To be more accurate I should perhaps write ‘less’ peat surveying as the peat was disappointingly thin on the ground – excuse the pun. I am getting to know every inch of South Barrule, sometimes very personally! This time I was on the western flank where the path leads up to the top from the Cringle Plantation.
I had planned my waypoints following contours to ease the number of ups and downs and scrambling over rocks, heather, gorse, and falling down gullies. In windy weather measuring the peat can be quite a chore, so a boring grey day seemed a good choice.. until I got there. There had been some quite heavy rain the previous few days and the terrain was slippery, whether it was grass or stone, and being on uneven ground only made the matter worse. Having the measuring pole is quite a blessing as it acts like a walking stick and enables me to move faster over the moorland and prevent falls.
There is little to say about the 17 waypoints I measured, as there were very few prods with depths of over 30 cm, and very little sphagnum moss, except in secluded areas. It seems to like plateaus or areas where there are natural springs and gullies, so as this section of South Barrule is mostly a continuous slope there was little of interest by way of peat and sphagnum moss. However, I did find a toadstool and I observed an unusual plant ( unusual to me anyway) and the deer grass looked absolutely splendid in its autumn colours. Towards the end of the session I came across an area abundant with sphagnum moss and this was a very bright and cheerful green lying on a springy bed of turf.
At my coffee stop I sat and admired the view down the Glen Rushen Valley, one of my favourite sights, and as I was at ground level I took advantage of the grasses blowing at head height to get some different photos of this area. As you will see from the slideshow there is a lot of tufty grass or heathers and gorse blocking the way for the mosses to grow.
I called in at the Manx Wildlife Trust office to discuss the recording of waypoints and Sarah told me that South Barrule had previously been an area with deep rich peat, but with the mining, quarrying and peat cutting, those days seem to be long gone.
But I live in hope that the remaining 50 or so waypoints I have to measure above Round Table will provide something of value, but either way I am in my element out in the hills, just me and my trusty pole.
I have a few more ‘normal’ walks in the pipeline during the Christmas period, including a Coast to Cairns at the top of Snaefell and a very very early morning walk on New Year’s Day to watch the sunrise. Watch out for these posts, and meanwhile have a lovely and safe Christmas wherever you are.
What else might you conceivably do on a very very wet day when it has been raining for hours? Spend hours over your Sunday lunch, watch a box set, snuggle up around a warm fire? I chose to don my waterproofs and go for a walk down Glen Maye on my way to Peel for the annual Friends of the Cathedral Choir service.
It really was raining cats and dogs and I suspected the paths and steps would be very slippery, especially as they would be strewn with autumn leaves, so rather than take the direct route into the glen I took the road that bypasses the main beauty spot and takes you towards the beach. Even this was tricky to negotiate in places with massive puddles and streamlets meandering down the road.
What a joy to enjoy this area and have it all to myself – I can’t imagine why! – and to see the swollen river rushing down little alley ways and bubbling furiously over rocks and stones. Having reached the beach and already soaked I didn’t hang around and went back to join the track that goes into the main glen. There were a few places where the waters were more gentle and every now and again it would surprise me with sudden spurts and mini waterfalls that are never usually present.
The autumn leaves lying on the path were beautiful. Most of the leaves had left the trees, leaving the canopy more open to the sky, and allowing the rain to tumble through more easily. This is only a short walk, gradually going uphill, and I could sense a build up of water as I heard the rush of water falling in the distance. Turning the corner, I was at the Glen Maye waterfall, looking resplendent and owning the place. I have never seen it so full of water and I stood there mesmerised watching it pounding down over the rocks and creating a misty haze over the pool. It was stunning. This was definitely the way to encounter the waterfall, starting low with expectation building up as I walked though the glen.
From here, it is just a short climb up to the car park. I am always surprised by the contrast of the beautiful tree-laden glen down below and the stark car park just 50 metres above. When you are down there it is as if you are in a different world, but you very rapidly come out into reality.
This should have been a wellie walk and would have been had this not been a spur of the moment decision to catch the bus to Ballasalla to admire the trees beside the Silverburn before they lose their leaves for the winter. I was lucky. It was pouring with rain as I left home to go to the post office so had already donned my waterproof trousers and waterproof trainers. I was midway from home to the village when I made my decision and what a good decision it was. The trees were magnificent in their autumn glory and the river was flowing with all its might, furiously tippling and toppling over stones on its way to the sea.
I won’t bother you with the details but will leave you with some photos to enjoy. Maybe they will give you pause for thought, that bad weather can bring moments of joy and enlightenment that never can be anticipated, and to try would be to spoil the occasion.
I have been living on the island for 7 years yet this is the first time I have visited Earystane Nature Reserve, a hectare of land owned by Manx Wildlife Trust that can’t be more than three miles away from my house as the crow flies. I had worked out a short circular walk of about 4 miles, just perfect for an afternoon walk now that the clocks have gone back and the nights draw in early. Our walk started at the top of Colby. Take the Colby Glen road uphill for just over a mile until you run out of houses and where Earystane is signposted. We parked on the corner beside the nature reserve, but it is preferable to park in one of the lay-bys just before or after the entrance.
In the back of my head I thought this small site had only recently been converted into a nature reserve, but this is untrue. It was formerly the local tip and it was offered to the MWT in 1996 to transform it into a reserve and a local amenity. It has a most attractive natural tree arch over a good wide path suitable for wheelchairs that leads to a hide. At this time of year there weren’t many birds about, though we did see a small flock of goldfinches. The view across to the Carnanes is beautiful from the hide at any time of year. From here, there is a boardwalk which might be difficult for wheelchair users but would be possible with care. This takes you to a low wild wetland area of willow, shrubs and trees that would be called curragh in the north but is called moenay in the south (peat).
There is only one entrance or exit. From here our walk started. We followed the northwest track that leads to some old farms. We walked around the back of the farm called Ballamoar, where there is something that looks like a set of fence hurdles to negotiate. The path is clearly marked so do persevere. Where the path turns eastwards there was a huge field of turnips with no obvious pathway left for walkers. It was easy to traipse over the turnips but the farmer should have left a track through the field to avoid walkers damaging his/her crops. Reaching the other side, we met a few stiles and grassland taking us around the southern end of another most attractive dwelling to the A27.
We followed this road left for a short distance before turning right and right again down what I assume is the old road or farm track leading to Ballabeg. This was a little muddy in places but is a pleasant unspoilt grassy walk on a narrow lane, preferable to walking along the main thoroughfare.
As we met Ballagawne Road, we turned right and shortly afterwards left into fields. I had remembered this particular footpath to be extremely muddy but the last time I walked this path was 20 years ago, so I wasn’t put off. Things change …. or not. I was so busy finding the most sensible path through the heavy mud I forgot to take a photo to show you, so the one I show below is one of the more friendly patches of mud. There are very ancient boardwalks in parts, but I wouldn’t trust them to withstand the weight of too many people – they were very rocky in places with just two of us walking on them.
Despite the mud it had some nice sections, providing extensive views of the south. Wellies would have been better than walking boots but this is only a relatively short distance, and very soon you find yourself back on the edge of Colby where it was just a short walk back to the car. You can extend this walk by taking a diversionary path south over fields into the lower part of Colby then walking up the beautiful Colby Glen back to the car. If you have never visited Colby Glen then it would be a perfect extension to your walk. If you want to go this route, take the path over the fields beside the derelict house.
Ignore the elevation on the photo. I can’t imagine there was ascent of 423 ft as it is a mainly level walk. The distance is correct, however, and excludes the walk around the nature reserve.
It might not be easy to get on and off the island just now, but there are ways, and this was one of them. I had seen a post on FB saying that Shona Boats would be offering boat trips to the Calf of Man, either landing and leaving you there to have a wander, or giving you a full onboard tour of the the whole island to show off its wildlife and spectacular scenery.
I knew I was unlikely to see much wildlife, but I thought there may be seal pups at this time of year, but perhaps not too many birds or cetaceans. One of my fellow passengers was hoping to see puffins but I knew that was out of the question, and we didn’t even see the decoy puffins designed to lure real life puffins on to the Calf.
The weather was mediocre, an overcast day, a little cool but not too windy, so we could expect a fairly calm boat ride. Our trip was delayed slightly by one of the passengers getting held up by a road traffic accident in Douglas which meant a detour for them of some distance to reach Port Erin. Soon we spied their car zooming along the promenade eager to catch us before we left. We were a little short of time, as we found out when we returned. Had we been much later we would have missed our landing berth on the Raglan Pier but as it was all was well and we disembarked using the last possible steps.
I had attired myself suitably for gusty winds and spray, and was wearing various layers and had hat, scarves and gloves in my rucksack, all of which got used during the trip. We set off around the buoy that marks the edge of the old pier where once upon a time cruise ships would unload their passengers who would then spill into Port Erin to see the wondrous sights our lovely bay has to offer. This jetty has long gone, and I have only ever known this area to be a mass of rocks that spew up water magnificently in windy weather in winter and serve as a perch for shags and cormorants.
I have walked this coastline to the Sound from Port Erin many many times, but it is interesting to see the gullies and rifts in the rocks from a different perspective and to see how the land at the top mirrors or does not mirror the lower reaches of the cliffs. We were soon at the Sound and Kitterland where we saw our first seal, and another popped its head out of the water curiously wondering what we were looking at. Then we followed the eastern edge around the Calf to the Drinking Dragon, and from hereon, this was new territory for me as I have never gone all the way around this tiny island. It was here that the wind picked up and everyone reached for their winter woollies. I would tell you some facts about the Calf but unfortunately I couldn’t hear the guide as I was perched on the outer edge of the seating area and everyone else was in the middle, so naturally enough he talked to them and his words were lost in the waves to me. I wasn’t too concerned as I will do this trip again sometime and then I will remember to sit in the right place. It would have been good if he had used some kind of headset, but he didn’t. However, I caught a few words here and there about the shipwrecks in these treacherous waters and the longtails swimming across to the Calf.
There were quite a few seals and their pups, but there was very little else except Choughs, Oystercatchers, Gulls and Shags. We had some good and unusual views of the 4 old lighthouses and a few cliffs later we left the island and made our way back to Port Erin, feeling considerably cooler than when we set out. Even so, it was such an enjoyable experience to see the Calf in its autumnal state, and I had a sense of getting away from everyday life and an opportunity to be off the island for a couple of hours.
We were so unlucky. The group that went out the next day were escorted by some bottle-nosed dolphins back to Port Erin; instead we had the quiet of the sea and the gentle rocking of the boat as we reentered the harbour waters.
It’s hard to believe that I was only a stone’s throw from Douglas. The views were wide, soft and gentle with only the tenderest of hints of any kind of building. In the distance the top of the steeple of Onchan church could be seen, the rest hidden by the canopy of Molly Quirk’s Glen.
This was one of the walks offered as part of the Manx National Heritage culture weekends. I arrived at the meeting point totally unprepared as I had mistakenly dressed myself for an Onchan Town Tour and not a walk across fields or through glens. Luckily, I was wearing sturdy shoes and the terrain was not too inclement nor had we had our usual fill of rain, so still feeling embarrassed by my own ineptitude I informed the leader I would continue.
My friend informed me it was to be guided walk of two or three miles taking about three hours. Maybe this is why in my head I had thought it must be a town tour, as how can you take 3 hours to walk such a short distance? Well, I was soon to find out.
We started by walking up the narrow Bilbaloe Glen. This is a short side-shoot of the main Molly Quirk Glen and this small tributary takes you up on to the hills. Even before we began walking we were told about the history of an ancient bridge over this tiny stream which once bore the main road to Laxey. On the opposite side of the stream our guide pointed out a derelict building which had once been a vibrant methodist church but as methodism became stronger on the island it fell into disuse. As we reached the road there was a footpath sign to the left along a track, one I have never noticed before, and we followed this up to Ballakilmartin Farm, which is a total wreck. You can see it must have a busy, active farm at one time, but the current owner lives in South Africa and has no interest in restoring or even maintaining the property. We were shown the former coach house, cattle sheds and stables, and discouraged from exploring due to the state of the property. The main entrance to this farm was not originally from the east as we had just ventured but from the west where the old road would have passed alongside.
We followed the old road north for a short distance to the point where it is no longer obviously an old road, and on the right there is the remains of a keill, which you would never normally see or even know about (no photos, sorry, as it is only a collapsed heap in a bit of woodland). This is why it is so good to go out with informed guides who bring it all alive for you. We learned that this keill (a type of private church) was about 18ft x 9ft and the excavations have shown that it crossed the Onchan/Laxey road, meaning that it must have been in use before the original road was built. It is dedicated to St Martin, a French catholic saint from the 4th century, who is also the patron saint of beggars, drunkards and the poor! This walk was organised by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, so if you are visiting, you might want to contact them and see if you can join them for a walk www.manxantiquarians.com. You won’t be disappointed. Locals can join the society and enjoy lectures in the winter months and excursions in the summer.
From here, it was another hop skip and jump along the same trackway to another old farm, this time Ballig Farm, which was been in the same family for centuries, and where the Manx folklore writer Sophia Morrison spent a large part of her childhood. Unusually, we entered into its garden to spy a very special well. It has a stone entrance which protects the 17 steps down to the clear-as-a bell water, some steps being covered. Legend has it and the owner says that the water ebbs and flows with the tides, though in reality I think this is impossible. I suspect the water levels are due to an impermeable type of local rock, otherwise most of the Isle of Man would be underwater if this were the true water table given that this farm is 500ft above sea level.
Then, yet again, walking east along the same path we soon came to Mr. Kissack’s farm and buildings. He had built his own house on the land and had become a farmer having previously been a builder all his life. He looked very well and healthy with his new lifestyle and clearly this is his passion. However, hearing about machinery and cars was not to my taste so my friend and I decided to call it a day.
The remainder of the walk was just beautiful, initially along a wooded lane with just a few spectacular houses dotted along it until we came to the bridge leading down Molly Quirk’s glen. The story goes that Molly Quirk was robbed and murdered in this glen but there is no proof of this. Maybe had we stayed with the group the guide would have given us some interesting and more magical information about the glen. The paths are wide and easy to walk and with the golden leaves underfoot it was a very pleasant end to our walk. The total distance was indeed about 2.5. miles but as you can tell we were told a lot of stories along the way and the actual walking time was only just over an hour. You could extend this walk and continue along the stream into Groudle Glen, where you will eventually meet the sea.
This walk has peaked my interest to find these lesser known paths and to see how they connect to other areas.
As it is the last day of the month it seems appropriate to bring you up to date with the walks I have done in the last week or so. My time has largely been spent collecting data for the peat survey, which on Friday was absolutely exhausting and it took me the whole weekend to recover.
It started with a very very windy day, not cold particularly, though I did wear several layers and took hat and gloves, both of which I wore. On reflection, maybe I should have waited for better weather, especially as this walk involved going to the top of South Barrule for my first waypoint. It was a sunny day and the winds pushed the clouds out of the way affording me yet more views of our distant lands across the sea. I was glad I had worn my wellies too, as the ground was quite wet and boggy in places. I’ll tell you something – walking across naive territory where the only footprints have been made by sheep makes you aware of the fantastic footpaths that others have created (and maintain) for us to use to reach viewpoints and to engage with nature. I doubt if many people would venture out if they had to lift their legs knee high to cross the moors! Having finished this section, I then detoured to the South Barrule plantation thinking I might meet the dirt track and have an easy walk back to the car, but as you will see from the slideshow, it didn’t quite work out as planned. It was a strenuous day but one I look back on with a sense of achievement. That week my Garmin watch recorded 500 minutes of intensive training, when the govt guidelines advise a minimum of 150 minutes per week.
During this same week, I was lucky enough to be invited out for afternoon tea with my friend, Janet, so we decided to go to Peel (I seem to be there a lot these days) and commence with a 90 minute walk to justify eating sandwiches and cream cakes afterwards. If you like a short but interesting walk, this is perfect for you. Park at Fenella beach, either walk along the road to the bridge or take the upper route just above the roadway to the same point. Cross the bridge and immediately turn right. This will take you alongside the river. Believe it or not, I had never walked this particular section as I have always followed the Heritage Trail which takes you through the industrial estate (how exciting is that!). It is a delightful section and I shall never miss it out again. When you reach the bridge by the Raggatt you need to climb the steps to cross the road and go immediately behind the houses on the well made track. This is a gentle rise to Knockaloe Beg Farm where you turn right to go on to the hills. The fields are a lovely shade of green and look warm and inviting. It is a little pull up to the top, where you get unexpected views to the south all the way to the Calf of Man. There is a well-placed bench that allows you to get your breath back before making the final short climb to Corrin’s Folly. From there, it is a gentle undulating walk along the top before descending to Fenella beach. The footpaths are very good and there is no real need for sticks and you could get away with wearing stout shoes rather than walking boots. It’s a really lovely walk and one you can do any time you have a spare couple of hours.
And then, yesterday, I was back on the moors to finish those particular waypoints on South Barrule. This was much more pleasant. There was also a lot of sphagnum moss and on my final prod of the peat I recorded the deepest amount of the four sessions – 105cm. It’s one thing putting the prod in the ground but it’s quite another trying to get it out again. If I keep on doing this I shall soon look like Popeye. 🙂
So, that’s it for another month. I have quite a lot of activities coming up, with outings organised by Manx National Heritage, and I will document these as they happen over the next couple of weeks. I finish this post with some photos of Port Erin taken a couple of nights ago as I took an evening stroll.
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.
I had an hour to spare before Evensong at Peel Cathedral, just long enough for a brisk walk around Peel Hill and Peel Castle. I parked down by the marina and followed the road over the bridge, where there is a path that takes you up the hill. This gives extensive views of the coast to the north and Peel itself.
There is a variety of footpaths around Peel Hill, and you can choose the best one to take account of weather conditions. If you go all the way round Peel Hill I think it’s about 3 miles, but you can shorten it quite easily, as I did today. Peel residents are so lucky to have this walk on their doorstep, as well as the curved sandy bay and beaches. The cliffs to the north are low and easy to walk, so you can choose your walk according to your mood as well as the weather.
Having reached the first level area on the hill, I followed the track that goes around the back of Peel Hill, which is an even path until you reach the old quarry. There is then a narrow footpath that takes you uphill and around the coast, but you needn’t worry, it doesn’t go anywhere near the edge. This finally reaches the coast path on another col between the hills. You can turn right, or go up to the next peak to Corrins Folly, but I took the path over the tops on the left, where I eventually rejoined my original path. It is easy walking on grass, and there are a couple of short, steep downhills.
I still had some time to spare, so I did my usual sortie around the perimeter of the castle. I always have fond memories here as my son, grandchildren and I had a picnic up there on the rocks overlooking the bay – grandchildren I haven’t seen since November and unlikely to see in the foreseeable future 😦
From here, it was an amble on the front where an equestrian event was taking place on the beach. The prom was packed, as was the ice-cream shop. It is so good to see so many people out and about, including visitors from Guernsey.
If you are holidaying here, I can recommend the full walk around Peel Hill, or for those liking a longer walk, you could continue along the coast path to Glen Maye and get the bus back, or walk over the hills inland back to Peel, and have an afternoon tea at Harbour Lights.
Total distance: 2.8 miles; total ascent 358 ft
Today I have been out on South Barrule measuring the peat, so the next post will have a completely different feel to it.
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.