Raad Ny Foillan, Day 2: Port Erin to Peel (14.5 miles)

I did not sleep well; the bites on my legs along with another day’s gathering of scratches, stings and the start of sunburn kept me tossing and turning in and out of sleep. I was grateful when light showed, as I no longer had to put pressure on myself to stay here and keep trying to get properly rested. As a result though, I was completely unrested.

This wasn’t a great start to a day of hillwalking, but I would try to make the most of it. I hadn’t properly investigated the tower before setting up my tent the night before so went on over to look around. Whilst this structure looks frozen between friendliness and foreboding, it took a moment to realise it was in the shape of a lock. The tower was erected in honour of a local benefactor, William Milner, a wealthy safemaker, who moved to Port Erin from Liverpool and loved the place so much that he poured his own prosperity into it. The town had previously thrived on the copper mines, but even after they shut the quality of life for the inhabitants was maintained by Milner.

Personally, it seems a bit odd. There’s no record of it ever being used for anything or even designed to be lived in. It’s a strange non-residential building, but I’m sure Milner was charmed. Its location cannot be faulted; in one direction I looked out over Port Erin and up the dancing coast and, to another, the heathland of the heights spread out towards Bradda Hill with the sea crashing far, far below on the rocks.

The Island of Manannan

It is said that an island rises above the waves to the south of Bradda Head every seventh year and the folk that inhabit it ride raucously over. This island is now the home of the spirit of Manannan. Whilst he lived, it was above ground, but sunk when his human body died.

Becoming entangled with the ways of the kindred of a trickster God ends with the human having to return with them to their underwater island and work for the Lord Manannan for another seven years, until another midsummer’s day occurs when the island rises above the water once more, and the human can claim their freedom.

I started out over the heath; purple and green and yellow with the heather and gorse and sea scrubs. Despite there being an expanse of land, the trail was determined to be as coastal a path as possible and pushed me right near to the edge of the uneasy drop. The path was kept, but thin, and the plants were knee deep and all too ready to curl around and pull an ankle out from under me. In two sustained climbs, I made it onto Bradda Hill and the cairn at the top.

I caught my breath and started the steep, zig zagged descent to Fleshwick Bay. The vegetation grew taller, back to the height of the previous day, but on a steep downwards path where I knew the switchbacks were avoiding unseen crags, it required much more mental focus and far less imagination. I wasn’t an explorer right now; I was just an idiot with a backpack trying to get down a hill.

It hadn’t taken that long for the lack of sleep to catch up with me as I crashed noisily out of the bracken and onto Fleshwick Bay. I was already tired. And here I stared in horror at the path that sat in front of me the other side of the bay.

Lhiattee ny Beinee is not a particularly tall hill; it only clocks in at roughly 1000ft. It’s only half a mountain. I had climbed higher, much higher, before. But somehow that morning, the path that ascended before me was shocking in its steepness with no visible sign of reprieve. I am convinced that tiredness somehow amplified my visual experience of the anticipation of this climb because no one else anywhere, whether it was those I spoke to in person or through their written word, seemed quite so horrified by it as I felt right then. We climb hills and mountains knowing their height above sea level, but we rarely actually start them from sea level, and usually there’s some effort to make a trail upwards that isn’t just straight up.

I sat in the bay and decided to eat something, drink something, pop a few caffeine pills and squirt out an electrolyte sachet before I tried anything. I made the mistake of continuing to stare at the path, which probably only contorted it further. Eventually I pulled myself together and started.

Nope, this wasn’t going to happen. I was barely thirty metres up and it wasn’t going well. I was frustrated. If I didn’t have the stupid pack on it would probably be a lot easier, it would probably be fine. I refused to believe the problem was just me. I could probably do it, I finally realised, but I wouldn’t have anything left for the third hill. It’s a choice now. This one or the next.

I dejectedly slid myself back into the bay like a sad little scoop of ice cream slowly falling out its cone to the floor. I had really looked forward to doing the third hill, so that was the choice I made.

I turned up the lane and, burning with failure, set off to make my way around the mountain instead. I’m saying mountain because it felt too lame to keep calling it a ‘hill’ when it had defeated me without even trying and maybe that made me feel better.

There was still ascent on the footpaths, lanes and roads I took, but nothing like the mind-boggling gradient that had trundled out above me from Fleshwick Bay. Lhiattee ny Beinee and its ridge laughed at me as it rose and rode the coastal horizon beside me. The regret was already huge; it was a really clear day and already very warm and the Mountains of Mourne would have been visible from the top and that would have been really awesome to see.

The roundabout route took far longer than a climb would have done and it felt like a pointless exercise. What if I got to the Sloc pass and then couldn’t do the third one? Or, worse, just didn’t want to and found an excuse that would be easy to come by because I’d already skipped out on this one?

Well, I got to the Sloc pass and sat down for another replenishment. With a degree of relief I saw the path up Cronk ny Arrey Laa was nowhere near as awful looking. It also wasn’t ascending directly from sea level so whilst it was almost 500ft taller than Lhiattee ny Beinee, it looked far more approachable. Enough of a degree of energy and resolve had been restored and I set up along the path.

Whilst not treacherous, path erosion was clear and large ditches had fallen in the way that required an element of a dancing step to avoid. Mists gathered as I got higher and the calling of the breeze made the rustle and brush of the dense terrain appear much more wild than it probably was. Quickly, the mists swallowed the ground below.

The cairn came into view. This cairn was different to others. This one was a true Bronze Age burial mound.

The name of the hill – Cronk ny Arrey Laa – translates to Hill of the Morning Watch. It was from here that a Viking lookout was always required and if any member of the Morning Watch was absent from their post, or sleeping on it, three times, they would be sentenced to death. Their widows would then be required to carry firewood up the hill for the more trustworthy members of the watch for the rest of their able lives.

This seemed a bit harsh but what do I know. If I had to be punished for being tired and unpunctual today, well, I didn’t have a widower to be left behind and punished also, but I wouldn’t want to think about what would happen to the cats. With this sort of history, they’d probably get eaten.

Between the huge burial cairn and the horrifying sentence for sleepy Watchers, the summit had a creeping sadness to it. I stood at the trig, but in the gathered mists could see very little.

This was a pity, as it was said to be one of the places in Mann where you could see the six kingdoms – Mann, Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and Heaven.

No seeing Heaven for me today, and I started my descent, passing by the path that lead back to a small keeill; a church that in once a hermit priest had lived. This hill had seen it all.

The heather became tall bracken once more as I came down out the height of the mist and into the day which, by now, was really starting to get hot. The bracken clad path went out to coastside again and over a stream, round to the small village of Niarbyl. A small thatched cottage there is so picturesque that it has been shot for film, TV, and instagram far more times than I can count. I decided it didn’t need another snap taken and just enjoyed the bay it sat in instead.

The path lead from Niarbyl, eventually, into Glen Maye. On the last of my reserves, I was grateful for the shade as I pottered through the greenery, now waddling slow. A bridge and a climb took me back gazing seaward and the chirps of stonechats, busy in the gorse, were thoroughly undistracted by my presence. Here was my last glimpse of The Sound and The Calf; now seeming quite far away.

WWII Internment Camps

The role demanded of the Isle of Man during the Second World War is an uneasy one. The UK government declared that the island would be set up with a number of internment camps to hold refugees from countries occupied by Hitler’s regime.

Paranoia ran rife among the UK goverment and any of these newcomers had to be treated with suspicion.The tribunals were quick to send people over and up to 14,000 internees were eventually held on the island.

Barbed wire fences were hurriedly constructed around hotels and other buildings of large accomodation. Whilst more secure camps were also set up for political prisoners and prisoners of war, the accomodation for refugees from the Netherlands, France, Belguim and also from Axis powers such as Italy were no more than basic.

Initially women and men were housed in different camps though, eventually, one was set up purely for married couples. Whilst in time the camps, mainly organised by civilians rather than the military, allowed the detainees greater and greater access to the island, it remains a dark and much debated part of our wartime history. With the vast majority of these detainees being scared civilians, and so few being spies, was this policy of dehuminising internment and a further injury to freedom ever really justifiable?

I had started at a tower this morning, now a tower signalled that the day’s walk was about to finish. This one, Corrin’s Tower, was a folly but, unlike Milner’s Tower, Corrin and his family had actually lived in it. Now it stood a mile or so back from Peel on an easy path that ambled through the heather and bracken and into the town.

I collapsed on a bench in the promenade, feeling all my exposed skin hot and starting to redden. I was annoyed that a lack of energy resources had caused me to submit defeat to Lhiattee ny Beinee – yes, I was definitely still hung up on that.

“Oh I know you!” yelled a completely unknown woman. I looked up bewildered. “Yes! We saw you yesterday round the back of Port Soderick and I said to Jill here, I said that’s a serious walker with a backpack like that.”

“I’m starting to think not many people come over to backpack the coastal path”

“No they don’t. Not at all. You’re an anomoly. I think its fantastic.”

“Thank you” I said awkwardly, burning with my own sense of failure. She disappeared and reappeared a few minutes later and pressed an ice cream into my hand.

“Looks like you need it” she declared, and bounced off. It turns out that I really did.

I was now on the west coast of the island, in the town that had been the capital before Castletown – until around the 1100s. The Vikings used the River Neb that runs into Peel as a place to keep their longships, and it was with the end of their four and a half centuries of rule and surrender of the island to Scotland that Castletown became the capital. I wonder where the next capital will be once trade and transport demand a different hub to Douglas?

The castle, attached to the harbour by a short causeway, has a rose tinge. The local stone had changed from the grey slate I saw heading south and round to the west, and now was red sandstone from here to the northern point. The castle was built around a Celtic monastery which was absorbed into the building by the Vikings, and, like Castle Rushen, has had new fortifications added in every era since.

It isn’t surprising that a castle of this age is supposedly haunted. What is suprising is that it is only haunted by one ghost; the ghost of a dog. The Mhoddy Dhoo is not even your typical black grim, large and ferocious and approaching with a sense of doom; it is a curly haired spaniel that likes curling up next to fires. There are no more fires in Peel Castle, and so sightings of it are now outside the walls as well. I think it just wants a friend.

I knew the path ahead, on which I would leave tomorrow, was a disused railway line and I could not imagine that would be a suitable place to camp as I would have little choice but to set up on the trail itself, back from the town was a criss cross of roads that I didn’t want to start examining, so I retreated, back to Corrin’s Folly, to find a space in the heathland below the tower to spend a, hopefully more restful, night.

  • Distance: 14.5 miles
  • Total Elevation: 3018ft
  • Terrain: Clifftops, steep mountain paths, mountain moorland, quiet lanes, footpaths
  • Toughness: (Subjectively) 8/10
  • Maps Used: Harvey Maps Superwalker XT30: Isle of Man

7 thoughts on “Raad Ny Foillan, Day 2: Port Erin to Peel (14.5 miles)

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