The Isle of Man may not be the most exotic place to begin an adventure, but it has its advantages. It is close by, friendly in an I’m-not-too-keen-on-strangers sort of a way, and spectacularly beautiful. It is the sort of beauty that really doesn’t come out in photographs and which disappears from the mind’s eye all too quickly.
Abounding in countryside, with towns very much coming to an abrupt end, the island is also ripe for exploration, or at least adventure. And away from the TT races and the cats, it’s about as isolated and unknown to outsiders as you can get on the British Isles. The only traffic I encountered on a several mile stretch of the A10, for instance, was a single tractor. If all that’s not enough, you can walk around it in a week, and there are steam trains too.
The Way of the Gull coastal footpath was my next challenge. It was rather relaxing not having to worry about currency conversion, visas, or even if my passport was in date. All I needed to do was jump on a plane and start walking, via numerous pints of locally-brewed ale, which is something of a must on long treks.
Even though it is only a 50 minute flight I can’t wait to be off the plane and on the ground doing something. The start of an adventure is always a time of itchy, nervous, feet.
Plenty of small propeller planes like mine pass overhead to the airport near Castletown as I make our way towards Port St Mary, but even so the isolation is already near complete as I lunch at the Chasms – a series of sea-worn gorges in the cliffs covered by balls of purple-flowering heather. The stresses of life dissipate. Very rapidly the days take on a simpler existence of walk, eat, sleep, repeat.
I’ve only made it as far as an old look-out tower when I cross paths with a local. She’s alone, walking her dogs and, worryingly, shouting at the ravens. ‘You’re going to Peel are you?’ she cackles. ‘You know what you’re in for?’ Three murderously wind-swept, steep, heather-clad hills to be exact. Each taller than the last, which rises from sea-level to 1400 metres.
From hills that day the coastal path takes me onto beaches the next, with a couple of miles of shifting pebbles and very little shade from the sun. The low tide exposes sandbanks further along the coast, a stretch I have to myself for mile after mile. Without any true landmarks I have to clamber up a cutting through the orange cliffs to work out exactly where I might be – opposite Jurby church.
It doesn’t really matter, but I’m feeling good, so the further I walk today the easier the next day becomes. I end up bedding down in the grasses just off the beach for a fitful night’s sleep interrupted by rabbits bounding noisily about my flysheet.
After a couple more miles on the beach the path cuts through the low heathland all the way to Point of Ayre, the island’s most northerly point. The nearer I get, the stronger the wind becomes and at the Point itself I stop only for the briefest moment to check the map before turning south to hopefully warmer conditions.
Midway towards the capital, Douglas, on the other side of the island to Jurby, a guy stops me to say ‘I think we saw you on Jurby beach last Tuesday’ and seems impressed at how far I’ve got around the island in the last few days. Both things show just how small the island is.
I hold out until sundown to have my shower, so I’m not bedded in the tent until 8pm, my journey around the island done.