Above Onchan and Molly Quirk’s Glen 11th October 2020

It’s hard to believe that I was only a stone’s throw from Douglas. The views were wide, soft and gentle with only the tenderest of hints of any kind of building. In the distance the top of the steeple of Onchan church could be seen, the rest hidden by the canopy of Molly Quirk’s Glen.

This was one of the walks offered as part of the Manx National Heritage culture weekends. I arrived at the meeting point totally unprepared as I had mistakenly dressed myself for an Onchan Town Tour and not a walk across fields or through glens. Luckily, I was wearing sturdy shoes and the terrain was not too inclement nor had we had our usual fill of rain, so still feeling embarrassed by my own ineptitude I informed the leader I would continue.

My friend informed me it was to be guided walk of two or three miles taking about three hours. Maybe this is why in my head I had thought it must be a town tour, as how can you take 3 hours to walk such a short distance? Well, I was soon to find out.

We started by walking up the narrow Bilbaloe Glen. This is a short side-shoot of the main Molly Quirk Glen and this small tributary takes you up on to the hills. Even before we began walking we were told about the history of an ancient bridge over this tiny stream which once bore the main road to Laxey. On the opposite side of the stream our guide pointed out a derelict building which had once been a vibrant methodist church but as methodism became stronger on the island it fell into disuse. As we reached the road there was a footpath sign to the left along a track, one I have never noticed before, and we followed this up to Ballakilmartin Farm, which is a total wreck. You can see it must have a busy, active farm at one time, but the current owner lives in South Africa and has no interest in restoring or even maintaining the property. We were shown the former coach house, cattle sheds and stables, and discouraged from exploring due to the state of the property. The main entrance to this farm was not originally from the east as we had just ventured but from the west where the old road would have passed alongside.

The farm buildings

We followed the old road north for a short distance to the point where it is no longer obviously an old road, and on the right there is the remains of a keill, which you would never normally see or even know about (no photos, sorry, as it is only a collapsed heap in a bit of woodland). This is why it is so good to go out with informed guides who bring it all alive for you. We learned that this keill (a type of private church) was about 18ft x 9ft and the excavations have shown that it crossed the Onchan/Laxey road, meaning that it must have been in use before the original road was built. It is dedicated to St Martin, a French catholic saint from the 4th century, who is also the patron saint of beggars, drunkards and the poor! This walk was organised by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, so if you are visiting, you might want to contact them and see if you can join them for a walk www.manxantiquarians.com. You won’t be disappointed. Locals can join the society and enjoy lectures in the winter months and excursions in the summer.

The old road from Onchan to Laxey

From here, it was another hop skip and jump along the same trackway to another old farm, this time Ballig Farm, which was been in the same family for centuries, and where the Manx folklore writer Sophia Morrison spent a large part of her childhood. Unusually, we entered into its garden to spy a very special well. It has a stone entrance which protects the 17 steps down to the clear-as-a bell water, some steps being covered. Legend has it and the owner says that the water ebbs and flows with the tides, though in reality I think this is impossible. I suspect the water levels are due to an impermeable type of local rock, otherwise most of the Isle of Man would be underwater if this were the true water table given that this farm is 500ft above sea level.

Then, yet again, walking east along the same path we soon came to Mr. Kissack’s farm and buildings. He had built his own house on the land and had become a farmer having previously been a builder all his life. He looked very well and healthy with his new lifestyle and clearly this is his passion. However, hearing about machinery and cars was not to my taste so my friend and I decided to call it a day.

View to the north and Creg ny Baa on the mountain road from between Ballig and Ballkissack Farm

The remainder of the walk was just beautiful, initially along a wooded lane with just a few spectacular houses dotted along it until we came to the bridge leading down Molly Quirk’s glen. The story goes that Molly Quirk was robbed and murdered in this glen but there is no proof of this. Maybe had we stayed with the group the guide would have given us some interesting and more magical information about the glen. The paths are wide and easy to walk and with the golden leaves underfoot it was a very pleasant end to our walk. The total distance was indeed about 2.5. miles but as you can tell we were told a lot of stories along the way and the actual walking time was only just over an hour. You could extend this walk and continue along the stream into Groudle Glen, where you will eventually meet the sea.

This walk has peaked my interest to find these lesser known paths and to see how they connect to other areas.

Molly Quirk Glen & Groudle Glen – 27th July. Approx 7 miles.

This walk began rather inauspiciously as I took a recognised short cut to the start of Molly Quirk Glen and promptly slid banana-skin like down the wet and slippery path ending up on my backside. Being accustomed to such actions I know not to brace myself with my handsĀ  so I only have a few scratches on my hands and my wrists remain intact!

It was all rather excellent after that. Molly Quirk Glen (currently under repair but mostly completed) is an unspoilt and pretty glen, with good footpaths. It has a quietness that makes it special. It eventually merges into Groudle Glen. You can tell when you are nearing the join as you can hear traffic on the high road and I was lucky enough to see the Ramsey tram going over the viaduct as I passed underneath. Groudle Glen is entirely manufactured, created by Richard Maltby Broadbent in 1893, making the most of a very small natural canyon.

Images of Molly Quirk Glen

Beyond this, entering Groudle Glen ‘proper’ this has a different feel, and different geology too. There are some small waterfalls and some big slabs of slate bordering the stream. The Mill wheel is under repair and the building has been removed and is surrounded by scaffolding. The paths are really good, and although if you start from the high road and walk down to the Glen it is a little steep, it is accessible for most people, and if you parked down at the beach you would be able to take a wheelchair along part of it and pay a visit to the Groudle Glen Wizard!

The main features of Groudle Glen

A glen is a glen is a glen so the photos look pretty much the same, though it was noticeable that this glen has a lot of beech trees, many of which had massive roots and some had toppled and been allowed to stay lodged over the stream.

I reached the pebble beach just as it began to rain. The rocks and cliffs form very unusual shapes as if standing on end. I followed the coast path up to the Seal Rocks cafe, where the tiny steam train line ends. This would be about 2.5 miles from the start of Molly Quirk Glen if you don’t do any detours. There is a cafe here that sells drinks and sandwiches, but only when the train is running. This miniature railway was originally opened in 1896 to take people to view the attractions in the water zoo which included seals and polar bears, but is now just a pleasant trip for adults and children alike. The views from here are lovely and on a nice day it would be a nice spot to stop for a picnic. You can just make out the cafe in one of the photos.

It is not possible to walk along the coast past this point. Rather than walk back exactly the same way, I followed the redirected coast path and walked up to a quiet road and walked along the top of the hill, turning left at the main road. There was another entrance into Groudle Glen so I ventured inside partly to get out of the rain and wandered happily about for a while before retracing my steps on the road to Groudle Glen tram station.

At this point, I descended back into Groudle Glen near to the viaduct. I was amazed how much extra water there was on my return visit. On the outward stretch I had watched a fish trying to get over an obstacle and failing, whereas it would have had no trouble now. The rain brought out all the scents of the flowers, especially the Meadowsweet as brushed past them on the path.

I had no choice but the follow the same route back beside the stream, but there was an upper path, which afforded slightly different views and kept me reasonably dry.

The total distance was just under 7 miles, with 511ft of ascent and 508ft of descent. It is a very very easy walk and very nice for a quiet afternoon stroll. One for all ages.

Groudle Glen