Around Staarvey and along the Switchback Road, 13th Aug 2021

The tree lined avenue between St Johns and Tynwald Mills always cheers me. The colours and the dappled light look attractive at all times of year. Following this minor road over the bridge you meet the back road to Peel. I have often wondered where the track went immediately opposite the junction, and today I decided to find out.

I had been helping Dawn at Manx Wildlife Trust at Cooildarry with the young Watch group. We were investigating the traps Dawn had set, and the children excited meandered through the wood looking out for flags and traps, trying to guess whether there would be anything inside the traps – which were mostly positive with single woodmice ferreting about inside. We weighed them and measured them and sexed them. Then it was the hedgehog tunnels, with ink stained paper in the centre so that their footprints could be caught on the white paper either side of the tunnel. Only, we didn’t find hedgehog footprints, just a cat(!), mice and possibly a stoat’s footprints. It kept the children absorbed for about 90 mins.

From there, I stopped at the car park on the switchback road, which is a long 2 mile … switchback… with fantastic views towards Peel. There is a footpath uphill on the northern edge of the switchback, another footpath I had never walked along. It is a stony track suitable for bikes and pedestrians but not pushchairs or wheelchairs. Just as you take a rest, there is a chance to enjoy this surprise view, which you might expect to see in a mediterranean country rather than the Isle of Man.

If you keep on this path it takes you over the side of Knockharry, but I took the path to the right leading to Staarvey. There are wonderful views to the east but only occasional glimpses of the sea to the west as the path goes through farmland below the top. If you look very very closely, on the top left of the photo below you can just about make out the marquees at Patrick, signalling the Royal Show is on. This photo was taken just as I came off the rise but this view would soon be masked by the hills. The map tells me there are cairns close to the path but I must admit I didnt see them. This is a walk across fields full of cows, which as usual were interested to know what I was doing, but finally left me alone. Guess they think this is their land, not mine.

I am always amazed at the different atmospheres and vistas that this island gives us in different places; places where we walk or pass by regularly look so different from just a few feet higher up. I enjoyed this walk across the fields as there was a great variety of colour and the hay had been cut and it is clearly a living landscape. Some of the stiles were a bit iffy, particularly the one in the last field before the lane. I was tempted to climb the gate but persevered but it was impossible to find the rungs on the ladder on the opposite side of the fence on the photo below.

From here, I joined the road which was still a very pleasant, quiet walk down to Laurel Bank and around the hillside which eventually turned into the aforementioned track that had originally interested me. There are great views of Slieau Whallian and St Johns here, but my phone was out of juice so I wasn’t able to take any further photos and none of the switchback road which is disappointing. Another time. I turned right at the main road – this is a fairly busy back road and although it is fine to walk along it as a single person or even two or three people, I wouldn’t recommend it with a group. Just past the right bend I turned off onto the switchback road and followed this all the way back to the car. It is slightly uphill for about a third of the road and from then on small humps and hollows but nothing difficult or strenuous; just a delightful walk on a narrow lane with passing places. There was the odd car and cyclist, but this road is safe for pedestrians.

I haven’t been able to do much walking recently due to physical constraints (what’s new!) and jobs I have to do in the house, mostly putting things in the roof or decorating before my new carpets come. One job seems to create another. Then of course, I do have my ‘work’ teaching Psychology. I am thrilled to say that all my students, even those I assessed for another organisation, retained the grades I gave them, so if I have to assess private candidates next year I shall feel confident to help them all.

I shall be busy over the next couple of weeks with more Watch meetings for young people, helping at Ballachurry Nature Reserve and my usual duties at Scarlett Nature Reserve; and I still have more peatland to survey, so whether I can get out doing any serious walking we shall have to wait and see.

The walk I have just described shows how a short walk can be just as pleasant and rewarding as longer walks and revive the spirit.

Distance – just under 4 miles; total ascent 476ft; total descent 479ft

26 Peaks Challenge Day 2- 4 peaks and 10 miles

This was Day 2 with a difference, hence calling it ‘2 minus’ – the difference being I was unable to go with the group yesterday and decided that I would make up for it by doing two circular walks involving the same peaks over the next week. The bonus is that I had never walked from the starting point I chose, or been up Beary Mountain, or made my way up the skirt of Slieau Ruy, so lots of new things.

The weather was glorious warm sunshine, only the sun was not strong enough to push through the haze in the distance, so my photos are somewhat lacking. The atmosphere was wonderful and being on my own I could choose when and where to stop and I shall long remember my extended stop on the slopes of Slieau Ruy taking in the vistas, brushed by a gentle breeze.

I parked at Tynwald Mills car park (St. Johns) and started my ascent immediately on crossing the main road from St Johns to Kirk Michael. There are two options here. Either follow the signpost for horses or take the left turn through the woods, which theoretically at least was the actual path. It was a delightful walk through the woods until it petered out at the stream, which meant I had a mini adventure making my way through the undergrowth in the trees to get to the top path (the horse path). It was fun anyway.

This path is clearly a very old path and once you reach a certain point it contours around the midriff of Beary Park (the hill with the mast that you can see for miles). This path is very accessible but stony. The path on the map shows it continuing to join the lane from Greeba, but there is a very pleasant path left which takes you to the southern edge of the Beary Park plantation and eventually joins at the crossroads to Beary Mountain. I then went into the plantation to bag my first peak over 1000ft, being Beary Park itself. Last time I was here, a year ago, it was completely shrouded in mist so it was nice to have views this time. If you are new to the island, if you continue on this path it eventually takes you back down the hill to Glen Helen, a very pretty stream and waterfall.

I retraced my steps to the crossroads. I could see a clear path ahead leading onto Beary Mountain. Bear in mind that the paths on the ground do not necessarily match those on the map, so you need to keep an idea of where you are eventually heading. In my case, I hadn’t actually decided and I was quite happy mooching around on Beary Mountain enjoying the countryside. The plantations too do not look like their designated areas on the map either and they are a little misleading. I never did find the Cairn (not that I was actually looking for it) but I am certain I went over the highest point of Beary Mountain, so that is Peak No 2 for today. Not that it seemed like any kind of peak being largely flat, and as I looked back, Beary Park peak seemed clearly higher. Of course, it must be an illusion, but you can see for yourself what I mean.

I followed a path that lead southeastwards skirting the forest, which I presume is the Glion Gill plantation, climbed over a gate and followed a non-descript path to the lower saddle of Slieay Ruy. It is on this slope, which I took steadily as it was relatively steep for my legs at the moment, that I stopped to admire the view. It was so peaceful. I hadn’t seen a soul all day, and I watched the pippits hopping from heather to heather and the clouds skimming across the sky. Pure joy.

Once I met the official path I veered left to the trig point and cairn of Slieau Roy (479m). I thought about continuing but I decided Lhargee Yuy could be attained on my 2nd trip out from a different direction. I then retraced my steps and continued on to Greeba Mountain. This is typical peat moorland with little else to comment on, except the extensive views in all directions; but still it was hazy and unfortunately there would be no great views for me today. There is no footpath directly down the ridge here, so it is necessary to follow the very stoney trail to the edge of the forest to make the descent.

I was struck by the immediate change in colour, from the dull greens and browns of the moorland, to the vivid bright greens of the vegetation and trees. This is an easy walk down a well trodden path, although longer than I remembered it, it being more than a mile from Greeba Mountain to the bottom. As you descend you can appreciate the soft colours of the farmland and the undulations of the middle valley, separating the north and south of the island.

I had a choice at this point, whether to walk along the road or cross over and walk along the heritage trail. I opted for the former and was pleasantly surprised by the number of wild flowers growing on the wayside, which made up for the constant noise of the traffic! Another time, I would probably take the heritage trail, but as my route was northwards at Ballacraine, it seemed sensible to keep things simple. However, it was over 2 miles on road. It’s worth keeping in mind that there are buses along this route so if you have had enough of walking, you can wait for a bus instead of taking either route.

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of this walk, and of course the miles and miles of views in all directions. I only saw a few pedal bikers in the distance and one family just before I hit the main road. For four hours I had seen no-one at all. Bliss. I finish this blog with some photos of the wildflowers I came across, and a final look back at one of the hills: