Trails and trials of the writer who walks
After a cosy night in my gorse bush clearing, I began decamping at 5:10 am (forgive me my trespasses) but it’s now 6 am and I’m only just ready to move on – must try harder. So it’s down the hill and back over that fence before any dog walkers start appearing. But what’s this, waiting for me on the other side of the fence? My lost glasses!
Why is it that when you set off the next morning, you always find an ideal pitching spot less than five minutes walk from whatever awkward place you chose the night before? I’ve just discovered a viewing place on the cliff side that juts out far enough to have several grassy clearings plus a bench (always useful). It would have been in sight of the road but at least I wouldn’t have been trespassing. Anyway, it’s a good place for a breakfast stop. I can enjoy the seascape while cleaning my teeth and waiting for the trusty flameless flask to make my porridge. Tried and trusted method is to heat up the water with powdered milk for about ten minutes and then stir in the contents of a sachet of Oat-so-Simple (golden syrup flavour of course). Then I put the flask lid back on for about five minutes which gets it really thick and creamy.
The footpath finally parts company with the traffic-free road and winds its way up to a gaggle of houses where I imagine the owners command the sea from their balconies and terraces like captains on a bridge. The porridge has used up the last of my water so I’m delighted to find a little spring that hops from the hedgerow and wiggles down the lane. I hold my platypus under it to fill up about half a litre. The platypus is one of my new toys – it’s a plastic expanding water bottle than can take up to two litres but when it’s mainly empty, just push out the air and fold it up. I pop a little purifying tablet into it.
All coastal paths zig-zag vertically and this one is no exception. A steep descent down is often only a few strides distant from the corresponding climb back up. I’m about to start a ‘downer’. I can hear a constant piping of oyster catchers and a gull making a passable impression of Frankie Howerd doing his ‘ooh, er’. Bobbing on the sea, some duck-like birds make owl noises. I wish there was some way you could search for sounds on Google.
At the bottom of the current steep descent, in the pebbly cove, I find a boarded up building that resembles a sixties beach café , with perhaps the changing rooms for bathers (common in my childhood), and a hatch that might have been an ice cream kiosk. A crumbling stone balustrade separates a short promenade from the beach and at the end of the promenade, there is an archway of fading grandeur that leads on to a dangerously sagging closed-off walkway made of wood. It would once have enabled trippers to explore further around the shoreline without having to scramble over rocks. Erected by M & T Forrester, 1897. This is Port Soderick, according to the map.
Here I make a recording of the sea as it swishes the pebbles in and out and have my mid-morning brew, sitting on a stone jetty enjoying the smell of seaweed and sewage. No honestly, that smell takes me right back to the tarry, rocky coves of my Devon childhood. I was almost fifty before I realised that the ‘sewagey’ smell I always associated with happy seaside days was not produced naturally by the sea. We sometimes get the same smell in our village, and I still find it pleasant, especially on fine days where there’s a bit of ozone coming in from the coast.
It’s a fine day for smells. After the cove, is Port Soderick Glen, abundant in wild garlic. The signs here which declare ‘no camping’ are encouraging as it implies that, elsewhere, camping is probably tolerated.
After the glen, I’m on a main road but the island is so light on traffic that this is not too much of a hardship – although when cars appear, they all hurl themselves around the bends like wannabee TT racers. After the road, and a few fields, I find myself picking my way cautiously along a footpath that clings to the cliff for dear life – one sideways step and you’d be doing a Tom Daley. The plummeting drop is on my left, so that pole has all the work to do while I hold the right hand pole aloft, frightened it will entangle in a bramble and disturb my equilibrium. I am concentrating like a drunk who’s been asked to do the ‘walk in a straight line’ test. And yet I’m following the tracks of a mountain bike!
Less scary, but arduous, are the coves that follow: steep steps descending, a small footbridge, steep steps ascending. Repeat, repeat.
I’ve been able to see Castletown for some time and am suddenly alarmed to see a monstrous aeroplane emerging silently from behind a humpy hill of gorse. It fills the sky and blots out the sun, like one of those alien space ship scenes. Of course the noise follows within seconds, and then it’s gone before I can get my camera out. Somewhere behind the hill is the airport of course.
Walkers beware. Not far from the airport, the footpath sign points to a track between gorse bushes. Although narrow, the track is full of bootprints of previous walkers, so it must be the right way mustn’t it? Not. The track narrows to impassable and the bootprints turn round and go back. Sadly no one has thought of reorientating the sign by about 45 degrees.
It’s usually my habit to fall into the first pub I come across whenever civilisation is reached. This time it’s the Castle Arms, otherwise known as the ‘Gluepot’, or the ‘Gluey’ to the locals. I expect a Manx ‘gluey ear’ is caused when your wife cuffs you round the head for spending too much time in there. It’s cosy and friendly, with beer less than £2.50 a pint.
By tea-time, I’m in my second pub of the day, just before Port St Mary. I’ve decided to skip the headland bit that’s like the ‘Land’s End’ of Man, because from here, it looks too civilised for a wild pitch. The headland hill that overlooks the Calf of Man is dotted with houses all the way to the top and I won’t have time to walk round that headland, then through Port Erin, and find a pitch before nightfall. Instead I’m taking the road directly to Port Erin.
What a sunset! The bay of Port Erin faces due west. Several people are taking photographs and mine doesn’t do it justice. But I must drag myself away from this gorgeous sight and up the next hill which looks reasonably wild on top.