Ballasalla, Castletown coast and river circular 6th July 2020 – 7 miles

We had a choice of a few walks today, and my friend selected this beautiful walk for our afternoon stroll. The weather was sunny although it was quite blustery, one of those days when you are not quite sure what to wear, and I wore far too much.

We parked at the Abbey Hotel in Ballasalla, crossed the footbridge in the old part of the village whilst we watched a man wade through the ford while his family crossed on the bridge behind us. We followed the road until we reached the first main footpath which leads east out of Ballasalla and behind the Balthane estate. We wondered if this right of way will remain once the new road is built, and assuming so, it will need an underpass or a bridge if one is not to take one’s life in one’s hands in years to come to cross over the new bypass. This new road is currently under construction and is about midway between the existing main Ballasalla to Douglas road and the farm on the low hillside at Ballahick.

I believe there was a pact made between the developers and the planning department whereby the builders, Dandara, were granted planning permission for 283 houses if they agreed to build the by-pass for the village. Planning permission had been turned down several times previously regarding the by-pass, so it looks to all the world as if it’s a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ planning decision. Given the population of the Isle of Man is static at best, I do wonder why we need quite so many new houses.

Reaching the farm, we followed an old track which takes you alongside the perimeter of the airfield. There is a quarry on the coast and the old wartime gun emplacements prominently positioned on Santon Head and Fort Island remind us that the Isle of Man has not always lived in peace. Excavations for the airport (which was only developed in 1928) found a mass grave of men who were thought to be soldiers from the 1275 Battle of Ronaldsway!

If you haven’t visited the island for a while, you will remember the coast path hugging the low cliffs all the way around the sea-end of the airport. Since then, the airport has been extended out into the sea and massive boulders now act as sea defences keeping it firmly in place. The view of the eastern coastline to the north and Derbyhaven to the south is lovely and the air is always refreshing on this part of the island and there is wide sense of space.

We continued along the road, past the imposing King William’s College, the result of a generous gesture by Bishop Isaac Barrow in 1663, who felt there was a need for an educational institution on the Isle of Man, which would serve the clergy and improve pastoral care. It was a further 200 years before the school was erected. This monumental building is made of slabs of grey limestone and cost £6000 to build in 1833, £2000 of which came from funds of Bishop Barrow. Within 11 years, there was a massive fire that did away with many of the internal structures, sadly including an extensive and ancient library. Amazingly the school was rebuilt immediately and started functioning again within a year of the fire.

We stopped at the newly developed Costa at Castletown, which has spacious outdoor seating beside the harbour, then continued up the Silverburn river back to Ballasalla. This played havoc with my hayfever and I spent most of the night sneezing and with a tickly throat rather than sleeping.

This is an easy stroll with virtually no uphill at all, with views of countryside, rivers, the sea, meadows, a quarry, a fort and gun emplacments, Hango Hill (you can guess what took place there) and a superb castle at Castletown. So much our doorstep to admire and enjoy and a 5 minute car journey or 15 mins bus ride from home.

Best of the rest:

Pooil Vaaish – 14th June 2020

My walks seem to be getting shorter and shorter. I think this one is the absolute minimum to be called a ‘walk’, and it was really a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll of 3.25 miles between Gansey Bay and Scarlett.

I had just braved Shoprite, thinking that this would be the last day of queuing and social distancing in the shops. Being unsure as to how wise the total easing of restrictions are for us here on the Isle of Man, I felt safer obliging by the recent three month old rules to do my big shop. However, when I got there, the barriers had all been removed, no-one was wearing masks, there was no one-way system around the supermarket and basically, life was back to normal, with the exception of screens at the checkout and a lady constantly reminding us over an audio loop that we must socially distance at 2 metres. I hope someone has told her that she will be out of a job tomorrow :-). The obligatory man at the entrance advised me that over here people think the virus is finished! Well, that would be nice but I think the whole world has a very long way to go before such a statement will have any grounding in fact.

So, having unpacked my shopping, I sent a message to my friend Janet to see if she fancied a stroll along the southern beaches. At least I can now pick her up in my car to go places. It was a fine afternoon, really quite warm. It was hazy so the photos aren’t great, but you will get a flavour of this part of our island.

Beach at Fisher’s Hill – lots of sand today

I parked at the bottom of Fisher’s Hill. This is a regular parking spot for walking around to Scarlett. If you were to do a circular route you would need to go as far as Castletown and return via an inland route and this would be a good 5-6 miles. There are few places to branch off the coast path, so it is either of matter of a long walk or re-tracing your steps after a mile or two, and this is what we did.

We walked along dodging cars and putting the world to right, trying to make sense of this crazy world we live in, and discussing plans we each had for improvements for our respective houses. Getting work done on this little island by reliable workmen is almost as difficult as pulling hens’ teeth, and when you find trustworthy folks you don’t let them go!!

This section of the coast path is very flat, barely a rise from start to finish. It is a well made track and suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs for a large part of the route. Once you get to Pooil Vaaish, the track disappears and you enter fields with stiles to clamber over, so this section would not be suitable for those with walking difficulties. However, you could access most of it from the Scarlett Visitor centre at Castletown so there is only a small section you would not be able to do.

There was a lot of smelly seaweed around as the tide was way out so the first part of the walk was a bit pongy. Pooil Vaaish itself means ‘Bay of Death’, which is not because of shipwrecks but because of the black marble which is quarried here. It is a unique kind of black limestone that has been used around the world and you can even find it on the steps of St. Paul’s in London. It is a tiny quarry and it surprising to think that it contains such marvels.

Pooil Vaaish – Bay of Death

If you haven’t been to this area before, just inland from Pooil Vaaish Farm is Balladoole, a viking ship burial ground with superb views over the water and up to the hills. But we were not visiting this today. In fact, we only walked a little way across the fields and sat and watched boats steaming across the bay and planes coming in to land – quite a novelty right now and a reminder that at some point we will be able to both leave and return to our island without restrictions.

After this, we made our way back along the same path, stopping to look at flowers, butterflies and moths as we came across them.

Best of the rest: