Tales of Glen Helen and an Autumn Feast, 12 Sept 2021

Well, I don’t know if it might be a healthy feast but there certainly was a host of fungus along the banks of the Glen Helen river two weeks ago. I had friends visiting and Glen Helen is a sure-fire winner for an absolutely beautiful walk, with variety and interest and it was an area they hadn’t visited before.

Over the last year or so, the paths have been widened to enable wheelchair uses to have easy access to the main waterfall and to benefit from these wonderful views. To me, this is our bit of Switzerland on this island, and perhaps because it is so niche and has a different ambience to the other glens it is even more special. There are some magnificent trees which stand proudly at the entrance to lure you in.

This is not a difficult path to walk along. It follows the river at just a height so that you can look down into it but not have to negotiate any slippery stones. There is a bench half way along, which for some reason has been placed with its back to the river, presumably to enable those in wheelchairs to stop and take a break, but it would have been far more sensible to turn it the other way round so they could actually see something. We Manxies do have our idiosyncracies – though I cannot count myself a Manxie, being a stop-over from only 7-8 years ago. It takes a lifetime to be called a true Manxie!!

The actual waterfall was a little lame on this occasion as we haven’t had a lot of rain, but still lovely as are all waterfalls. From here, there is a choice of paths. You can either go straight up a very narrow path which takes you to the top of the falls, or you can take the steps to the right that lead uphill into the woods. We chose the latter option. If you deviate very slightly from this you will see another section of waterfall, which is very lovely and makes you want to look around the corner and see where it goes. Retracing your steps, you climb gently upwards until you reach a roughly level path with follows the river all the way back to the car park. I cannot understand how I have never taken this path before, but I did enjoy it and it was on this section that we came across the ‘hundreds and thousands’ of different types of fungi. I could become quite absorbed in looking at these, but as I know nothing about them at all, I satisfied myself with taking photographs of them, some better than others. They were an array of colour too, not just boring beige or grey toadstools. The images below are a few of the very many we came across. There may be a few duplicates as they look very different as they decay.

This whole area was once pleasure gardens, created and designed originally by the philanthropist Mr. John A Marsden, who developed all the footpaths in the glen to highlight the natural beauty of the area. Where there are bridges now were stepping stones, so the falls would not have been accessible to anyone except the sturdy of foot, but would have been fun for children to cross.

There was so much to entertain you in the 1870’s, as long as you had a spare fourpence to enter the grounds – yes, you had to pay. Then you and the family could amuse yourselves with swings, skittles and croquet, and if you had a full 1 shilling you were allowed to fish in the river. At one point there was an aviary, a monkey house, seals(!), a bowling alley and even a small zoo. Sounds rather good. I think they should reinstate it as pleasure gardens, although now the glamping phase has taken over in the section close to the car park.

The car park has an interesting history too believe it or not. Just up the road from here is a white cottage called Sarah’s cottage, and you will notice a small stream runs beside it and then disappears, never to be seen again. Well obviously it has to go somewhere, and it goes under the road. Not so long ago there stood a hotel in this location and the stream flowed beneath it in its cellars. The hotel was knocked down and a car park concreted over it until… one day in 1980 a lorry driver (you could get them in 1980!) parked in an unfortunate spot, the driver hopped out of his cab for a call of nature, to simultaneously watch his lorry sink into the ground and a gap of 18″ opened up under one of the back wheels. In trepidation he moved his lorry and rang the authorities, who promptly arrived with a digger, but as they started to operate the machinery a whopping great chasm appeared 14ft deep and the whole car park disintegrated. I wonder what happened to the engineers who had initially designed the car park? Needless to say, there is now a reliable culvert underneath the existing car park, but do take care, you never know what may happen next. 🙂

As you can see from the map below this is only a short walk of about 2 miles in all, maybe 3 and perhaps 150-200 ft of ascent in all. For once I didn’t measure the distance or height. If you don’t know where this is, if you take the Douglas to Peel road, turn right at the Ballacraine crossroads where there are traffic lights (just before St. Johns) and Gleb Helen is a couple of miles up on a bend in the road. It’s always beautiful no matter what the weather or the time of year.

Heather Walk on the Western Cliffs 18/08/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlett Geology 17th July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foxdale circular – 22nd June 2021

This is the most peaceful walk I have done so far on this island. It was helped by it being a balmy day, but the nature of this walk took me by surprise.

I hadn’t walked on any one of the 6 miles of track or path, other than a very brief section on the road from St Johns to the mines. Every step was an exploration of something new, seeing the hills and fields I see every day but from a new perspective.

I parked at South Barrule plantation and walked the same quarter of a mile I had done in a previous walk to Stoney Mountain, but this time when I reached the plantation I turned left which would take me around the northern perimeter of the Stoney Mountain plantation. It is bit untidy at the start, and you go through what appears to be someone’s garden, but then it becomes a clear uninterrupted path. In fact, this is described as a green route. It is a real mix of terrain, from a grassy path, to a pebbly path, to a stoney path, to what appears to be a stream in places. It is level walking and an easy path. From here you do get wonderful views of the hills above the Peel / Douglas valley.

There is a choice of route once you finish the first mile. I turned left, walking down a peaceful lane. The wild flowers, grasses, horses and donkeys seem to own this section of countryside, and although not far from any ‘main’ road, I couldn’t hear any traffic and only occasionally glimpsed any vehicles. This road terminates on the Braiid to Foxdale Road, where the new mansion has been built. I walked easterly along the road for a very short distance, before taking the footpath to the left.

This led around the westerly edge of the Kionslieau Reservoir. I have never been here before and it’s wonderful, well worth a visit, if just to admire the view. The path has been very well maintained with a boardwalk over wetter parts. Unexpectedly, I came across more orchids beside the path. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should as my granddaughter video called me, along with my son, and somehow I managed to mix up the dials on my camera and got myself in a tizz as I couldn’t get it off panoramic view and didn’t know (and still don’t know) how to use it. I really should have stopped for longer, it was so very peaceful.

This path comes out on a minor road, or I thought was a minor road, except that I had to keep stopping for cars. It was a very pretty lane with meadow buttercups festooning the tall banks on either side. When this road turned to Foxdale I continued along the top, which gave me a good view of the observatory. Judging by the number of hens on the road, this part of the road does not get as much traffic. Just past the hens is a footpath going down the hill into Lower Foxdale. Be careful if you go this route as the footpath is to the right of the wide manmade track, but the sign is in the ditch, so you could easily miss it and have to retrace your steps to the top as I did!

This is actually a very splendid path, obviously not much used as it was quite overgrown in places. It did make me think that we really do not need to leave spaces between plants in our gardens. This was heaving with plants, butterflies and all sorts of insects. I enjoyed walking down here and I was glad I had my stick so that I could beat myself a path at times. It is not long before you do hear the hum of traffic and the path finishes on the main St John’s road.

I turned left, slightly uphill until I met the minor road to the right which leads to… absolutely nowhere. It crosses the disused railway line, which again looked very attractive in its spring attire. This is a bit of a hike uphill but it’s not difficult. Another time, I might walk back along the railway line for a short distance and then take the path up Glen Dhoo. This would be more interesting than road walking and also cuts off a bit of distance. I had never heard of Glen Dhoo, but I when crossed it at the top it looked quite a nice glen. But, taking the route I went, at the T junction I turned left and followed the road to the ford at Gleneedle and turned immediately left. This is shown as a dead end, but the dead end is a good mile away. It is a steady climb up to the top of Dawlish Ard, and from there it is a really pleasant walk contouring around the lower part of South Barrule, with view to die for. It is an easy, grassy path, and you follow this all the way back finishing in South Barrule plantation, where it is a short walk back to the car.

I really enjoyed my birthday walk. It will stay long in my memory.

Orchid Walk 20th June – Close Sartfield

We are spoiled with so many prolific wildflowers on this island, but none more so than in June at the Manx Wildlife Trust’s Close Sartfield Nature Reserve. Apparently, it has been estimated that there are at least 100,000 orchids on this reserve, a figure I can well believe from what I saw yesterday – or was that just one field? Um, I’m not sure now. Either way, it’s a heck of a lot.

This reserve is in the north of the island, located in fields behind the Curraghs Wildlife Park, so you could easily combine this short walk with a visit to our local animal park. In both locations you may be lucky enough to spot the itinerant wallabies, who can now be seen lolloping around most of the countryside at some time or other. Much as they are appealing I believe they can also be a nuisance, as was explained to us by Tricia Sayle who manages the reserves. Whenever they spot a nice piece of grass they will find a way to reach it by grubbing up fences, which then make it possible for sheep to escape much to the consternation of the farmers. Apparently, the wallabies are too lazy to jump over fences! But much as with Covid -19, we have to learn to live with them.As it happens we didn’t see any today. We were pleasantly surprised to have a warm sunny day, given that the forecast had been for dull or even rainy weather. As it was, sunhats were in order.

Immediately on arriving at the reserve we were delighted to see so many orchids tossing about in the light wind, protected by grasses only just slightly taller than themselves. Tricia explained that all the fields have manx names to reflect their previous occupation or describing the nature of the fields; and how it had taken much painstaking work to remove the gorse that seems unwilling to give up its habitat. In places, we could see where a birch woodland had been allowed to develop and how very quickly it establishes itself if left very much to its own devices.

There are often six species of orchid to be seen but I think we only saw four. Tricia explained that although they often look the same, there are subtle differences in the structure of the leaf, and how many have hydridised. These hybrids tend to stand tall and erect, being proud of themselves. I guess in time, without management, the whole field would eventually be taken over by the hybrids. But that’s why Tricia and her Midweek Muckers are there regularly tending the reserve, to make sure all flowers have the maximum opportunity to fulfil their potential.

It is a short, flat walk of about a mile if you include a visit to the hide. In the summer, the gates are unlocked and the paths are open, but out of season you cannot walk around the reserve other than to go to the hide. It is a lovely way to spend a quiet few minutes in the countryside. The best time to view the orchids is probably mid-June. How grand the display is depends to a large extent on the weather during the winter and spring, and this year has certainly produced a bumper crop.

I haven’t been out ‘proper walking’ for a while as my health isn’t what I should like it to be, but we are sorting that out and hopefully once I am back from England – I am going to see my children who I haven’t seen for more than 18 months and see my new grandchild who is now 7 months old, who is coming to visit from El Salvador (with his dad of course) -, I shall be back to my old self, clambering up hills and finding hidden nooks and crannies that keep me amused for hours. But you never know, I may manage something tomorrow to celebrate my birthday – or I may indulge in box sets, wine and a healthy meal instead. Who knows, but I will be back soon 🙂