13.15 hrs. Wed 9 June 2004, the day after my sixty-forth birthday. I was sitting in the departure lounge at Heysham ferry terminal, UK. I had decided that I had to add a walk around the coastline of the Isle of Man to my scalp belt. Being a bit of a long distance walker I'm always up for a challenge and my long-suffering wife Beryl lets me off the leash at least once a year to do a long walk. She thinks I'm barmy but I just let her believe.
Sitting in the terminal lounge I got into conversation with a very pretty Manx girl. I believe her name was/is Ramona and she told me that her parents lived in Ramsey on the island. She was asking me if I'd come far and what I intended doing over on Man. When I'd enlightened her of my intentions to walk around the island she told me that she had always wanted to do that but had never had the time or the chance. I'd heard the same thing on a regular basis about different walks from people everywhere. As I said, she was young - young enough to be my granddaughter - intelligent, very pretty and sweet. I have always had an eye for a pretty girl, with the other eye always watching my pint. As result I am slightly cross-eyed and even more slightly built. When the time came to embark I said I would keep a look out for her on my walk.
We boarded the ferry and I never clapped eye on her again. Until............
I arrived on Man at 18.05 on Wed 9th June. What a reception! They didn't HAVE to lay a fair on for me AND a motor cycle escort through the quaint old capital that is Douglas, but it appeared that they had.
By 21.00+ hrs I had managed to leave all the noise and bustle behind and reached the southern outskirts of the small town of Laxey. The weather was fine but it was getting a little late and time for me to get my head down, but with no B 'n' B to take me in I made camp in the foot deep grass of an empty house that had a FOR SALE board at the front. That foot high grass provided me with the deepest feather-bed comfort I could ever wish for and I slept like a babe, even though I was just a few yards from the main A2 road. It was quite a nice camp site so I give it four stars.
Thursday morning I was up at the crack, decamped and set off for Laxey and the north. I intended to reach Ramsey and then to assess the situation 'cos the trip around t'northern tip of Man looked to be a little featureless and barren on the map and I didn't fancy camping out on some wind-swept moor. No probs, got to Ramsey an hour before the pubs were due to open (damn). Bought an ice cream and can of Coke instead. I found the beach and walked it for mile upon mile through flotsam (or is it jetsam) and small dead sharks which I later learned were indeed dead rock salmon.
The cliffs reared up on my left and with the sea on my right I wondered, being landlubber, if I might get trapped by the tide, so I stopped and sat on a rock on the beach at the high water mark and took a reading with my Magellan GPS Sat-Nav. After waving it about for about five minutes I managed to get a reading and a plot of my position on my 1992 OS map.
It put me on top of the cliff about 100 yards away?
Funny, I thought. So - suspecting a technical hitch with my GPS I did what any time served electronics expert would do - I gave it a slap. But it still put me on top of the cliff!?? And then it dawned.
ULRIKA!! Coastal erosion!
Since the island was last accurately surveyed and mapped, some of this particular coastline has been eaten away. Just to stand and look at it crumbling even now it is obvious.
So having settled with my given position I could see that I would safely reach Phurt and could at last get off of that beach. It was just about then that I came across a huge granite boulder with a layer of fossilised creatures adhering to one upper surface. So struck by it was I that I took a bearing on it and a couple of photographs intending to share the knowledge with any passing palaeontologist.
I eventually rounded the Point of Ayre on the northern tip, scratched my name on the public footpath sign like everyone else (JOKE), turned sharp left and made my way south alternating between walking the edge and walking through the wildlife reserve.
It was while I was in wildlife reserve mode that I met the warden in his little shop. More Coke, a bag of crisps and the first proper sit down since Ramsey, I chatted to the warden about the pleasantness of the walk so far and mentioned the fossil adhered rock info. He could not have been more helpful. He took the data and promised to pass it on to some palaeontologist, and that I should include my name and address, which I did.
I do hope that they got to that granite block before time and tide took its toll.
I got the foaming pint in a glass (the barmaid refused my request to have it intravenously) and settled back into an old overstuffed but very comfortable armchair. I asked of the landlord if there was any room at the inn but he said they didn't do rooms or beds but that I was welcome to pitch my tent on any patch of grass that I fancied. So I did, later, and with one or three Guinnesses inside of me it wasn't easy. As I was sitting there with my boots off and supping my pint, a girl and boy came through the door and straight up to me.
"Are you ignoring me?" the girl said. "I asked if you were enjoying your walk!"
...........It was the beautiful Ramona!
My ghast was absolutely flabbered! I was so taken aback that I very nearly knocked my beer over. I couldn't apologise enough, but I tried and she accepted it. I mentioned that she had told me that she lives in Ramsey. She answered by telling me that she had been born in Jurby and that her brother, who was the boy with her, still lived here. Of all the gin joints in all the small islands ... isn't it?
Like I said, I had a very good night in that pub. The best fish and chip supper that I have ever had, though I didn't do it enough justice through my being absolutely knackered and didn't have the energy to allow my digestive system to perform properly. There were some beautiful and friendly characters in that pub and when the time came to put up the tent I could hardly remember how to. The wind got up that night and it was only my body weight holding the damn thing down.
Friday morning, first light. Decamped and on my way, aiming for Peel. I got back onto the path at about Ballateare.
Now this part of the walk I did not like. Walking that beach was not much fun at all. Too much litter again, very slippery and slidy underfoot and quite high, smell wise. So ungood was it that I was glad to get off at Kirk Michael and hit the road for a bit. It was still too early for Kirk Michael to be up and about so I pressed on with nothing more than my water bottle and some Mars Bars that were beginning to go on the turn. If the drugs squad had found them on me I could have been in deep doodoos.
I arrived in pretty Peel in a pretty good time 11.15. The pubs weren't open yet but the Harbour Lights Cafe was. Two rounds of toast and a pot of tea £3.05 inclusive of VAT. Does for me. I then went out to find a pub for dessert. The pubs STILL WEREN'T OPEN!!!! What is one to do? I consulted the Oracle, my OS map, and found one at Glen Maye and decided to give them my trade. I pressed on.
Now this is a part of the walk that I really enjoyed. Marvellous views, beautiful scenery very good walking indeed. I reached The Waterfall Inn (or hotel or whatever) and perused their menu and prices. Ouch! Instead of ordering and maybe having to remortgage my house I booked my seat outside for liquid lunch with Mars Bar and crisps and bruised apple for desert. Who needs their cordon blue cooking anyway? Though I must say it did look good enough to eat.
I sat outside with the sun streaming down and it felt just like being in the Algarve. Many places on the Isle of Man give me a different feeling but this Glen Maye has lots of them. The glen itself is like a Scotland in miniature. Some of the hills are pure Cambrian and the seas are of Mediterranean azure and so too is the sky. The weather is really good.
The party over I set off for Dalby. That village too has at least one pub, it says so in the Oracle. Not wishing to drop down the hill again to the coastal path I decide to cheat a little and make progress by road. Cheat a little? More like cheat death a lot. Had I have fully realised before planning my walk that the WHOLE of Man is a motorcycle race track during TT time I would have either slit my own throat or put back my holiday.
Picture this:- I'm carrying almost half hundredweight of stuff on my back up a steep, narrow and chicanery lane with no pavement and I hear meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-and-you've-no-idea-where-it's-coming-from-yowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww as the wind of this god awful monster almost rips the pack from my back and the fillings from my teeth, followed closely by -yyyyowwwwww! yyyyowwwwwww! yyyyowwwwwwwww! as his mates try to catch him. These aren't the professionals, by the way, these are the wannabe pro's astride as much power as the city of Liverpool uses on Grand National day.
So I escape unscathed yet again and arrive at Dalby just as the heavens open. Before I can get drenched I am in the "reception area" of the Ballacallin Hotel. There's no one around. I try various downstairs rooms, I try ringing the desk bell, I shout up the stairs. Nothing. I do all of this again but to no avail, nothing, zilch, zero. A bit like the "Mari Celeste" in the doldrums.
Then I spot it. The pay phone on the wall. (Note: I carry a mobile but when I try to use it on Man it informs me that I'm on Manx Rover or something and that I have to contact them and make my calls on something called "Roaming Tarriff" and pay extra for the privilege.
EXTRA!!? They are talking here to someone who can live on an egg and bacon butty for a week. Extra? I'd rather use my BT card thank you very much and ring on the land-line.
Extra? They don't even have the decency to wear a bloody mask.
So anyway, I take the phone off the hook and dial the Ballacallin Hotel. I can hear the phone ringing upstairs, footsteps and a man's voice in stereo. I ask the voice politely if it has a room for one for the one night.
"Yes", came the reply, "...could I have your full name please?" So I put the phone back on the hook and shouted my name upstairs.
Where's Basil Fawlty when you need him.
After a pot of tea, a bath, tree pints of Guinnesses, I spent the best nights sleep for three days despite the wonky guttering that awoke me with the sound of a waterfall just outside my window. But for thirty quid the night and a packed takeaway lunch I wasn't about to complain.
Saturday morning 06.00 I let myself silently out of the hotel front door. I had paid in advance, honest! and I'm off down the little lane past Creglea to join the trail again. It is very misty with a slight drizzle, a bit like a scotch mist, with visibility very low. In fact so low is it at times that I can't see the snaking and steep path very far ahead and have to look at it a yard or so in front. Eventually I find myself on the beach once more but not for long and then it's up again On a number of occasions I momentarily lost footing and only my faithful brolly saved me.
A good tip here for anyone hiking. Take a golfing brolly instead of a walking stick. A brolly can double as a walking stick but a stick won't keep the rain OR the sun off you.
Conditions were getting so bad that I decided to head for the A36 and take my chances with the mad bikers and then rejoin the path a little further down at Shielings.
When I eventually reached the road, much of the mist had disappeared and so too had the bikers. Though I guessed that it was still too early for most of them to be out of their pits. Rejoining the path I continued in relatively calm clear conditions and took in the wondrous views. Down onto the B47 (that's supposed to be a big plane isn't it? Nothing plain about this area.) I'm tempted to take the easier route and follow the road into Port Erin but I thought no, that would be defeating the object of the exercise and anyway it's only about 1000 feet or so straight up. So straight up, it is! One third of the way up that bloody hill I was wishing I'd taken the road. One third of the way up plus about twenty yards I was CONVINCED that I should have stuck to the road. It was about here that I had to decide to either eat another Mars Bar or shout SHAZZAM!
I ate the chocolate. Two thirds of the way up I thought that maybe I should end it all there and then. I had visions of somebody finding a skelington in rags with the spines of a rusting umbrella in one hand and clutching a Mars Bar wrapper in the other. It certainly wouldn't be smiling.
At long last I got over the brow where I could take in the improved views. Another rest on some rocks, another biscuit and swig of warm chlorinated water and I'm away making my descent into Port Erin. I rang my wife Beryl and reported in. (She always stays at home and plots my movements on another OS map. A bit like Churchill in The War Room is my missus, though don't tell her I said so.
I let her know where I was and that I was heading for Port St. Mary. One can actually see the town from Erin, I told her, it's only about a mile away but to get there I'm going to have to visit the Calf of Man. A semicircular route of about five miles or so. She - for the umpteenth time in forty-four years - said I must be mad. Me mad? It's not me sat at home on a comfy settee eating home cooked meals, watching large screen digital telly, sticking pins in a wall chart and sleeping in a nice soft bed. It's her! So who's mad?
Rounding the Spanish Head will, for me at least, be one of the best memories of this walk. The skies, for the biggest part, were blue and the views out over the sea to Ireland were magnificent. The track meanders among the sheep and bucks and turns like a proper walk. I loved it. And the enticing glimpses of The Calf urged me closer and closer until at last I could see it as another separated island and a right good photo opportunity.
Down the cliff path, through the flock of sheep as they parted like the Red Sea and on to the view point to take in the full majesty of the raging current in full flow through the Calf sound. Another great photo call. Then up into the restaurant for a bacon and egg meal and another pot of tea and a bun. Magic moment as I took in the sights of the sound through the huge panoramic glare free plate glass windows. One more look, I signed the book and then it was -pack on - map on and up and away to the next big heart-pounding hill. This proved to be only a three rest-stopper before I emerged at the top and then it was down hill just about all the way through Fistard and on to Port St. Mary where I managed to find a pub that was open, the last one on the road out of town and another refreshing round of "Try to see through the bottom of the glass" antics.
Having seen through the glass darkly I set off once more towards Castletown. It was shortly after setting off, I'd only gone but a mile or so, when the egg, bacon, tea, bun, "slightly off" Mars Bar and Guinness started to react. Like a misfiring car I struggled on for another mile. I had some really posh looking houses on my left. One, "Spindrift" looked for all the world like a converted lighthouse but whatever it was it was too posh for me to knock on the door and beg use of their karsi, so I pressed on. Glancing at my map I spotted another slightly shorter route (by about half a mile) that would get me to town and toilets quicker, so I took the shorter route only because I was taken short.
That isn't a pun, that is hard fact. Hands up, swear to God and the fairies, I took a half mile off the true route to save on embarrassment and laundry. (Mind you, if I were to add in the number of misleading way signs and the subsequent back tracking that they caused, then I think that I am way out in front in the mileage stakes. I did manage to take note of the second world war pill boxes and the field that used to be used for WW2 wartime operations. The part of Castletown that I emerged into was still abuzz with the sound of racing motorbikes. Legal this time, I presumed. Much tightening of buttocks and then Castletown and a pub and a lavatory. What a relief. Mind you, I didn't stop there for a drink, the place smelled awful!
I tried a couple of places for B 'n' B but each was shut, probably at the races, so I topped up my water bottles via a tap in someone's drive, rang Churchill and told the boss that, as it was only about three o'clock I was going to walk on a little further and make camp where I could. My "little further" took me by the airport, around a smelly bay called Derby Haven and then I spotted it. "Manx Flying Club" teas, food, drinks. I'm beginning to believe in Manx fairies. I took off my pack and walked in. "Are you open, love?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "what would you like?" And some people say there isn't a God.
As I was supping my first I asked if it would be alright to pitch my tent at the back of the club house. The steward said I could put it anywhere round the back. As he studied the wind sock over the airfield he came out with, "You'll get more shelter there." he said pointing out a goodish spot. Bless the boys in blue. I nipped out quick and put the tent up while I was still capable and put two pegs in each eyelet to be on the safe side.
I had one of the best times of my holiday there. There were only a few tipplers in but each was very assertive and the arguments and lively discussions went on for hours and covered quite a few subjects. The only notable exception was that subject that most men get on to. Women.
The following morning, Sunday, I was decamped at 04.15 and on my way on the last leg to Douglas and the ferry home. I knew that I could take my time 'cos I'd dismissed from my mind at the outset the probability of my catching an early ferry. I was working on the assumption that an evening ferry would be my bag so the last day called for a leisurely nine mile stroll. I could walk backwards with my rucksack on my head and still make it to Douglas in time.
I hadn't gone very far before I came across yet another of those stupid kissing-gate stiles. The ones where if one is carrying a rucksack, one has to either take it off and carry it over one's head or - this is the real tricky one - one can try to climb over the thing with rucksack still in situ. Old as I am I prefer the in situ method. First of all I poke my brolly or stick through the fence thus leaving both my hands free, and then I climb over as best I can. My "best I can" obviously wasn't good enough 'cos my trouser leg caught on a barb on the wire and I lost balance and crashed to the wet ground in a heap. I extricated myself from the nettles with some difficulty, picked up my brolly and continued on my way.
A little further on I came across yet another damn kisser. I poked my brolly through the railings. Set off to climb up and over taking more care than last time but this time my rucksack snagged on a branch or something and held me fast. I jiggled it a bit but still I couldn't free it. So I tried to forcibly break it free. I did break it free and the sudden released caused me to topple head first over the fence and into a hole at the other side that was filled with water. I said something like bugger, picked myself out of the hole and carried my sack to somewhere where I could have room to swing it onto my back. I checked that nothing was broken, swung it on and then set off again.
It was quite a time and about three miles later when I realised that I had left my brolly poking through that last stile. I did consider leaving my pack and hot footing it back to pick it up but thought better of that idea. I'd dismiss it as a loss and just press on to Douglas and a comfortable wash and change. Before tackling the ferry terminal for the later sailing and settling down on board I'd planned to find some nearby pub and have lunch. Just then I met a couple who were walking towards me. We stopped to have words and one of those words was FERRY. The ferry that would be leaving at 08.45 that morning. I looked at my watch. Allowing for the forty minutes or so that you have to be checked in before sailing, that left me about two and a half hours to cover the last four or five miles. Easy-peasy. I told the couple about my brolly, bid them good day and set off at a brisker walk.
I was at Santon Head and took a left at the fort which took me to the farm track and on to the A6. It was strange to have that sure surface under my feet and relished in the luxury of being able to walk without watching the ground four feet ahead. It also allowed me somewhere to take a water and biscuit break. And this time there were very few bikers. I trudged the road for the best part of two miles before, having consulted the Oracle and my Jaeger-Le Coultre, decided that I still had plenty of time in hand to come off the straight and narrow and get back on the Raad ny Foillan and complete the circuit. It was at some way down the B80 that I spotted the welcoming sight of the berthed ferry.
Counting the three hours walking on the first day on the island and that last days walking of four hours as one full day, plus the other three full days, it took me just four days to cover the one hundred miles of the Raad ny Foillan or the coast road. In retrospect I enjoyed almost every second of it. I might one day do it again, but the other way around. One never knows, I may even find my brolly.
If you think that I missed out on some of the many and diverse attractions on Man by racing round, have no fear on that score. I'd dragged my wife Beryl from her bunker in the previous September and spent five days on the island at the Castle Mona Hotel and we toured the island by coach, steam train and electric tram. It was marvellous. It was that holiday that gave me the idea of walking around the island.
These boots are made for walking.