Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Nearly every morning, within fifteen minutes of setting off, I find a perfect place to camp (if only I’d known). Here it is: a charming cove with a flat grassy area and running water in the shape of a little brook tumbling into the pebbles. Plus the sound of the sea to lull me to sleep.
Manx people seem to have a fairly liberal attitude to life, rather fifties style. Here I am, trotting around with full camping gear (tin mug dangling on the back) and no one has been surprised or shocked or even questioned it. They must know that there are almost no campsites on the island. In England I would have been grilled along the lines of ‘Ooh, are you on your own? Where are you staying? Where are you heading for? ‘ and I always tell a pack of lies so that they don’t realise I’m camping wild on my own. Here it’s quite different. In fact the hairdresser yesterday said to me ‘Are you just camping wherever you happen to land? I think that’s the best idea.’ What a difference in attitude!\Then she told me about group tours where everyone stays in Douglas but gets shuttled back and forth to the coastal walk. She added ‘That’s if you like walking in a group, I don’t’, she said. A woman after my own heart.
There doesn’t seem to be an issue about camping wild, because in some places it says ‘No camping’, or ‘No camping without permission’, which kind of implies you might otherwise be expected to camp. . That’s also a bit fifties style, a time when people did go and camp anywhere, like the Famous Five.
Call it liberal, or call it lax, but the coastal path is sometimes too close to the coast for comfort but there doesn’t seem to be a health and safety issue about its erosion. Why let the fact that some of the path has fallen into the sea spoil a good walk? In England there would be closure signs and diversions. I wonder if anyone has actually fallen off it yet?
There’s a lot of litter in the coves and other public spaces. I wonder the people in the big houses don’t come down and clear it up now and again. I’ve just stopped in a little railway shelter called Ballajora. So pretty from the outside, but full of litter. The bin is overflowing. There are several very nice properties round about. It would take someone twenty minutes to bag it up and pop it into their bin.
I’m in another little cove, sitting on a bench to make a flask of tea. It’s taken me twenty minutes altogether – ten minutes to warm the water and another ten back in the flask with the teabag in – but it’s worth the wait. Tea outdoors has a special flavour doesn’t it? Must be the extra oxygen. Coffee never performs in the same way. This takes me right back to childhood, especially with the chilliness of the air and the sea roaring at me. Those flasks of tea on the beach after swimming when you were still shivering in the towel and your mum brought a big tin pot from the café plus, if you were lucky, a packet of Smiths’ crisps. Cold fingers struggling to open the salt bag. Or the tea my dad used to make on a little primus stove when he took us down to the River Tor.
The quest for accommodation in Laxey is as bad as everywhere else. The tourist information lady gave me a number which has not answered. I couldn’t even contact the warden for the council campsite (which is officially open) but I’m going to pitch there anyway. The outside taps work but the toilet block is locked so I’ll have to pee discreetly behind the bushes.
One of the three pubs, the Bridge Inn, has a brightly lit neon sign reading Vacancies but don’t be fooled, they haven’t got any. So switch the bloody sign off!
There was a cosy bar in the Bridge, with a roaring fire, but it was full with no seating at all so I’ve come into the ‘lounge’ which is cold and empty. It’s more the summer lounge, the landlord explains apologetically. Isle of Man has a very strict season: don’t expect anything to be available before Easter at least.
At the Shore Inn, down in the harbour, I have a more convivial sit-down and can ‘people-watch’ over a couple of glasses of wine. When it gets a little darker, I will pitch up in Laxey’s playing field-cum-campsite and have my own little party, with the help of a bottle of wine from the Co-op.
New use for my beloved Trekmate cooking flask: you don’t spill your wine! The tent is pitched properly for the first time as I am, for once, on mown grass. Pitch perfect at last.