Walking the Isle of Man

When you think of the Isle of Man, what most likely comes to mind is preconceived ideas of motorcycle racing, cats with no tails and a tax haven for the wealthy.  But what you may not realise is that it’s something of a walker’s delight as well.

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Niarbyl Sunset. Photo by Grant Matthews.

Located slap bang in the middle of the British Isles, the island is 220 square miles in size, with no place on it more than approximately 7 miles from the coast.  That in itself is a great attraction for walkers; the prospect of frequent sea views and the difficulty in getting lost, which also makes it attractive for the casual walker.  The island’s geology gives it a tremendously wide range of scenery – from wild moorland and woody glens, to dramatic cliffs with crashing seas.  It has just one mountain, Snaefell, standing at 621 metres above sea level, which many will wish to conquer.  It’s an easy one to bag as the Victorian electric railway takes you up from the Bungalow Station in mere minutes.  More discerning walkers can take the 40 minute hike up, but better still would be to look elsewhere on the island for rambling inspiration.

A few years ago, I completed a 15 mile walk from the pretty seaside town of Port Erin to the island’s former capital, Peel.  A beautiful coastal walk, it took in three significant ascents and certainly some stamina, but was ultimately extremely rewarding.  The initial ascent up Bradda Head takes you to a commemorative plaque where Kodak’s “World’s Best Photograph 1931” was won, and about half way along the route I came across Niarbyl, where the thatched cottage scenes from the movie “Waking Ned” were filmed.  Apparently the Isle of Man looks more like Ireland than Ireland does!  The final descent over Corrins Hill into Peel as the sun melted into the Irish Sea was a truly magical moment, topped off with a much-deserved pint of local Manx ale at The Creek Inn.

The island has several official long distance paths.  The Millennium Way is 23 miles in length and follows the old route of kings from Ramsey in the north to Castletown in the south.  The walk gets you away from the coast and gives you the opportunity to explore more inland scenery, some of which certainly resembles the Lake District.  It is achievable in one day, but can be conveniently split into two days by stopping over at Crosby, for those who wish to savour it.

The 14 mile Herring Way follows, as the name suggests, the old fishermen’s roads, and is a great path on which to enjoy a balance of coastal scenery and quaint glens and woodland.  There is also the opportunity to take a modest diversion to ascend South Barrule, where you will be rewarded with a stunning view over countryside and sea.

For the most committed of walkers, there is the official coastal path (the “Raad ny Follian”), a 96 mile footpath round the whole coastline.  Typically starting at the island’s capital, Douglas, It’ll take about a week to complete, with accommodation on or near the route readily available.  The path winds its way along the coast, yes, but also a nature reserve, a disused railway, fishing villages and numerous sites of historical interest.

Want to know more?  Take Terry Marsh’s excellent walking guide with you for a superb variety of walking inspiration.

When:  Avoid late May, early June and early September, when the island is invaded by motorbike enthusiasts for the TT Races and Manx Grand Prix.

How: Aer Lingus, British Airways, Citywing, Easyjet and Flybe all serve the island’s only airport at Ronaldsway.  Regular buses go to and from the airport linking it to Douglas, Peel and Castletown.  You can catch the ferry from Heysham or Liverpool but this is often more expensive and time consuming.

Ben Sharp

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