Trip up north to Point of Ayre

This trip was planned to allow me to test out my feet, both for driving and for walking. As it turns out I did more of the former than the latter, and I guess my left foot in particular will not be too keen on long walks right now. Driving was better, my main injury being my left ankle so not too much required on this foot except for gear changes. Even so, the 2 hrs in the car, and the 1.5 mile walk was quite enough for one day. As I have to drive in England before too long, I was testing the water.

It was a dull and cloudy day, promising to rain. Believe it or not, I have never walked around the Point of Ayre towards Cranstal & The Dog Mills down to Ramsey, only walking along the most ‘northerly’ part of the island previously towards the Visitor Centre. It isn’t really due north, as the island lies on an angle, but technically this is the most northerly point on the island. I took this photo off my tv having recorded a programme about Earth from Space, and it conveniently gave this interesting view showing the true location of the Isle of Man.

Starting at the large lighthouse, I walked around the headland, much to the consternation of the terns and oystercatchers who were nesting there. They kept track of me until I was out of their danger zone. Key areas on the beach are fenced of to prevent the public from inadvertently or advertently intruding onto nest sites. There were several stonechats too keeping watch from their vantage points on the gorse and shrubs inland, alerting their pals to my presence. The beach is mainly pebbles of assorted sizes and the solid land too is a mix of pebbles and sand dunes with a bit of soil and grass on the top in places. It is very unstable and is constantly being unearthed by the winds, rains and seas. The vegetation grows low around the periphery of the beach but when you move even a few metres inland, it has a chance to grow taller and dominate more. The flowers that grow abundantly around the seashore all around the island are miniscule here, holding on for dear life, but hold on they do, and in the 40 minutes I was out and about, I took 30 photographs of different species, a few of which I have put in the slideshow at the end for you.

Photo courtesy of lighthouseaccommodation.co.uk showing the foghorn and Winkie

The main lighthouse in the top photo was completed in 1818 , with 124 steps and a 105ft tower. Winkie, in the middle was completed in 1890 and designed to avoid high water tides being 33ft above sea level. I suspect the difference in height has grown now with the shingle build up in this area. I didn’t walk on the pebbles but tried to walk on the grassy tops, which have eroded away in many places. Indeed, even though not a deep drop from the ‘cliff’ to the beach, it would not pay to walk too close to the edge as there are many overhanging edges. Unfortunately, this scatty terrain meant I had to curtail my walk as the path that had been gradually climbing came to an abrupt and unexpected end at a ‘precipice’ with no means of continuing unless I retraced my steps and walked along the beach towards Ramsey which would have been a good few miles circular walk. I didn’t take a photo of this, but you get the idea from this one, taken a little earlier, slightly further north:

The coastal footpath is signposted to walk along the beach and when the tide is further out this would be possible; but not today, so I turned slightly inwards and back to the car. The area adjacent to this section of coastline is being reclaimed so there really are only two choices – walk along the beach or walk along the road around this area. A word of warning. It is important to check the tide times if you intend to do the beach from Cranstal to The Dog Mills, otherwise you may find yourself running out of beach at high tide!

I had planned to walk along Marine Drive in Douglas on Wednesday but it may be a step (or many steps) too far for my ankles/feet, but we’ll see. I hope to be fit enough to lead my U3A walk on July 14th as this had to be postponed this month.

The slideshow starts with the 3 buildings in line with one another, the old lighthouse, the foghorn peeping out and the newest, Winkie, on the right, then the rest of the slideshow is of the wonderful spring flowers.

Time away in Crete

Yes, I know it’s not the Isle of Man, but reluctantly I cannot do any walks at the moment as I have an ankle injury sustained while I was… in Crete, two weeks ago.

This was a walking holiday but I was not sure how much walking I could actually do, so on the spur of the moment I put a sketch pad in my suitcase along with my walking boots and off I trotted to Crete. I have been before, but not stayed on the western side. I had hoped to do the Samaria Gorge this time, at least that was my intention.

We stayed in a beautiful 4 star hotel miles from anywhere in a village called Spilia, a little distance from Chania. If I wanted to do any walks by myself this would necessitate a 32 mins walk each way to the nearest village to use public transport. But I am not complaining. The hotel was so relaxing, with two lovely swimming pools; the food was excellent and each room was completely individual and all scattered around the complex. It had originally been an olive pressing factory.

I did some walks with the group, alternating days, sometimes doing my own thing and yes, I did do some sketching, sometimes just 30 mins sketches and at other times adding in watercolour, but nothing taking more than 2hrs from start to finish. This was an absolute joy and has opened my eyes to painting ‘plein air’. I never want to have to paint anything from a photo again. Just give me an image and let me and my imagination paint the picture.

My highlights of the week are probably rather different from the rest of the walking group. The intrepid walkers did do the Samaria Gorge, but I and others opted for the Imbros Gorge, this being the shorter option and with the opportunity of a boat ride to otherwise inaccessible villages along the coast. I completed the Imbros Gorge in under two hours, then did a quick sketch of a village by the sea and then Loutro after the boat ride. The weather of course, was just wonderful, hot and sunny, but not too hot. Other than that, my favourite times were spent on my own, walking up the hill to the magnificent St John’s Cave at Spilia, seeking out other lesser known tiny chapels built into the rocks, and paying for a tour to Elafonisi beach on a day when nobody in their right mind would think of spending time on the beach as it was really windy, open and exposed! It looks idyllic on the photos but they are deceptive. It was extremely windy! But I loved it, and despite sand blowing all over my paints and painting, my water getting blown over time and time again, and the wind and sun drying out the paint as soon as it landed on the paper, I have a sketch painting that I positively like. It has life and vibrancy, not surprisingly rather more than was actually present on the day. The odd thing about Elafonisi is that the coastal footpath is certainly not flat and even. You have to walk through a boulder field, often clambering over rocks taller than me, but offering views of the most beautiful coastal nature reserve. The E4 footpath goes right round the island. Now that sounds like my kind of walking, at least in my mind. I would go back there again should I revisit Crete, but take a little more care as it was on the last stretch of this that I twisted my ankle and it still swells and bruises two weeks later if I walk on it.

The cave of St John’s at Spilia was a real bonus. I didn’t expect it to be so spectacular. It was huge, with lots of nooks and crannies, so I was able to sit there with the dog I acquired on the way up and just do an outline of the pillar cave. On returning to the hotel, I spent a couple of hours painting it from memory. It is so nice to have 5 sketches /paintings all in one sketchpad and I shall take this with me every time I go away to add others to my collection. Florence will be my next trip in the autumn – just two or three days, but time for my more experiences and sketching. I think a sketchbook will be more memorable than any photo I could take and when I am in my dotage I shall enjoy reminiscing about my time in Crete and other places I have visited.

The HF walking party were great fun. We all got on together so well, and there was a lot of laughter, eating and drinking, and until I did my ankle, we played table tennis too. Thank you to everyone who made my holiday so enjoyable. I shall try and put behind me the absolutely dreadful treatment we got from Easyjet when our flight to the IOM was cancelled having been half way round England before taking us back to Gatwick and totally abandoning all the passengers in the evening and not even providing any food or accommodation! To make matters worse, there were no flights for 3 days. As you would expect, I found an alternative and was back on our island the next day.

So I finish with a slideshow of photos to whet your appetite. Oh, and if you wish to try out the hotel it is called Spilia Village and you can find out more here: https://spiliavillage.gr/

Silverdale and Grenaby (again) with more history

This walk has a lot of stiles as commented on by many of my group but by compensation such a lot of beauty – a tranquil river, spectacular spring flowers, historical features and distant vistas. Having walked this route twice recently as I was leading a U3A group along these paths yesterday, I am amazed how a single week can make such a difference. The wild garlic are now out in full force, whereas last week they were just appearing. The field grass is about a foot tall in places now and the meadows of lady’s smock (cuckoo flower) were even more beautiful and the orange tip butterflies were enjoying their abundance.

I think my wildflower and historical notes really inspired my walkers as it took us an hour and a quarter just to walk a mile up the glen to Athol Bridge as we would stop at anything interesting or unusual. Perhaps I should have publicised it as a nature walk.

We began by grouping together on the bridge by the ford while I gave them a short history of the river and Ballasalla, with the aim of showing that river, albeit fairly small, has played a significant role in this landscape. There have been numerous mills over the centuries mostly involved with the cotton industry (rather than a flour mill). As yet, we don’t know quite where the cotton came from, whether or not it was grown on the IOM. Most interesting, for me at any rate, was the wide number of occupations that were found in Ballasalla in 1837 – two blacksmiths, 3 boot and shoe makers, one brewer, 3 joiners and carpenters, 2 millers, 2 milliners and dressmakers, 8 shopkeepers (!), 3 tailors, 1 tanner, 4 taverns etc etc. You can read more here if you are interested. https://www.gov.im/media/633197/silverdaleappraisalwithpicsv2.pdf I guess today there would still be variety but not closely linked to the natural environment in the same way.

We walked along the riverbank to look at the violets, alexanders, celandine, herb robert, red campion and wonderful wood anemones that were just beginning to go over but still looked fab. There were bluebells and a few wild garlic here and there in this section, but much more wild garlic further on. Deeper into the glen we saw wood sorrel, stitchwort and masses of wild garlic that would challenge Wordsworth’s view of golden daffodils. In the photos I have included my painting of the mineral water factory, which is really part of the old Cregg Mill buildings. Just before the mill where there is the boating lake is the old water wash ladder, presumably for cleaning the cotton, seen in the middle photo below.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this walk is that the river footpath on the other side of the Ballamodha is closed necessitating a short walk up the hill. Suprisingly there were more wildflowers on the embankment, inlcuding ivy-leaved toadflax and bugle, the latter not usually considered to be a wild flower, and some distance from any habitation. We even saw some trailing St. John’s wort – that wasn’t out last week, neither was the garlic mustard that we saw at Grenaby bridge.

As we crossed the road, we took a farmer’s grassy track. The pussy willow looked beautiful, and the lamb’s looked delightful gambolling in the fields. We stopped for a very belated lunch (2 miles and 1 and 3/4 hr of walking!!) at the creepy doll’s house on the corner at Grenaby. It is in a desperate state of repair but it is a fantastic location and is up for sale at £500,000.

Normally, I don’t like road walking, but we had a walk of about 15 minutes along a very quiet lane. What was particularly nice about this was that we could walk and chat alongside each other and it was very pleasant. We then took field paths, saying hello to some beautiful bay and black horses who seemed pleased to have some company, passing over many rickety stiles across fields with massive clumps of lady’s smock, a mound to negotiate and surprisingly beautiful gently sloping hills to the north of the quarry, and finished by taking the back path by Ballahott into Ballasalla with a ‘surprise’ ending. Having started by walking through masses of wild garlic, we were able to walk a less frequented path that took us round the back of the stunning art and craft houses above Rushen Abbey, that led into woodland brimming with wild garlic in flower right by the car park, just after a most beautiful field of dandelions.

The walk was actually 5.5 miles and would usually take about 2.5 hours but on a day like this, with so much to see, allow yourself lots of time. We took 4 hours and it wasn’t a minute too long.

To finish, here are two maps of this area. The first shows just how narrow the glen really is and what a micro climate it creates for itself and the second is an old map showing how tiny Ballasalla was in days gone past.

Glen Wyllin, Glen Mooar and Cooildarry

This short walk is spectacular, especially if you do it after rains as I did today. The walk starts at the Glen Wyllin campsite, or if you prefer you can park in Kirk Michael village. There is a path right behind the cafe with steps that take you to the old railway line. This path has not been dug up and widened as has happened to the railways tracks in other parts of the island and it still retains its natural charm. Incidentally, if you do park in KM you will have to descend into the valley and ascend the other side as the stone platform of the viaduct has been removed and only the pillars remain. The path is mainly enclosed but every now and again you catch a glimpse of the sea to the west and the hills to the east.

We follow the railway line until it meets a small lane after about a mile just before Glen Mooar. Prior to this, you will go under a couple of bridges. At the lane, the footpath sign tells you to cross over the road and continue through a gate. The path continues for only a short distance, as guess what, the viaduct has been removed at Glen Mooar and again just the supports remain standing, bringing you to a firm standstill. A path downhill has been created. This is a fairly steep descent, but only for about 60ft or so. As you descend you enter another world, away from the farmland and distant vistas of hills and sea. Now we have a tree-lined river with steep banks on either side. The lower path is closed so unfortunately this necessitates more undulating ascents with minor descents and more steps. The gains are great though, as the woods are so very pretty and there are some very large beech trees guarding over the valley. It will look lovely when the spring flowers come out. The cover photo shows the view through the trees to the hills.

At one point you will reach a high grassy area where there are the clearly visible remains of a 10th century keeill (Patrick’s Chapel), priest’s cell and graveyard. It is a very peaceful area for contemplation, meditation or prayer while you listen to the birds singing in the trees.

A little further on and the sound of running water becomes louder and louder, although it isn’t easy to see anything. The path takes you to the top of the waterfall called Spooyt Vane (White Spout), where all you can see is where a small stream begins to gurgle down the rocks. Take the permissive footpath left, down more steps (sorry), and you find yourself in a dell with the wonderful waterfall at its head, with water gushing down into the pool below in a sequence of stages. To the right the area is hollowed out, which probably suggests the waterfall has changed direction over the millennia. I have rarely seen the waterfall so full and it was captivating.

Crossing the bridge, we follow the track along the top of the valley to join the road. There is a small parking place for those making single journeys and Glen Mooar is worth a visit on its own. At the road junction you will see an old chapel which was constructed in the 1860s as a Sunday School and Mission Room for children who couldn’t make the heady journey to Kirk Michael for schooling.

The route continues along the lane uphill past a few houses and farms. As you ascend notice the soft green hills on the left. The other side of these hills is where the recent archaeological dig has been going on for the last few years, unearthing remnants of people and posessions from the Bronze Age (over 3000 years ago). You can find out more about this here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-48806185

At the top of the lane, there are panoramic views of the hills: Sartfell (454m) to the right, Slieau Freoaghane (488m) in the middle, Slieau Dhoo (420m) just behind this and Slieua Curn (351m) on the far left. They look so inviting on a sunny day like this and they make a fine ridge walk. These will be the subject of another walk at some point. Someone has thoughtfully placed some picnic benches along this section of the road so you can stop and enjoy the views as long as you like. You can even see Scotland from here if you look very closely – it was very clear in reality!

For now, we continue with our descent back to Kirk Michael following a track that becomes a footpath and leads to Cooildarry Nature Reserve (owned by Manx Wildlife Trust). It is possible to include an optional extra mile or two walking along the railway line north and then dropping down to the sea, for those who want a slightly longer walk.

There is such variety and interest in this walk, and as long as you don’t mind steps, you will find it a very rewarding experience. Altogether it is about 4 miles including the visit to the Nature Reserve and 545ft of ascent and descent., with an optional extra of 1-2 miles depending on the tides.

Sloc, Scard, Earystane Plantation and Cronk Ny Array Laa, 24th January 2022

It was so very quiet, not a breath, not a squeak coming from any direction as I set up from the Sloc car park along the road to take the path to Scard. It was a cool day with a heavy mist lurking in the air. It was one of those days when you don’t think of going for a walk but this was my only free day this week and I had been wanting to do this walk for a while.

Even on a dull day like today the views were still extensive, just not very clear, but it doesn’t matter. It almost gives you a different kind of sense of adventure, especially if it is a walk you haven’t done before. This one is a very accessible walk, mostly on tracks, a few fields, moorland and plantation tracks and although there is some uphill to do, taking this particular route you don’t notice the cumulative climb of 900 ft.

The walk begins with a downhill section to the point where a small stream goes under the path below one of the farms at Scard. I watched for a while as a tractor ushered the sheep into a field in the distance before continuing along the path in front of Bea & Blossom Farm (which has tourist accommodation). Just before this building the path turns to the right to the edge of the reservoir which is not accessible (or visible) to the public. The views from here are quite beautiful, with the Carnanes to the west and Meayll Hill sticking out in the south west. It is soft countryside and well farmed and makes you aware that the Isle of Man is largely a farming community, something that is easy to forget on the daily grind to Douglas. You will cross or follow numerous little streams running off the hillsides that will all end up eventually in the Colby River.

The path follows a stream to the left and terminates beside a cottage which is currently being renovated. If you continue straight on beyond the gate you will do a circular route to Lower Scard back to the Sloc but not be able to rejoin this route. This is a rope barrier at this cottage, which made me wonder if this was a right of way, but it turns into a road where there is a clear sign showing that the public footpath goes right in front of this cottage.

Continue on the private road past some other houses. At a sharp bend to the right, the path goes to the left, which does not look inviting as it contains many gates that are linked together. Just go through them and lock them up after yourself. It is the right path and at the top you will see the path then goes through the top of field behind a large house and across a very large open field. Don’t head for the open gate but instead look for the stile just in front of the house (see photo). This path through this property has been changed slightly but still meets the track leading to the Colby Glen road.

We follow the Colby Glen road northwards for a short distance before turning left at the junction and taking the track uphill that leads to Earystane plantation. This is the steepest section of the walk but it is not difficult and it levels out as you go through the forest, which is an exciting place to walk through with its knarled and knotted trees covered in moss, and little dells and dingles that you can explore in nice weather. It is quite a special place. It opens out towards the top as we come on to the moorland. Today, there were no views at this point as it was too foggy, but instead of looking up look down and search for the sphagnum moss lying among the peat, soaking up all the water.

Crossing over the road on a normal day you might head up Cronk Ny Array Laa, but today I couldn’t even see it. Instead I took the cyclists’ path that contours around the hill. It’s a lovely walk and as I got lower I could see everywhere I had walked earlier, including the triangular but previously-not-visible reservoir beside the farm. The cliffs of the Carnanes at the Sloc stood out with pride as I turned the corner.

This is a 6 mile walk that shouldn’t be hurried. Some of the paths are a little uneven, narrow, rutted or muddy and there are a fair few stiles to climb over, none too high. The total ascent is 899ft, with the highest point being 1220ft.

You could start this walk from the lane at the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa but personally I like the Sloc car park better as it means the uphill is about half way through the walk and you finish with a 30 minutes downhill section with views across the whole of the south of the island .

Please note that if you are inspired to do this walk and you are coming from the north, the road from St Johns’ to South Barrule is currently closed and you will need to reach the Sloc either from the Peel coast road, or via Ronague.

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 🙂