Aileen Evans reveals her highlights from Raad Ny Foillan - The Way of the Gull - on the Isle of Man.
In an American national park a fellow camper enthusiastically regaled Aileen Evans with tales of her holiday in Britain. She had visited London, Stratford, Wordsworth’s grave and an incredible little island in the Irish Sea with a ‘must do’ coastal path. It was the Isle of Man. She didn’t know she was talking to the author of the Cicerone book that had inspired her visit and guided her along the way!
The Manx people are a friendly lot and justly proud of their beautiful island. Its modest peaks rise to 621m (Snaefell) and the land descends through moorlands, glens and heath to a spectacular coast where the 98-mile signed footpath, Raad ny Foillan (The Way of the Gull), circles the island.
It was opened in 1986 to mark the island’s Heritage Year and owes its unique beauty to its geological structure, varying from the volcanic rock and slates of the south to the sandy shingles of the north.
These give ever-changing scenic surprises as you pass along and wonder at the plunging cliffs, sheltering sandy beaches, and seabirds riding the breeze.
The coastal harbours are backed by small towns and villages, which make accommodation easy to find. They are, in themselves, full of interest to delay your progress. Stroll along beautiful sandy beaches or walkways, coastal lanes or promenades.
The guide divides the route into nine stages. The longest is 15.5 miles and the shortest is 7. On arrival by ship or airplane you step straight onto the footpath.
The southern section runs along clifftop paths decked with heather and dwarf gorse, a riot of colour in late summer. The west coast passes the Calf Sound, a tidal race that pours past the Calf of Man, the National Trust island nature reserve. From Port Erin the way climbs over three wild summits, the highest is Cronk ny Arrey Laa at 537m. The Hill of the Morning Watch is an extensive viewpoint adding to the remote feeling. Pass Peel with its castle and speed along an old rail track.
The footpath now leads along the shore and heathland. Many flowers, some rare, border the path and curious seals keep an eye on you until the Point of Ayre lighthouse signals a change of direction.
The east coast is more populated. The hills rise again and after exploring some of the island’s renowned glens Douglas is reached all too soon, with the satisfaction of having completed the Isle of Man coastal path.
The guide also includes two ancient routes across the hills and moors of the island’s interior. The Millennium Way stretches 23 miles from Ramsey to Castletown, while The Herring Way is 14 miles from Peel to Castletown. Picts, Celts and Vikings have all left their marks by the footpaths.
Highlights include peering down the cliffs at the myriad gulls circling below, looking at a huge basking shark in Port Erin Bay and sitting by the clifftop path with a stonechat hopping around my feet. The four-horned Laoghtan sheep were an unusual sight, too. But I heartily recommend walking this amazing path and collecting your own memories.