Ballabeg to Castletown 10th Sept 2020

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.

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.

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.

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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.

 

Last post before quarantine – 28th July 2020

I write this from my hotel room at Manchester airport. Last week the Manx government relaxed the border entry rules for residents so we can now leave the island and return as long as we quarantine for 14 days. This has caused some commotion in certain quarters but I am delighted as otherwise I should not have been able to see my son who is returning to El Salvador today. I had been resigned to his being in England since March and not seeing him, so you can imagine my joy that I was able to travel over yesterday, spend the evening with him and see him off this morning. I return home this afternoon to complete isolation for 14 days, where I am not allowed out, except in my own garden, and no visitors at all.

Knowing I would be holed up for 14 days on Sunday afternoon I took my final stroll from home down to the Sound and along the coast back to Port Erin, a total distance of 5.75 miles. As usual I tarried long and stared at all things natural, especially the abundant wildflowers. They seem to be having a late flourish this year, no doubt the early summer display having been muted by the many weeks of dry weather in the spring. Since lockdown was eased on the Isle of Man it seems to have done nothing but rain, which is great for the farmers and brought on all the flowers in gardens and hedgerows alike, though not so good for our Guernsey visitors. I enclose a gallery of some of the beauties I came across on this ramble, along with some general views of the coastline towards the top of this post, and – something I have never seen on this stretch of coastline – a couple of people rock climbing.

Previous to this walk, on Saturday I had taken the train to Castletown to join a wildflower event run by Manx Wildlife Trust at the Scarlett Visitor Centre. Unfortunately, my mobile battery was almost out of juice so I had to leave early, as at this stage I did not know when or whether I would be able to see Matthew and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Normally, this kind of event would be heaving with people of all ages, but there was just the dedicated few this time, no doubt a result of the COVID-19 effect. The photos below are of Castletown, firstly the wonderful wildflowers bordering the Silverburn, followed by the floral borders at the Bowling Green Cafe, the Keep, Canon and Moat of Castle Rushen, and the glorious swathe of beach that leads up to Scarlet.

So, for the next two weeks I sign out of writing about walks on the Isle of Man, though I may surprise you with ‘posts from quarantine instead’ if you can bear them 🙂

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: