Sea, Sheep and stunning views. The Isle of Man Coastal Walks provide them all!
Basing myself at MAUGHOLD VENTURE CENTRE BUNKHOUSE near Ramsey I planned to walk as much of the Isle of Man coastal route as possible. The Isle of Man is small and well connected enough that this is possible from one base in the north.
On my first full day of walking the coastal path I begin in Ramsey aiming for Point of Ayre, the most northerly part of the island.
It’s a walk of around seven miles on pebbles, large pebbles and very little firm sand. To my left sandy base cliffs serve as a constant companion. Close proximity to my right, the sea. It’s more akin to a route march than exhilarating coastal walk. In a nutshell this section ain’t pretty or enjoyable. To be fair, everything I read about this section of the walk wasn’t complimentary, so no real surprises. When I finally reach Point of Ayre at least I have the magnificent lighthouse (designed and built by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of writer Robert Louis Stevenson) to view, standing proud and dignified in its red and white jackets of paint.
Time for a sandwich, drink and shelter as it now blowing a hooley. I can see around 10 cars parked up with their inhabitants deciding only majestic lighthouses and silly walkers stay out in the mid day winds.
Wrapped up against the elements I’m now heading along the western coastline with an open expanses of marshland and flatlands of greeny to my left. Underfoot are well trodden paths set back from the beach. The wind hasn’t abated. Except for an occasional dog walker, and I do mean occasional, it’s me head down striding towards some place along the coast yet to be decided. More than anything the walk is boring. Sand, sea, wind and and not much else. On another day with different weather conditions, may be this stretch would be more enjoyable, maybe.
By late afternoon I’ve reached Orrisdale Head, deciding I’ve had enough of this monotony. Quick check of the map I head inland to Ballaugh looking for a bus back to Ramsey. On arrival into the village joy of joys, the Ramsey bus left 10 minutes ago, the next one…over an hour away. One of my many, many character flaws, I can’t queue and I can’t wait. So I walk it back into Ramsey along the country lanes and main road. Although it’s an unplanned, unwanted additional walk of around two hours, at least I’m seeing more of the island (I tell myself).
Walker alert” For those planning to stay at Maughold Hostel from Ramsey to the hostel is uphill most of the way, and will take you around 25/30 minutes. The final downhill section is along a little country road. The views and fields around the hostel are spectacular. I lean on the field gate, taking in the peace and tranquility when I’m joined by a family of inquisitive sheep.
“Hello, I’m Baaarry, this is my wife Baaarbara, and my two kids Daaanny and Daaaphne. He tells me they love living here. Plenty to eat, the kids can wander off without any worries as the fences are secure. Lots of people stop to take photographs and say hello. This is home”
I tell Baaary I’m walking the Isle of Man coastal path. He has some advice.
“Go to Port Erin, and walk to St.Mary’s past the Calf of Man. Some of the sheep who have been here from Port Erin said it was lovely”
I tell him that that will be my walk tomorrow, as I wish them goodnight. He waves me off with a raised hoof.
Within a couple of minutes I’m back at the hostel. It’s quite, warm, cosy, off with my jacket, backpack and boots, no need to count sheep zzzzzzz….I like it here.
Port Erin / Calf of Man on the Isle of Man
With an early morning bowl of porridge and cup of tea I’m heading out to catch the tram into Douglas. The stations shelter nearest to the hostel is Port Lewaigue just two minutes walk. The tramline stretches 17 miles in total, with two of the three carriages which opened the line in 1893 still in use. The route winds along coastline, edges of glens, bisecting fields, at some points allowing a view of inaccessible beaches as the tram trundles by. An hour of history, scenery, nostalgia and sheer enjoyment.
From Douglas you have a choice. Steam train or bus to Port Erin. On this occasion I take the bus (more on the steam train later)
Port Erin is a quaint, busy seaside town with it’s Victorian buildings and architecture set around a sheltered bay and safe sandy beach. Looking out to the right of the bay is Bradda Head with the imposing Milners Tower, built in the shape of lock and key high above the town.
The tower has nothing to do with my planned walk. In fact it’s in the opposite direction. But having a soft spot for anything perched high on top of a hill or mountain I make the effort to view the tower. The views are great on the way up, and even better when you climb the tower to get a full panoramic view over the headland and sea.
Before I start the walk I snack at The Cosy Nook cafe just off the western end of Port Erin beach. Almost as soon as the coastal walk begins climbing is required. Onto the field path high along the cliffs. I can see there’s rain on the way, but for now the walk and views are stunning. Not only does the rain come in, but is quickly followed by a lashing of hailstone. I’m now kitted out with waterproofs, hat and gloves. The shower lasts around ten minutes which require the paths rocky sections to be treated with care. It’s one of those walks which demand you stop and try to absorb the wonder of the sights all around. I catch myself trying to breathe in the views.
As the showers cease, the sun makes an appearance and I wonder if this sudden change in seasons has affected my eyesight. I can see a bloody big imposing building directly ahead, across from the Calf of Man. Maybe I should have known but I didn’t, this is The Sound Visitor Centre situated around half way along this section of the coastal walk. As I pass by it’s car park and customers, I’m getting very strange looks. These folks are not walkers, they’re here to watch, eat, socialise. I’m walking into tee shirts, sandals, summer dresses, flip flops. The dress code says cappuccino, white wine with a selection of cake. Not someone caked in mud! Still in my waterproofs some people look unsure whether to give me money or call the police.
The narrow stretch of water (Calf Sound) which separates the two islands looks a swirling mass of dangerous currents. Little wonder plaques commemorate those who have lost their lives when failing to navigating these dangerous yet imposing channels.
Having changed out of my yeti outfit (waterproofs) due to improved weather conditions, the walk just gets better as it continues along cliff edges and with an occasional seagull for company. All too soon for my liking I’ve arrived at Port St. Mary. I take the opportunity to rest along the harbour’s jetty overlooking Chapel Bay. This is a walk not to miss, around two to three hours of bliss.
I manage to catch the last steam train out of Port St Mary, heading back into Douglas. I’m not sure who are more excited, me or the many children onboard as the driver blows the train’s whistle as we gently pull away, taking me back to my own childhood for the next hour. A plume of engine smoke drifts into the late afternoon sky as our train cruises out along the tracks. The journey has lots of smiles and waves from inside and outside the carriages. Some people point as the train passses by, some take photographs, some even applaud. I think I’ve something in my eye!
By the time I’ve alighted my bus from Douglas, it’s late evening as I walk down towards the hostel. Baaarry is at the field gate. “You look as if you’ve had a good day, boots, bag and not a care in the world” he says. I tell him it’s been a very good day, thanking him for his advice. When he asks about tomorrows plans I tell him I’m heading towards Snaefell.
“Ah, our highest mountain.Take the tram into Laxey and walk down to the lovely little harbour, then start your walk upto Snaefell. Go towards the Laxey Wheel, then head for the old mine road. Be careful, it’s a rough walk underfoot along this section. The smart sheep tend to stay in the fields away from the path”
I ask him if the Laxey sheep talk as well. He’s not impressed. He stands up, shakes his head and starts to wonder off…I can still hear him muttering. “Do Laxey sheep talk. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. That boy maybe able to walk, but he;s hardly the brain of Britain. Wait till I tell Baaarbara…Do Laxey sheep talk” he says with a tut, kicking a lump of grass.
Snaefell, Isle of Man
By the time I’ve had breakfast the hostel is awash with activity. The hostel is just that, an activity centre catering for groups of kids, students wanting to learn new outdoor skills. I’m lucky they had a room available for me.
From the tram station I can see into the field were the kids, Daaanny and Daaphnie amongst them are jumping around excitedly by the “toot – toot” of the oncoming tram. This time I sit on the carriages right hand side to view the island’s fields and greenery as the tram rumbles by.
Laxey village is busy. Tourist have come the see the Laxey Wheel titled as the largest working waterwheel. Sometimes referred to by it’s official name Lady Isabella. Otherwise there is a choice of touring a microbrewery, visiting the old mines, or taking another tram ride to the top of Snaefell.
As instructed I’m heading down the winding roads past the Laxey Woolen Mills towards Laxey beach and promenade. On arrival it’s well worth the detour. For families, a perfect place to spent a couple of hours.
I don’t turn down the chance of a late breakfast at Laxey’s corner cafe, soon making my way towards the Laxey Wheel. Although I don’t tour inside , I can get within 20 yards to view this magnificent feat of engineering.
The tarmac road soon ends and as Baaarry rightly said, the rough track begins. To my left is a constant vista of fields, sheep, a meandering river and over the distance a slow clickety clack of wheels on tramlines taking passengers to the summit of Snaefell, all 2,034 feet of it. At this point my route has a slight incline and constant reminder a twisted ankle is only a rocky step away. Up ahead are buildings and mine workings no longer used or loved. I spent a couple of minutes trying to picture the site when mining was a proud industry on the Isle of Man.
I fork left, up and over what turns out to be a very boggy field, squelching my way towards the Snaefell path. From the path, over the road where arrangements are already in place for the yearly and worldwide renown TT Races. The summit path is well trodden, easy to follow and at a steady pace takes around 15 minutes from start to finish. I wasn’t lucky with the weather (rain and light cloud) so couldn’t check out the old adage which states from Snaefells summit you can see six kingdoms: Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Heaven. My views were more along the lines of a cafe and communication masts!
Overall I’ve made good time, once again the weather has changed as the sun makes a welcome appearance. I’m feeling ok, so decision time. Do I simply retrace my track back into Laxey, or do I aim to climb North Barrule, the Isle of Man’s second highest peak at 1,842 feet? I have a day off tomorrow, so I decide to get acquainted with North Barrule.
North Barrule, Isle of Man
When I ask the Snaefell tram driver his suggested route from Snaefell to North Barrule, he doesn’t think it’s a wise idea, which is always a common reply from a non walker, unfortunately. With a bit of finger pointing and a good luck, I’m heading down Snaefell to an off road marker known as the Black Hut.
Crossing the main road I can see the path which should take me up to Claugh Ouyr peak. It’s a steady climb of 20 minutes or so to the top, and what a sight awaits. The air feels exhilaratingly fresh, my views are unblemished by clouds, rain or mist. Ahead are rolling peaks which look as if if I’ll be walking the undulations of a camel’s back.
For the next hour or so this is peace and serenity on a different scale. There is no one else around, not a soul to be seen as far as the eye can see. Whilst the route is marshy in places, it’s generally an easy walk comfortable under foot. By the time I reach North Barrule I don’t think a smile has left my face. Time for a drink/food break whilst I once again try and capture the images all around.
From a visual reference point I can’t see a downward path, anywhere. I do see a road across a number of fields, so all I need to do is head for Ramsey directly ahead, easy…er no.
Less than ten minutes I’ve quickly come to the conclusion this wasn’t a good idea. I’m well over my boots in marsh sodden terrain. I can’t make out a better route, so I plod on with an occasional step getting well and truly embedded in the mud. With a pull and tug of a sunken leg I’m on my way again, across a small ravine and finally onto drier land. This is replaced by thick tussocky grass with each step becoming a blind step. The last field is dry in comparison as the small road isn’t too far away. Only one problem, along the fence perimeter there doesn’t seem to be an exit route. I walk along the barbed wire fence butted up against the trees and bushes offering a sense of Colditz rather than the Isle of Man .
On the other side of the fence and thickets I can hear a man talking to his dog. “Hi, Hello…I wonder if you can help?” I plead. Nothing but silence.
I try again with the same dialogue with an occasional whistle thrown in. Nothing. I can hear a ball being thrown and retrieved with an occasional “Good Boy”. Maybe I should start barking. I run ahead and find a small break in the line of trees, not enough to stick out my head but enough for a waving hand. Sure enough this does the trick. When he decides to come and chat with a waving hand I can see he’s wearing earphones! (Why do people wear earphones when out in the countryside, blocking out all the wonderful sounds, and occasional nutter!) He guides me back along the fence, where I will find a rarely used stile. Sure enough there it is, judging by the growth very few people come this way, no surprise. A pleasant walk through the woods and I’m soon back amongst the evening lights and tranquil calm of Ramsey.
As I approach the hostel it’s late, lights are on and a small camp fire is burning whilst a group of attentive children are being given instruction on some outside activity. When I arrive at the field gate Baaarry and Baaarbara are sat together watching the world go by. He has only one question “Well did you?”
“Did I what?” I ask stalling for time.
He sighs “Did you try and talk to the sheep in Laxey?”
I look down somewhat embarrassed.
“I knew you would. There’s no need to look so sheepish” at which point they both break out into a polite giggle.
“Take no notice of him” encourages Baaarbara “He’s been waiting to say that all day” as she nuzzles him in the ribs.
Whatever I have planned they both suggest I set aside a day to cover what they believe is the best walk on the Isle of Man. I’m intrigued. Port Erin to Peel following the coastal route Raad ny Foillan or “Way of the Gull”
Peel to Port Erin (Wrong Way), Isle of Man
It’s an early start, with a walk into Ramsey followed by a 45 minute bus ride into Peel.
I arrive in town just as shops are opening. The west coast town of Peel is once again getting ready for business. I’ve decided to start from Peel as it means I don’t have to take another bus into Port Erin which is a time saver of around a hour.
I begin with a walk around the historic and impressive Peel Castle.
From the castle a stiff walk up onto the headland allowing a picturesque view of the town’s marina and beaches. Soon the coastal path is ahead out, stretching and winding as far as the eye can see. More importantly for now, keep vigilant, the path is close to cliff’s edge, and it’s a long way down. After a few miles the path at Glen Moyne drops down into a deep gorge by way of a staircase of steps and bridge. Lovely views, and the climb back up wakes up the quad muscles! Across a couple of fields then a road walk to Niarbyl, famous as the film location of “Waking Ned” masquerading as a village in Southern Ireland.
Anyone fancying staying over this side of the island should check out KNOCKALOE BEG FARM BUNKHOUSE
The next section Cronk ny Arrey Laa is a challenge, climbing up the 14000ft amongst heather/grassy moorland. Time for break whilst I look back thinking “Bloody hell, that’s a long way” offering my body a team talk, not much further, I lie. What a view, just as with Snaefell the fluffy clouds are passing by and through me. Trying to touch cloud, now that is a surreal experience.
Although I can see the next peak Lhiatee ny Beinness 1000ft it seems to be getting no closer. The views, birds (which I can’t name) keep me company. Since Glen Mayne I haven’t seen a soul. It’s a steady walk, and with a steady pace finally I reach the second peak and take on more food and water.
The weather has turned for the worst and so has my general mood. As the cloud and drizzle come in I’m feeling a sense of lethargy rather than tiredness. I continue along the well defined path knowing I’ve one final climb to Fleshwick Bay. When I reach a height where I can see a harbour and building in the far distance, I’m thinking, Not far to go now.
As the peak flattens out, I’m confused. Ahead is a long, long walk down into a small bay inlet. More concerningly is another serious uphill walk once I’ve dropped down into the bay. Map time.
So, that is Fleshwick Bay (down there) and (up there) should be Bradda Head leading to Port Erin. I give my complaining limbs the remaining supplies blaming the map for adding a new hill! The path winds it’s way down, across and over various un fenced fields until I’m on flat land of Fleshwick Bay. The view back looks unbelievably steep, impressive and daunting. With a deep breath I start on what just may be my final climb (if I ever learn how to read a map properly). This is tough going, partly as I didn’t expect it, partly… ’cause it’s tough going. I’ve struggled upwards and onwards until I can see Bradda Tower ahead. Hallelujah! From here it’s all downhill with a return to the beach cafe as part of my incentive to complete the walk.
This is a tough, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable walk which took me just on six hours. The best/easiest way is to start in Port Erin. This way you get most of the climbs and peaks completed with a relatively fresh pair of legs. If you’re a physical masochist to your body, start in Peel.
With a plentiful supply of tea and scrambled eggs I’m taking a couple of buses Port Erin – Douglas / Douglas – Ramsey, where I spend ten minutes watching happy dogs bounding along the beach as part of their evening walk. I decide to loosen up my stiffening limbs due to the bus ride and walk back to the hostel.
The evening sun is providing a perfect backdrop to Maughold, its greenery and calm shore line. I can see a gathering of sheep in one corner of the field. At the gate is Baaarbara, but no Baaarry. She tells me the men folk are having a meeting about the shearing rota. Deciding who wants to go first. Some of the older sheep like to go last as they feel the cold when sheared. Nothing surprises me any more so I don’t ask questions.
“Did you enjoy the walk” she asks. I explain it was tiring but a great experience, adding a thank you.
“Some people, I call them silly, Baaarry is more descriptive, start the from Peel which is much harder. Silly, silly walkers”. Did she spot the blush or my sheepish look I wonder.
The next morning, all packed up, I make my way to the bus stop. At the gate are Baaarry and Baaarbara.
I thank them for their help and advice and hope to see them soon.
“Oh you will, see us again” he explains. “You’ll be back, and we’ll be here, waiting. And a piece of advice, keep travelling, and be careful who you speak to” he grins.
Daaanny and Daaaphnie join them as they collectively wave me off. An unseen tram sounds out an early morning toot toot of it’s whistle. I like it here.
Take a look at the Isle of Man Map