Santon Circular Coast Walk (U3A)- 2nd Nov 2021

You could be forgiven for thinking this walk might not have gone ahead given the torrential rain we had had over the previous weekend. Indeed, by the time I actually led this walk I had created and mostly walked four different routes to give my walkers the most pleasant and least muddy walk.

Even on the day the plan in my head changed as unbeknown to me and anyone else for that matter the railway staff were doing some major works at the railway station and were expecting heaving machinery to be delivered to the station car park where we were to meet. This scuppered plan 3, which had been to get the bus to the start as everyone then had to find a suitable spot to park on the very narrow lane at the other end of the station road.

So back to plan 1 ++. I was really disappointed as the route I had finally selected is by far the most scenic route, as the views to the north along the coast are more spectacular than the views to the south and we would also end up on an elevated route giving fine views of the sea towards England as well the inland countryside. And, we now had to walk the mile on a road down to Port Grenaugh as well, never my favourite terrain.

No-one minded. I could have done anything and they would all have politely followed me. Thankfully, this day was fine and even sunny, a vivid contrast to Sunday when I walked my preferred route with howling gales and sharp downpours all the way! Having said that, I was blessed with the most beautiful rainbow as I hiked away from the coastpath. I have some photos to show you, and I shall make them into a slideshow for you at the end. Fortunately, the weather on Monday was breezy and dry in the south and I cannot get over how much difference one day had made to the levels of water on Tuesday to Santon burn and the sodden tracks. Apart from a few sections it was fine, but then this new route did avoid the muddiest sections.

So, my small group of 10 set off down to Port Grenaugh and along the windy coastpath, via Port Soldrick to Santon Gorge. There are no surprises on this part of the coast path and as long as you can cope with uneven paths and sometimes walking on the side of a slope it is accessible for most people. It’s only about 3 and a bit miles from Santon itself to the Gorge and there are plenty of stopping points for a rest. The path does need some maintenance. Most of the boardwalks are a bit dodgy, and there are a lot of them as there are numerous springs falling off the cliff on this section of the coastpath which have been boarded to make it easier for everyone to walk over. There were quite a few mushrooms and toadstools and lots of shags drying their feathers on the rocks. Port Soldrick is an attractive bay and was actually a harbour in times gone by and as you reach the southern end of the cliff you can see the Smugglers Cave, very well placed for unloading contraband.

Not too far from here we reach Santon Gorge itself, which is beautiful. It is part of an ancient woodland of oak, ash and alder mainly and we spotted some good specimens as we made our way down to the bridge. On another occasion, and a different walk, it is possible to hop down to sea level, straddle the burn and hop up the other side and come out by the fort. We may do this another time as apparently there is an igneous dyke that I would be quite interested in finding. We were standing on the northern side of the Gorge which is Manx slate, and the fort is on the southern side which is Castletown carboniferous limestone, and the gorge marks the fault between the two. There is a very small steep section on this walk where care is needed and most of my walkers decide to slide down on their bum, but you don’t have to. It is a very short section and then you follow the trail through the tree-lined gorge to the burn, crossing through some wetlands that have wonderful species of insects and butterflies in the summer.

From the bridge, we followed a green track up out of the gorge to join a very minor road (this was the new section). I had done my research and discovered the lovely ancient church of St. Sanctain which is about a mile away from the bridge. There is no way of avoiding the uphill section but there is no rush and we all get there in our own time. Once you reach the top there are fine views in all directions and from hereon it is downhill or mostly level. Just as we reached the church it started to rain. We all went inside and I gave the sermon on the mount (choirstall in my case), told them all about the origins of the church and some of the artefacts contained therein, including two stone crosses and a roman slab, yes roman, a rarity on the Isle of Man, which was found during excavations and is believed to be part of an ancient grave. It is a really really interesting church, and much loved, judging by the number of donations over the centuries and the ambiance in the church. You can find out more by reading this document. It is fascinating and I can only thank the people who put it together: http://www.santon.org.uk/history.html

The churchyard would have been interesting to visit, and it is large, but time was against us and we needed to continue our walk. It is only a short distance to the Old Castletown road. We followed this south west for about a third of a mile, before turning onto a farmer’s track that follows the stream again, but higher up this time. It was a little muddy in places, but what’s a bit of mud between friends. This path ends up by the motorcyle museum on the new Castletown road right next to Santon railway station. This is where we parted company, the walkers to get their cars and me to get the bus back to Port Erin.

It was a really delightful walk with excellent company. If you are interested in walking with the U3A, they usually walk once a month on a Tuesday. You can find out more information here https://u3asites.org.uk/isle-of-man/page/19385 At the moment it refers to this walk, but this will be updated with details of the December walk shortly.

This walk was about 6.5 miles, with a total ascent of 643ft and 604 ft descent.

The slideshow below is the ‘wet walk’, though it looks quite nice here!

I would like to thank Ian of the U3A for inviting me to lead this walk. I have a couple more in mind that I think the group will enjoy and I shall start planning them for outings in the spring 🙂

Santon to Ballasalla and more

The last two weeks has been very varied but with few opportunities for a good walk. In addition to my usual activities I have been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust introducing young people to nature and getting them enthused. For my part, my exploits were a little more dramatic than planned with a tumble on mossy ground grazing my arm and leg on one of the events and then on Friday at Ballaugh Plantation when we were hunting dragonflies and pond-dipping, my face became a meal for any biting insect that was around, so I now have a very spotty face.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit The Mallards in Santon, a new project creating a botanical garden which is the brainchild of millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, funded by himself. I had been here a few years ago and was looking forward to seeing how it has developed. The aim is to capture various moods and habitats that will be sustainable and provide a long term future for species that are not usually found on the Isle of Man. There will be (amongst other things) a Japanese garden, cascading waterfalls, historical living fossils, wetlands, an amphitheatre designed to be used occasionally for outdoor activities. I won’t see all this come to fruition in my lifetime and most of it is still under construction but it was interesting to hear about their plans and I shall enjoy watching it develop over the next 10-20 years.

Following this visit, I walked down to Port Grenaugh which is about a mile downhill from Santon. The walk along the coast here is magnificent, winding in and out of the cliff edge, round deep bays and through a gorge. It does not involve a huge amount of ascent. In fact, I only climbed a total of 500ft from start to finish and it is all in short doses. It is a normal sandy cliff path, a little uneven in places and if you have a stick you might find it useful to help to balance you from time to time. Having said that, it is perfectly manageable without one, with care. There is a slightly tricky short and steep downhill section in Santon Gorge for you to negotiate but you are soon over this. Although the gorge is treelined, this is always one of my favourite sections of this path as the stream is beautiful and the colours gorgeous and you go through a small area of wetland where you can see different wildlife. It is a very peaceful area. I saw a Speckled Wood Butterfly and a Large White Butterfly, and a little further on, Common Blue Butterflies and a Foxmoth caterpillar – very popular over here.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The walk starts with a road walk, albeit very pleasant, down to Port Grenough, that follows a stream all the way down to the bay. The path then takes the beach for a short distance and then goes along the cliffs for some 2-3 miles. There are great views to the north and south as you walk along and some interesting rock formations. About half way along you descend to a bay, have another short walk along a pebbly beach before ascending the cliffs again. There are many stopping points and if you are lucky you might see some dolphins out in the bay. From Santon Gorge, where we have to go inland, we cross the river and follow the path back to the coastline. The path is signed to the left and there is a broken wall, so you can enter the grassland sooner if you prefer. Keep walking left through a gap in the gorse and this takes you to an old promentory fort, which the U3A Archaeology leader would be able to tell you all about. I think this may have been a large fort as there is another embankment on the southern side as well. It was here that I spotted an owl pellet, which was rather surprising, but I didn’t take a photo of it I’m afraid. From here it is only a short distance to the airport runway extension that you can walk round to take you to Derbyhaven and Castletown, but I followed the perimeter fence into Ballasalla to get the bus home.

My walk was 5.65 miles, with a total ascent of 499ft and descent of 561ft. My Garmin tells me the highest point at any time was 163ft so you can see this is well within most people’s capability.