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

Around and about – the last week of September 2020

As it is the last day of the month it seems appropriate to bring you up to date with the walks I have done in the last week or so. My time has largely been spent collecting data for the peat survey, which on Friday was absolutely exhausting and it took me the whole weekend to recover.

It started with a very very windy day, not cold particularly, though I did wear several layers and took hat and gloves, both of which I wore. On reflection, maybe I should have waited for better weather, especially as this walk involved going to the top of South Barrule for my first waypoint. It was a sunny day and the winds pushed the clouds out of the way affording me yet more views of our distant lands across the sea. I was glad I had worn my wellies too, as the ground was quite wet and boggy in places. I’ll tell you something – walking across naive territory where the only footprints have been made by sheep makes you aware of the fantastic footpaths that others have created (and maintain) for us to use to reach viewpoints and to engage with nature. I doubt if many people would venture out if they had to lift their legs knee high to cross the moors! Having finished this section, I then detoured to the South Barrule plantation thinking I might meet the dirt track and have an easy walk back to the car, but as you will see from the slideshow, it didn’t quite work out as planned. It was a strenuous day but one I look back on with a sense of achievement. That week my Garmin watch recorded 500 minutes of intensive training, when the govt guidelines advise a minimum of 150 minutes per week.

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During this same week, I was lucky enough to be invited out for afternoon tea with my friend, Janet, so we decided to go to Peel (I seem to be there a lot these days) and commence with a 90 minute walk to justify eating sandwiches and cream cakes afterwards. If you like a short but interesting walk, this is perfect for you. Park at Fenella beach, either walk along the road to the bridge or take the upper route just above the roadway to the same point. Cross the bridge and immediately turn right. This will take you alongside the river. Believe it or not, I had never walked this particular section as I have always followed the Heritage Trail which takes you through the industrial estate (how exciting is that!). It is a delightful section and I shall never miss it out again. When you reach the bridge by the Raggatt you need to climb the steps to cross the road and go immediately behind the houses on the well made track. This is a gentle rise to Knockaloe Beg Farm where you turn right to go on to the hills. The fields are a lovely shade of green and look warm and inviting. It is a little pull up to the top, where you get unexpected views to the south all the way to the Calf of Man. There is a well-placed bench that allows you to get your breath back before making the final short climb to Corrin’s Folly. From there, it is a gentle undulating walk along the top before descending to Fenella beach. The footpaths are very good and there is no real need for sticks and you could get away with wearing stout shoes rather than walking boots. It’s a really lovely walk and one you can do any time you have a spare couple of hours.

 

And then, yesterday, I was back on the moors to finish those particular waypoints on South Barrule. This was much more pleasant. There was also a lot of sphagnum moss and on my final prod of the peat I recorded the deepest amount of the four sessions – 105cm. It’s one thing putting the prod in the ground but it’s quite another trying to get it out again. If I keep on doing this I shall soon look like Popeye. 🙂

So, that’s it for another month. I have quite a lot of activities coming up, with outings organised by Manx National Heritage, and I will document these as they happen over the next couple of weeks. I finish this post with some photos of Port Erin taken a couple of nights ago as I took an evening stroll.

Peat Survey on South Barrule – Sept 2020

There are both blessings and curses involved with measuring the peat on the moors. The blessings come from knowing that the views I am seeing are views that few people see and the paths I tread have probably never been trodden by anyone. The isolation is bewitching, even though habitation can be easily seen only a couple of miles away. Today, I could see England in the form of the Lake District, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and each looked as if I could step over the water onto their hills.

The curses, or rather the one and only curse is the terrain. One minute you are walking on level ground, with bits of stone, grass and small undulations, the next you are walking through a bog or trying to find a way around it, and after that wading waist-high through swathes of heather, made worse on a downward slope where you cannot see your footing. It can be quite hard work, and you will use up your weekly ‘intensity minutes’ but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have had two outings recently to South Barrule, monitoring the northern flank from the junction with the mines road up to the quarry and down to the plantation. It is further than you think, and although distance is irrelevant, I still covered nearly 3 miles yesterday on my sojourn and a couple of miles the previous time.

We are on the hunt for sphagnum moss, as I reported a while ago, and to measure the level of peat on the hills throughout the island. Previous areas I have surveyed have been somewhat devoid of moss, but there are some very large areas and deep peat in certain areas on South Barrule, but even so, they are in the minority. There is a lot of scrubby heather, gorse and grasses, and only in one section on the northwestern edge beside the quarry was there any sustained areas of bracken. An interesting find was a lighter coloured sphagnum moss in isolated wet locations, and in small patches. I didn’t notice many other flowers this time round.

So, I leave you with some photos of my days out in the hills from a few days ago. I have only surveyed half of my allocation on South Barrule so far, so still another two days to venture there at some point.

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….