New Year’s Day – and What a Day

I forgive the many of you who decided to abandon thoughts of a walk this New Year’s Day. The weather forecast was not great – we could expect at least a few short, sharp showers, but some clear spells too, and given there is nowhere to take shelter on this walk I imagine this might have put a few people off, especially as it was hailing cats and dogs in some parts of the island I gather.

Even I was wondering whether this was a sensible route to undertake today, and in my head I had prepared a few other options with more cover or escape routes, if required: Glen Maye, Port Soderick, Marine Drive or total abandonment of the walk. One of my trusty walkers who is usually game for anything rang up to sorrowfully back out at the last minute – you know who you are – which left just three hardy fellows including me to climb South Barrule.

We met at Round Table as planned and the weather was already dull. I could see rainclouds bubbling up in the distance and I knew this was the calm before the storm. I did offer my alternatives but the group would not be discouraged and we began our ascent of South Barrule. There was no snow today, but in its place was water – everywhere, and it was hard to avoid placing one’s foot in one puddle or another. Even so, it was easy walking and a pleasant climb.

No sooner had we started when I got a call from my son, then another from my friend and a text from my daughter as my Garmin watch was under the impression that I had had an ‘incident’ and it promptly notified my emergency contacts, detailing exactly where I was (well, close..) and demanding that they contact me to see if I was all right. Quite what I had done to initiate this technical emergency response I don’t know as I had not had a fall, neither had I severely knocked my watch, but at least I know the system works!

We continued up South Barrule with Andy leading the way while Eve and I chatted. Then came the rain, and the mist – not quite enough to consider it to be ‘fog’ – engulfed us as we reached the trig point. To be fair, there was the tiniest glimmer of sunlight at this point for which we were thankful. It was a little breezy on the top, but for the first day of the new year, it was at least fairly mild, though a glance to the skies indicated it was not mild enough to stop for a coffee at this point.

From here, it was all downhill, trampling over the gorse and heather to avoid the slippery, stony and wet paths whenever possible. It may not sound great but I really was enjoying the walk and the company despite the rain, which would stop every now and again and afford us views into the distance, so I was able to point out the longer route we could take if the rain would cease. Um, yes, that was quite a big ‘if’.

On reaching the road, the decision whether to extend the walk was unsurprisingly made by the weather which turned really nasty for the rest of the walk back to the car. We had chosen to walk along the road rather than take the longer detour, but there was no shelter here at all, and the rain lashed relentlessly in our faces for 1.75 miles. I didn’t take any photos at this point – rain doesn’t show up on an iphone – but stepped up the pace a little and considered humming a merry song. We were drenched, thirsty and hungry, but still cheerful, as how else should you spend New Year’s Day but with a typical walk on the Isle of Man.

I have to say, it was nice to get home and change out of my wet gear (including underwear!), make a nice hot cup of tea and have a slice of cake. But would I do it again – you bet I would!

No map today, except for the road walk – I must have forgotten to switch it on! I have recreated one underneath, but it is approximate. Distance: about 4 miles; Ascent: about 650 ft.

A winter’s day on South Barrule

I woke up to an icy scene outside and was glad I was in no hurry to go out. I had already postponed the U3A Port St Mary walk that I had been due to lead today, but I did have to find some time to do a trial run of the walk I was proposing for New Year’s Day. The weather forecast for next week is worse than snow, ice and freezing temperatures, so Sherpa Gill set out about 11am to basecamp at South Barrule and risk the icy conditions.

I parked at South Barrule plantation car park, with the aim of contouring through South Barrule plantation, my thoughts being that the heavy canopy of trees would protect the paths from the worse of the ice and snow. I was both right and wrong! There were several icy parts and then I would unexpectedly come across a completely clear section for a short while until another skidfest appeared.

I have never walked through the plantation in daylight. The only other time I have done this walk was in Oct/Nov 21 when I did an exciting night hike, so I had no idea of the number of different paths that might try to entice me in other directions. Having said that, I only made one mistake and I spotted that almost immediately. The paths do go very slightly uphill, but you barely notice the ascent until you find you have an open space and can see for miles and miles. It was a particularly bright and sunny day and I enjoyed the panoramic views. In these conditions, you do need patience. In places, it was possible to walk on snow to the side of the path, but it was prudent to tread fairly gingerly as you never quite know what is under the snow. I did keep on paths leading upwards or to the right, and the last section through the Cringle plantation was a little hazardous as the path was very narrow, very icy, with a lot of furrows. I had walked this section before when I was doing the peat monitoring. Although it seemed tedious today and this path seemed to go on and on, I was glad I had stuck to it, as I was able to completely avoid the Whisky Run, which looked like a skating rink.

Coming out of the plantation, you wouldn’t have thought there was any snow on South Barrule, but you would be wrong. There was icy and crisp snow on the path all the way to the top and the way down the other side was an absolute joy. The snow was a few inches deep and lovely to walk on. I could have enjoyed a snowball fight had I had anyone to chuck a snowball at, but I didn’t see anyone at all in the 3 hours I was out. The walk downhill is a relief in these conditions. I was walking on a compass bearing over the snowy moorland as I wanted to finish my walk where I had started in the forest. Having taken my bearing, I saw a mound just above the quarry so headed to the right of that. There are benefits to frozen terrain, in that I was able to walk over ground that I am fairly certain is a bog(!). I soon found the tiny stile, which was the iciest thing I had seen all day and with a big of guesswork and imagination given that there is no genuinely obvious path, I found my way down through the forest back to the car park.

My only sadness is that I was unable to take photos at the top. I had enough battery but my phone flatly refused to take photographs, complaining that it was too cold to be out in those temperatures. I had actually felt warm all the way round so I was surprised my phone was picking a fight. It was only really chilly on the very top. The view at the top was stunning. The sunlight was glinting on the snow and picking out interesting shapes, and the hills of Beinn Y Phott, Snaefell and Colden were all topped with snow, whereas the valleys were green. It was pretty.

The upshot of my trial run is that I shall not offer this walk to the U3A walking group, and instead we will start our walk at Round Table and do a circular walk in a different direction. Walking 3 miles through a forest is probably not most people’s idea of fun, but then I am not most people! Everyone can enjoy South Barrule, it is such a special place, no matter what the weather.

Distance: About 5.5 miles (I had forgotten to charge my Garmin watch, so the ran out of battery just before the end) and 1096 ft of ascent.

The Triskelion Way Part 1

Not only do we have our gorgeous Raad Ny Foillan coastpath, but we also have an equally interesting pilgrimage route called The Triskelion Way, which covers 36 miles from Ballasalla in the south to Maughold in the north east. You can do this in 7 sections or combine some of them if you don’t have the legs or the time to do long stretches.

Today was the first of a 4 day pilgrimage, organised by Phil Craine. A group of about 15 people, of mixed ages, abilities, nations and religions assembled at Ballasalla and began walking along the lovely Silverdale Glen up to the Ballamodha Road, stopping at the Monk’s Bridge where fellow pilgrim Paul delivered a haiku poem he had written, setting us in the mood for the journey.

The walk along the river gave us all a chance to get to know each other and find out about each person’s extraordinary gifts and talents or to walk in silence if preferred. The next section across the road is still closed, so we walked up the road and across fields to Grenaby Bridge. From here, we followed the very quiet lane uphill, passing the Kerrowkeeill chapel on the way to the junction with the Ronague road. This provides expansive views to the south and Langness – if only it weren’t so misty. For those interested, you can hear a recording of the Manx Language Harvest service held there in 1969 here: Kerrowkeeill. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit as the building is now in private ownership but at least one of the pilgrims could remember attending services there.

We joined the Whisky Run, a stony track leading up to the main entrance to South Barrule at Round Table, one of our high points for the day. The midges were out in abundance at this point, but the bilberries tasted delicious as we had a short stop. By this point one or two of the pilgrims had gone their separate ways and another had joined us.

Next was the continuation of the track down to Glen Maye. It is only a few weeks since I wrote about (the tholtan on) this route, so I will simply show you some photos coming from the opposite direction. The cover photo is from this area. It is here that the route becomes most attractive and sitting by the bubbling river eating my homemade onion foccacia I had a blissful few moments amongst the purple heather and the yellow gorse. The rest of the group had stayed at the tholtan for lunch, but there were just too many midges for me – and couple of others who turned up shortly after I sat down. I am still feeling the presence of the midges three days later!

The path down by the Glen Maye waterfall has been upgraded in several sections. There was little water there today, but the greenery was magnificent. I never fail to be amazed by the vines tumbling from 100ft until they just touch the water. There have been two small landslides in the glen, one causing a minor encumbrance on the path, the other on the far side closer to the sea. The last section of the walk was along the wonderful coastline, a walk of about 4 miles. It is so different here from the south with its rugged cliffs. Here the cliffs gradually slide into the sea exposing the rocks below. You can see for miles, all the way to the Calf of Man.

We walked at our own pace and a small group of us led the way, which became a smaller group as we reached the end. I had a very interesting chat with the co-leader about health and illness and how the mind can influence the body, which continued all the way down the grassy Peel Hill and took my mind off my aching legs. From here, you can see all the way to Jurby, but there was heavy cloud on the hills spoiling the views along the way. No sight of the Mountains of Mourne on this occasion.

The group had become separated by quite a distance apart by the end, as the miles mounted up and the hills began to feel harder to walk. It was a good 12 miles from start to finish, with almost 2000ft of ascent, so a major achievement for all no matter what age or ability. A few of us met up again and compared notes at the Retreat in Peel where some of them were staying, and where we had a most welcome cup of tea.

Thank you to all who made this day so enjoyable, with a special mention to Val, who became a taxi driver for the day as well as a general dogsbody, helping out wherever needed – and her sister too. What stars they are ⭐

More pilgrimage blogs to come, or just one actually, another beautiful route across our big hills. To view any photos full size, just click on the individual photo; some of them are showing as portrait when they should be landscape, but when enlarged they show the full photograph. I will post details of a book that has been written about the Triskelion Way and contact details for anyone wanting to join a similar pilgrimage in the future, tomorrow.

Dalby Mountain & Nature Reserve

At last I am back out walking. Both feet and ankles are behaving reasonably well, so I am looking forward to getting out and about in our fantastic countryside on a regular basis.

Today, I was really just wanting to check an alternative route across the moors for a route I am leading soon; and, I also wanted to do a recce for a large painting I am planning for the autumn. I started off at the big bend in the road between the Sloc and South Barrule at the foot of Cronk Ny Array Laa, and followed the farm track as far as Kerroodhoo plantation. That wasn’t actually the plan, but I missed my designated footpath as I was examining all the different styles and steps leading off Cronk Ny Array Laa on the opposite side of the track. Note to self, pay attention if you have a plan in mind!! Not to worry, I would just do it in reverse.

I carried on the farm track as far as the coast road to Dalby/Peel, turned left and took the first track immediately to the right. When I walked this a few weeks ago the orchids were still out but they had gone now. In their place there is knapweed and heart’s ease and smaller flowers such as eyebright. I took this path in order to find a good vantage point for my painting, as it is a little higher up than the path leading into Glen Rushen and would give a better aerial view. I stopped for 15 minutes and did a quick preliminary sketch, then decided to walk down to the other footpath. Only when I got there, there was a massive hedge that was impenetrable so having checked for alternatives I decided I had no choice but to go back to the top of the hill.

As usual, this is where my original plan and my impetuous nature were at odds with each other, so rather than return to my original route, I turned right onto the track only permitted for horses and motorbikes (though I am sure walkers are fine too), the one with numerous gates with fastenings that are easy to manipulate. This skirts just below the top of Dalby Mountain and provides excellent views to the north, west and south. Peel seemed just a stone’s throw away but in reality must be 4-5 miles. Scotland was clearly visible too. I eventually joined the path that goes from the road to Glen Maye and turned left onto this to retrace my steps back to Dalby Nature Reserve. I really enjoyed this part of the walk and I discovered another track that I would take another time, and another route for the U3A (down to Dalby/Niarbyl).

Reaching the nature reserve, I didn’t know whether the path across the moor would be well defined or a mass of heather and gorse, so I decided to walk on a compass bearing back to the track at Cronk Ny Array Laa. As it turned out, this was totally unnecessary, but it’s good to remind yourself of your skills every now and again. The moorland was full of Bog Asphodel in its yellow clothes, some beginning to look rather tatty as they turn brown towards the end of their life. The bell heather is coming out, and in places there was bog cotten too. If you take this path and are using a map, you will notice that the woodland on the left (looking south) adjacent to the reserve has been felled. However, at the corner, there is a large ladder stile over a wall, so if you have binoculars you can look out for this. This is more visible from the opposite direction as you are going slightly uphill this way round. On the other side of the wall, the path is less well marked but still easy to follow. There is more grass and less heather. There are waymarks although some have fallen down. There is a small area of bog, even in this very dry weather, and the sphagnum moss was having a field day just there. It is passable. I was only wearing strong walking trainers, not boots, and my shoes didn’t get too wet. However, I can imagine this could be very different in winter or if we have a lot of rain. My phone battery had run down by this point so there are no photos of this section of the walk. But the cover photo shows you the moorland very clearly.

After about half an hour I was back on the track, with the short climb back up to the car. This was a most enjoyable and unexpected walk, of about 5 miles (without my painting detour). The total ascent and descent was virtually identical at about 741 ft, but there is nothing strenuous about this at all. It is easy walking, and the views are tremendous. Of course, it is uneven underfoot, but nothing that most people could not manage. A good morning’s walk.

Eary Cushlin Round 23rd Nov 2021

If you only ever do one walk on this island, this is the one to do. There is nothing more beautiful and I never tire of it. There is no walk that offers such variety, with a valley walk, a moorland walk and a coastpath, with fine views to all aspects of the island. Yes, you can see the four nations from Snaefell but on a good day you can see all these from the top of Cronk ny Array Laa as well.

This is a very accessible walk with no steep climbs. The coastal footpath is very worn in places and therefore there are some claggy steps down that require careful attention, but it is all passable and if this does deter you, there is an alternative route back to the car park at Eary Cushlin.

The walk starts at the picturesque car park of Eary Cushlin, half a mile down the track from the main road. There is room for about 8 cars here, and if full, you can revert to the car park beside the road at Dalby Mountain. It really doesn’t matter as you either walk the track at the start or end of the walk. Crossing over the main Peel road we take the designated footpath that contours around the side of Dalby Mountain and through the forest before descending to the bridge over the Glen Rushen river. It is two miles from Eary Cushlin to the bridge. All along this route there are tremendous views of the valley, and at this time of year the colours are magnificent, especially the rust coloured bracken and the green spruces. Notice the lone erratic rock left in the valley from the ice age. In the distance South Barrule stands magnificent and there are views of the mines to the north and looking over Dalby Mountain site of special scientific interest (the largest peat bog on the island) Cronk Ny Array Laa competes for our attention. The footpath is straightforward, mostly grassy or soil. Towards the bridge it becomes a little steeper downhill but is easily manageable.

There wasn’t much water in the river today. Crossing over the bridge I followed the wide farmer’s track that ascends steadily but surely up to Round Table, passing a large tholtan which has the most spectacular views in each direction. I have been here many times but never taken the time to look around the tholtan. It has many interesting features and it also gives an opportunity for a coffee stop after the climb up the hill.

Continuing on the same track we go through the South Barrule plantation to meet the road junction from Peel / South Barrule / Colby. This makes a good lunch stop as there is a nice flat grassy area with views of both South Barrule and Cronk Ny Array Laa and the moorland in between. After lunch, we continue across the moor in a south westerly direction, which is mostly flat and is a good path. I am always surprised how long it takes to walk this as the destination looks so close. It is a minimum of 20 mins walk across the moor only to be thoroughly enjoyed. Every now and again you come across small clumps of quartz shining brightly against the black peat. The picture below shows the easy path over the moor.

Reaching the corner, the walk continues up to Cronk Ny Array Laa at 1567ft. Most of the uphill has now been completed, but if you are unsure of foot and don’t wish to do the craggy sods of downhill footpath on the coast path to Eary Cushlin you can take the track (it starts as a road) that has a smooth descent and takes you back to Eary Cushlin car park. You can see this track on the map just to the east of the 5 mile marker. However, if you do this you miss some of the finest views you can have on the island, so if it is a good day when you do this walk, I would strongly recommend this last section. It only adds on another half mile and a few hundred feet of ascent. It was cool, dull and slightly windy day when I did this walk, so gloves, hat and scarf were in order when I got to the top, but I have done this on warm days in bright sunlight and spent many moments scampering happily around the top of this peak and exploring…

As it was, I quickly followed the coast path down the hillside, at all times admiring the extensive views to the north and west. The descent is a little steep in places and worn as I have said, and poles are very useful on this section for balancing as the steps down can sometimes be a good foot down, or more. It is possible to walk on the heather in places, but not recommended as you can’t see the dips and hollows very easily. It is a relatively short descent taking about 20 mins and once you reach the wall the path is more amenable going over the grassy terrain, where we treated to a surprise view of the Carnanes and the Calf in the distance. We join the footpath that leads to Lag Ny Keilly, a hermit’s ancient stronghold about half a mile down the path at the foot of Cronk Ny Array Laa. However, this walk does not visit this and I turned right and took the path to Eary Cushlin house, now self-catering accommodation. From here it is a very short walk back to the carpark. I can’t emphasies enough how beautiful are the views on this descent.

This is not a walk to be hurried. You do need to pay attention to where you are putting your feet and there are a couple of tholtans to visit, as well as spend time simply being and immersing yourself in this wonderful countryside. This 6.4 mile walk with 1293 ft ascent and 1227ft descent took me over 3 hours on my own, so I would recommend you treat this as a day walk and take your time. It is sensible to start fairly early to be assured of a space in the car park, but if you are unfortunate, there are other starting points, such as the lunch stop, or the track by Cronk Ny Array Laa. Enjoy 🙂

Foxdale circular – 22nd June 2021

This is the most peaceful walk I have done so far on this island. It was helped by it being a balmy day, but the nature of this walk took me by surprise.

I hadn’t walked on any one of the 6 miles of track or path, other than a very brief section on the road from St Johns to the mines. Every step was an exploration of something new, seeing the hills and fields I see every day but from a new perspective.

I parked at South Barrule plantation and walked the same quarter of a mile I had done in a previous walk to Stoney Mountain, but this time when I reached the plantation I turned left which would take me around the northern perimeter of the Stoney Mountain plantation. It is bit untidy at the start, and you go through what appears to be someone’s garden, but then it becomes a clear uninterrupted path. In fact, this is described as a green route. It is a real mix of terrain, from a grassy path, to a pebbly path, to a stoney path, to what appears to be a stream in places. It is level walking and an easy path. From here you do get wonderful views of the hills above the Peel / Douglas valley.

There is a choice of route once you finish the first mile. I turned left, walking down a peaceful lane. The wild flowers, grasses, horses and donkeys seem to own this section of countryside, and although not far from any ‘main’ road, I couldn’t hear any traffic and only occasionally glimpsed any vehicles. This road terminates on the Braiid to Foxdale Road, where the new mansion has been built. I walked easterly along the road for a very short distance, before taking the footpath to the left.

This led around the westerly edge of the Kionslieau Reservoir. I have never been here before and it’s wonderful, well worth a visit, if just to admire the view. The path has been very well maintained with a boardwalk over wetter parts. Unexpectedly, I came across more orchids beside the path. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should as my granddaughter video called me, along with my son, and somehow I managed to mix up the dials on my camera and got myself in a tizz as I couldn’t get it off panoramic view and didn’t know (and still don’t know) how to use it. I really should have stopped for longer, it was so very peaceful.

This path comes out on a minor road, or I thought was a minor road, except that I had to keep stopping for cars. It was a very pretty lane with meadow buttercups festooning the tall banks on either side. When this road turned to Foxdale I continued along the top, which gave me a good view of the observatory. Judging by the number of hens on the road, this part of the road does not get as much traffic. Just past the hens is a footpath going down the hill into Lower Foxdale. Be careful if you go this route as the footpath is to the right of the wide manmade track, but the sign is in the ditch, so you could easily miss it and have to retrace your steps to the top as I did!

This is actually a very splendid path, obviously not much used as it was quite overgrown in places. It did make me think that we really do not need to leave spaces between plants in our gardens. This was heaving with plants, butterflies and all sorts of insects. I enjoyed walking down here and I was glad I had my stick so that I could beat myself a path at times. It is not long before you do hear the hum of traffic and the path finishes on the main St John’s road.

I turned left, slightly uphill until I met the minor road to the right which leads to… absolutely nowhere. It crosses the disused railway line, which again looked very attractive in its spring attire. This is a bit of a hike uphill but it’s not difficult. Another time, I might walk back along the railway line for a short distance and then take the path up Glen Dhoo. This would be more interesting than road walking and also cuts off a bit of distance. I had never heard of Glen Dhoo, but I when crossed it at the top it looked quite a nice glen. But, taking the route I went, at the T junction I turned left and followed the road to the ford at Gleneedle and turned immediately left. This is shown as a dead end, but the dead end is a good mile away. It is a steady climb up to the top of Dawlish Ard, and from there it is a really pleasant walk contouring around the lower part of South Barrule, with view to die for. It is an easy, grassy path, and you follow this all the way back finishing in South Barrule plantation, where it is a short walk back to the car.

I really enjoyed my birthday walk. It will stay long in my memory.

26, 1000ft + Peaks Challenge – Day 1; 22nd May 2021

I imagine the title will make some of you feel exhausted, turn over and go back to bed, but if I can do it as an OAP, so can you. Not that I’m sure I can do it yet. Having various infuriatingly only partially diagnosed metabolic problems makes hill-climbing often painful and extremely tiring to the extent I have to rest for several days afterwards. But this is who I am and what I have done all my life, though without so many encumbrances. I adore being out in the hills, wind, rain, snow, sun, I don’t care. If I stop now I will lose a lot of my identity and what gives me purpose in life.

These 26 peaks take in the majority of the Manx Slate hills, which run diagonally north east to south west. We didn’t start with Bradda Head or the Carnanes the furthest points south as these are just under 1000′.

Cronk Ny Array Laa (437 metres): We started out gently at the car park on the Sloc road towards the top of Cronk Ny Array Laa. I don’t usually have a problem with this, but the group started out fast (as groups always do) and I found it difficult to lift my legs or breathe. Not a promising start. When we reached the trig point of this our first peak I advised the leader that I may discontinue and that I would take it at my own pace. Cronk ny Array Laa means Hill of the Day Watch. The cairn above it is a burial plot dating to the late Neolithics. Just beyond this you will see a stone memorial citing the Manx Fisherman’s Evening Hymn, written by W.H.Gill.

Round Table: The next section was downhill, flat and slightly wet as we crossed the moorland to the Round Table and the crossroads taking you either around South Barrule, towards Niarbyl in the west, Colby /Ballasalla in the south or Port Erin in the south west. This looks such a short section and yet it always take quite a while to walk through the peaty moorland.This is the meeting point of 3 parishes and also denotes the separation of the Northern and Southern divisions of the land. Just over the road is a kissing gate, and to the right of this is a flat mound or tumulus, an ancient monument barely visible and never excavated. It would originally have been square, but the story goes that the soldiers used to argue as to who should sit at the head of the table, so they made it round. It is strategically located, given its tiny size. It is the highest point in the dip between South Barrule and Cronk Ny Array Laa, and from here you can see the sea in all directions, so it must certainly have been some kind of lookout, perhaps like a keep. If you want to go and look for this yourself, on the Colby/Ballasalla road there is large white stone on top the wall, and immediately behind it should be the tip of the hillock. You are looking for a raised area of just a few metres diameter with an indentation in the centre and the hint of a surrounding ditch.

The walk across the moor from Cronk Ny Array Laa

South Barrule (483 metres) : onwards and upwards, on a well defined track and then a stony path for about 180 metres. Now you start to feel the wind, but it was really quite a pleasant day, though hats and gloves were much in evidence. The path starts gently with some sections rising, a little like terraces. There are a few outcrops where you can stop to admire the view or have a coffee break. On both ascent and descent, you go through a stone rampart encircling the top of South Barrule. This was an enclosure of 5-6 acres, and within this have been found 85 round huts, the remnants of many of which can quite clearly be seen. The rampart itself is made of turf and faced with stones, most of which have tumbled away and lie strewn across the ground. This was an Iron Age fort. Radiocarbon dating of a hearth in one of the huts showed it to have existed since 524BC. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder why they picked here. It is one of the few places where (on a good day) you can see the Seven Kingdoms of Man, but it is also inhospitable, and is thought to have been inhabited partly due to climate change affecting the lower levels – plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

2nd Peak – yours truly in bobble hat and purple cagoule. Photo courtesy of Ken.

From here we made our way down through the gorse and heather in a northerly direction until we joined the Sloc Road and the Cross Vein mine workings (now defunct). Notice how barren the land is, almost like volcanic ash. The next section was road walking, but this is not an issue as there is hardly any traffic, until we took a detour for lunch in the Arrasey plantation. This was first planted between 1935 and 1967, and is continually being felled and restocked with Sitka Spruce, Pine, Larch and more recently Corsican Pine. After lunch we got our first view of the western coast and Peel, with field after field of soft green farmland, such a contrast to the higher moorland.

Slieau Whallian (383 metres): We walked around the edge of the plantation and rejoined the lane downhill until we reached a bend in the road at 210 metres where we turned uphill along a stony track. Under normal circumstances this would be the way to St John’s, but our leader had negotiated an extension with a landowner who kindly agreed to allow us to go onto his property so that we could reach our final top of Slieau Whallian. He had even put up ladders for us. Thank you so much, Mr. Farmer (not his name!); we appreciate your permission and your thoughtfulness. It was a very straightforward walk to the top and afforded us a wonderful view all the way back to our starting point and we could see all our stopping points in between. And of course we could see all the way to Douglas and beyond and Peel and the north in the opposite direction, with big hills right in front of us.

Then came perhaps my favourite part of the day. The hills are soft and gentle underfoot, but in places surprisingly steep, creating amazing vistas that somehow you don’t expect to see on this island. It’s not altogether obvious as there are few erratics scattered around compared with say Yorkshire or the Lake District, but the topography of the southern and northern uplands (over 200 metres) has been created by glacial drift, giving it its distinct undulating shallow upland basins and deeply incised streams/ glens. These round topped hills could be seen everywhere as we made our way down.

Our final descent was through the Slieau Whallian plantation. You have probably heard the story that it is called the Witches Hill – how they were put in a barrel with spikes inside and their body weight rolled it down the hill. I don’t imagine that would have been a pretty picture when they opened the barrel at the bottom! Our descent through the trees was far longer than I was expecting, but not difficult. The sun was glinting through the forest lighting our way, and eventually we made our way down to the back lane into St. John’s. Apparently my watch slightly undercooks distance and it was just about 10 miles; 1631 ft of ascent and 2769 ft of descent. My body battery was 79/100 when I started and 7 when I finished, and it has taken 2 days to get it anywhere near that level. I shall attempt Day 2 next Saturday and take it at my speed and hopefully make it through. I don’t give in easily.

Thank you to Ken for a great day, and to the group for being excellent company.

Stoney Mountain Wardens Walk – 5 miles

I have lived here since 2013 and been visiting since the 1990s and yet I had never walked around Stoney Mountain, an outcrop of granite situated near Foxdale. Having said that, I met a lady yesterday who lives in Port St Mary, who said that despite living there for 31 years she had never been down Athol Glen in Port Erin. We do seem to become parochial living on this island.

I downloaded the Warden’s walk for this area which is actually about 4 miles total, but you will know by now that I tend to extend walks following tiny tracks to see where they go and this one was no exception. I parked the car at South Barrule plantation, walked down to the main road where I turned left. Even this showed me something I hadn’t noticed before – a pretty stream running down the side of the road by the side of the forest, looking very green. There was a variety of trees competing for sunlight and bidding to be the first to open their buds for the spring.

Path starts on the main Foxdale road

A short way down the road to Foxdale there is a well-marked path to the right taking you into Stoney Plantation. It looks and feels so different when walking, compared with viewing the forest from the road as you rush past at speed in a car. The plantation begins on a well defined wide track heading uphill and in a south easterly direction. In fact, this is the path you continue on until you reach the far southern end of the plantation, unless, like me you take one of the many bike tracks and go off exploring. My track took me off to the left. I had absolutely no idea where it would lead, but as long as I could glimpse the sun every now and again to know where south was, this did not concern me. It was an easy track to follow, if narrow, and led in between the sharp-pronged lower branches of the spruces and pines. The ground underneath was soft and springy. It was like wearing a comfortable pair of slippers once off the main track.

Every now and again you come across boulders of granite, some very large, and round mounds springing out of the earth taking you by surprise. These were obviously great fun for the bikers. It also shows how the different rocks create our landscape. I continued my wanderings downhill jumping over tree roots and dodging branches until I reached a clear entrance on the easterly side of the forest and then I took a very grassy path westwards and uphill again.

This path seemed to me to be unusual and not in keeping with the terrain. After a short distance I came across an abandoned farm, called a Tholtan over here. So this was why there was a good path up the hill. It turns out this was Cloghwilly Farm, quite a structure with many buildings of different sizes. The rust colours of the lichen on the walls were just lovely. I wondered who had lived here. It turns out it has quite ancient origins. You can read a little about this farm and tholtans on the following link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/irishwasa/23054670513

From here it was no distance back to the main path which I followed all the way to the southern perimeter of the forest. There were wonderful views of the big hills, and the gorse was a brilliant yellow, standing out against the various greens and browns in the landscape. In places, the trees have been felled and small shrubs are taking over until the area is replanted. I didn’t see the small lakes in the centre. The main path does not direct you there but it would be easy to make a diversion there for a quick coffee break.

Talking of perimeters, the walk then veers westwards all the way along the southern perimeter. You may think this sounds boring but it was very pleasant indeed. This far south the terrain changes into the grassy soil paths that we are so familiar with in the south, so it is very easy walking and pleasing because of the extensive views it provides of the south of the island. There are no means of detours from this path, except at one point where there is a field gate where you could enter back into the forest, but for the most part it continues all the way through moorland and scrub land, over a small muddy ford of a stream to join the main Foxdale road at its junction with the Ronague road.

From here, it is a gentle walk through the South Barrule plantation back to the car, and if you like, the coffee shop which is open all year. There is a Go Ape located here and I saw several people on Segways. Most of all there are the many bike trails taking you through a variety of beauty spots, so worth a visit if you haven’t been before, or even if you have. You can find details of this and other warden’s walks here:

https://www.gov.im/categories/leisure-and-entertainment/walking/forestry-wardens-walks/

If I were to do this walk again I would do it the other way round as the views would be more attractive, but either way, it’s a lovely walk 🙂 And to finish, some pictures of trees coming into life:

Chibbanagh Plantation – 2.5 miles

I had a renewed sense of freedom today as our rules were relaxed a little so that garden centres opened to the public, so I grabbed my car keys and set off for Douglas. As I was nearing Douglas on the wonderfully picturesque Foxdale to Douglas Road I passed the Chibbanagh Plantation on my right and promised myself a walk around this forest on the way home should time permit.

A couple of hours later I parked up and perused the view. I could see for miles towards the backbone off our island and way out to sea. It was a beautifully clear day with a strong wind. We had had sleet and snow overnight and the day was distinctly chilly. In the far distance the Lake District hills loomed out of the sea and in the near distance a boat was proudly moored in Douglas harbour. I say boat (right photo), but actually this is the largest sail-assisted motor yacht in the world, worth $400 million, owned by the Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko. The yacht is 142 metres in length and its tallest mast is 91 metres (higher than Big Ben!), and it can have up to 54 crew members. some ‘boat’!

It is an uphill start to the walk along a well-made regular track, but of course, I spotted a lesser track to the left following the eastern boundary of the plantation. This looked a lot more fun, being narrow and slightly undulating, or even massively undulating in places.

At a corner I was forced to turn right to join the main path and follow it again slightly uphill in a southerly direction. I soon spied another path through the undergrowth leading off to the right, so I headed downhill in a westerly direction, where every now and again South Barrule could be seen peeking out above the trees.

Meeting the western edge of the plantation gave me a dilemma. Do I turn right or left? Right would presumably take me back to the car (eventually) or left would take me where?? Who knows, but as I wanted to see if there were any views of the south of the island this is the direction I chose. This necessitated a muddy tread uphill and an even muddier trip downhill, and there was I wearing totally inappropriate footwear as I hadn’t been planning a walk. So, you can guess what happened next. Yep, a nice slippery and ungainly splat on all fours into the undergrowth. At least I had a soft landing (rather better than when I tripped on the stairs and crashed into the front door a month ago, providing me with a luscious black eye and affecting my upper jaw!).

A little further along, this makeshift path contoured around to the south along what I suspect was a former field boundary in the days before the plantation. It was like walking along a derelict wall (am I asking for more trouble you ask?) with sloping sides and narrow footholds. It was a lot of fun. There was more jeapardy than you can appreciate in this photo. It seems I need fun at the moment. Eventually it joined the main path where I did finally catch a glimpse of the sea to the south, but it wasn’t much of a view.

From there, it was another uphill climb on a more recognised path that leads to the highest point. This was very pleasant walking, and indeed the real, intended path is a mixture of grass and soil, or chippings, and it reminded me of a path in Northamptonshire I would regularly use for training for 10km runs. I followed this same path all the way back to the car. It was a truly delightful walk and all the better for being unplanned. It is a dog walker’s paradise and a great place to take a walk if you only have a short amount of time.

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