OK, having hopefully got your attention by the corny title to this blog, I will continue in the same vein and exploit punning to the manximum. The Isle of Man is a place that I have wanted to visit for a while. It is a place where TT doesn’t mean being abstemious, but rather throbbing engines, noise and men (normally) tearing around the island on two wheels.
It is also an island with a moderately hilly aspect, compact and with five Marilyns that I was keen to bag. And it is an island that provided inspiration for Thomas the Tank Engine with its electric and steam railways.
It is also an island that I have seen from Scotland, England and Wales. Perhaps I might see those lands in reverse, and Northern Ireland, from there.
Access into the hills seemed to be relatively straightforward. Much of the wild land is government owned and is publicly accessible. There has also been a tradition of tolerance by other landowners about access, though there is no “right to roam” as such. However, perhaps as a result of Covid-19 encouraging access by those who normally do not go to the hills, this might be changing. There have been local newspaper reports which indicate that landowner approaches are hardening. Perhaps this will continue as hillwalking becomes more popular.
LEG 1 – Getting There
Having had cabin fever as a result of the Covid lockdowns, I was keen to go “abroad”. So the Isle of Man came back into focus. Of course, it is relatively close and, to me, felt more appealing (and accessible) than the then so-called ‘green list’ countries. However for the last 18 months the island had had a strict border control policy. I almost arranged a visit in September of last year but personal circumstances and then the November UK lockdown put an end to that.
Keeping watch on the island government’s policies, I noted that the island was opening up to those who were double-jabbed. That fitted the bill for Julie and myself. It was then a question of navigating first the NHS system to obtain evidence of double-jabbedness. And then there was the gov.im website where an application to obtain a quarantine exemption certificate was necessary. Anyone who had had the two vaccination doses was legally permitted to enter without more.
Evidence obtained we then made the application. The acknowledgement of application said that the approval (or refusal) might take up to three working days. In fact it came back within 24 hours. Permission granted! It was then necessary to book the ferry hoping that there remained space on the crossing that I had mentioned on the exemption application. Fortunately there was. In fact the ferry was not that busy.
Likewise finding accommodation was straightforward, a nice hotel in Douglas that had an offer to attract tourists back to the island.
All this was managed in the five days before we were due to depart. The process might not be quite as easy if tourism to the island increases. I guess that at the time there had not been much publicity about the border changes.
So it was then a question of hot
legging footing it to Liverpool for an 11.45am crossing.
It had been a while since I had been to this city. The ferry terminal is right in the centre by the Liver Building. There seemed to be quite a lot of roadworks ongoing at the time. But as we had left sufficient time to get there this was not a problem.
Fortunately the Irish Sea did not live up to its reputation for roughness. The crossing was very smooth and the 2½ hour crossing passed uneventfully. Getting through the entry formalities took around 40 minutes though. This was down to thorough checks of vaccine status I assume. Anyway we were there!
LEG 2 – The Marilyns
Once out of the port area we aimed south out of Douglas. We had the best part of an afternoon to explore the first two Marilyns. We drove down the A25 towards the old Isle of Man capital of Castletown and on to Port Erin, one of two ports towards the southern tip of the island.
Our first two objectives were Bradda Hill (233m) and Mull Hill (169m).
For the former, we found some parking at Bradda Glen at the end of a single track road towards the north end of Port Erin. There was plenty of space there and a signpost to Bradda Head directed the way. From a near sea level start we were soon climbing heather clad slopes. We were aiming for Milner’s Tower, a stone tower erected to honour a local benefactor who had moved to the island in the middle of the 1800’s. William Milner was a wealthy safe-maker from Liverpool. He found out about the plan as work started and ended up providing funding when the organisers ran out of cash!
From the tower a path followed the cliff edge.
It was a beautiful route with the sea to the left and cliffs stretching to the north.
It took us about half an hour from the tower to the top of Bradda Hill.
We returned the same way.
The seafront and sheltered bay at Port Erin were visible from the car park.
It was about 4.30pm and we had another Marilyn to bag – Mull Hill. We chose to drive to Cregneash where there is a car park on the right just before you enter the village. From there it was an easy amble to a nearby right turn and then 50 metres further on another right turn up a rough track. In fact we could have parked here.
It was only 250m and a rise of 25m to the site of wartime bunkers and concrete foundations. The natural highpoint is next to one of these bunkers.
And there was a fantastic view back to Bradda Hill to the north with South Barrule in the distance.
And south to the Calf of Man, an island at the southern foot of the island, and up the west coast of the island past Peel.
It was clear why the locals had constructed defensive positions here. We returned to the car and drove the 25km back to Douglas.
Day 2 was going to be the longest day. The aim was to get up 3 Marilyns and see how we went. The weather forecast was good for most of the day, but a weather front was due late in the day.
After our hotel breakfast we drove west out of Douglas to the intriguingly named Round Table at a small saddle which would be the start point for South Barrule. The Round Table is, I believe, a round tumulus or burial place. South Barrule is the highest point on the south of the island.
There was parking at the beginning of a rough track just to the south east of the crossroads here. From that point there is a straightforward (and slightly eroded) track that took us to the top. The top is the location of an Iron Age fort. Some of the earthworks remain visible. There was a QR code on a metal plaque affixed to the trig point which took us to a website explaining the historical significance of the site.
It was easy to understand why the ancients had chosen this place. They would soon see any invaders from across the sea from all points of the compass.
Across the way from South Barrule, stood Cronk ny Arrey Laa (another hill!). This is another grand viewpoint out to sea and translates from the Manx as Hill of the Day Watch. It is also known locally as Cronk ny Irree-Laa or Hill of the Rising Day or Dawn – perhaps a little odd being on the west side of the island.
Anyway we decided to climb this as an extra. The ascent of South Barrule had only taken 30 minutes, and the Cronk was a shorter climb – just 15 minutes. However we met our first people here – locals who were pleased to see their first tourists. The island had been subject to strict lock-downs and island residents had generally not been allowed off the island.
This top had great views south to the Calf of Man.
Our next objective was Slieau Freoaghane (Hill of the Blueberry). This was a short 25 minute drive away, mostly along the TT course. We were able to park at the roadside opposite the track that runs up the west side of Sartfell Plantation. This track is a Greenway Road. Therefore it is open to off-road vehicles and mountain bikes.
We went through a gate and followed this track past the plantation and continued where it turned to the right (north east). We looked for and found a moorland path that leaves the track after about 400m. The path was dry when we were on it, but after wet weather it might turn quite boggy in parts. The way through the heather was easy enough and soon we arrived at the summit with its trig, quartz cairn and pole. There is now a bell attached to the pole.
In no other report that I have looked at on the internet is there a reference to this bell. While I can vouch for the fact that it is quite loud when used I do not know what its purpose is.
We returned the same way.
Our final planned objective of the day was the island’s highest point, Snaefell. This is home to the well-known mountain railway.
We started at one of the railway stops – The Bungalow – also on the TT course.
From here a rough path leads steeply but easily to the top. We crossed the railway line at the summit terminus.
The true summit is 400m further on together with trig, viewfinder and communications masts.
The Manx are proud of their mountain. It stands at 621m in height. The views were a little hazy. We couldn’t see England. But the other “kingdoms” were in view. It is said that on a clear day you can see 6 kingdoms from the summit, i.e. Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England and Heaven.
As the weather was still holding we decided to go up Beinn-y-Phott, the island’s third highest recognised point, the start point for which was just up the road. This was just a 40 minute round trip. Being a less popular hill, the path up was less obvious.
But the top gave us a view over to Snaefell as might be expected.
The atmosphere was becoming hazier with the approaching front. So we scuttled back down to avoid any rain. It was then back to Douglas and a take-away eaten on the sea front. Just what we kneeded after a long day.
Having climbed the island’s 5 Marilyns, I next wanted to climb the island’s second highest hill. This is North Barrule which overlooks the northern parts of the island.
The most interesting route looked to be along the ridge from the parking spot at the Black Hut on the TT course. The day coincided with a sponsored IoM 3 Peaks Walk which runs from Ramsay in the north and passes over North Barrule, Snaefell and Beinn-y-Phott before descending to Laxey. The day was cooler with cloud occasionally sweeping over the broad ridge as we went over Clagh Ouyr and the double topped Beinn Rein passing legions of walkers heading in the opposite direction. There is a bit of boggy ground between Clagh Ouyr and Beinn Rein that might be unpleasant after wet weather. But parts have had boardwalks constructed over it.
The cloud covered the summit of North Barrule when we arrived. But we stuck it out and the cloud lifted so that we had fine views over the north of the island and to southern Scotland and the mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland. England still hid itself in the murk. A little below the summit to the south we could see the marker where a USAAF plane had hit the hill in 1945 killing all on board.
The walk back along the ridge was equally pleasant, particularly as the weather had picked up. And the crowds of charity walkers had disappeared.
On the descent of Clagh Ouyr back to the Black Hut, the sight of Snaefell rearing up ahead was too tempting. So I dumped surplus kit at the car and legged it up Snaefell again with Julie kindly agreeing to meet me with the car at Bungalow station. The route up Snaefell from this side is a little steeper but perfectly easy and I was at the top in less than 20 minutes. I ran most of the way down so that this part of the day took just 35 minutes, including the time taking a few more summit photos.
LEG 3 – Some Sightseeing (and a hill)
This was the day of our departure from the island. However, as our ferry wasn’t until the evening we had a full day to fill.
The focus was on sightseeing. We decided to take a look at the old capital – Castletown. This town is just 17km south of Douglas. The centrepiece is the Castle that fronts the square with its neatly manicured grounds.
We had a wander around the castle, learning about its history and that of the island, including its legends. Did you know that all residents of the island were three-legged when St Patrick arrived? Or that there is a phantom black hound – Moddey Dhoo – that haunts Peel Castle? Or that, according to Irish folklore, the island was formed when Ffionn mac Cumhail threw a chunk of earth at a pesky Scottish giant. He missed. And so the island was created. Oh, and that was how Lough Neagh was formed. What a legacy!
Even on our last day we couldn’t resist bagging another, easy top – more ‘armless fun. We drove back to near Port St Mary and to the geological feature known as The Chasms – an area of deep crevices indented into the cliff. We went down to have a look and then went up to the air traffic control beacon on the summit of Cronk ny Arry and its adjacent trig.
There was just time to meet some 1960s-70s icons in Douglas before the ferry home.