Walking on the Isle of Man... and the wrath of Manannan

Cicerone's Natalie visited the Isle of Man recently and, apart from upsetting the local sea-gods, she had a wonderful time exploring.

Here Natalie describes some of the walks she enjoyed during her recent visit to the Isle of Man.

View Across The Sound Walk 1

I love walking on the Isle of Man. 

Natalie Simpson

There are so many beautiful places to explore: dramatic sea-cliffs, rolling hills, shady glens concealing hidden waterfalls… Yet in spite of the stunning scenery, the numerous paths on the island are not at all crowded. In fact, on many of my walks, I haven’t encountered a single soul from start to finish!

Beauty, dramatic vistas and serenity... and not a soul in sight

I have been a regular visitor to the Isle of Man for around 10 years and always aim to complete a few walks per visit. I have walked the 23-mile Millennium Way (the route of the old Viking kings from Sky Hill near Ramsey to Castletown), the 14-mile Herring Way (the route by which the fishing catch was transported overland from Peel to Castletown) and the southern half of the 98-mile Way of the Gull (the coastal path which circumnavigates the island). Personal favourites include Corrin’s Tower, Slieau Whallian and the two stages of the Way of the Gull between Port St Mary and Port Erin and between Port Erin and Peel.

I had quite a few walks planned for my latest visit, but unfortunately a minor tummy bug and a rather contrary Manx sea-god were to scupper my plans somewhat…

Walk 1 – Port St Mary to Port Erin following the Way of the Gull

Starting Out Towards Bradda Head Walk 1
Starting Out Towards Bradda Head: Walk 1

It was a mild morning, but slightly overcast. I set out from Port St Mary, picking up the coastal path above Perwick Bay. From the outset this route boasts spectacular sea-cliffs, and after a short section of road-walking through Glen Chass, I found myself on the headland of Kione ny Goggan. It wasn’t long before the impressive sea-stack of The Sugarloaf came into view far below in Bay Stacka.

Time for cake...

Next came the excitement of The Chasms: the narrow path weaves its way between deep fissures which plunge down through the rock to sea level. From the abandoned building on the far side (formerly The Chasms Café), I opted to take a detour from the main route to visit the folk museum at Cregneash. The picture-perfect village of thatched crofts and small walled fields has been preserved as a ‘living museum’ and there is also a very nice tea-room where I enjoyed a coffee and a slice of cake.

Sea Cliffs Near The Sound: Walk 1
Sea Cliffs Near The Sound: Walk 1

As I walked through the village, the hedgerows were ablaze with fuchsia and wild iris and a flock of loaghtan sheep – the national breed – were happily grazing in a small enclosure. I continued up beyond the tea-room to reach a junction, where I picked up the road to Port Erin for a hundred metres or so, before branching off up Meayll Hill. A wide track led up through the blooming heather and gorse to the low summit, crowned with a few old military bunkers. However, the real highlight lies on the far side: a Neolithic stone circle with six entrance passages, each leading to a pair of burial chambers. The circle has a fantastic outlook across Port Erin Bay to Bradda Head.

Sunshine and ice-cream!

Port Erin End Of Walk 1
Port Erin End Of Walk: 1

From Meayll, I retraced my steps back to the café by The Chasms, where I once again took up the Way of the Gull. More sea-cliffs were encountered as the rocky path threaded its way around Black Head and Spanish Head but, although high, there was rarely any sense of exposure. Rounding a final grassy headland, I came to the Sound Café and Visitor Centre. I did not stay long as it was very busy with crowds of bikers (this being Manx Grand Prix week!), but I did manage to spot a seal in the water near Kitterland before continuing on my way. The remaining stretch of the journey to Port Erin seemed to pass very quickly indeed, and before long I was striding along the road from the Marine Biological Interpretation Centre into the town. Of course, now that my walk was over, the sun decided to put in an appearance! …Perfect weather for an ice-cream by the beach.

For details of this walk, see ‘Port St Mary to Port Erin’ in Aileen Evan’s ‘Isle of Man Coastal Path’ or ‘Walk 34 – Port St Mary, The Sound and Port Erin’ in Terry Marsh’s ‘Walking on the Isle of Man’.

Walk 2 – Dhoon Glen and the ‘Big Girl’ of the Isle of Man

The Big Girl Walk 2
'The Big Girl' : Walk 2

Feeling a little bit run-down, I decided I needed a relatively short walk and so I opted to pay a visit to ‘Big Girl’. I caught the bus from Douglas to Dhoon Glen just north of Laxey. From the picnic site just behind the little café and Manx Electric Railway halt, a dirt path leads down into a steep-sided valley – one of 17 picturesque National Glens.

The path soon joins a dancing stream, following it through rich deciduous woodland. It was very pleasant walking in the shade of the trees and, after passing under the road, I soon came to an abandoned building. From there, the route becomes steeper as the ravine narrows. It wasn’t long before I started to catch glimpses through the trees of the main attraction.

A short walk but well worth it

‘Big Girl’ is one of the largest waterfalls on the island, dropping over 40m through the heart of the glen. The upper falls are very pretty but masked by the trees, but the final dramatic plunge down a rock-face to a little pool beside the path makes for a magical setting.

I lingered a while to admire the falls, take photos and enjoy the cool air before tackling the steep climb back up to the café. Although coming in at little more than a mile, this was a very pleasurable walk, made extra special by the beautiful ‘Big Girl’.

See ‘Walk 12 – Dhoon Glen’ in Terry Marsh’s ‘Walking on the Isle of Man

Walk 3 – South Barrule and Corlea Plantation

My dodgy stomach a little better, I felt like a longer walk again. I got my friend to drop me at The Round Table on The Sloc, intending to climb South Barrule before crossing to Cronk ny hArrey Laa to pick up the Isle of Man Coastal Path back to Port Erin. South Barrule is crowned with the remains of a Bronze Age hillfort and legend has it that it is home to Manannan Mac y Leirr, the Celtic sea-god and patron and defender of the island. Up until the early 19th century, Manxmen would carry offerings of reeds up the mountain on the summer solstice and, in return, it was believed that Manannan would protect the island from invaders by concealing it beneath his cloak of mist.

On The Slopes Of South Barrule Walk 3
On The Slopes Of South Barrule: Walk 3

From my high starting point, the climb to the summit was an easy one, following a clear path up through the heather. South Barrule commands wonderful views, but unfortunately at this point Manannan decided to unleash his party-piece. The low cloud, which had been hovering over the top of Cronk ny hArrey Laa, came rolling down and within a minute I could see very little. Low cloud is not particularly pleasant at the best of times, but when you’re on your own it can start to play on the mind a bit. I quickly abandoned my plans of walking to Port Erin.

Track Through Corlea Plantation Walk 3
Track Through Corlea Plantation: Walk 3

With thoughts of disgruntled sea-gods and malevolent fairy-folk filling my head, I beat a hasty retreat back down the mountain. From the road, I picked up a broad track through Corlea Plantation, my aim to drop down to Foxdale where I could catch a bus to either Peel or Castletown.

The route through the coniferous plantation was nice enough but it seemed to go on forever! As I lost height and the cloud gradually began to dissipate, the views opened up across lush green farmland to Castletown and Langness. At long last I reached the edge of the plantation, then a rather dull section of road-walking brought me into Foxdale.

I suppose I felt a little cheated that I’d missed the views – on a clear day they are absolutely amazing! But then again, maybe I should feel honoured that the great Manannan decided to honour me with his presence?

Adapted from ‘Walk 27 – South Barrule summit’ and ‘Walk 28 – South Barrule Forest Walk and Corlea Plantation’ in Terry Marsh’s guidebook ‘Walking on the Isle of Man’. 

Other activities on the Isle of Man 

The Isle of Man has more history than you could shake a stick at! As well as the Neolithic stone circle at Meayll and the Bronze Age hillfort on South Barrule, I also visited another Neolithic chambered tomb at Cashtal yn Ard (reputedly the largest Neolithic tomb in the British Isles) and the spectacular castle on St Patrick’s Island at Peel.

The island also boasts a wealth of musical talent. I went to an open mic session in Douglas where some friends were performing, and on Friday night I attended the monthly ‘Kiaull as Gaelg’ bilingual (Manx-English) trad session in The Albert pub in Port St Mary – a great finish to a wonderful holiday!

Map of  Isle of Man
Natalie Simpson

Natalie Simpson

Natalie Simpson joined the Cicerone editorial team in 2016 and is delighted to have found a job that combines two of her great loves: books and the outdoors.

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