Raad Ny Foillan, Day 5: Ramsey to Laxey (13 miles)

I dipped my red, burned, blistered, bitten legs in the waters after I packed up my tent. The relief from the night of sweating and itching was enormous and now I just never wanted to leave. However, the sun would catch up with me in only a few hours; I did not have the time to sit around feeling sorry for myself.

I ventured into and, thankfully, away from Ramsey through a small and lovely public garden that took me up to my first exposure to the electric railway line that I would cross a few times in the next two days. The coaches are small and vintage in style, possibly still in keeping with the original design from when the railway opened at the turn of the twentieth century. The word ‘railway’ gives the impression of something far more industrial than it is; essentially we’re talking about a cute, chattering tram here and not the Trans Pennine Express.

I followed the sea wall round at Gob ny Rona and set off towards Maughold Head. This bulbous head of land is the closet point to England, being only 50 miles from St Bees in Cumbria. I was back in busy fields and alongside hedgerow, feeling far away from yesterday’s morning along the long and deserted stretch of sand. Eventually I reached the village of St Maughold and visited the shelter of stone crosses in the churchyard.

I call them crosses here, because that’s what most people see when they look at them. They’re really runestones, influenced from the island’s Norse history and sculpted in a crossover with the Celtic traditions. It was their cross shapes that lead the later established Christian churches to not condemn them as pagan and, instead, raise and preserve them. There are many that are just carved into stones as well, and the whole collection is spread through the parishes of the island.

Extremely distinct in their merging of tradition; containing letters from Ogham, Latin and Runic alphabets and portraying scenes from Norse, Celtic and Christian myths and stories, these stones and crosses are a unique part of the island’s history and identity.

St Machud, after whom the head and the village is named, was originally a bit of a rogue and joker in the fifth century. Legend has it he tried to play a prank on St Patrick by presenting a live man to him, dressed in a shroud, and begging for his blessing. Unbeknownst to him, the shrouded man had died in the interim. On Machud’s apology and evident remorse, St Patrick resurrected the dead man, baptised all the men involved in the prank and scolded Machud, telling him he should be using his influence to get men to live good lives instead. He was pushed out from the Irish shore by the saint in a wicker boat with a couple of oars and told to surrender his fate to God.

His fate eventually brought his fragile raft to a head on the northwest corner of the Isle of Man where he chose to live penitently in a cave until his piousness inspired the people to ask him to take the title of Bishop. The head where he landed became St Maughold’s Head, and he became the patron saint of the island.

It wouldn’t be an awful piece of the island to end up, if you were up on the lush and green land of course. Caves are situated down the sheer, dark drops to the sea where waves crash incessantly and a constant state of peril must always have been there. At the time he docked here, the island was still free. It wouldn’t be long before it became a much fought over piece of land.

As it is, whilst Mann has been under the rule of one country or another for most of its existence, it has pretty much been left to its own devices, and currently the intrusion of Westminster is minimal and rare. However, sometimes it is required.

Capital Punishment

Capital punishment was only outlawed in the Isle of Man in 1993. It came as a surprise to many Islanders that it still existed. As murder and crimes that might warrant it are so incredibly rare, the Tynwald did not bring the Island’s laws in line with that of the UK when the death sentence was abolished on the mainland in 1965.

This was unfortunate for Tony Teare, a Manxman who killed a woman over a £600 debt in 1992. On his guilty verdict, the judge was forced by law to sentence him to death.

It was with great relief for the Judge, the Islanders and, not least, for Mr Teare himself, when the UK brought themselves into it who promptly overturned the sentence and replaced it with life imprisonment.

However, with this being the third time in the previous 30 years that this ‘macabre dance’ between the island and the UK had been performed over the death penalty, the Tynwald finally saw fit to update its laws. And got rid of the one that still allowed birching as well while they were at it.

Continuing on, I passed by two coves within the sight of the head and its cliff-line changing and warping behind me to something different every time I turned. Heading back inward, Snaefell rose ominously directly to the front. It is the only true mountain on the island, and only just one at that. Rising 2034ft it has become an encouraged tourist hotspot. The electric railway (that is actually a tram) has a route that will take visitors all the way up to the summit where they can enjoy the view of the six kingdoms from a café. This is certainly not everyone’s idea of the best way to enjoy a mountain and many hikers and avid climbers take to different, albeit shorter, hills instead. Like North Barrule, where Manannan once had his home, Slieau Freoaghane or the three that I attempted on my second day.

The name Snaefell translates as ‘Snow Mountain’ and it can absolutely be quickly engulfed in unexpected weather. It might only just be a mountain, but it is still subject to the unpredictability that sustained elevation brings with it. And the same moody melancholy that so much of the hidden, hilly centre of the island inspires. After all that has been constructed on Snaefell, it perhaps gives the illusion that all the island is so genteel, yet the wilderness of the interior has always been so infrequently populated as to constantly be mysterious. It’s ruggedness, mournful mists and peaks and valleys the starting point for many legends that overflow to the coast in abundance.

The paranormal entities of the island are not limited to fairies; there are trolls and satyrs and goblins – or Buggane, Phynnodderee and Glashtyn. The malevolent troll-like Buggane reside in the glens, which is odd since they cannot cross water, and are called on by the Mooinjer Veggey to punish their offenders. The Phynnodderee is a cursed member of the fairy realm, having committed the crime of falling in love with a Manxwoman, being thereafter made deformed and covered with hair. Unlike the Buggane, he is helpful; often appearing to aid in construction or herding. The Glashtyn shapeshifts, emerging from his aquatic home to chase unwilling women.

I thought of all these legends as the path took me up, curving on the western slopes of the hills, interrupted occasionally by the railway line and its small, colourful, boxy station huts. The path steepened and the views spread out below and around – Maughold Head flattened down below. A crown of pine trees gave a welcome shade over the path and I passed another neolithic burial cairn, another keeill and an old Quaker burial ground. The burial ground was isolated and lonely; its existence only through kindness.

Quakers first came to the island in the 1600s after persecution in England was basically made law. Despite the Isle of Man already being outside the laws of England, the stigma against the Quakers still persisted and the group were punished for every small infraction, often being the subject of public humiliation and vulnerable to having their possessions seized They were not allowed burial in consecrated ground so a respected farmer, who in time became a convert, sympathetic to their plight, set aside this piece of his land for them to bury their dead. It was a sombre little space, among the pines, reflective and heavy with sadness. The view obscured by trees and only the most distant sounds of the sea could be heard, otherwise just the quiet chirp and rustle of this higher up path.

The Neolithic barrow stood opposite, a mound covered in a natural purple wreath of heather. From here, just out of the trees, the view was larger and the jagged edge of the land made its way round to the bulbous head. Then up and away a craggy profile, half distinct like a hand pressing muslin, on the horizon across the sea; the Lake District.

I left the height that the path along the flank of the hills had given me, and descended into Glen Cornaa, rich and busy with plant and birdlife, chattering and dancing away in contrast to the quiet hillside path. Small waterfalls and pools trickled, flowed and shone on their way down to the sea and people were starting to make their way down to enjoy the water and the shade.

Returning back, up again, from the coast, I was thrown onto a frustrating series of footpaths. Unclear, as many small paths ran out in many directions, this was the only directional uncertainty of the whole path. I would find myself committing to one path, seemingly leading in the right direction, only to find it sliding off elsewhere or coming to a dead end in the overgrown bracken and I became increasingly frustrated. The Manx Footpath Conservation Group will hear of this!

I eventually decided that this crappy little neglected field paths were not nearly so scenic nor in any sort of interesting enough space to have to endure a laborious navigation and, instead, took myself to the pavement beside the coastal road that ran down to Laxey. It may not have been a romantic, nature based solution, but believe me when I say it was preferable and, strangely, far more enjoyable. The sea stretched out lazily on one side as Laxey came into view, and the occasional biker zoomed by in a blaze of leather and swatches of colour.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy

The sparsely populated roads of the Isle of Man have always made it a destination for motorcyclists and it just made sense, since 1907, to make a whole event of it.

The Isle of Man TT is a time trial event over two weeks – one for practice and one for racing. The loop sits over 38 miles on the northern half of the island, using public roads along the coast and into the mountains with an elevation from sea level to 1300ft.

The course, with its hidden corners, 200 bends, drops and lack of barriers has not been altered since 1911, but the technology and the speed of the bikes keeps improving. This has lead to it being known as the most dangerous motorsport event in the world with 146 deaths. If the amateur races are included, that number rises to over 250.

However, it is the challenge of it, and the ceremony and community that surrounds it that continues to attract bikers to the event and for those two weeks each year in June, the island becomes a heaving haven for bikers from across the world.

The final steep path into the town threw me out onto the promenade. Laxey was built up a glen and the town was slender and rose steeply up the sides of the river. The sun was now at full blaze and, try as I might, there was no shade to be found on the promenade. The sun scorched down, making the walkways shimmer and everything that could reflect a glare do so. One café, built in an old shelter, offered partial relief, but there was only so many ice creams and cold drinks I could buy to warrant me using up a table at this busy time and, eventually, after an hour, I slid out to go up the glen and into the rest of the town.

As the streets ran straight up from the port, they caught the full burn of the sun too. There was absolutely no relief. Everywhere throughout the town there were billboards and postcards and posters chatting about the Laxey Wheel and, eventually, I stumbled across it. This colourful waterwheel was erected in 1854 to push water away from the Laxey mine complex, and was affectionately known as ‘Lady Isabella’ after the then Lieutenant Governor’s wife.

Here’s the deal; yes it was a lovely and visually interesting wheel but something was yet to explain the absolute and resolute affection for it throughout history. It’s even had two pieces of music written about it and features on the Manx £20 note!

Maybe I was just finding reasons to be unimpressed with everything whilst suffering in the sun. I realised the overbearing and direct heat would prevent me from continuing, yet I really could not stay out scurrying from one small form of shade to another – I just didn’t have the money to hide out in pub gardens (where it seemed the only accessible trees were) for the next six hours until the sun finally decided to start sinking at its late summer hour. I was going to have to book a campsite.

The campsite wasn’t the most impressively positioned; located in a hedged field next to a school and surrounded on all sides by residential streets, it wasn’t exactly a natural haven. However the warden kindly placed me in the most sheltered spot (I must have looked a mess) where I would erect my tent, plonk myself down, and somehow forgive the neighbouring pitch for playing early 2000s emo rock all evening because here in the shade, all things seemed so much easier.

  • Distance: 13 miles
  • Maximum height: 1525ft
  • Terrain: glens, clifftops, quiet roads, meadow
  • Toughness: 6/10
  • Maps Used: Harvey Maps Superwalker XT30: Isle of Man

7 thoughts on “Raad Ny Foillan, Day 5: Ramsey to Laxey (13 miles)

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