with Phil Craine and Cate Macfarlane
Sat 19. It’s happening - help! Mary and Adele have already arrived on yesterday’s boat from Dublin, Mary having flown from Canada on Tuesday to spend a while with Adele in her Irish home. Kate and Andrew fly in from Southampton, soon followed by Jon on the Heysham boat. Cate, my fellow co-leader came on Thursday and has been busy with shopping lists, prayer cards and managing me. In the evening all seven of us meet at my home in Douglas for a cuppa on the back lawn, a meal and a chance to get to know each other a bit better. We know it’s an early start in the morning so hit the sack soon. Jon and I walk Adele and Mary back to the Devonian B & B – the others are staying with me - then buy a bread roll for Jon’s agape meal tomorrow. I knock off a few final emails before packing the rucksack. Excited & scary at the same time…
Sun 20. Mobile alarm goes off at 7am & crawl out for breakfast, after which we make sandwiches for our packed lunch – a pattern that will repeat all week. Mary and Adele rejoin us in time for a prayer committing our pilgrimage to God, asking for safety, give and take, and an openness to those we meet on the way. We leave our heavy bags and boxes of food and utensils in the hall for Ray to pick up later that morning. Ray is the key which makes this whole trip viable; each day he will collect our stuff and reliably transport it to our next destination in his jeep. At 9.30 we walk down my drive into Hilary Road and we’re off. It’s a warm and sunny morning and we stroll the mile along the promenade arriving at the electric tram station quickly enough to catch the 1010. Soon we leave the capital behind and head north, hugging the coast and looking down on wooded sheltered glens. Passing through Laxey, we soon arrive Ballajora, a hamlet where we alight and start walking down the hill to the beach at Port Mooar, then around the coast and up the cliff to Maughold village. Maughold, named after the Irish missionary saint, was the main ecclesiastical centre of the Island 1000 years ago, and we take time to visit the three existing ancient keeills (rectangular small chapels) within its churchyard as well as the old celtic crosses, bearing Norse as well as Christian symbols. After lunch we head for Maughold’s well at an unspoilt spot half way down the cliff. For the first of many occasions during the week, Mary asks how much ground we’ve covered. The answer is always 40%, it seems to keep her happy. We then turn west along the brooghs (clifftops) with wide vistas of Ramsey bay and the north, with Scotland and Cumbria appearing in the haze.
We cross Port-e-Vullen beach gazing at the wide variety of coloured rocks, shot through with quartz. Soon we are skirting Ramsey town and there’s Nigel to welcome us to the Crossags - a large ‘log cabin’, our destination for the first night. Relief all round to flop, enjoy a cuppa & see our bags! After wolfing down huge salmon steaks, Jon leads us in a beautiful agape celebration…
Be gentle when you touch bread;
Let it not lie uncared for, unwanted.
So often bread is taken for granted.
There is such beauty in bread –
Beauty of sun and soil,
Beauty of patient toil.
Wind and rain have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it.
So let us be gentle in sharing bread,
And remember Jesus.
Drink wine with care.
Let it not be wasted or taken in vain,
Nor like water washed down a drain.
There is the deepest creation of wine.
Choice of the right soil;
Skill in dressing the vine
Judgement of the right time to harvest;
Craft of transforming grapes into wine.
Christ saw it poured out
And spilt as his blood.
Let not wine be misunderstood.
Wine poured out for us.
Wine poured out for us.
Mon 21. We realise we need two hours from wake-up call to departure each morning, so it’s a 7am alarm in order to leave Crossags at 9. Soon we turn south into the steep-sided Glen Auldyn valley, and after prayers outside the chapel, we start climbing. The tarmac road turns into a path which eventually disappears as we emerge through the woods into open moorland. We follow our noses SSW and Adele crosses a stile only to hear me tell her she hadn’t needed to! Soon Snaefell looms into view – the island’s highest summit at 2036’ and our destination. We’re grateful for the recent dry weather as we cross soft ground onto the mountain’s shoulder and a final push gets us across the railway line and attain the summit. We eat our sandwiches taking in the 360’ views before enjoying a coffee and Jumbo Sausage Roll from the café. We’ve made good time, enough for Jon to descend on foot to sea level at Laxey, while the rest of us enjoy the alternative of the Snaefell Mountain Railway, dating from 1895. We reunite for a cuppa or ice cream at the station café in Laxey before ambling down to Noah’s Ark Nursery, run by the Salvation Army and our floor for the night. After prayers on the harbour wall, we all head for a drink in the Shore Hotel before hitting the sack.
Tue 22. A 6am wake-up in order to be out for 8 when the nursery staff arrive. Ray turns up early too so good for us all to meet him. A sightseeing trip to the massive Laxey Wheel before catching the first tram at 1015 back to the top of Snaefell. Pray together at the top before descending in silence and not easily on the long steady slope. We skirt a swamp and then cross on to the next hill, Beinn-y-Phott (pronounced Pennypot). We stop for lunch at the edge of some peat cuttings and soon hit the Millennium Way, marking the ancient highland route of the monks across the island from Rushen Abbey in the south to their lands in the north. It becomes stony and difficult as we start to descend, but eventually we arrive at the old and remote chapel of St Luke’s, still a living church and an oasis of tranquillity. Just one more mile downhill before warden Paul welcomes us to Ard Whallin, a hostel in an outdoors adventure centre in the sheltered Baldwin valley. It has not only mattresses but showers and a washing machine – life can’t get much better than this. Kate and Andrew cook a great meal and after prayers some of us stroll alongside the nearby reservoir, notably low.
Wed 23. A day of meeting new folk along the way. My friends Dee Dee and Ann join us as we leave Ard Whallin, heading over farmland and visiting a keeill dedicated to Vreeshey (Manx Gaelic for Bridget) before arriving at Crosby village where we join the track along a disused railway line. After lunch we meet Avril, who is researching attitudes to landscape and pilgrimage, and who stays with us for the rest of the pilgrimage, offering us valuable insights. We continue west, with Kate and Andrew demonstrating impressive woodcraft skills by fashioning stout walking sticks from coppiced hazel growing by the line. We join the river Neb and follow it to its mouth at Peel harbour, the end of a full 10 mile walk – longer than our usual eight. Jon and Andrew are allowed ten minutes’ diversion into the Creek Inn to see England slog it out against Slovenia, before we arrive at Corrin Hall, our base for the night, adjacent to the Island’s cathedral. A special treat awaits – not the England victory but a meal in the aforementioned Creek. A glass or three of Merlot slips smoothly down before we head for a 10pm – still well light – circumnavigation around Peel Castle. While we’re looking at a fine sailing ship moored at the breakwater we fall into conversation with Richard, a Yorkshireman on holiday in Peel. We invite him to join us the next day before strolling home along the seafront, tidying the rubbish off the beach on the way.
Thu 24. 9am departure from Peel - and Richard has joined us. The footbridge is closed for repairs, necessitating a steep climb up Peel Hill, in silence to better focus on the sounds of creation – a seagull, the wind in a tree, or even the lorries at the power station below. We rest at Corrin’s Folly at the summit, and then head south along a fairly level clifftop path, with great views inland and with the Mountains of Mourne out to sea. The sun’s in our faces as it has been all week. We climb down to Glen Maye beach before noon and time for an early lunch (1 of 2). After a mile or two on unfamiliar tarmac, we arrive at Dalby village where the open church door invites us in for a welcome rest. Then it’s down to Niarbyl beach for a later lunch stop, and after a couple of miles of coast path we have a welcome cuppa and flapjack at the lovely garden of my friend Cheryl. We bid farewell to Richard before pressing up a steep and stony track and into open moorland when we spot Eary Cushlin, our remote cottage for the night. Warden Paul (same one as Ard Whallin) welcomes us and Ray turns up too with our bags. After a cuppa we trek down to Lag ny Keeilley, an 8th century keeill, hemmed in by the Manx hills and the wide open sea hundreds of feet below, with Slieve Donard beckoning forty miles to the west. It’s not difficult to meet God here, and we drink in the beauty.
Fri 25. Straight away we climb 1600’ Cronk ny Irree Laa (‘Hill of the Rising Day’) which looms over Eary Cushlin. Three miles of ups and downs later we reach the coast again at Fleshwick where we have the beach to ourselves for lunch. Then a steep climb up to Bradda Hill, with choughs and a possible croak of a corncrake. Soon Port Erin appears into view and we’re ready to flop into the Cosy Nook for pots of tea and scones. We head for the railway station to catch the last train of the day at 4.20 – only to find it left at 3.50! The bus has to suffice and within the hour we’re back in the bustle of Douglas ‘rush hour’. We arrive back at my home relieved to see a neighbour has kindly watered my flowers and veg – we havent seen a drop of rain all week. Folk leave early tomorrow morning and we know this is our last meeting together, at least for now. So to celebrate the safe completion of our pilgrimage, it has to be fish and chips on the back lawn with prayers, kindnesses and reflections thrown in.
A special week in thoughtful and generous company, ‘wandering for the love of Christ’ through beautiful hills and coastlines, which will linger long in my memory.
Distant vistas, IOM
keeill (chapel) at remote Lag ny Keeilley
descending Cronk ny Irree Laa - in silence
at top of Cronk ny Irree Laa
Preparing packed lunches – Corrin Hall, Peel
the remotest keeill?
Port Erin, journey’s end