Start and Finish: Douglas
Distance: 100 miles (161km)
Total ascent: 11040ft (3365m)
Traditional sections: (clockwise over seven days)
- Douglas – Castletown, 18 miles
- Castletown – Port Erin, 13 miles
- Port Erin – Peel, 14.5 miles
- Peel – Jurby 14.5 miles
- Jurby – Ramsey, 16 miles
- Ramsey – Laxey, 13 miles
- Laxey – Douglas, 11 miles
For context to the below observations, opinions and advice; I backpacked solo self supported over six days. I am a petite woman in her early thirties with a maintained, high fitness level. I have extensive hiking experience and moderate but varied backpacking experience. I am reasonably confident in both navigation and first aid. Please take my report with the source in mind and adjust for your own prior experience, expectations and arrangements. I am, of course, open to all questions and will do my best to answer them appropriately.
Would I recommend this path?
I planned to do Raad ny Foillan knowing that this was not going to be an isolated wilderness adventure, but I look for different things from different hikes. In this case I was exploring a part of our islands that was unknown to me, forged through a different story than our mainland; it was a hike for me that would also explore history, culture, mythology, sociology and language in balance with geology and nature. On top of which, lets be honest, its pretty awesome to say you’ve done a coastal path around an entire nation.
I would absolutely recommend this path to those looking for that sort of multifaceted hike. For those that want more wilderness and hillwalking, there’s no reason why you couldn’t plan days in the interior where it is more hilly and less populated, I’m sure there are wonderful places to find there and I would greatly like to hear about them.
How challenging is this trail?
The LDWA rates it as challenging. It certainly isn’t the easiest the path I’ve done, except I cannot specifically isolate the physical aspect that makes it challenging – the path is pretty well maintained, despite its variations, the hills are not exceptionally high and that complete bitch of a walk across the pebble beach was only seven miles. The challenge, personally, came to be because it wasn’t on a path on which there was much opportunity to just mentally switch off and enjoy only walking – I was constantly having to consider my balance, my exposure, my placement, tides, the weather (and in that, very occasionally, road walking was briefly enjoyable).
It was more of a mental push than a physical one in this regard, though the physical aspect was hardly isolated to just one or two different terrains – it covered dodgy clifftops, hillwalking, glens, both sand and shale beaches and, well, navigating cowfields (my absolute favourite…). However, you are never too far from civilisation and navigation is extremely easy – even if I had not brought a map and there were no waymarks, ‘is the sea on my left and am I on the closest path to it?’ was pretty much the jist.
I think it is fairly common for us to underestimate coastal paths; there’s some sort of assumption that its all just idling along flat, packed sand when anyone that has attempted even one section of one knows otherwise. It’s definitely a strong moderate trail; it’s not a cakewalk, but there’s plenty of reprieve.
Unless you have a fear of heights, in which case, this may not be the one for you.
Would I recommend it as a first long distance path?
I think it would be an excellent long distance path as long as the walker is bearing in mind that even if you were to go in the height of July like I did, the weather on any coastal region is unpredictable and to prepare for any eventuality.
It is well supported in terms of towns along the way, and navigation is extremely simple. If you are looking for a first long distance path where you will have a variety of physical challenges, but also a pretty much daily opportunity for fish and chips, where you don’t have to learn too much in the way of complex navigation and can change your shelter plans swiftly this is a good one. I would recommend being at least moderately fit though (especially if you are carrying a backpack), because, like I say, it is easy to underestimate.
How long is the path?
The Raad ny Foillan is 100 miles. It can easily be adapted to go inland and explore more of the hillier areas, but also passes through areas where someone might relish an excursion to the Calf or, in my case, the Cullaghs.
Other sources state it is 98 miles and the LDWA, strangely, seems to be an outlier in measuring it at 95 miles. My own contraptions measured it at 100 so that’s what I’m committing to,
As it is circular, it can be started from any point and be walked either clockwise or anticlockwise. I walked clockwise from Douglas (as appears traditional). Even though the first six miles was on road, I’d probably be inclined to walk this way again; it was a more civilised start around the cliffs of the south before hitting the hills and getting into the long and empty beaches towards the north, and the last day from Laxey was a surprisingly lovely day to end on.
What is accommodation like?
I wildcamped for four nights, had one prebooked campsite (Ballaugh – off trail) and one that I spontaneously booked (Laxey). The last night was spent in a prebooked budget hotel in Douglas.
Accommodation for campers and those using guesthouses/hotels appears more than plentiful. There were campsites nearby every day of the walk. None of them were tent only, in fact they were dominated by motorhomes (most of which seemed to be owned by islanders or regular mainland visitors), but all appeared to come with a basic kitchen and shower block. I would be confident saying that if you were looking to either prebook or spontaneously book campsites each night it would be pretty easy (excluding the Point of Ayre).
Campsites can be found simply by typing “Campsites, Isle of Man” into Google or on sites such as campsite.uk (though what displays there is an extremely limited selection compared to what is actually available. Pitchup doesn’t appear to list any). If you do feel the need for the reassurance of prebooking, you might be better off contacting Tourist Information for the most thorough information.
Guesthouses and hotels would all probably require prior booking, but there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of them either. Once again, I am a backpacker, I am not the best resource for this, but there does appear to be a decent amount in a wide price range.
What there is a lack of, is hostels. If you are looking at staying at hostels, you might be better off booking one or two and then travelling on and off the trail each night. There is also a bunkhouse at Knockaloe Beg Farm near Peel if you need a cheapish night of comfort (annoyingly though, like many sites semi-post pandemic, they are currently only taking two night bookings minimum)
Be warned that if you are looking to walk the entirety of this path and stay at formal accommodation, be that camping or in an actual bed, that the entire island books out months in advance during the TT which occurs for two weeks each year usually in June. Other motorbike events can also see a squeeze on these resources on the island so you are best off checking the events calendar before you commit to your dates.
Can I wildcamp?
Legally, no. In theory, yes, easily. As there appears to be a great number of outdoors enthusiasts on the island, I came across a lot of support for wildcamping, especially since I gave indication I was responsible, aware and respectful in this regard.
The Isle of Man, like many places back on the mainland, have also really suffered for irresponsible, disrespectful or just plain ignorant wildcamping during the pandemic. Therefore, if you do wish to wildcamp, please follow the below guidelines:
- Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
- Solo or small groups
- Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
- Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet. Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not an area of protected growth or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out – for instance, do not pitch up in or near the areas fenced off for the ground nesting birds.
- No fires. Definitely no fires sourced from trees in the area. Shoreline, stone based fires away from plantlife and grasses might be more permissible, but do so at your own risk and discretion after taking into account the visibility and the potential for coastal wind to make things go wrong. If you do not know yet how to construct a fire, do not use the trail as the opportunity to learn; teach yourself beforehand.
- Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.
How easy is it to resupply?
It is really easy to resupply while still staying on trail; you will pass by at least one half decent co-op on most sections. The only stretch where it is less easy is between Kirk Michael and Ramsey – this is only 18 miles or so.
There are quite a few places with limited opening hours on Thursdays and, obviously, Sundays. Keep that in mind.
How are water sources?
I went in the middle of a heatwave and water was absolutely no problem. Towns are passed through most day, sometimes multiple, on top of which there are plenty of freshwater glens, streams and reservoirs. Do not be flippant about it though; I still filled 2L at any opportunity.
Obviously do not drink the seawater.
What guidebook and map do I bring?
I used the Cicerone guide by Aileen Evans. It is thorough, small and up to date. It is worth getting. There doesn’t appear to be any other printed guidebooks available at present.
I did bring the Harvey Maps; Isle of Man Superwalker X30 but it quickly became just a guide to see what was ahead rather than confirming my position. As mentioned, this is an extremely easy path to navigate with very few questioning areas – keep the sea to your left and then if you are on the path that is closest to the sea you’re doing fine. If you lose the trail, you’re never going to get too lost; it’s pretty easy to just find your way back.
I personally will not take responsibility though for advising anyone go without a map and compass therefore I will still give my main criticism of the Harvey Map – Harvey has a standard which they fell somewhat short of in this map for this path in that the chosen indication of it is a series of fairly large purple blobs which often makes the precise placement of the path indistinct. This did not become a huge issue at all, but it is absolutely annoying.
How do I get there?
Ferries to the Isle of Man leave from Liverpool (2hrs 45mins) and Heysham (3hrs 45mins) in England, Belfast (2hrs 45mins) in Northern Ireland, and Dublin (2hrs 55mins) in Ireland. Direct flights to Ronaldsway Airport arrive from ten UK airports including London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast City. I took the ferry from Liverpool. I needed photo based identification to take the ferry, but it did not have to be my passport. I used my drivers license.
I am briefly going to talk about geography, politics and Covid (yes I said a dirty word. Maybe three). You see, whilst the Isle of Man is part of the British Islands, it is not part of the United Kingdom. It is a Crown Dependency. Whilst Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are devolved nations, all given the ability to self govern to varying extents over their countries, they are all ultimately under the rule of Westminster.
The Isle of Man is almost completely self-governed with its own legal and fiscal system and Westminster has no influence in its governance. It is a completely separate nation that just happens to have the same head of state. Until the day that the government of the Isle of Man; the Tynwald, is no longer deemed to be giving good governance, there is seen as no need for Westminster to interfere. Therefore the UK is responsible for the defence of the island (in case Manannan is having an off day), the island uses pound sterling, and its citizens are all British citizens. However, the Isle of Man never joined the EU to begin with, its parliamentary parties have no presence in Westminster (and Westminster no presence in the Tynwald), and it has its own stamps. The Queen is also Queen of the Isle of Man, except there she’s not the Queen; she’s the Lord of Mann.
This means that the Isle of Man has set its own rules through the pandemic. It took the action of completely shutting its borders on the 27th March 2020 and has only just re-opened them on 28th June 2021. In order to enter the Isle of Man, I needed to send a picture of my completed vaccination card more that 36 hours before my ferry departure and, upon it being authorised, use the authorisation number in a landing card to be filled in within 48 hours of my arrival. I also could not have been anywhere other than the UK in the ten days before my visit. Upon arrival I was not subject to testing, but was expected to keep the vaccination card upon my person, respect the remaining Covid restrictions of the island, and report any symptoms immediately.
Consider this part of leaving no impact. The Isle of Man took a drastic step in isolating itself for over a year and, as a result, suffered under 30 deaths in its population of 85,000. It would be an incredibly sad thing if after all that endurance and all that closure, if non-reporting or laid-back visitors brought new bouts and strains to its population.
What other write ups would I recommend?
There’s really not that many detailed ones out there, especially from others that backpacked or, at least, camped. There are far more in depth write ups from section walkers, trail runners and tourism outlets. I certainly did not manage to go with a decent idea of anyone else’s experience, but here is what I did use;
The engaging Laura Try backpacked and wildcamped around it in four days. Her 15 minute video is well produced and she is informative, enthusiastic and, despite her walk being done in such a short amount of time, gives a really nice overview (I completely forgot she also had a rough time of the hills, but she did actually do Lhiattee ny Beinee unlike yours truly)
Pete’s Trip Reports also is fairly detailed though his route around the island is convoluted due to, at the time of his writing, apparently not being able to find enough campsites to feel able to walk linearly (this does not appear to be the case anymore). However, it does speak to the flexibility of the trail and the fact that, with the island being quite small, it is very doable to have one or two central bases and travel to and from them doing the trail in whatever order you might like.
As always, the LDWA is a dry, albeit extremely thorough resource and the people over on r/UKhiking are always happy to chime in and help. Don’t be daunted either, to use instagram hashtags ( #raadnyfoillan #isleofmancoastalpath) and DM those that have done the trail or live in the vicinity.