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.
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.
The Viking Ship Burial
View from Chapel Hill
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.
View to the north from the entrance to Chapel Hill
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moorland and fields
Port St Mary
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even the heather seemed a bit sad, but the bog cotton and one or two other flowers were enjoying their day in the sun.
I shall be doing a more normal walk in the next week or so….
Not exactly a hike, more like a brisk walk home from Colby following my excellent afternoon Pilates class with Sara (@saraszestforlife). I had caught the bus to Colby, paid a visit to the house I look after for my friend in England, popped into the local shop and bought some italian flour for making italian pizza before going to class.
It wasn’t the best weather for a walk home but I was reasonably well kitted out, though waterproof walking shoes would have been better than my trainers, so I discovered walking through wet and muddy undergrowth through the meadows. By the time I had finished, my socks were wet through.
I followed the railway line from Colby football club to join the path I frequent often, which goes beside the Colby river, through meadows and an informal wilderness. I didn’t take any photos of this part of the walk as I have described this section many times before. Instead of going past Kentraugh Mill, this time I turned left on reaching the road which would take me to the main coast road. I always enjoy the first glimpses of the sea which you get as you approach.
I followed the coast road around Carrikey Bay and Gansey Point, around the bend and up the road to the Coop in Port St Mary to get a pint of milk before continuing along the back road home. Port St Mary was quite broody this afternoon.
It was a wet walk, but who cares. I certainly don’t. I only mind when the rain lashes down for hours or the wind lifts me off my feet, but most of the time I can enjoy whatever the weather throws at me. The total walking time was actually only a bit over an hour 1 hr, 5 min, 44 secs to be precise so a good antedote to the stretching and strength work of pilates. Incidentally, the times on all of my Garmin maps are the total times spent on the activity which may include stopping / taking photos and in the case of yesterday’s walk, having a coffee in Costa!
There are two maps today because I noticed at one point my watch was giving me measurements of aerobic activity – quite why, I don’t know, but as you can see it did record the walk as well.
We had a choice of a few walks today, and my friend selected this beautiful walk for our afternoon stroll. The weather was sunny although it was quite blustery, one of those days when you are not quite sure what to wear, and I wore far too much.
We parked at the Abbey Hotel in Ballasalla, crossed the footbridge in the old part of the village whilst we watched a man wade through the ford while his family crossed on the bridge behind us. We followed the road until we reached the first main footpath which leads east out of Ballasalla and behind the Balthane estate. We wondered if this right of way will remain once the new road is built, and assuming so, it will need an underpass or a bridge if one is not to take one’s life in one’s hands in years to come to cross over the new bypass. This new road is currently under construction and is about midway between the existing main Ballasalla to Douglas road and the farm on the low hillside at Ballahick.
I believe there was a pact made between the developers and the planning department whereby the builders, Dandara, were granted planning permission for 283 houses if they agreed to build the by-pass for the village. Planning permission had been turned down several times previously regarding the by-pass, so it looks to all the world as if it’s a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ planning decision. Given the population of the Isle of Man is static at best, I do wonder why we need quite so many new houses.
Reaching the farm, we followed an old track which takes you alongside the perimeter of the airfield. There is a quarry on the coast and the old wartime gun emplacements prominently positioned on Santon Head and Fort Island remind us that the Isle of Man has not always lived in peace. Excavations for the airport (which was only developed in 1928) found a mass grave of men who were thought to be soldiers from the 1275 Battle of Ronaldsway!
If you haven’t visited the island for a while, you will remember the coast path hugging the low cliffs all the way around the sea-end of the airport. Since then, the airport has been extended out into the sea and massive boulders now act as sea defences keeping it firmly in place. The view of the eastern coastline to the north and Derbyhaven to the south is lovely and the air is always refreshing on this part of the island and there is wide sense of space.
We continued along the road, past the imposing King William’s College, the result of a generous gesture by Bishop Isaac Barrow in 1663, who felt there was a need for an educational institution on the Isle of Man, which would serve the clergy and improve pastoral care. It was a further 200 years before the school was erected. This monumental building is made of slabs of grey limestone and cost £6000 to build in 1833, £2000 of which came from funds of Bishop Barrow. Within 11 years, there was a massive fire that did away with many of the internal structures, sadly including an extensive and ancient library. Amazingly the school was rebuilt immediately and started functioning again within a year of the fire.
We stopped at the newly developed Costa at Castletown, which has spacious outdoor seating beside the harbour, then continued up the Silverburn river back to Ballasalla. This played havoc with my hayfever and I spent most of the night sneezing and with a tickly throat rather than sleeping.
This is an easy stroll with virtually no uphill at all, with views of countryside, rivers, the sea, meadows, a quarry, a fort and gun emplacments, Hango Hill (you can guess what took place there) and a superb castle at Castletown. So much our doorstep to admire and enjoy and a 5 minute car journey or 15 mins bus ride from home.
It was a toss-up between evensong at Peel Cathedral or a walk in God’s countryside and this afternoon the natural world won, which in a way is as it should be as it all belongs to God (if one believes in a divine being). What better way to spend an afternoon than surrounded by rolling green hills, listening to birdsong, watching butterflies and following the different trails made by man and nature.
This is a walk involving four different disused railway tracks, some road walking, some green tracks and some amenities, so a walk that can be done by anyone who can manage 6 miles. It can be shortened at various junctures, making it 3 or 5 miles if you want a shorter distance.
I parked by the old bridge at St Johns and walked along the road towards Patrick having a nose in people’s gardens and noticing the little things that you miss when you drive, such as the riverbanks being quite deep in places and a second stream joining the main river. There are two bridges close together and at the second one the path is clearly marked to cross the bridge and follow the river on its north side. The fields were magnificent colours, with wild flowers and grasses in abundance, seemingly very natural.
After about 10 minutes walking, you leave the river and join the Heritage Trail, which is the old railway track from Douglas to Peel. I walked the full distance of this years ago and I won’t be doing it again. With good intentions the path has been relaid to allow cyclists and wheelchairs and others needing level ground to enjoy the walk through this valley, but it doesn’t work for me. Having been walking on soft turf in the meadows, my feet really noticed the hard clinker on the wide open path with no character. I want to like it, and plenty of people were strolling down the track so it must work for a lot of people. For me, I couldn’t wait to get off the track, although my plan was to walk back along it to St. Johns.
A little further on from where this photo was taken I spotted a gate on a bank beside an old tree and a signpost to the left and I realised that this was the start of the disused railway line going to Kirk Michael. On the spur of the moment, I decided to take this track and see where it led me. This was so different. It is a normal soil track just the width of the former railway line with bushes either side. Yes, it was uneven in places and wet and muddy in others but I felt closer to nature on this track. I came off the track at the railway bridge, visible some distance away by its marker trees.
There is a little bit of road walking on Poortown Road, but I turned off right down a mostly disused lane just before the quarry. I have driven along this road in the past and I remembered there is ford, whicb lead to some excitement in my mind. Although a tarmac road, it has a quiet feel as if it is intrinsic to the farming life in this part of the island, with grass growing a full 2ft in the centre of the lane. The ford turned out to be less dramatic than I remembered as there is disappointingly a substantial bridge for pedestrians. There was some water in the ford and I could imagine in the depths of winter this might become impassable to ordinary vehicles.
From here, I took the minor road that leads to Tynwald Mills, past some lovely houses with stately gardens, giving an idea of what I might see in the Arboretum just up the road. This area has a warm feel about it. The trees look cared for, if managed, and I always enjoy the roads around St. Johns. I called in at the aforesaid arboretum, which now has many boardwalks, which don’t detract too much from the overall effect. This is a nice place for a picnic and you can get up to the church from here, which I did. Preparations were being made for today’s Tynwald Day, which due to coronavirus, is reduced to a shadow of its usual self and the pomp and pageantry and the fair will be missing this year.
I walked up to the Ballacraine crossroads, down to the railway track on the other side of St Johns. There is a new sleeping policeman where the track crosses the road, which is very attractive, with the swirling emblems reminiscent of Gaelic designs. At this point, the rains had started and my only complaint was that this crossing was a little slippery in the rain. It needs to be roughened up a bit, but I do think it looks rather classy.
At this point, I was expecting to walk along the railway line back to the car, but as I reached the bridge I saw a path on the left leading up to the top. Why I have never seen this path before, I don’t know, but it leads to another old railway line that used to run up Slieau Whallian, and joins up with another railway track that used to go to Foxdale. This was a very attractive way to get back to the car, as it meant I could go through the Garey Ny Cloie gardens on the opposite side of the road, albeit in the rain.
All in all, this was a very pleasant afternoon. Our island has such variety, there is something for everyone and for every mood.
Is it really midsummer? Rain, drizzle, mist, gales – we came across all of these on our short walk to Eairy Beg. We had hoped to get some views from the Cairn at the top, but it was all we could do to see one another never mind a view. Even so, what else can you do on a miserable day but to go out and enjoy a forest walk where at least there is some chance of keeping dry.
We set off from the car park at Glen Helen. We had the Wardens Walk no 5, which we thought would be a bonus, but within a few feet of starting off we realised it was quite outdated. For instance, a new bridge has been built meaning that there is no gate as mentioned on the instructions to go through. This could have been an ominous start, but by and large and with a bit of imagination the instructions mostly matched the paths on the ground.
The track uphill is relatively straightforward. It is described on the iom gov website as ‘Moderate’ and a ‘Muscle Stretcher’, mostly as it is a persistent walk uphill with a few level places on the way. The maximum height reached on this 2.75 mile walk is 904ft from a starting point of 125ft, with of course the usual ups and downs in between. The path uphill is easy with no difficult rocks to cross over. If you have walking poles, you may find these useful on this walk, not least for the steepish sections both up- and downhill. The forest looked a little bare as they are mostly larch trees reaching up into the canopy with a few deciduous trees beneath. The lack of rain means that the undergrowth is very light to walk through.
Some of the paths do not exist on the ground but there are clear paths fairly close to where they should be, so it might suggest walking on one side of the wall but you end up walking on the other side of it where there is a clear track.
On coming out of the forest, you come to a clearing with what would be really nice views of the moorland hills above Glen Helen. But today, we could only see a few hundred yards, and as we reached the cairn, our highest point of the day, we could barely see a thing and there was a howling gale wrapping around us. Thankfully, we were not on exposed ground for very long, and the path goes alongside the outer rim of the southern slopes of the hill and then steeply downhill. It is definitely best to walk this route the way we did, otherwise you would have quite a steep climb to the top without many resting places. The walking poles were useful for keeping our balance on some slippery downhill parts.
Towards the end of the route there is a choice of paths, one going slightly uphill and the other forking to the left and going downhill. In other places there are footprint signs on the trees indicating the way, but there was nothing at this junction. I strongly recommend you continue on the upper path, which would soon join a real track downhill. You can guess we took the lower path, which was certainly the more adventurous of the two as it was extremely steep in places and we were hanging on to trees and branches for dear life. On reflection, it was probably a path made by children messing about in the woods and not intended for OAPs – though our little party were not all in that age group yet!
It was only on this lower stretch that the rain really settled in, so although we had experienced some drizzle, wind and a lot of mist, we had without knowing it had the best of the weather for the day.
We then went to Milntown for a birthday dinner, before setting back home in time to enjoy delicious cup cakes which were delivered to me half an hour after I returned home – thank you to my daughter, Sarah, for the lovely surprise. My day had begun with a different kind of surprise – a visit from an old friend, who also celebrates his birthday today, bringing me a punnet of strawberries from his garden, so I finished the day as I started it with strawberries on my cup cake.
This relatively short walk – just under 6 miles from home – begins in very easy fashion. There is no short cut to walking along the edge of Port Erin. On reaching the golf course and the outskirts of Ballafession I took a path that is less used, maybe as it goes through someone’s garden, round the back of this hamlet. This takes you to an ancient monument, persistently visible from the road, but one that doesn’t require a second look very often. Today, it was sporting an Isle of Man flag, quite why I don’t know, but perhaps representing our pride in achieving Covid-19 free status, at least temporarily if not permanently.
It was at this point that I met up with some old friends – cows. What is it that cows find so fascinating about me? I am turning into a ‘cow whisperer’ in that I speak and they obey, but only until I turn my back. It was like playing ‘What’s the Time, Mr Wolf”!
Anyway, I digress. I did not actually go atop the mound, called Cronk Howe Mooar, which looks to all intents and purposes as if it was built by a large dog doing a very big bone scrape. On first excavation in 1812 it was thought to be a natural vestige of the ice age as it contains layers of rocks in a similar sequence to those found in the north. In fact, it is now considered that it is 900 man-made remnant of an ancient fort. Although difficult to see, there is a 10 metre ditch surrounding the motte and bailey castle.
I left the cows and walked both beside and in the stream which leads to the Honna Road (not the best path I have ever seen), then walked up Mill Road to join the pleasant walk down to Fleshwick Bay. This was about 2.5 miles by this stage. Fleshwick Bay is so pretty and unspoilt. It lies in a steep sided valley between Bradda Hill and the Carnanes, so whichever way you go thereafter, it will be uphill, and steep uphill. Before that, I clambered over the rocks and found myself a quiet place to have my picnic and watch a dog swimming in the water as its owner threw pebbles for it to chase.
I was walking back to Port Erin and I had a choice of a walk contouring around the east side of Bradda Hill, or taking the climb and walking along the coast. You can guess which one I opted for.
I am used to this climb, but even so I tend to pause several times on the way up. It is steep, there is no doubt about it. You go from sea level to 200 metres in half a kilometre, with the bulk of it in one section. It is a good soil path and in some ways it is easier to go up than down it, especially if is has been raining.
What views you get from the top! Initially, you can see all the way to Niarbyl and Peel in the north- west then as you continue along the coast path the Calf and Port Erin in the south become visible and Castletown and Langness in the east.
I was walking along the fields before the climb up to Bradda Head where I met a young couple walking from Port Erin to Peel. At the time it didn’t particularly occur to me that it was quite late in the day to be only at this point. They would still have at least another 10 miles to go, including some steep uphills. They wanted to reach Niarbyl by 5pm when the cafe would close, and I thought that if they were good walkers and with a favourable wind they might just make it. As I continued my walk, I began to have doubts and I became quite worried about them. They didn’t seem particularly well equipped and they were already saying when I met them that they needed a drink. A sole walker caught up with me when I was on Bradda Hill and we both agreed that they wouldn’t make it to Niarbyl in time, especially as he informed me the cafe had closed at 3pm, not 5pm as they had believed. This lone walker had taken 3.5 hrs from Niarbyl to Bradda Hill and he was no slouch, he had been walking at a good pace and he seemed quite fit. I decided there and then that I would get home, which would take me about an hour, pick up the car and see if I could find them, and take them to their destination.
I enjoyed my brisk walk across Bradda Hill and Bradda Head, taking the route by Bradda Glen, then the quickest path along the promenade and back home. Going through my head was that if I didn’t find them, the chances of the bus running from Dalby was zilch and they would have no choice but to walk the full distance. The beautiful sunny weather was also just beginning to turn.
I dropped off my rucksack and picked up a couple of bottles of water and sped off in my car. The only sensible place I might see them would be on Cronk Ny Arrey Laa by this time. I did check as I went around the Sloc and there was no-one walking there. The only problem was that if they had gone the right way, then they wouldn’t come down to the bend in the road and I would miss them. But at least I would have tried. It was rather cool and breezy when I arrived there. It had been breezy all day but the weather was beginning to deteriorate. I looked up to the summit of Cronk Ny Arrey Laa and I could see a couple walking down towards the car. I couldn’t tell if they were my couple but I could ask whoever it was if they had seen them. And then they were down, and yes, it was them. Would you believe that, and I had only been waiting 5 minutes. They had missed the coast path that would take them to Eary Cushlin. The lady was really pleased to see me, she had had enough of hill climbs, but the man would have liked to continue. Realistically, he didn’t know where he was going or how long it would take them so it wouldn’t have been a good idea to continue. I didn’t give them much choice, and I bundled them in the car, gave them some water and took them to Peel where they were going to get a meal at the Creek.
When I got home, I temporarily had doubts as to whether I should have interfered, but then checked the timetable, and they would have missed the last bus, so they would have ended up tired, cold, miserable and very hungry had they had to walk the full distance. They reminded of a time when I was walking the South West Coast Path with one of my sons, and we came across a man who was completely dehydrated and had collapsed and passed out. His girlfriend had somehow managed to prop him up under a bench so that he wouldn’t roll down the hill (!) while she went to get help, but he was just left there on his own. We stayed with him until he came round, and even then he wouldn’t take our dehydration tablets. Strange what you remember isn’t it, but I think this was in the back of mind when I decided to help this couple.
We had a good chat in the car, and I have heard from them since and they would like to meet up for a walk in the south sometime, and the young lady would like me to teach her Psychology!! 🙂
Distance: 5.89 miles; Total Ascent 1220 ft; Total Descent 1093 ft