It was only as I closed my book, snuggled into my sleeping bag, and turned over to sleep that I remembered that the Corrin family had not just lived here at the tower, they were buried here. The graves sat on the other side of the folly. Great, was I now going to be in for a night of shenanigans initiated by a family of dead, eccentric Victorians? If I was, it would have to be louder than the wind that rattled the rainfly of my tent. Who knows? Maybe they wailed and sung and threw things around all night. I had no idea. They probably got bored quickly because I fell asleep very fast.
As the sun started to rise, I broke camp. The days had become so hot so quickly and I aimed to start as early as possible to try and outwalk the worst of the heat. This sort of summer burn here was very unusual and continued until late in the evening. Whilst it was often deeply uncomfortable, it was definitely better than endless rain, fog or snow. I’d rather be sticky and sweaty all over than shivering and constantly wet.
I made my way back down towards, and then through, Peel. I kept to the promenade that quickly became a lane that then became a footpath. The cliffs had changed now, into the soft and smooth red sandstone that built the castle, and the stone walls were no longer the jagged constructs, but rounded and pink. This part of the island was once on a completely different continent, one that spent a lot of time around the equator and brought with it the geology of that area when it collided with the south, before North America tore off one way and Europe the other. Sand was held in massive glaciers that eventually thawed and dumped up to forty feet of it in deposits over this northern sliver of the island. The difference is dramatic; the moody and grim, jagged, sedimentary slate beds of the southern cliffs against this softened and dreamy outline.
The path went on to follow the disused railway line, which I would follow for most of the day. I had not initially been looking forward to this, thinking it would be pretty boring. My experiences with disused railway lines being repurposed into footpaths is varied – some are basic and purely functional, whilst others have had a hell of a lot of time and effort put in. This turned out to be the latter and, actually, the walk was enchanting.
True, it was narrowed in between fields and through woods by fencing or by the V shaped valleys through which the railway had initially been forged, but it was sympathetic to both the surroundings and its own history. A lovely green path between waving flowers, occasionally passing under an old railway bridge, occasionally over a piece of preserved track, occasionally through a tunnel, but otherwise completely zen with the space around it. Butterflies fluttered around in an abundance I had not seen outside of a Disney film, absolutely drunk on their flowery feasting.
I wasn’t going to find as much to complain about as I wanted to. Despite a decent sleep, it hadn’t quite been enough to sate my struggling mental energy and I was finding myself glad that today would be an easy day. Secretly though. I was still bitter at my own lack of effort to climb that stupid hill yesterday. Honestly, I’d lost a fair amount of faith in myself.
From here the hills of Coldon, Slieau Ruy and Slieau Freoghane rose in the landscape away from me with Slieau Curn straight ahead. The Isle of Man is surprisingly hilly. The Mountain Guide lists 51 big hills and one mountain, Snaefell, on the island with the central range containing the highest peaks. Infrastructure saw it wise to build the roads in a loop surrounding the island rather than attempt a straight north to south road through. The terrain in the central parts is rough and rugged and barely inhabited. Exploring those would be for another adventure at another time.
The railway line ended at a huge glen, Glen Mooar, after traversing a footbridge over the substantial drop. The deep groove of bright green opened up and the sea beckoned. I made my way down to the shore. The sea! Finally I would be walking right beside the water.
A women with a big, happy Labrador stopped me.
“My friend said there was a girl walking the Raad ny Foillan with a backpack on!”
I can’t say that standing out wasn’t starting to alarm me somewhat but I’d be lying if I said the attention wasn’t a tiny bit cool. Some people go hiking to disappear for a while, it seems I’d become a part of chit chat.
“It looks so good on you”
“You look so good for all the walking, it suits you”
I hadn’t seen a mirror since I left Liverpool and could only imagine that I was a toasty red, greasy thing with lumpy, bitten legs and bruises and scratches all over. I didn’t even care if she was just being kind; I am a a simple creature happy for a simple compliment and, flustered, I went on a long and rambling series of excuses for not having had a shower and what all the various stains on my shirt were, but was inwardly beaming. The dog wanted to go dig holes so she bade me good luck and carried on, but not before pulling a bag of crisps out her bag and insisting I have them.
I crunched on the crisps as I looked out at the sea. Newly buoyed, I enjoyed the moment. After days of hearing the crash and rumble of the sea from an upwards distance, now to hear it tumble and shift and fall away on the sand was awesome. Like finally being at the heart of the trail after journeying through its veins. The sand was real sand now; not pebbles or shale, and I bounded with renewed vigour on my way down to Kirk Michael. The crisps had awoken my appetite, and I was going to see if I could find me some scrambled eggs.
Kirk Michael was approached through a small glen that had been made into a small campsite. Winding my way across to the town, I found a tearoom and sat my smelly, dirty self down at a corner table and announced my desire for eggs. And possibly cake as well. And a hot chocolate please. Maybe bacon. For the eggs, not the hot chocolate.
I took my time over the large plate of thick, buttery toast and fluffy eggs, during which a group of four claimed a table as well. All likely over seventy years old, the three women and one man were a noticeably ripped group of pensioners, clearly not given over to a sedate retirement of knitting and bingo. One lady waved me over and asked what I was doing. I told her I was walking the coastal path.
They all murmured their excitement at this. All had walked at least some, if not all, in sections. I asked what their favourite sections were.
“Port Erin to Peel” announced the first woman decisively “I just loved those hills” Dammit. “Where are you staying?”
“I’m wildcamping for now”
“Oh I wish I had the confidence to do that!”
“You should. Nothing’s going to eat you.”
“Have you read ‘Wild’I?” Ah yes, this familiar chestnut of a question. “You’re just like Cheryl, isn’t she like Cheryl?” The rest of the group enthusiastically agreed with her. Yes, I was definitely exactly like Cheryl Strayed.
“Am I though?” I mean, I wasn’t an addict and my mum was very much alive. I also hadn’t overpacked to the point of packing a saw.
It turned out they were members of the Manx Footpath Conservation Group; a group initially started in the seventies as a lobbying force for establishing public rights of way, their recording and their protection. On having these achieved, the group was now involved in the promotion of recreational walking on these now-protected routes and busied themselves with keeping a close eye on the footpaths of the island and reporting all maintenance issues.
I could honestly tell them that the coastal path was one of the most impressively maintained paths I had ever walked; the section between Port St Mary and Port Erin, despite being on a variety of difficult terrains and subject to great exposure, was so impeccably kept that path creators and maintainers should damn well go and learn a thing or two from whomever the landowner had in charge of it.
I mentioned the path erosion on Cronk ny Arrey Laa, something it seems they had been aware of. I did not mention the high vegetation of the starting sections of the path – that was something that was likely only an issue for a short time before colder and darker days took care of it.
“Where are you aiming for today?”
“Well, I’m actually going a bit inland and off the path today. I’ve booked a proper campsite tonight because I just want to dump my bag and go explore the Curraghs” This prompted a flurry of excited voices.
“You’re going into the Curraghs? I’m so excited someone from off the island knows about the Curraghs! Even those on the island barely visit, in fact, they think those few that live in it are weird.”
“Because only really outdoorsy people even go to the Curraghs, let alone live there. So they’re all wildmen and women.” Naturally, it turned out that one of the women at the table did, in fact, live in the Curraghs.
“Why do you want to go there?”
“Because I want to see if I can see the wallabies”
How come squirrels and foxes never made it over, but animals native to Australia are thriving in the wetlands of the Isle of Man?
In the 1970s, eight captive wallabies dug out of their enclosure and escaped from a wildlife park. Since then, they have merrily bred the wild numbers up to over 100, mainly residing in the area of wetlands that the park backs onto; the Curraghs.
These red-necked wallabies seem to have adapted well to their temperate home in the Irish Sea, though the police have had to rescue the occasional one falling into the ocean. Whilst there is concern that their growing numbers will have a detrimental impact on the ivy and willow species of the area, for now the wallabies are here to stay.
An avid conversation started as to when the members of the group last saw a wallaby. Whilst all had spotted one or two within the last year, they all agreed that more recent viewing information should be gathered so they could go out and find them again.
I started getting my things together to set off to the campsite in Ballaugh. One of the women scribbled down their names and the details of the Manx Footpath Conservation Group before they waved me off.
“Good luck Cheryl!”
It was only to be a short hour or so walk inland from here at Kirk Michael to the campsite at Ballaugh. When I arrived, I was greeted by the enthusiastic and proud campsite owner who seemed very fond of his electric mountain bike, and chose a pitch in the far, back corner where I set up my tent and threw down my bag. I placed a pungent wad of clothes in the washing machine, gratefully had a much needed shower, and plugged my thirsty power bank in to charge in the small kitchen before setting off again.
There is a Curraghs Wildlife Park that exists down the road; presumably the one from which the original Wallabies escaped, but to get into the wetlands proper I turned north west for a mile and then took a track off the road. It was unbelievably freeing to not be carrying the pack right now and it was like new energy was revitalizing my bones that had been protesting loudly just a few hours ago.
The Curraghs were formed when the glacial retreat left a basin at the base of the northern hills, allowing the wetlands to grow. It is densely peated, which used to be cut for fuel, and home to a great variety of butterflies and birds of prey. There is also a subspecies of wren that is believed to be unique to the island. Six kinds of orchid grow amongst the scrub, brush and central, dense woodland. The southern area is so dense it was hard to take a picture with any perspective, but the shade was a welcome reprieve from the ferocious sun.
The Manx words for certain flowers don’t roll off the tongue with much ease, but do have delightful translations. Sleggan slieau is the word for ‘foxglove’, roughly meaning ‘hill cleaver’, whilst Tramman for ‘elder’ translates as an ‘entangled rope’. ‘Honeysuckle’ becomes Ullaagagh which I have no idea how to pronounce, but it just looks pleasing.
In 2013, the carnivorous bladderwort was discovered to have returned to the island after an absence of fifteen years.
Found in the Curraghs, it adapted to surviving in nutrient poor pools of water by developing suction traps, or ‘bladders’ along the water-side of its rootless stem. Small water fleas are trapped and slowly digested.
Of the four types of bladderwort found in the British Isles, the Isle of Man is home to two of them. To find flowering versions of any species is unusual
The Manx word for ‘bladderwort’ is ‘lus ny grammanyn‘.
Despite not seeing any wallabies, I returned to camp a few hours later a lot more content and upbeat than I had been that morning. I wiled away the last hours of the day reading under the shaded outdoor space of the kitchen area. I took far too large a liking to the freezer full of ice cream next to an honesty box and ended up having the sort of dinner my seven year old self insisted she would have every single day when she was an adult and no one could tell her what she could and couldn’t do.
I regret nothing.
- Distance: 11.5 miles
- Total Elevation: 200ft
- Terrain: Grassy footpaths, shoreline (sand), glens
- Toughness: 3/10
- Maps Used: Harvey Maps Superwalker XT30: Isle of Man