Moghrey mie Mooinjey Veggey
I made sure to remember to greet the Mooinjer Veggey for the final time as I walked away from the campsite. Today might have been my last day but that was still plenty of time to make myself a target of their nonsense and I’d prefer to make back to Douglas in one piece, whatever superstition that required.
Ultimately, I thought I’d been decent enough in respecting the land that any fairies, trolls, goblins and ghosts had kindly let me be, though the vegisivir rune on my backpack had perhaps gone way, way too far in protecting me against rough weather; half a day of rain would really not have gone amiss. I wasn’t about to start whinging about positive outcomes of my skeptical superstitions though; that didn’t seem clever with one more day of walking to go.
The tide was too high for me to go down to the beach and take the hidden route that slunk up and through the cliffs, so I followed the empty morning road up to their height instead, weaving through the tiny clifftop village, endearingly called ‘Fairy Cottage’, and stumbling back down to find myself in a captivating little bay. Looking out back to an early morning Laxey on one side, a small collection of now distant speckles of lights and roofs, and the wide open sea ahead. A small boat idled on the water like a basking seal.
The bay was a small little hug amid the cliffs with trees behind and a boarded hut with a shaded porch. You know what would have been perfect? If I had carried on for an hour last night to camp here rather than behind a shower block next to a couple singing along to Evanescence. (It was cringy when we were fourteen my dudes, it’s cringier now we’re in our thirties.)
I wouldn’t have been the first person to hide down here in Garwick Bay. Legend has it that the Duchess of Gloucester escaped from her imprisonment in Peel Castle with the aid of a befriended hermit and laid low here for over a year. And when I say ‘legend’, I really mean ‘Shakespeare’. The story woven in Henry II is, in reality, just a story (the Duchess never escaped) but its one that has stuck. After all, who wouldn’t want to hide from the world in such a beautiful place?
It wasn’t the only time this one, tiny bay appeared in literature – Sir Walter Scott wrote it into his novel Guy Mannering as the bay frequented by his smuggling antagonist, Dick Haiterick. Haiterick is described as ‘half Manx, half Dutch, and half the Devil’ and stowed his illegal gains in a cave here. I’m guessing his maths skills were superior to the narrator’s to become such a successful and feared businessman.
Eventually, I would have to leave this lovely floor of strata and the tapestries of green vines, trees and plants that reached around the edges from the dense and inviting woods behind, but I took my time before climbing out the glen and making my way on to round Clay Head. The bay disappeared quickly from view, hiding once again between the cliffs as if it had never existed.
The views out from Clay Head were wide and wonderful. Here I entered the Ballanette Wetlands Conservation Area; a farming area where only the most environmental and ecological practices were observed. Not only were there absolutely no chemicals used on the land, but hay wouldn’t be cut until late August to allow ground nesting birds a place to breed in peace and without disturbance. Several rare flowers have since started to flourish in the rewilding areas. People were encouraged to walk through on excellent paths and enjoy stargazing; Ballanette is a registered Dark Skies site and the Northern Lights have been sighted from here at Clay Head.
A small gate and footpath invited me into a rewilded field; a thick maze of wildflowers busy with all manner of crawling, hovering and flying life; grand, proud butterflies with wings that were striped, spotted and splodged with colour like tiny little palettes and the chirp of grasshoppers somewhere lower than I could observe. By tranquil pools, damselflies hovered and a moorhen ran across the far banks.
I felt lucky to be alone here now; a magical sanctuary for the plants and the earth to rest, recover and thrive into the brilliance that surrounded me. I’m sure it is, at times, a very popular place; there was even a metal cup attached to a tap encouraging walkers to fill up their water.
A dip of the path took me away from them to an inhabited beach at Groundle. Whilst large and wide and pretty, it didn’t hold a candle to the charm of the bay at Garwick or the brilliance of the wetlands but I was getting extremely spoilt now after days of glorious glens. From here I followed the road alongside the electric railway line and got lost in thought as I ambled slowly around the height of the hill. Any busy traffic was taking the main road higher up, and it was only the occasional vehicle that passed me.
A bike zoomed towards and by me, but I became aware of it stopping and turning. As I swooped around curiously, something launched through the air and bounced onto the pavement; a somewhat squashed and worse for wear snickers bar.
“I’ve been carrying that around for days wondering if I would bump into you again!” yelled Moss, the biker from The Sound café. He was extremely pleased with himself.
“Yep!” I picked up the battered chocolate bar and thanked him “How far are you from finish?”
“Not far at all! It’s just a few more miles and…well…there” I pointed ahead of me where I only just realised that Douglas had opened up into sight. “Oh wow, that’s really close”
“You didn’t really need a cheerleader then”
“Yeah but I did really need a snickers”
He started up the bike again and insisted I must go for breakfast at Capones when I got into Douglas in about an hour or so. He rode off and up and away, the sounds of his engine getting quickly quieter until I was alone on the road again, clutching a snickers bar and looking down at my finish. It was only an hour or so away. The morning had gone incredibly quickly, maybe I should have loitered in Garwick Bay or had a nap in Ballanette or just have gone off route and inland here at this stretch, just to delay finishing.
I had anticipated that it would be strange to see Douglas from the other side knowing that, by then, it would firmly indicate an entire loop of the island, but I didn’t think I’d feel this little bit of sadness. Despite all the horseflies, the sunburn, the annoyance at the hills, the shale shoreline on the way to Ramsey and the constant fear of falling, it felt like it was ending too soon.
Coat of Arms
The flag, depicting the triskelion of armoured legs, can be seen flying proud on every harbour and from many a home and vehicle on the island, but it forms only part of the coat of arms.
The triskelion, in use since the 1200s, comes from the story of Manannan’s victory over invaders as he made himself into such a wheel and rolled into the bay to cut the boats apart with his spurs. However two birds flank the legs on the coat of arms; the raven and the falcon.
Falcons were paid in homage by the lineage of Sir John Stanley, who was granted the Isle as his own land, to every British monarch on their coronation until the Lordship of Mann came under the crown itself. The Raven is a bird commonly found in Norse mythology, accompanying Odin and representing wisdom. To be accompanied by a raven is to be protected by the Gods.
Finally the motto of the Isle, half a wry commentary on the leggy triskelion, half a resolute declaration of the spirit that has seen Mann through so many centuries of change. Through everything, it has retained its own identity, style, culture and folklore and, in all that, its own resilience.
Quocunque Jeceris Stabit – “Whithersoever way you throw it, it will stand”
A last path went off the road and onto the clifftops, back to the sorts of views and careful footing I had started on a week ago except now I was far more accustomed to the heights and dared the occasional downwards look to the crash and spray and vigous of the waves on the dark rocks. It wound around Onchan, Douglas getting larger and larger, the gulls crying above and around as I made the final push to the promenade.
As grass and dirt gave way to pavement one last time I briefly considered just passing through and doing it all again. I had loved this path. I had loved the discovery of it; how every day there were new treasures and challenges to explore, and new people; some of the friendliest and nicest people a hike has ever brought me to.
I knew this wouldn’t be my last time on this island; there was the interior still to explore and Lhiattee ny Beinee still to conquer and the Langness peninsula still to round. There were places still to camp and three other seasons to experience. There were old stories still to be heard and new stories still to be made.
But there are different paths to go explore first. After all, traa di liooar; there’s time enough for that.
- Distance: 10 miles
- Total Elevation: 11750ft
- Terrain: Grassy footpaths, meadows, quiet lanes, briefly on the main road
- Toughness: 2/10
- Maps Used: Harvey Maps Superwalker XT30: Isle of Man