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….