Tales of Glen Helen and an Autumn Feast, 12 Sept 2021

Well, I don’t know if it might be a healthy feast but there certainly was a host of fungus along the banks of the Glen Helen river two weeks ago. I had friends visiting and Glen Helen is a sure-fire winner for an absolutely beautiful walk, with variety and interest and it was an area they hadn’t visited before.

Over the last year or so, the paths have been widened to enable wheelchair uses to have easy access to the main waterfall and to benefit from these wonderful views. To me, this is our bit of Switzerland on this island, and perhaps because it is so niche and has a different ambience to the other glens it is even more special. There are some magnificent trees which stand proudly at the entrance to lure you in.

This is not a difficult path to walk along. It follows the river at just a height so that you can look down into it but not have to negotiate any slippery stones. There is a bench half way along, which for some reason has been placed with its back to the river, presumably to enable those in wheelchairs to stop and take a break, but it would have been far more sensible to turn it the other way round so they could actually see something. We Manxies do have our idiosyncracies – though I cannot count myself a Manxie, being a stop-over from only 7-8 years ago. It takes a lifetime to be called a true Manxie!!

The actual waterfall was a little lame on this occasion as we haven’t had a lot of rain, but still lovely as are all waterfalls. From here, there is a choice of paths. You can either go straight up a very narrow path which takes you to the top of the falls, or you can take the steps to the right that lead uphill into the woods. We chose the latter option. If you deviate very slightly from this you will see another section of waterfall, which is very lovely and makes you want to look around the corner and see where it goes. Retracing your steps, you climb gently upwards until you reach a roughly level path with follows the river all the way back to the car park. I cannot understand how I have never taken this path before, but I did enjoy it and it was on this section that we came across the ‘hundreds and thousands’ of different types of fungi. I could become quite absorbed in looking at these, but as I know nothing about them at all, I satisfied myself with taking photographs of them, some better than others. They were an array of colour too, not just boring beige or grey toadstools. The images below are a few of the very many we came across. There may be a few duplicates as they look very different as they decay.

This whole area was once pleasure gardens, created and designed originally by the philanthropist Mr. John A Marsden, who developed all the footpaths in the glen to highlight the natural beauty of the area. Where there are bridges now were stepping stones, so the falls would not have been accessible to anyone except the sturdy of foot, but would have been fun for children to cross.

There was so much to entertain you in the 1870’s, as long as you had a spare fourpence to enter the grounds – yes, you had to pay. Then you and the family could amuse yourselves with swings, skittles and croquet, and if you had a full 1 shilling you were allowed to fish in the river. At one point there was an aviary, a monkey house, seals(!), a bowling alley and even a small zoo. Sounds rather good. I think they should reinstate it as pleasure gardens, although now the glamping phase has taken over in the section close to the car park.

The car park has an interesting history too believe it or not. Just up the road from here is a white cottage called Sarah’s cottage, and you will notice a small stream runs beside it and then disappears, never to be seen again. Well obviously it has to go somewhere, and it goes under the road. Not so long ago there stood a hotel in this location and the stream flowed beneath it in its cellars. The hotel was knocked down and a car park concreted over it until… one day in 1980 a lorry driver (you could get them in 1980!) parked in an unfortunate spot, the driver hopped out of his cab for a call of nature, to simultaneously watch his lorry sink into the ground and a gap of 18″ opened up under one of the back wheels. In trepidation he moved his lorry and rang the authorities, who promptly arrived with a digger, but as they started to operate the machinery a whopping great chasm appeared 14ft deep and the whole car park disintegrated. I wonder what happened to the engineers who had initially designed the car park? Needless to say, there is now a reliable culvert underneath the existing car park, but do take care, you never know what may happen next. 🙂

As you can see from the map below this is only a short walk of about 2 miles in all, maybe 3 and perhaps 150-200 ft of ascent in all. For once I didn’t measure the distance or height. If you don’t know where this is, if you take the Douglas to Peel road, turn right at the Ballacraine crossroads where there are traffic lights (just before St. Johns) and Gleb Helen is a couple of miles up on a bend in the road. It’s always beautiful no matter what the weather or the time of year.

Final Day of 2020 – Glen Helen

We had had snow overnight and a sudden flurry of hail, causing some chaos on the roads. By the time I went out today the situation was much improved. It was a bright day with extensive views in all directions. On the way home I could clearly see Snowdonia (hello Ros!) and Anglesey (hello Ian and Valerie).

Over Foxdale to Snaefell

On reaching South Barrule I stopped along the Round Table Road to get a view of Snaefell in its winter wonderland. Then onwards and upwards, with the roads getting just very slightly slippery as I neared Glen Helen.

It is months since I have been here, so I thought it would be a good place to meet up with my friend, Jill, for a short walk before lunch at Greens in St. Johns. It was still quite cold, even though it was midday, so we wrapped up warmly to accommodate the chilly weather.

There were few people about and no-one else stopped and stared at the things we spied: the necklace-like spider’s web shimmering in the light, the russet colours of the beech and oak leaves lying on the ground; the sphagnum moss clinging for dear life to defunct tree trunks as they toppled down the hillside; some broom in flower. The colours were suprisingly bright for mid winter.

The path has recently been renovated and this is one of the better paths that is pleasant to walk on, with plenty of room for pushchairs and wheelchairs. New sturdy wooden bridges have been created which give wide views of the river, which was furiously scrambling over rocks, pebbles and collapsed trees on its way to meet the sea. At one point a new bench had been positioned looking away from the river back up the hillside – very odd, especially as there was fencing behind it to stop anyone from falling into the river!

In no time at all we were at the waterfall which was putting on a special show just for us. The water-scuplted rocks made interesting shapes. About 5ft above the level of the water was an unusual ball-shaped space, looking as if it might have contained a large boulder at some time, and which had long ago tumbled into the water. You can just make this out on the photo below. The alternative is that the waterfall may have changed its course, so that was my cue to continue upwards to investigate. I left Jill admiring the waterfall and took off up a grassy, muddy path with some slippery stones to negotiate. There were more waterfalls at the top and I concluded that it is possible that many aeons ago the waterfall would have been a lot higher and the bowl shaped sculpture could have been made by a previous waterfall, though we shall probably never know. Maybe the elves spend the winter carving out the stone for their palace in the woods.

So, from there it was the same walk back, although we did cross the river to view a throne on the other side. There is nothing to indicate its significance but that is something more for me to investigate another time.

This was a short walk of only 2.3 miles and a coupleof hundred feet of ascent on my extension, so it really is a basically flat walk that anyone can enjoy. You can walk right to the end and return on the other side and the total distance would be no more than 3 miles.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. I had planned to do a Sunrise Walk in the hills, but with potentially icy road conditions forecast, I have decided to give that a miss, but there is nothing to stop me doing the same thing up Meayll Hill, stand in the stone circle and watch the new year come in from the east.

I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year. Whatever it may bring, the countryside remains accessible and open to us all to renew our souls and bodies, so let’s take advantage of the natural beauty wherever we live. So far, it is the one place that coronavirus has not colonised and we can breathe.

Eairy Beg Birthday Walk – 22nd June 2020

Is it really midsummer? Rain, drizzle, mist, gales – we came across all of these on our short walk to Eairy Beg. We had hoped to get some views from the Cairn at the top, but it was all we could do to see one another never mind a view. Even so, what else can you do on a miserable day but to go out and enjoy a forest walk where at least there is some chance of keeping dry.

The River at Glen Helen

We set off from the car park at Glen Helen. We had the Wardens Walk no 5, which we thought would be a bonus, but within a few feet of starting off we realised it was quite outdated. For instance, a new bridge has been built meaning that there is no gate as mentioned on the instructions to go through. This could have been an ominous start, but by and large and with a bit of imagination the instructions mostly matched the paths on the ground.

Path through the woods

The track uphill is relatively straightforward. It is described on the iom gov website as ‘Moderate’ and a ‘Muscle Stretcher’, mostly as it is a persistent walk uphill with a few level places on the way. The maximum height reached on this 2.75 mile walk is 904ft from a starting point of 125ft, with of course the usual ups and downs in between. The path uphill is easy with no difficult rocks to cross over. If you have walking poles, you may find these useful on this walk, not least for the steepish sections both up- and downhill. The forest looked a little bare as they are mostly larch trees reaching up into the canopy with a few deciduous trees beneath. The lack of rain means that the undergrowth is very light to walk through.

Mossy Wall

Some of the paths do not exist on the ground but there are clear paths fairly close to where they should be, so it might suggest walking on one side of the wall but you end up walking on the other side of it where there is a clear track.

First ‘view’ of the moorland

On coming out of the forest, you come to a clearing with what would be really nice views of the moorland hills above Glen Helen. But today, we could only see a few hundred yards, and as we reached the cairn, our highest point of the day, we could barely see a thing and there was a howling gale wrapping around us. Thankfully, we were not on exposed ground for very long, and the path goes alongside the outer rim of the southern slopes of the hill and then steeply downhill. It is definitely best to walk this route the way we did, otherwise you would have quite a steep climb to the top without many resting places. The walking poles were useful for keeping our balance on some slippery downhill parts.

The Cairn on Eairy Beg
The view from the top!

Towards the end of the route there is a choice of paths, one going slightly uphill and the other forking to the left and going downhill. In other places there are footprint signs on the trees indicating the way, but there was nothing at this junction. I strongly recommend you continue on the upper path, which would soon join a real track downhill. You can guess we took the lower path, which was certainly the more adventurous of the two as it was extremely steep in places and we were hanging on to trees and branches for dear life. On reflection, it was probably a path made by children messing about in the woods and not intended for OAPs – though our little party were not all in that age group yet!

It was only on this lower stretch that the rain really settled in, so although we had experienced some drizzle, wind and a lot of mist, we had without knowing it had the best of the weather for the day.

We then went to Milntown for a birthday dinner, before setting back home in time to enjoy delicious cup cakes which were delivered to me half an hour after I returned home – thank you to my daughter, Sarah, for the lovely surprise. My day had begun with a different kind of surprise – a visit from an old friend, who also celebrates his birthday today, bringing me a punnet of strawberries from his garden, so I finished the day as I started it with strawberries on my cup cake.

‘Best’ of the rest, in poor weather conditions: