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 🙂