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Isle Of Man Coastal Path

a travel blog by martin_b

A circular trip around the Isle of Man, completely by foot...well, except a ferry across the Irish Sea. And back. Oh, and a lift to the pub. And back from the pub.
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Setting Off

Birkenhead, United Kingdom

OK, technically Wendy gave me a lift to Birkenhead, but it seems a better place to start...

While I actually like Birkenhead (you have to see the Giant Grasshopper, and the historic warships, and of course the view across the Mersey), the docks aren't very nice, so no pictures!

Suffice to say that I got on board the Ben-My-Chree (which means something in Manx but I wouldn't know what), had a pretty smooth sailing, and arrived in the dark in Douglas without mishap, other than being sat next to a rotund gentleman who insisted on showing me his photos and telling me all sorts of (possibly false) stories about the island. Apparently there is some sort of Island mafia which runs everything, and it's cheaper to buy Manx food in Liverpool than on the island. Presumably due to the aforementioned mafia.

(At £15 each way, this ferry is probably the cheapest way to get out of the UK. It was a bit slow, because they'd manage to collide the fast boat with an oil tanker...quite an achievement. They did it in the Mersey, so it's not like either of them was even moving quickly.)

permalink written by  martin_b on March 11, 2007 from Birkenhead, United Kingdom
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In Douglas

Douglas, Isle of Man

Well, Douglas was a bit drizzly at first, but soon dried off, and as that was the only rain I saw for almost a week, I can't complain. A slightly fuzzy pic, sorry! Only a short walk from the boat to my B and B, which was run by a sort of matriarchy of Ex-Preston women, who were very proud of Preston and very disparaging of Douglas Fish and Chips. Douglas is good for cheap B&B's, and I was very happy with this. Despite their comments I did pop to the chip shop in the evening, and went through my usual rigmarole of ordering the fish they haven't got. Try it some time, just order the second type of fish on the menu and see what happens. I went on the the cinema, which I only mention because I decided that as it was on the coastal path, I'd count that as the start of my walk! So technically, the first (very challenging) leg of the walk was a couple of hundred yards along Douglas seafront...after which a well deserved sleep.

I made breakfast the next day, and then set off in sunshine, walking clokwise around the island. First stop, Douglas harbour, which is probably the most scenic bit of Douglas apart from the bay itself. The town centre is otherwise pretty drab. Just as I reached the other side of it, I saw...

The first Coastal Path sign!!! Ok, it might not look much, but I do have a habit of setting off on walks in the wrong direction, so psychologically, this mattered. It was a shame it pointed up a steep set of steps going all the way up the hill, but you can't have everything. And when you reach the top of the hill, this is what Douglas looks like;

If you cross your eyes a bit it probably looks like I've done a nifty panorama there...
There was a Camera Obscura on the hill, but it was closed. There are both ups and downs to walking in the Isle of Man in March. First, nothing opens until April (which doesn't matter, because the scenery is still there). Second, everyone thinks you are mad. Third, accomodation is plentiful and cheap. Fourth, there are no seals- I was looking forward to seeing the seals too. But last, you get the fabulous scenery completely to yourself. I mean, completely.

A nice level walk on an abandoned road all the way to Port Soderick. Apparently the Manx were going to build another tramway here (you can never have too many, can you? And if you've put them all the way up your highest mountain, why let a bit of coastline stand in the way?) Hence the ornamental gateway in the middle of nowhere.

All the way down, there's lots of stunning scenery. On this first leg, it's mainly tiny little bays, with some very impressive crashing waves. At least until Port Soderick...

permalink written by  martin_b on March 11, 2007 from Douglas, Isle of Man
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Port Soderick

Port Soderick, Isle of Man

Port Soderick is a lovely little place. Sadly the cafe complex is closed, but even so, this is a perfect little bay, with it's own cave, sand and pebbly beaches, rocks to climb: so why are there no families with kids here? Well, nobody here at all except a mysterious green transit van. I eventually figured out that Manx government workers do precious little work, and spend their time admiring the view in transit vans from all the most scenic locations on the island. Not that I can blame them.

I now have a pipe dream in my head about all the things you could do with that cafe...I think an outdoor pursuits centre is winning right now.

Up river is a great little glen (they have glens here, not valleys), but I had to go inland a bit before returning to the coast (presumably cos of an unfavourable landowner.)

Oh yeah, here's me, overlooking one of the little bays around here.

The scenery gets better and better through the day, as the path now winds along (somewhat unstable) cliff tops.

I was really enjoying being alone with my thoughts. It was so quiet that some guy in a Landrover, on seeing me in the distance, beeped his horn and drove across the fields to quiz me about what I was doing. He didn't give me much info about himself though, except to vouch that it was going to get muddier (Port Soderick to Castletown was the only muddy bit on the trip.)

Anyway, eventually Castleton appeared in the distance (that little dot, far left!) It seems a really nice place, but apparently Jeremy Clarkson lives there, on the sticky out bit. Thankfully I didn't see him.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 12, 2007 from Port Soderick, Isle of Man
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Castletown, Isle of Man

I stayed in King Williams College (it's the one that has the quiz in the Guardian every Christmas.)

It's a rather posh looking place, on the outskirts of the town, with cheap hostel style accomodation. I was the only person staying in the hostel bit, so I had the whole building to myself. What I also got here, when it went dark, was the clearest sky I have ever seen. I was gobsmacked at how many stars I could see, very magical.

The caretaker, on hearing that I was walking the coastal path, seemed to be a bit disdainful that I was taking a whole 10 days or so to complete it. Apparently there is an annual race to visit all the churches on the island, which is a similar distance, about 100 miles, and they finish it on the same day (they gave special dispensation for some 70 year old to have an extra hour!) I think I might give that a miss.

Castletown itself is very pretty indeed in the day, but a bit quiet by night. Eventually by stopping a random person in the street I found out the place to eat is Garrisons, and it was excellent (a good variety of tapas size dishes to mix and match, delicious.) Apparently it's best to book ahead, and as this is the best place to eat I found on the island, and not expensive, it's worth doing so.

And here is Castletown: it used to be the Island's capital, it has great beaches, historic buildings, great scenery, good food...and no tourists. I don't get it, I really don't.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 12, 2007 from Castletown, Isle of Man
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Castleton to Port St. Mary

Port Saint Mary, Isle of Man

Breakfast at the College is served at some ungodly hour, 8 o' clock I think, and involves walking to another hall. I decided that a bacon sandwich in Castletown was the better option, so dropping the keys off with the only person apparently working in the building I was in, I went into the town and did exactly that.

Setting off for Port St Mary, the first place on the map is Scarlett Point, a stunningly scenic bit, with a series of flat limestone layers dipping down to the sea, and behind them a flooded quarry, now home to some swans (lots of saltwater swans on the island, I hadn't realised swans could live in the sea), and some historic lime kilns.

It was as I got to the Point that the College caretaker caught me in his car, and asked where the keys were...I explained where I had left them. Apparently if he hadn't caught me he would have just phoned someone in Port St Mary and caught me there! I hadn't realised I stood out that much...

Port St Mary is a classic Victorian Resort, marvellous sandy beach, with selection of seabirds and very few people, and a single promenade of large Victorian houses overlooking the bay. The village itself is tucked away just above the harbour, and less scenic.

I stayed in Aaron House, which is a unique B & B. It's run by a lady who lives a victorian lifestyle, and the house is decorated and run likewise. She dresses as a victorian servant, and you get sponge cake with your afternoon tea. All very civilised, and I could really have got used to it! There is a brass telescope in the sitting room to look out at the views, and the most incredble chocolate sculpture.

I do like the rocks by the harbour here too...

The only downside is that it's not a great place to get food. I ate in Horizons, which seemed fine if you like big meat, but thats not really me. The other places looked really dear. On the upside, Port Erin is only 15 minutes walk, and has a good chip shop.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 13, 2007 from Port Saint Mary, Isle of Man
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Port St Mary to Port Erin

Port Erin, Isle of Man

This was probably the best day on the whole trip. It was only a short walk, round the bottom of the island (6 miles or so), but very dramatic.

First stop is the Chasms. Now, I don't like heights, so the idea of 300 foot precipitous cliffs...well, you can see the stress in my face in the shots below.
But I can't deny how awesome a place it is: gulls nesting on the almost sheer cliff faces just look like dots.

A couple of minutes later I realised why it is called the chasms: there's a piece of land just along from these pics, maybe football pitch sized, which is in the process of falling off the cliff, and is covered in, well, chasms, so deep you can't see the bottoms (but you can hear the birds that are nesting way down there). It struck me that while the odds of a bit falling while I was there were slim, it wasn't worth taking chances, so I gently circled round.

Just along again is this cool stone circle.

It has slipped down towards the sea, which makes for great photos from above, but sadly one day it will be lost entirely. The gear is from a party of climbers (this was actually perhaps the busiest day on my walk: I saw the caretaker, the climbers, and later some birdwatchers. No walkers though.)

Next on the agenda was The Sound, the southern tip of the island. There's a big island called The Calf Of Man, just off the end, so big I struggled to take a picture! These are my best tries at the whole thing;

The Sound itself has some very dramatic little inlets, and a huge vein of quartz running right across it. It's also a nature reserve, because of all the seabirds around, and way back in the Iron Age there was a promontory fort here, which I guess most visitors miss.

This is also a critical bit on the Coastal Path, of course: as far South as I can go, and still feeling pretty fresh.

Oh, and the other thing here is the second best restaraunt I found on the island. You can tell it's good: it's miles from anywhere (the population of The Sound is zero), and on a weekday lunchtime it's full. The fish soup was the best I've ever had.

Anyway, by this time I was almost blase about fabulous views, so although it was excellent walking, nothing else until we get to Port Erin.

I thought I'd seen some good beaches on this trip, but this one takes the biscuit. Really crowded though, have a look.

There were 5 or 6 people on it at some points, almost unbearable.

Port Erin also has a lighthouse, a bookshop, a chipshop, and an arts centre, with a rather nice bronze door.

No, I didn't take a picture of the chipshop.

And even the sand is cool...

permalink written by  martin_b on March 14, 2007 from Port Erin, Isle of Man
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Port Erin to Peel

Peel, Isle of Man

The weather forecasts had begun to talk about blizzards sweeping down from Scotland...maybe doing this is March wasn't such a good plan. This was the toughest days walking, 15 miles and a very big hill in the middle. What's more, I'd noticed the day before that the very big hill was actually on fire.

This could be called excitement...or danger. I was plumping for danger.

Anyway, I set off with a nice uphill climb out of Port Erin. It was already raining. On top of the hill is Milner Tower, built to commemorate some victorian philanthropist. It's allegedly built in the shape of a key, as he used to build safes. I thought there was a fellow walker by the tower, which was quite exciting, but she turned out to be just another dog walker.

After that, the day was a bit grotty for a long while. It was raining, and as I walked along the cliff, huge clouds of smoke were coming over me from the burning hillside over the wall. This wasn't entirely pleasant, but eventually I got to go downhill to a little bay. Unfortunately the entire valley it was in was filled with smoke. As I climbed steeply up the other side, I was directly in the path of the smoke, and the rain was getting worse. I decided I had a choice between walking along cliffs on the highest bit of the coast, or cutting inland, so I went inland. If I'd known the terrain, I would have gone on, but I didn't.

Anyway, I shared a couple of grim hours with some sheep, getting soaking wet. The sheep didn't seem to mind. I suppose they were glad of the company.

Eventually, things did improve, and I saw some four horned sheep...

...some interesting seaweed...

...and Ireland! Trust me, it is there.

Still, I was pleased to get to Peel. Peel is a rather run down town, but has a fabulous castle, and some picturesque bits.

I was quite pleased to be able to spot my B & B from the hillside above as well. It's just left of the Church, and called Albany House. A very friendly place: I ended up watching the final of Celebrity Masterchef with the owners and their dogs!

There's also a good museum, with a replica Viking ship. Oh, and a kipper factory. I thought carrying kippers round the island wasn't a good plan though, but they did look nice.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 15, 2007 from Peel, Isle of Man
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Peel to Kirkmichael

Kirkmichael, Isle of Man

Well, the seas were rough today, but at least it wasn't raining.

The first bit of the day was walking North along the old railway line. Quite easy walking, and when it stops at Glen Mooar, theres the remains of an old viaduct.

I detoured up the valley a bit, as there are two things to see up there. The first is Sppyt Vane, one of the best waterfalls on the island, and the other Cabbal Pherick. Thats the chapel of Patrick, and while it's just a foundation, the location is very evocative. Those monks certainly knew where to build...

That's just a ckicken.

After Glen Mooar, I started the beach walking which was to take me round most of the rest of the Island. I caught the tides right, so no major problems there.

Kirk Michael itself is a bit dead: one of the few places on the island I couldn't recommend staying.

It does however have one of the Island's best collections of early stone inscriptions (bit fuzzy, sorry).

Some runic inscriptions there, and a really rare portrayal of a priest with an animal head, which will either excite you or not. It is worth seeing these and then leaving Kirkmichael quickly, which is what I did the next morning.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 16, 2007 from Kirkmichael, Isle of Man
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Kirkmichael to Jurby

Jurby, Isle of Man

A nice sunny start to the day, but the sea was very rough. It is a little worrying when you are walking between a rough sea and some extremely unstable looking cliffs: you have to give them 10 feet or so clearance, because if it does suddenly come down it would be a killer.

There's lots of interesting rocks on the beach, here's some fossilised coral;

It has to be said that this isn't the best stretch, and it did get very windy, hence I didn't really feel like taking photos. Eventually I battled my way to Jurby (started by the Vikings). It's an odd place. Jurby church was rebuilt by servicemen from the airfield during World War 2, and the graveyard is sadly full of mainly Canadian and Polish casualties.

The airfield is still there, and the island's new prison is being built next to it. I can't help thinking there's a bit of a flaw in the planning there...are prisons meant to have excellent transport links? Isn't is better to put them somewhere where escapees at least have to put in a bit of work to get out of the vicinity?

Also next to it is the very curious Jurby Junk. This is both the biggest and most bizzarre junkshop ever, seeingly built on the principle that all tat has a value if you keep it long enough. If you want a dozen paddles, some 70's plates, industrial quantities of knicker elastic, old TT tshirts, or 20 identical 1960's uniforms, this is the place for you. Has to be seen to be believed.

I can recommend Goldies Loughan as an excellent place to stay. Wonderful rooms, very cheap, and you get a lift to the pub and back so you can eat in the evening.

permalink written by  martin_b on March 17, 2007 from Jurby, Isle of Man
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Jurby to Point Of Ayre

Cranstal, Isle of Man

This map doesn't have Point of Ayre on it, so I've had to use Cranstal instead...

when I set off from Jurby for the coast in the morning, I knew it was going to be a tough day. I had 15 miles of beach to walk, and it was intermittently pouring down with rain, with gales.

I was kind of wet when I reached the beach, but it seemd ok for walking at first. There was a full-blown gale blowing off the sea, but I kept up an ok pace...until it started hailing. The hail came in horizontally, fired by the gale, hitting my left hand side. I figured "I'll just run up and hide in the dunes", but when I ran up the beach, there were no dunes, just a completely flat expanse of featureless land (must have been an old airstrip or something.)

So, Down one side I was soaked to the skin...so cold that I couldn't feel my left leg at all (I think the body cuts off bits of circulation after a certain temperature?) I was a bit worried at that point, because there was no escape route whatsoever. All I could do was carry on up the coast and hope. 6 or 7 miles on I knew I'd be rounding the corner, so might get some cover.

Eventually, an hour or more later, I could feel my leg again, and had partially dried out. It was still blowing a gale, but thankfully all the other nasty looking rain had missed me (I think it all falls on the mountains).

I was pretty elated when I reached Point Of Ayre, and felt I was on the home run. It was still blowing a gale, so it was a little tricky to get a good photo of myself looking happy!

...but i did get the lighthouse complex up there.

That was lunchtime...the afternoon got better...

permalink written by  martin_b on March 18, 2007 from Cranstal, Isle of Man
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