My Local Wilderness – 7th May 2020

This was the longest walk I have done since lockdown, and surprisingly the most sociable. It being a warm, sunny day my intention was to walk  down to Gansey, have a stroll on the beach and continue to Port St Mary. It started out that way, but as I was walking through Port Erin I saw one of my friends who, having reached the ripe old age of ‘over 70′, (and therefore considered vulnerable) was working in her front garden, so an impromptu visit was on the cards now that we are able to say’ hello’ from a distance :-). So we had a nice natter and I carried on my walk, down the one-way system, passing the tip with no queues, down to the Bay.

First glimpse of the sea

The tide was only just going out, but it was enough for me to able to stretch my legs along the sand as far as the Shore Hotel. This is where I had planned to turn back, but an idea came into my head that the butterflies might be out in my little wilderness just the other side of Kentraugh House, so my plans changed and within minutes I was engulfed by natural wildlife, including a lot of midges and insects and a few butterflies. On the way down the lane, I spied Kentraugh’s wonderful woodland through a keyhole in a gate, full of wild garlic garlic and ultimate charm.

In the reserve there were plenty of male orange tips sipping nectar from the various low growing plants, but the brightly coloured females were constantly on the go and never stopped for one minute – seems like an allegory for all male/female relationships doesn’t it!! The birds were tweeting in the shrubbery and I was able to go off piste and visit areas I had never visited before. Later in the year the grass grows thick and fast and many parts become impenetrable. In the featured photo you can see the yellow flags in the foreground and the village in the distance, this being the boundary of the wilderness.

Green veined white

See how well the butterfly is camouflaged. It looks just like a part of the flower!  From here, it was a walk around the other side of Kentraugh House and back along the beach to Gansey. I passed these reeds to the right and I just loved the swirling shapes they made.

The Reeds

I have another friend who lives in this stunning location at Gansey, in a house overlooking the beach. She too is one of these so-called ‘vulnerable’ people, so I took a chance and rang the doorbell, or more accurately knocked the knocker to say ‘hello’. I was greeted warmly and invited into the garden for tea, at a social distance of course. How could I refuse? This is the first time since March 20th that I have shared a cup of tea with anyone, and it was very welcome. I had my hand sanitizer, so I used that as I left.

Gansey Bay 3

Port ST MAry1

I walked around Gansey Point looking out for people who might stray into my way on the narrow path, but there were few people about, just a few dogs and their owners. On the beach I did meet a man having a run with his two children who said he was then going to have a swim. Very impressive. I didn’t stop in Port St Mary as I wanted to get home to listen to the Press Briefings, Isle of Man style. This is the first day I haven’t listened to the ‘live’ version, but I managed to catch up later on and hear about the small but significant changes that are happening to our easing of our lockdown.

Leaving Port St Mary, I came across another friend pulling up the wild leeks which have run rampant in her splendid, wooded front garden. I hadn’t seen this friend for a very long time, and it was nice to catch up at a social distance. From there, it was a short walk back home.

Between the hills

Total distance: just under 6 miles; Ascent 259 ft; Descent 223 ft, including scrambling over the boulders to the beach. I do wish whoever placed the (massive) boulders as sea defences had thought that people need to be able to get to the beach from the steps without having to negotiate these whoppers.

I finish with a short slideshow of other beauties in the landscape.

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Yellow Flag!!

Port Erin Beach and Athol Glen 5th May 2020

If ever there was a short walk, this is it! My customary stroll down to the village and then on to the beach. I have been asked for some ‘beach photos’ so after my shop I wandered down to see what was in store on the beach today. First though, a snapshot of life in lockdown. It was just after 1.30pm on a debatably warm, but definitely sunny Tuesday afternoon. Normally, Port Erin would be bustling with people and cars would be parked on every available square inch of kerbside. Not today. This is what lockdown looks like when it works properly, just the standard 2 metre depth queue for the Coop,  a lone walker, and next to no cars. By the time I got there, the queue  had developed to a massive three people and meant a wait of about 10 minutes to do my  tiddly shop for eggs and milk.

Port Erin in Stage 2
Port Erin in Lockdown

After that, I continued my solitary walk to the cliff top, where a man was enjoying  a bit of relaxation on the bench at the top, where the featured photo was taken.  I took the stepped path down to the bottom lane in the centre of the village, where I joined the beach passing by a young child, no more than 2 or 3 on the final section. As I walked passed her, her mum apologised for her young child not understanding social distancing.

You can tell it has been a little windy as the sand had carved out mini layers of sand and rocks. There were surprisingly few people on the beach given that the schools are not back yet and most people are working from home. I had it largely to myself. It was bright and clear today and very pleasant. There was even one brave soul swimming in the water. No danger of contracting Covid-19 there at least!

A quiet beach

Buoyed Up

Spaldrick

Bradda Head

I walked along the edge of the sea and joined the path at St Catherine’s Well, and followed the lane back to the street corner and more importantly  to the ice-cream parlour. I hadn’t planned a treat for myself but it seems rude not to take advantage of an open shop selling such niceties, especially when you aren’t expecting it to be open. In I went and had a pleasant conversation with the owner and we discussed the plight of Davisons in Peel, who had found unwanted fame on social network by someone posting a photo of a long queue and no-one social distancing. It turns out that Davisons had been targeted and the owner had had his tyres slashed – for opening the ice cream parlour!? – and the photo had been taken from such an angle to minimise the distance between people in the queue!  It seems some people will find something wrong with anything. I will issue a word of caution as this is simply what I was told and I have no other evidence for or against this point of view.

I enjoyed my raspberry ripple ice-cream as I walked back through Athol Glen which is looking very attractive. A bit of rain wouldn’t go amiss to freshen everything up, but it was doing a pretty good job without it, and the birds were singing in the trees and telling us that life will go on and nothing really changes, so stop worrying and enjoy life.

I finish with a few photos from Athol Glen. I hope to travel up north (if we are allowed to travel, I’m not quite sure).  We are now allowed to make unnecessary journeys but I think this is meant to apply to close to home, but I really could do with some air in my lungs. I would really like to walk along the miles of beach around Kirk Michael and tomorrow it is due to be warm and sunny, with less wind than today. I am enjoying it already…..

The distance is immaterial, as you will not be walking from my house. But if you were to park in Port Erin, the whole distance would be no more than 1 mile, with  ascent and descent  up and down the cliff of 100 feet, And you can follow a gentle road up and down if you don’t like steps. Just lovely to have all this on my doorstep. Aren’t I the lucky one!

Silverdale Glen 2nd May 2020

At last! A few restrictions have been lifted and we can now enjoy limitless hours of solitary entertainment walking along our wonderful riverbanks, through our forests or along green byways. Psychologically I feel liberated, and no longer feel that eyes are watching me as if I am a criminal when I walk down the road.

After potting up more seedlings and planting more seeds, the warm sunny weather  drew me out to go further afield. One of my boys had sent me a heart-warming photograph of a forest of bluebells that he had encountered on his daily Derbyshire walk. Spurred on by his thoughtful gift,  I was prompted to drive to Silverdale Glen where I hoped the ramsons and bluebells would be flowering. And indeed they were, though perhaps not quite as abundantly as in previous years maybe due to the exceptionally dry weather we have had over the last month and they certainly weren’t as pungent as they usually are in most places.

Wild Ramsom

I parked in the top car park and walked down the footpath to where the path divides. To the right the boating lake and to the left the wilder side of the glen with the leat running  north to south to feed the mill at the lake. This was marked no access but I knew this would where the ramsons and bluebells would be standing at their most proud so I flouted the footpath closed sign for the sake of getting photographs.

The Lake

The reason for the closure became obvious as the bridge has been taken down and a low one put in its place. Whether it is to remain like this I don’t know, but it would allow pedestrians and wheelchairs access to the other side of the river. It was so quiet down there and the sunlight darted about about the trees and vegetation. It was like being in a fairies’ playground.

The Woodland

Reflections

The bank

There were a few people around the boating lake, some with their children at the play area but this place usually bustling with activity on fine days was a shadow of itself, but still very lovely. I walked to the old Mill and crossed the road and walked up the lane to go to the other man-made lake where there were ducks chasing each other in the water. I was surprised to see butterflies, given that it is so early in May. I saw male orange-tips flittering about never stopping long enough for me to snap them,  and what I think is a speckled wood, judging by its eye on the underside.

Lake 2

Ducks

There were numerous spring flowers lining the paths and riverbed, some of which I have included in the slide show, along with the butterflies and ducks!

I continued down to Ballasalla, passing Abbotswood and saying a little prayer for all those struggling with Covid-19 and the key workers there cleaning up the nursing home to make it safe again for the residents to return. On to the bridge and Rushen Abbey, then following the river north back to the Mill. I hardly saw a soul in the 75 mins I was out.

The Silverburn

So, I finish my ramble with a slideshow of the flowers I enjoyed and the  interesting trees with the unusual shapes they throw, often looking like hands or monsters creeping over the ground.

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Distance: 2.3 miles; 121 ft ascent! 🙂

Silverdale Map

Self- Isolation – is it really any different? April 19th 2020

We are nearly a month into lockdown here on the Isle of Man, but life goes on for some of us pretty much as usual. For those who live on their own, many days can go by without seeing anyone under normal circumstances. The onus is very much on the individual to be proactive and to make acquaintances and contacts. It’s a lifstyle that we never expect to come to us. When we are younger we appear to be surrounded by people, at work, at home, in our leisure activities, and just the process of getting to work or doing the shopping makes us acutely aware of the hundreds of people we come across in daily life. It’s hard to get away from people.  Once you hit retirement, semi- or full, life does change. There is no compulsion to get up in the morning or to hit a bonus target. Life becomes measured by the social activities we engage in and our pension being delivered regularly to our bank accounts. The paid work that some of us may continue with is not a necessity but a way of keeping in touch with our former work and interests, and for me it gives me contact with people of all ages, but particularly a lot of young people. It keeps me in a healthy state of mind.

So what difference has self-isolation made to me? Very little. By choice, I have rarely ventured out these last four weeks. I have a garden and the weather has been good. It have a small but perfectly-formed house where I feel very comfortable. I have had my brain taxed by my exam students who are anxious about being given / not given predicted grades and the effect this will have on their future careers. But work has largely dried up because no-one has any motivation to study, so it is looking as if it will be a quiet summer.

Port Erin Harbour

There is no need for a diary right now; my diary is now empty with the exception of a much prized Tesco slot this coming Friday, a video call with friends tomorrow afternoon, and on Saturday my friend and I  will be having a ‘virtual afternoon tea’, provided by the Bowling Green Cafe at Castletown to join in with the Great Manx Tea Party being held that day.

With so much free time there are lots of opportunities for acquiring new skills, like drawing which I have been attempting. I am amazed that everything I have attempted so far is actually recognisable so there is a degree of motivation to continue. I have also signed on for an online End of Life Diploma course (yes, I know, I could have picked something a bit more cheery, but this ties in with my hospice work), so I need to plan this into my routine day as well. I am not really one for routines, but under these circumstances some routine is necessary, such as opening up the greenhouse in the morning and watering the garden in the evening. This is how days are measured right now, and better to have some routine then spend the middle of the day spending hours doing jigsaws on my computer!

I decided it was time for a brisk walk this evening. It had been a beautiful, sunny day, if cool. I took the top road and walked down Ballafurt Road to the beach, along to the pier, along the beach and back. I hardly saw a soul, which is not unusual on a Sunday evening. I did pass our MHK Lawrence Skelly as he and his wife were taking their dog for a walk. I refrained from engaging in conversation as they are working so hard on our behalf any leisure time must be just that! It is quiet mainly because of the lack of traffic. People don’t make noise. The quietness does allow colours and shapes to stand out more than usual.

Cosy Nook

Life in self isolation does not have to be boring. I am happy with my own company and I have four wonderful children who live across who keep in touch most days, and friends who send me amusing videos. We need to laugh, and that is something that is always difficult to have enough of when you live alone. As a psychologist I was taught (all those years ago) that the physical act of smiling helps you to feel happy. The theory has largely be de-bunked these days, but try it, you might be surprised.

Hope Bowdler Circular 8 miles – 16th March 2020

Hope Bowdler

The sky was clear as a bell when I awoke, so an early start onto the hills was in order. I had worked out and memorised a route I wanted to take starting from Hope Bowdler, though whether it would work out in practice was anyone’s guess.

I parked in a lay-by alongside mums taking their children to nursery and walked along the road through the pretty village. I knew my path would be just behind the village on the eastern side of a stream, and I found it without a problem. It was all uphill to the source of the stream, keeping Hope Bowdler Hill to my right.

I fully intended to traverse west across the moorland so that I could take in all the peaks, but you could carry on between the hills if you preferred. There are three mini peaks, all nameless, one around 390 metres, the second about 410 metres and the highest at 426 metres. The views across to the Long Mynd were spectacular and the sun warmed my soul as I walked along the ridge. I should mention there is no footpath marked on the OS map but there is a clear path in practice.

The source of the stream
One of the mini peaks
View of the Caer Caradoc range from the mini peaks of Hope Bowdler Hill

From here there is a steep and uneven descent that curves around the hillside contouring for a short time, before entering the valley, scrubland and forest that is very very boggy. The paths here are less obvious but there is plenty of choice and as long as you know roughly the direction you want to go, you will get there. As it was, I didn’t deviate from my mental route all day, which rather impressed me.

The stream crossing

There are little streams to cross, but these are not difficult and eventually you hit the main ‘thoroughfare’ between the Hope Bowdler Range and the Caer Caderoc range. There is a choice of routes. There is a steep path up to the first crag to the left, but given my physical condition I tend to look for the more gradual routes, so I walked eastwards on the path until I reached a gate and stile.

Going off piste; the stile is at the top

There is a clearly visible route that heads directly to the top of Caer Caradoc, but again I wanted to take in the mini peaks, so I ascended over the tussocky ground to join an easy path to the east to view the nameless peaks. The ridge walk was lovely, undulating and soft underfoot, and there is a slightly steeper rockier ascent to reach the craggy highest point at 459 metres. The views are just stunning from here.

Called The Three Fingers?
The view towards Church Stretton
Towards the top
A sheep presides over its kingdom
The view from the top to the south

Unfortunately, it is all downhill from this point, and quite steeply too. I would recommend walking poles if you are slightly unsure of your balance. The descent is mostly on peat and heather, as opposed to the grit at the top, so if the path is worn or slippery you can walk on softer terrain which will give you more grip. As the descent eases it turns into a grassy track. You could carry on at this point and do the final hill in this series, but that was not in my plan.

The view downhill

I took a path to the right at the shoulder of the hill and followed this round the base of Caer Caradoc to Cwms Cottage, which is actually a ruin. At this point you are back on the former track. The walk continues for a couple of hundred metres west before turning south to go around another unnamed hill, with Cwms Plantation to the left. Once you reach the stile, the path follows a field boundary for about 10 minutes to a point where there is a conjunction of paths.

The view northeast with the Wrekin in the distance

My route took me south and uphill again over but not over the top of Willstone Hill, across an area called Battle Stones. My path then continued over lovely sheep filled grassy meadows and took me down to Middle Hill, where I expected to walk through a farm and continue.

Sheep-filled meadows

However, it was marked private and no access. I do apologise but I climbed over the fence because the recognised footpath appeared to continue straight on. However, I would not recommend this. I saw no-one but I heard loads of dogs that were clearly aroused by my presence. They were contained in sheds and not visible, but it was a little alarming.

View from the track

There is an alternative route, so don’t go down to Middle Hill but go to Cardington Hut and follow other waymarked routes. It will add on another mile, but you can actually start this whole walk the far side of Hope Bowdler, so it would even out. As for me I continued on the farm track. Once on the farm track there is another route via Greystones which takes you down to the main road. Either way, all paths lead to the main road and from there it is simple walk on a grassy verge back to Hope Bowdler.If you get the chance to visit St Andrews in Hope Bowdler it has the feel of centuries of worship and activity. It is only a small church, but it is very special, with an avenue of enormous yew trees leading you to the church entrance, and a lytchgate that still has the stone coffin stand in its entrance.

The lytchgate of St Andrews

This was a really super walk. It took about 4 and a quarter hours; 8 miles with 1889 ft of ascent and 1922 ft of descent.

Postscript, 22nd March 2020: Sadly, I had barely written this post when news came through that because of the coronavirus, anyone returning to the Isle of Man after 23.59 on Tuesday (the next day) would have to self isolate for 10 days. I took the rapid decision to get the 2.15am ferry and return to the Isle of Man, so after a hurried evening dinner with HF, I packed my car and shot off up the motorway.

On arriving home, I decided to self-isolate for 7 days in any case, so that is what I have been doing these last six days. Thankfully, I do not have any symptoms so I hope to scale up to the social distancing only stage from tomorrow. Our IOM govt has decreed that as long as we are sensible we can take ourselves for solitary walks, so I will try and fit a few in while most other aspects of life have been put on hold.

Church Stretton – Beneath the Stiperstones [Day 1]

The Stiperstone Ridge

The hardest decision to be made each day is usually what to pick from the vast array of food for the packed lunch, closely followed by ‘which walk shall I do today’.

Given that my muscles are not great right now, and can be very painful on exertion, it was a fairly easy decision. Usually I would opt for the longest walk, especially if there is ridge walking involved, but I decided that 8 miles and just over 1000ft of ascent would be sufficient. It is so easy when you are younger to take your health for granted and it is so hard when your health starts to fail and you have to pace yourself and look longingly at ridges and scrambles rather than actually do them.

The day began with a coach journey of 40 minutes to our drop off point in the middle of nowhere, nowhere being just north of Corndon Hill at 344 metres. We followed an easy path over grassy knolls to Michaels Fold Stone circle, which is less impressive in practice than it sounds on paper. Makes you think a farmer so named it for his sheep. It was lovely up here, with wide expanses of moorland.

Michael’s Fold Stone Circle

From here we ventured south on very very muddy tracks to a place called White Grit. We followed a path taking us through Squiver farm up on to the very lovely Milk Hill, veering left of Mucklewick Hill – what wonderfully descriptive names they have in this part of Shropshire, though we may have been in Wales at this point. We continued to the foot of Grit Hill befor traipsing over boggy meadow to a spot called THE BOG. I write it in capitals as that is how it appears on the map.

Here there is a disused mine and a closed visitor centre, but there were benches where we could have our lunch. There was even old machinery showing how they transferred the rock from one end of the hills to another using a rope pulley system.

We had views of the Stiperstones from here, beguilingly in the near distance but just out of reach. We contoured around the lower regions and at a height of 430 metres we started our ascent to the Stiperstones ridge; we walked northwards along the ridge for a few hundred metres. It felt like more as it was very uneven, meaning that each step had to be carefully negotiated. This was our highest point of the day at roughly 490 metres. The views were tremendous in all directions, and we could see the foothills of Snowdonia in one direction, and the Wrekin in another.

The ever present Corndon Hill. We started to the far right of this then skirted left beneath it through fields on very muddy ground until we reached higher elevations. This area has a lot of undulating shale layers (the Mytton flags) creating clay soils, with discontinuous layers of volcanic rock. The hill itself is an intrusion of volcanic dolerite, as opposed to the Stiperstones quartzite, most likely laid down on a beach or in a water environment.

We descended through a narrow valley between Perkins Beach and Green Hill. This had a couple of steep and rocky sections but were easily passable with care. This section had an entirely different feel to anything we had encountered the rest of the day.

On reaching the road, it was just a hop, a skip and a jump to the village of Stiperstones and the village pub, which had a welcoming roaring fire, an old fashioned traditional pub, where you could imagine the locals sitting around sipping their pints and exchanging stories.

Total distance: 7.5 miles, Ascent 1020ft

Church Stretton – Arrival day 13th Mar 2020

View from the HF house at Church Stretton

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.