How I conquered the Isle of Man’s top trails

There is a magical swimming pool at Ballaglass Glen. Deeply cut into the old flagstones, in the middle of oaks, larch and beech, it is fed by a waterfall, dotted with sunbeams and probably skins more beautiful vegetarian – Manx Gaelic for the mythical ‘little people’. As I slid my tired legs into the numbingly cold water, I felt a sense of excitement.

It had been the most glorious of days, as I took on my first of the island’s eight new top walks; in between, these moderate to challenging routes conquer 25 of the Isle of Man’s 300+ meter peaks. The island may not be big – just 53 by 21 kilometers at its longest and widest points – but it has plenty of rugged terrain and satisfying heights.

And – according to Kate Bergquist, Isle of Man walking ambassador and founder of Soul Adventures – unexplored adventure. Kate helped create the top walks to lure walkers away from the coast, showing that there is more to humanity than tranquil sights and the seaside. “The highlands are very different,” she tells me. “You get the big view of all seven kingdoms: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Man, Sky, Sea.”

I had taken the ferry from Liverpool to the island to see if I, Woman, could master Man in three days, without a car. Day one, meeting Kate aboard the Snaefell Mountain Railway – which has been merrily clattering to the island’s 620-metre summit since 1895 – was a victory. The wind was steady, but the sky was clear and blue as we left the train passengers for the seven mile northeasterly top five peaks challenge route. “She’s a bit sappy,” Kate grinned.

We looked over everything: the flat northern plains, the ravine in the south, the marine coast of the Irish Sea, the distant Lake District

We followed an empty, undulating ridge, en route to the jagged North Barrule – at 565 metres, the island’s second highest peak. Along the way we chat about everything from re-entering Manx language names on maps to the Moddey Dhoo, a black dog said to be plaguing the land. We ate Manx bonnag, the tastiest spiced soda bread. And we looked over everything: the flat northern plains, the ravine to the south, the marine coast of the Irish Sea, the distant Lake District.

Kate is passionate about the benefits nature can have on mental health. “No one has ever felt worse after a walk in the woods,” she claimed as we descended through the bracken towards Ballaglass. “And cold water – that’s the most powerful thing there is.”

In any case, I felt very good after the whole escapade, which ended with a thumbs up to Cornaa, a requested stop near the valley, and a merry walk back to Douglas aboard the island’s electric train.

My plan for day two was to tackle part of the 10-mile Central East Summits trail, which starts a short taxi ride from Douglas. But it all started inauspiciously when my driver missed the trailhead – the ominously named Windy Corner – due to heavy rain and cloud cover that obliterated the highlands of defining features. He backed away and I stepped out into a disheartening pea soup. Wondering how wise my decision was, I walked across a trackless moorland and disappeared up to my knees in a wet poll.

When the cloud thinned for a moment, I saw trenches dropping to one side. Relying on my OS map, app and prayers I reached a stile in a stone wall. Briefly supported by a beautiful piece of forest, I continued my way and soon found myself on a wide, clear path. But it was hard and rocky underfoot, and the rain was now coming in in torrents, testing the limits of even Type II fun. At 546 meters above Beinn-y-Phott – which I couldn’t actually see – I decided to break off and head up the mountain road for a damp, dreary, traffic-dodging trek to Bungalow station; from here, soaked and defeated, I took the mountain railway to Laxey.

Kate had told me that her favorite of the eight walks were the eight-mile South-Western Peaks and the Niarbyl Coastal Route, which I had left out as they were difficult to access. But coincidentally, the next day there was a bus from Douglas to tiny Niarbyl. I thought I could detour and add a bit of coastal path to reach the little beach town of Port Erin (bringing the total to about 15 miles); If it all worked, I would ride triumphantly back to Douglas on the 150-year-old steam train. I checked with Kate. Her verdict: “Epic plan.”

Saturday morning the sun was shining as I boarded the bus across the island. The only other passenger, he told me, was also planning to do a Niarbyl hike. He also told me about the annual Parish Walk, an 80-mile race between all the island’s churches, held every June and dating back to the 1850s. He had won it in the past, he revealed. When we got off at the end of the road near the sea, he gave me a good order and sped away. I took my time.

Kate was right. This route was beautiful. First I headed north, by road, and then through sweet-smelling gorse and ferns. Where the mouth of Glen Maye met the beach I followed the valley inland; leafy, burbly, sleek and winding, with a mysterious waterfall at the end, it was even more fairytale than Ballaglass. Past Glen Maye I followed a path along a shallow river, the sun blinding the rust-colored water and iridescent damselflies.

The Hill of the Day Watch is where islanders look out for Vikings

It was a short, stiff out-and-back hike to the 483-foot South Barrule, which I was eager to check off after conquering its namesake to the north. South Barrule was a Celtic Iron Age hillfort; excavations here have unearthed remains of many round huts. The enormous panorama, on a clear day, explains why this was a strategic spot.

I descended and then almost immediately climbed back uphill to the 437 meter high Cronk ny Arrey Laa (the Hill of the Day Watch). This is where islanders look out for Vikings. Now it is a great place for ground-nesting birds and views of the wild west coast. My hike to the top was officially north, back to Niarbyl here. But I set out and headed south instead, determined to reach Port Erin and take a piece of the Raad ny Foillan, the path that winds along the island’s coast.

It was heavy. It is in the south-west corner that the coast of the Isle of Man is at its highest and steepest; steepest, most spectacular. I had battles with undergrowth; faced with calf pulls. But then I looked up and saw a sea of ​​molten silver glittering all the way to Ireland; flying rabbits and riding seagulls; cliffs that jut out, slip, dip, rise.

Finally, the 19th century battlements of Milner’s Tower ushered in the bay of Port Erin. About another kilometer and I was standing on the bend of the soft sand of the city drinking a cold beer from the beach bar.

I surveyed the damage: scratched limbs, wild hair, questionable smell. But alive – and vibrant.

The trip was arranged by Mannin Hotel in Douglas has B&B doubles £105pn. Soul Adventures organises guided walks, wild swimming and other activities. Liverpool-Douglas foot passenger return from £52pp. Ferries also depart from Heysham and Belfast.

Leave a Comment