas the true Heathers are a type of Erica. We have two types of heather, the Common Bell Heather with its bright purple flowers and the Cross-Leaved Heather, which is more usually found in boggy areas, such as Eary Cushlin or South Barrule. Manx gorse is a low growing gorse, often found interspersed with the different heathers and ling.

So, here our afternoon stroll and a very pleasant afternoon ends back at the same car park. Tomorrow I go to Guernsey on our airbridge. This is a place I have never visited and I am very excited to be taking my first holiday there. I shall go armed with my camera and sketchbook and hope that we dispense of today’s foul weather and it holds up for the few days I am there so that I can make the most of it.

Distance 4.13 miles; Total Ascent about 1000ft; relatively easy walking.

 

Peat Monitoring on the Isle of Man July 2020

You may have noticed a lack of posts from me lately. This is not because I am slumming it at home. I have still been out and about but not my usual type of walk. The last two Sundays I have been out in the hills collecting data on the state of the peat on the island, in this case, close to South Barrule, just above the Earystane Plantation.

Why am I doing this, I hear you ask? Well, the Manx Wildlife Trust is trying to find out how healthy our peat is. Sphagnum moss found in peaty areas retains a lot of water and if it is in good order it helps to contain the flow of water in extreme weather. It also aids the accumulation of peat as its mass leads to slower decomposition of soil and it also raises the water table. You will remember the Laxey floods in recent years, which in the time I have lived here – less than 7 years – destroyed the bridge in Laxey with spectacular photos of a bus in the river if I recall rightly, and last year the whole main street was flooded out, with some people having to be rescued. It even made the BBC news. The bottom line is that if we can restore the peat levels on the uplands it will help to keep the rainwater in the hills rather than flowing rapidly down narrow gullies and flooding our rivers and villages. Before anything can be done, MWT needs to know how much peat we have, how deep it is and whether it is attracting the right flora and fauna to sustain it, particularly sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum Moss
An orchid, the only one I saw in this location in the two sessions.

The task is essentially very simple. Take a long probe (and an extension rod if you think you will need it), a tape measure, something to record the data on, and a GPS App which contains all the waypoints. As I was working alone, I also took a highlighter to mark the position of the peat on the probe. This worked a treat and made life a lot easier.

Arriving at your start point, you switch on your GPS system and follow it to your first waypoint. This may or may not be easy depending upon the terrain. It is surprisingly tiring work as of course you are not walking along a nice level road, but making your way off the beaten track, clambering through and over heather, gorse and grasses of all different sizes and most of the time you have no idea where you are putting your feet as you can’t see the ground underneath all the undergrowth, so slow and steady is the name of the game. The waypoints take no notice of idiosyncracies such as deep channels that have been cut out by farmers or sudden drops in height, so detours are often necessary. Straight lines between the grid points therefore end up being anything but straight, especially as it took me some time to work out how to use the GPS App without any instructions!

The area I have been looking at these last two weeks does not appear to my untrained eye to be very peat-productive, Most of my probes only registered between 18cm-25cm depth (you take three different readings in a triangle around one gridpoint). The deepest measure I took was 40cm and the lowest 13cm. The land is quite dry and there is a fair bit of dead heather. There are exceptions but you won’t come across any deep bogs to navigate here. I only found two areas of sphagnum moss on my visits to actual waypoints, but I did also record one region where there was quite a bit of it as I was traversing from one waypoint to another. The moss needs the terrain to be wet and then it will soak it up. It is worrying there is so little. I suspect over the years different types of farming and the digging of peat will have affected the quality and amount of peat that we now have left.

This was just one area, and I shall be out an about in the southern uplands taking more measurements over the next few months. There is a team of us working on mapping the whole island, and it will be interesting to see if different areas are more lush than others in this respect.

Bog Cotton in the foreground of Cronk My Arrey Laa

Even the heather seemed a bit sad, but the bog cotton and one or two other flowers were enjoying their day in the sun.

Leaving the path, looking towards South Barrule
Towards Glen Rushen, the end of the day
Waypoints

I shall be doing a more normal walk in the next week or so….