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

Earystane Plantation Circular 6 miles

Another first! I do like firsts, especially during lockdown while much of life is dreary.

I had driven to the lane at the foot of Cronk Ny Array Laa, the furthest I would consider driving right now. I would be following recognised paths (well mostly, as you will discover) so unlikely to need to call out any of the emergency services.

I made my way across the moorland to the top of Earystane plantation. I have never walked through this terrain so I didn’t know what to expect except loads of trees. I was pleasantly surprised to find an unique landscape that could almost be called ‘the land that time forgot’. My photos don’t do it justice. It was far darker, greener, with wiggly and wriggly shaped trees appearing to drip with a variety of mosses. Of course, you have to go off piste a little to appreciate this but not far from the marked path. It was quite special.

Back on the path, there is a variety of trees, gorses and heathers with different views across to the coast. It was very muddy in places as this is often a bike route. There are alternative paths for would-be adventurers but trespassers are encouraged to keep to the main path.

Leaving the forest, you come out into daylight and a wide vista encompassing the whole of the south of the island. It almost takes you by surprise as it is so open compared with the closely planted plantation.

The next section was a walk down the hill to the road, which takes longer than you might expect. I was heading along the quiet, unspoilt lane to Cringle Reservoir with South Barrule guarding from behind. There is a footpath through fields but last time I did this, I ended up having to climb over locked gates and such like so decided to give it a miss this time.

Road walking sounds boring, but it isn’t necessarily. I had never noticed the tholtans on this road before and began to wonder who had lived in the various dwellings and why they no longer were inhabited. I noticed there had previously been a track linking some tholtans with the upper road. A curious look over a hedge provided a glimpse of a wonderful stone hearth, so this one at least must have been a splendid small dwelling.

It is possible to walk all the way to Cringle Reservoir along the road, but I followed the paths inside Cringle plantation which followed its southern edge. These are well defined tracks and make it more interesting than road walking, though the forest is less interesting that Earystane in these parts.

Cringle Reservoir was my lunch spot, after about 3.5 miles. There were one or two fishermen and the occasional cyclist and dog walker, but it felt empty even so. This is a lovely place to visit and a good place for a picnic with children.

From here the plan was to follow the track to the north through the forest where it meets the path to South Barrule. But I got distracted by the sound of rushing water. Why is have this fascination with streams I don’t know, but if I spot one I have to follow it and see where it goes and what it does. This one did not disappoint.

The stream appears to follow a fault line and every now and again there would be big gaps in the earth and drops creating sudden ‘waterfalls’ out of nothing. Not quite competition for Gaping Gill but interesting none the less. I was in my element, prodding the earth to make sure I was a safe to walk on it and looking into deep crevices to see what troll might be lurking in there. It was here that I came across these strange creatures swimming on the surface of the stream. I couldn’t decide whether they were water boatmen, pondskaters or some kind of larvae, but whatever they were this was their domain.

I scrambled up the bank back up to the path and it was only a short distance to the northern edge of the forest at Round Table. From here, it was a pleasant open moorland walk for a mile or so back to the car at Cronk Ny Array Laa. If I were to do this walk again, I would start by walking the half mile to the top of this hill before continuing on the walk. I would have done this had the weather been more inviting, but as it was this was the perfect walk for today.

Distance: 5.83 miles; total ascent 925ft; total descent 896ft

Peat Monitoring on the Isle of Man July 2020

You may have noticed a lack of posts from me lately. This is not because I am slumming it at home. I have still been out and about but not my usual type of walk. The last two Sundays I have been out in the hills collecting data on the state of the peat on the island, in this case, close to South Barrule, just above the Earystane Plantation.

Why am I doing this, I hear you ask? Well, the Manx Wildlife Trust is trying to find out how healthy our peat is. Sphagnum moss found in peaty areas retains a lot of water and if it is in good order it helps to contain the flow of water in extreme weather. It also aids the accumulation of peat as its mass leads to slower decomposition of soil and it also raises the water table. You will remember the Laxey floods in recent years, which in the time I have lived here – less than 7 years – destroyed the bridge in Laxey with spectacular photos of a bus in the river if I recall rightly, and last year the whole main street was flooded out, with some people having to be rescued. It even made the BBC news. The bottom line is that if we can restore the peat levels on the uplands it will help to keep the rainwater in the hills rather than flowing rapidly down narrow gullies and flooding our rivers and villages. Before anything can be done, MWT needs to know how much peat we have, how deep it is and whether it is attracting the right flora and fauna to sustain it, particularly sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum Moss
An orchid, the only one I saw in this location in the two sessions.

The task is essentially very simple. Take a long probe (and an extension rod if you think you will need it), a tape measure, something to record the data on, and a GPS App which contains all the waypoints. As I was working alone, I also took a highlighter to mark the position of the peat on the probe. This worked a treat and made life a lot easier.

Arriving at your start point, you switch on your GPS system and follow it to your first waypoint. This may or may not be easy depending upon the terrain. It is surprisingly tiring work as of course you are not walking along a nice level road, but making your way off the beaten track, clambering through and over heather, gorse and grasses of all different sizes and most of the time you have no idea where you are putting your feet as you can’t see the ground underneath all the undergrowth, so slow and steady is the name of the game. The waypoints take no notice of idiosyncracies such as deep channels that have been cut out by farmers or sudden drops in height, so detours are often necessary. Straight lines between the grid points therefore end up being anything but straight, especially as it took me some time to work out how to use the GPS App without any instructions!

The area I have been looking at these last two weeks does not appear to my untrained eye to be very peat-productive, Most of my probes only registered between 18cm-25cm depth (you take three different readings in a triangle around one gridpoint). The deepest measure I took was 40cm and the lowest 13cm. The land is quite dry and there is a fair bit of dead heather. There are exceptions but you won’t come across any deep bogs to navigate here. I only found two areas of sphagnum moss on my visits to actual waypoints, but I did also record one region where there was quite a bit of it as I was traversing from one waypoint to another. The moss needs the terrain to be wet and then it will soak it up. It is worrying there is so little. I suspect over the years different types of farming and the digging of peat will have affected the quality and amount of peat that we now have left.

This was just one area, and I shall be out an about in the southern uplands taking more measurements over the next few months. There is a team of us working on mapping the whole island, and it will be interesting to see if different areas are more lush than others in this respect.

Bog Cotton in the foreground of Cronk My Arrey Laa

Even the heather seemed a bit sad, but the bog cotton and one or two other flowers were enjoying their day in the sun.

Leaving the path, looking towards South Barrule
Towards Glen Rushen, the end of the day
Waypoints

I shall be doing a more normal walk in the next week or so….

Two Walks in One: Cronk Ny Arrey Laa and Glen Maye – 11th June 2020

I started out with the intention of taking a slightly different route around Glen Maye. As I reached The Sloc, there were no cars parked and the hill looked so enticing that I parked up and walked up to the top of Cronk Ny Arrey Laa, and then contoured around the hill back to the car. This is a very simple route, though fairly steep. You cover 1000ft in the short distance to the top of the hill, but the good news is that it is all downhill after that – in the nicest possible sense of course. The path up is quite rickety and worn. It really needs a bit of maintenance. It is perfectly passable but you do have to watch your footing.

The highlight of the walk up was the streams of bog cotton hugging the moorland, or rather hanging on for dear life in the wind. They are visible as long strands from the road and they really do make the moorland look very pretty.

I only saw one person on the way up, and he passed me as I stopped to take photos and I didn’t see him again. On the way down, I met a lady and what I imagine was her grandson heading up towards the top, and as I contoured back around the hill to the car I only saw a bicyclist on the path. It was a quiet and very pleasant stroll, even it is was very windy – but then we are used to that over here, aren’t we.

That part of the walk was 3 miles with over 1100 ft of ascent. I then drove to Glen Maye expecting it to be busy, but it wasn’t. I have always taken the well trodden path to the waterfall and then down to the beach, but I knew there was another path that I hadn’t taken once since I have lived here, so I walked down the road a short distance and then crossed over to take the steep and relatively short path up to the Dalby Road. It completely bypasses the waterfall, so there is no point in taking this path if you want to see the waterfall without much of a walk. I then followed the road round a couple of bends before taking the coast path on a soft and springy path leading all downhill and eventually to the beach at Glen Maye. It wasn’t quite as windy here. I only saw one human family where the children were having fun dropping stones off the bridge and two families of ducks in the sea. The chicks were tiny and mum didn’t seem to bother with them too much. I have never seen quite so much seaweed on this beach!

After a short break on the beach I walked back up the glen. It is only a short distance so anyone can walk this. It is quite slippery where they have made a concrete gangway so you do have to take a little care. There were several brown trout in the lower reaches of the stream. As you can see from the photos, the river is quite small at the moment. We have had a little rain in the last couple of days but nothing that will make a difference to our reservoirs. I saw a few fulmars nesting on the cliff but not the numbers I am used to seeing there.

As usual, the waterfall looked lovely even if it was a little quiet due to its lack of water. Much as photos are lovely to look at, it can never be quite the same as being there and hearing the water as it bobbles over rocks and pebbles and listening to the birds singing in the trees. There were chaffinches here today.

This section was about 2 miles with a total of about 400ft ascent (and descent). A very pleasant afternoon, and I wanted a walk just in case the weather is as dismal as forecast over the weekend, Even so, I will hope to get out somewhere.