Thursday, 13 August 2015

Tracey's a Good Egg!

Last year, I blogged about the success of our egg supplier, Tracey from Close Leece Farm, winning top honours at the Southern Agricultural Show and wouldn't you know it, this time around, she's gone one better and claimed first prize at the Royal show at Knockaloe last Saturday 8th August

As well as farming free range hens (and that means free range in the field, not a cage with the door left open,) she also rears Tamworth pigs and Guernsey Goats.

In fact, Tracey didn't even realise that she'd won the rosette for her ovular excellence because she was preoccupied with her Channel Island charges for which she also claimed a first prize!

When we caught up with her, she was preparing the goats for the Grand Parade from which the the overall show winner would be picked from and her main fear was that they'd have to carry them because they're none to keen on walking.

This came as no surprise to me because it's been 6 years to my knowledge since we last had a Guernsey walker competing on the Isle of Man, despite threats from Phil Lockwood, even though many of us have raided their Church to Church Walk.

However, unlike my chums from Sarnia Walking Club*, the goats came good and promenaded before the crowds.

(With apologies to my non-racewalking readers and any Guernseyans of a sensitive nature)

To return to my theme, Tracey is now offering Tamworth Pork, Goat meat and is hoping to produce Goats cheese at some stage in the future. She's certainly a busy lady.

Despite my ribbing, Sarnia Walking Club hold some really well run events, though they don't receive the kind of support we are lucky enough to get on the Isle of Man, so I highly recommend Guernsey as a place to visit for racewalkers.

Their Church to Church race has been running continuously since the 1930s and is one of the last proper open road courses in the British Isles. All levels of athlete are graciously received, so don't let it fade away. You still have time to enter this year!

Stuart Le Noury of the host club winning his first Church to Church in 2011

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Great Night with Nicki Naden

Nikki Naden(centre with glasses)

I have to say that these days, it is rare for Irene & I to go to pubs in town.

However, our daughter's friend Nikki Naden was playing at Sam's Bar the other day, so with Lucy's persuasion, instead of our usual Friday night sofa vegetation, we headed down to the gig.

She plays a great mix of covers, both with backing tracks and on the acoustic guitar but her major asset is a truly magnificent, powerful voice.

We had a brilliant evening and with the help of a few pints of Okells Bitter managed to put the fact that I was cooking breakfast a few hours later to the back of my mind.

The only problem was that it wasn't terribly well supported which made me think that it would be ideal if there was a simple website so that we could easily print out the day's events on the Island.

There are the sites below but there aren't many helpful Island web presences to guide the visitor or the local who wants to alter their usual habits.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Trail Around Two Baldwins

The loop around the Baldwin Valleys has long been a favourite for local athletes, cyclists and dog walkers but as we set out on Saturday, it occurred to me that it must be very rare for visitors to the Island to ever find it, except by chance.

Therefore, with apologies to local readers who have probably done it hundreds of times (though I learnt one or two things I didn't know before researching it) I decided to make a blog of it.

Irene has recently entered the year's End to End Walk 21st September , so although she has done a few strolls, it was time to start approaching this year's event in earnest.

We started from home, so the total distance from the Welbeck Hotel would be nearer 20k or just over 12 miles in old money rather than the 17.4k we endured.

There are of course several ways to access the main loop but we headed along the Tromode Road, past the Head Quarters of what was the IOM Water Authority but now they have taken the step of merging with the Manx Electricity Authority which has to be a dangerous move in anyone's books, though we did manage to pass it without electrocution which is always a bonus.

It is also the location of the Isle of Man Cadet Forces, Cronkbourne Cricket, Bacchanalians Hockey & Gymnasium Football clubs, so with a traffic free footpath and the River Glass on the other side of the road, it is always a pleasant start and I am always struck by how quickly after leaving home. we are virtually in countryside.

So far, I've never been brave enough to just walk along the river as it would surely cut out a long diversion. I'm a bit famous for my shortcuts within my family and this might just be one too far.

On this occasion we opted to turn North at the end of the road before climbing Johnny Wattersons Lane until the roundabout when we headed West along Ballanard Road and then left at Abbeylands Crossroads, down towards Sir George's Bridge. I had always heard this referred to as St George's Bridge but it was in fact named after Sir George Drinkwater who was part of a Liverpool/Isle of Man family, born on the Island though he later became Mayor of Liverpool.

There is a short, sharp climb and then we took a right on to the East Baldwin Road. From here on in, there is usually very little traffic before the main road is rejoined at Injebreck Reservoir and I think on this occasion, we didn't meet a single vehicle, nor even another pedestrian.

Glass is Manx for clear or green but apparently it is also called the Tromode River and it's tributaries include Baldwin, Injebrek, Colder and Sulby (though this is not to be confused with the largest river on the Island which flows into Ramsey.)

This is all 'On Road,' there are various opportunities to take public footpaths, and although I cannot say how clear they would be, I intend to find out at some stage and will report back to you ( of course I would be delighted if someone else would comment.)

After passing the old animal waste plant (not sign posted,) about 1k along there is now a private dwelling here but it was once a paper mill, after which the house is named.

It is a steady ascent for the next 2k or so, after which you take the road to the left when it becomes a serious ascent! I am somehow always surprised how close you are to the Mountain Road at this stage but fear not because this is the hardest it gets and at the top you are able to choose to turn left to go down to West Baldwin or right, up to St Luke's Church which at around 200m is as high as you go.

In fact it is on the site of an old kiell, St. Abbans, the highest church on the Island and is one of three built to the same design, the others being St. James in Dalby and St Stephens in Sulby. They also doubled as school rooms.

From there it is down the long hill to the bottom of the dam and then I made a 100m detour to see the Injebreck reservoir, constructed from 1900 to be 1905. There was even a railway built from Douglas and it is the main water supply for the town.

At one stage there was a pleasure park that even had its own roller coaster and the old village can be seen during very dry spells.

I am indebted to John Lord for the photographs!

From there it meanders down to West Baldwin, though you have to be a little more careful as this is a thoroughfare to the Bhein-y-Pot Road.

It is a pretty little hamlet, though there does seem to be quite a lot properties for sale, including the former pub, The North Star which is now a private house. With its stables situated behind, it was once a popular stopping point for travellers heading to the top of the Isle of Man and for quarry workers from Early Veg.

If you fancy reinstating it to its former use, I'm not sure it would be a great business move but I can think of two thirsty walkers who would have happily sat outside for a cool beer last Saturday.

Usually there is a couple of peacocks in evidence here but there was no sign the other day.

There is one more hill to negotiate on the way up Mount Rule before you walk the final 4k to Douglas through Ballamillaghyn, Strange, past the hospital and then past Cronkbourne, birthplace of the famous artist and jeweller, Archibald Knox, which is the only Manx industrial village, built to house the workers from Moore's Sailmakers who had a factory in the industrial estate opposite, though more locals would remember Clucas Laundry which once supplied linen for most of the hundreds of hotels and guest houses.

I have given directions on a Google Map:

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Blogger Boogie Woogies at the Villa Marina!

Thursday at 09:39, we weren't going to go and see Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

Although Irene and I had discussed it briefly a few times, we had missed last year's gig, we'd been there and done that on about four occasions and quite frankly, I always thought that the star guest, Mel C was rubbish.

I was in my office and the advert for the concert came on the radio, a quick phone call to Irene and, having heard it was a sell-out, brought the website up on my screen more in hope than in expectation.

We were extremely lucky and only a few hours later, right at the front of the stage at the Royal Hall.

Although the warm up act from Mark Flanagan was truncated because the battery on his acoustic guitar had gone dead, this was the only flat note of the night and it would have been a great mistake to have missed the show through our own apathy.

As soon as the orchestra springs into action and you are assaulted by the wall of sound, I couldn't imagine why we would have even considered not coming.

They were ably supported by vocalists, Jools himself, then Mabel Ray, followed by the excellent Louise Marshall.
Courtesy of Gary Weightman

It turns out that I was totally wrong about Mel C who was engaging, energetic and certainly proved she could sing!

The lady who really stole the show was Ruby Turner and it may be a little cliché but she certainly puts more than her heart and would into her performance and was absolutely brilliant.

The whole audience left with a smile on its face, though for someone who didn't want to see her in the first place, my only slight gripe was that Melanie Chisholm's contribution was relatively short and she didn't join the rest of the team for the encore.

Unlike my old chum and fellow blogger, Murray Lambden, I often forget my camera and to be honest, it was nearly the end before I realised I could turn our night out into a post, so I am indebted to my Facebook friend and occasional fellow drinker at the Woodie, Gary Wightman for supplying the only decent photographs I have presented you.

There is a great shot of Dave Cain who I could have sworn was right behind me earlier on before he stuck on a beard, tousled his hair and went on stage to play trumpet.

I saw many friends and acquaintances at the concert but it has to be said that social media allows you to catch up with anyone you have missed later.

Chief Meteorological Officer, Adrian Cowin who had made the long trek up from Arbory to be a guest at the Welbeck That night was posting about whom he could spot from his balcony seat and 'No sign of Michael George yet' appeared, to be answered by Marie Lambden who replied 'He's here!' 'Incognito! Interjected our weatherman.

Obviously, the best way to hide at the Villa Marina is right at the front, centre stage, wildly gyrating in a poor imitation of a dancer ;)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

A Tale of Two Cities, A Wallet & A Purse

Back in March, Irene & I were lucky enough to visit the city of Budapest on our return from a 50k race walk in Dudince, Slovakia.

It has a bit of an air of faded grandeur but it is very interesting and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of a trip to Eastern Europe.

We met two of our residents there from last summer, Andrew & Nora Vanya who is a tour guide which came in very handy as we were informed about the history behind the buildings and to be honest, one day with her was nowhere near enough (I hope she'd say the same about us ;) ) as there is so much to see.

Although it was still early in the year, the weather was beautiful, so the second full day, we decided to take the tram to Margaret Island which sits in the middle of the Danube.

They have 'Boris Bikes' or their Hungarian equivalent but unfortunately, I was too unintelligent to complete the hire and although I'd taken the huge trouble to spend the flight over, trying to learn the entire language, it was never going to be enough for this situation.

Therefore, we opted for one of the four wheeled two seater pedal vehicle and proceeded to do a lap of the Island which incidentally has a one lane athletics track around its shore.

This was thirsty work, so we decided to stop at the spa hotel for a coffee and a glass of sparkling water while sitting in the sunshine. It was when we came to pay that the nightmare began!

Despite having read the warning sign on our carriage, which was in English, telling us to be careful to protect our valuables from falling out, I had had my wallet in my back pocket and it was no longer there.

Fortunately, Irene had her debit card, so we managed to avoid being arrested but despite retracing our wheel tracks, it seemed that along with all my forints, euros, pound notes, credit cards, driving licence, Hungarian bus/train pass and a few other things that I had gathered in it, my wallet was gone forever.

We were able to ascertain that there was a Police Station but it was unmanned and the telephone call I made to the number on the door wasn't the easiest as the operator's English wasn't great despite being three hundred times better than my Hungarian but I thought she told me to wait for the Police to collect me.

Having waited there about half an hour, obviously by this stage, my darling wife was reminding me that I was the best thing since sliced bread and she was also thirsty. We had been told that there was a swimming pool with a cash machine very close by so we agreed that I would continue staying there in case the Police came and she went to try and find the means to buy a drink.

After another thirty minutes, the local constabulary turned up and were very eager to put me into their car. I even thought I caught that they had said my wallet had been found, so I made the decision to let them take me (I had thought that my property had been handed in somewhere on the Island) and I'd come back to Irene very quickly.

At first she hadn't answered my calls but eventually, as I was whisked away, I managed to get through to her after I had been in the vehicle about ten minutes. To say that she wasn't best pleased is probably the understatement of the year, as the swimming pool was closed and there was no cash machine and therefore no drink either. She demanded that I tell the officers to bring me straight back but they said we had nearly reached our destination and in fairness, it wasn't really a taxi service.

A man had been walking with his child and had found my wallet! Absolutely everything was in it and he had delivered it straight to his local Police Station. My delight was slightly tempered by the fact that I was still in major trouble with the boss who was lost and stranded back at the Island and it seemed to take forever for them to lay out the aforementioned contents, take a statement and have me sign for my property.

Unfortunately, they wouldn't give me any details of the finder but told me they would pass on my thanks and were horrified when I tried to offer a reward to put to their Police fund (The word 'Charity' was another one I'd neglected to add to my huge Hungarian vocabulary) but they were very courteous and insisted on driving me back Margaret Island.

Another swift phone call to Irene who was now beside herself and was unable to take on board any information other than when I would unabandon her. I had feared that it would be at least another 15 minutes but it became apparent that it had taken so long to reach our original destination only because of the big city one way system and we were back in a flash.

I was able to buy Irene a drink and pay for the hire of the cycle carriage, though it would take a little longer and an evening dinner cruise along the river before I was properly able to make it up to her.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well, you've probably guessed looking at the title of this post and I had to promote Douglas from a town using a little artistic licence to make it fit.

I had just arrived at the Hotel the other day on my bicycle, dropping a few replacement lamps that I'd bought earlier when one of our guests arrived, telling us that she thought she'd dropped her purse on the bus.

As you can imagine, memories of that horrible morning flooded back, so we did our best to try and help. Irene rang the bus company and as I had wheels, I zoomed off to check the toilets on Loch Promenade.

While I was in the vicinity, I also popped into Lord Street Police Station to see whether it had been handed in there.

Unfortunately, it wasn't there, the toilet cleaners hadn't found it and the bus driver hadn't bee n able to locate it on his vehicle.

Having started the search very confident we would reunite purse and owner, quite frankly I was pretty disappointed that the Island people who are usually so good on these sort of occasions, had let us down.

The next day, she had to purchase another 'Go Card,' quite relieved that unlike me she hadn't been carrying most of her eggs in one basket.

Quite frankly during a busy day at work, it had slipped my mind when in the afternoon, I received a telephone call from the Police Support Officer, informing me that a lady bank worker had taken the lost article into the station and that it was ready to be picked up. Like my Hungarian hero, she had not touched the cash or contents and our guest was delighted. It's great to know that with all the bad things that you read in the papers and hear on the news, there are still so many members of the human race on all sides of the World that will do the right thing!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Up the Viaduct Without a Paddle (though a scythe would have come in handy)

Last Sunday, we decided that we should really take advantage of my day off and therefore, unusually for me, I took the step of pre-booking an activity.

As kayaking is one of our favourite pastimes, I managed to reserve an evening paddle from Peel with Keirron Tastagh from .

Of course, I was very proud of actually managing to organise something in my life but it only occurred to me afterwards that the 5pm start would be smack bang in the middle of Wimbledon Final.

Cue 'Operation Media Blackout!' (And the use of Sky Plus ;) )

This required turning off all the mobile data and wi-fi from our telephones and Irene and I catching a bus to the middle of nowhere, which in this case, we deemed to be Glen Mooar.

After a quick trip down the lane to the beach, we opted to join the old Northern Railway Line to walk back to Peel. At least we tried to opt to join it but actually ended going around the Glen as we missed the turn off to find the end of the old viaduct. Now I've been on this route at least twice before and I was pretty sure that it was almost immediately after you go through the gate but even on our second lap, we failed to discover the correct way to go.

Although we'd left plenty of leeway, our unscheduled lap just slightly worried us and we cheated by climbing over the MUA gate a few yards along the road, though there are lots of other opportunities to join it a little further.

The Manx Northern Railway was opened in 1879 and must have been the most spectacular of our network but was unfortunately, never a financial success and closed in 1952. It does remain as a pathway except for the viaducts which have long since been dismantled.

"Glen Wyllin" by Dr Neil Clifton. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

It travelled along the inland side of the road until it tunnels (has to be the longest tunnel on the Island?) under it onto the sea side not far before the Devils Elbow.

Unfortunately, the footpath has not been very well maintained and where the drainage, which in fairness must be very difficult because it is in cutting at this stage, is very poor and it is extremely overgrown and wet under foot.

Instead of running through to Peel, it turns towards St Johns at St. Germains Station and so we rejoined the road. With a little more time in hand, we would only have had to be on tarmac for a few hundred metres before you join the clifftop path at 'White Strand' and it is a lovely walk along the headland and then onto the Promenade.

However, hunger and thirst had struck and the minutes were disappearing, so we had a toastie and a pint of beer outside the Peveril, having taken the direct road.

I'd approached the bar sideways and must have appeared a little shifty, hardly making eye contact, so I had to apologise to the barmaid as it was all in an effort to ensure I didn't accidentally see the tennis score.

Because there were some very inexperienced kayakers in our group, we entered the water in our boats in the harbour, just opposite Fenella Beach, so we could all get the hang of propelling our vessels in the direction required without sinking ourselves or anyone else.
It has to be said that having hired kayaks in quite a few places around the World, these are by far the best I've been in and just a delicate flick with the paddle sends you a fair way.

We journeyed around the bay, along the beach and around the cliffs to the old swimming pool at Traie Fogog beach, where we stopped for a rest and a well earned flapjack. Or in my case, three well earned flapjacks - I did make sure no one else wanted them. Honest!

We retraced our paddle strokes back to where we had began before jettisoning one lady who was a little nervous about rounding the Castle and headed off past the Breakwater, avoiding being hooked by any of the fishermen/women.
If you are very lucky, you can get to see basking sharks while you are out but it was here that we saw one of the seals that regularly fish around the rocks. Unfortunately, it was a little camera shy and ducked down every time Fergus (our second guide) lifted his apparatus.

By far my favourite part of the evening was managing to catch a wave, surfing in to Fenella beach but any chance of appearing to be a cool expert canoe dude, disappeared when I didn't alter my steering quite quickly enough and ended up with a bit of a dunk in the Irish Sea. Superb fun!
I have to say that I am cheating a little here as this was nicked off the AE blog but I have been through caves like this in the past on their tours

At £55 each, it isn't perhaps going to become a weekly hobby but with almost 3 hours on the water, I think it represents good value.

Back in our vehicle, we endured radio silence on the drive home and finally sat down to watch Mssrs Djokovic and Federer just after 9pm, having successfully managed to avoid any mention of it.

A great day out!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Castletown to Port St. Mary Without a Whinge

As a family, we started walking in about 2001, looking for something worthwhile on the 'new-fangled' day off Mrs. George had fought to be awarded to me.

Matthew and Elizabeth were already old enough to decide that this strange activity wasn't really for them and although young Terence loved it from the beginning, it was a taste that Lucy struggled to acquire. Many a time, after about 15 minutes, she would be complaining and start to utter the phrase that will be familiar to a million parents: 'Are we there yet?'

In fairness to her, there were occasions when she would really get the bit between her teeth and on one occasion on the climb from Niarbyl to the summit of Cronk-ny-Arrey-Laa (437m/1400') she left us all behind her in the rain and loved it but this wasn't really the norm.

So, a few weeks ago when she coincidentally happened to land in Castletown at the same time as we were enjoying a pre-expedition coffee, I invited her along with us, not for a minute thinking she would want to and I can't say it wasn't without trepidation that we set off along the road to Scarlett.

One of the enjoyable things about exploring the Isle of Man is the varied scenery and geology that have in such a small area and this stretch of coastline is unlike the rugged spectacular cliffs of the South West and the East and very different to the sandy areas in the West and North.

In the photo above you can see the quarry which provided much of the limestone used to build Castletown and the kilns are still existing on the shoreline.

The visitor centre here is open from Tuesday to Sunday from May until September.

A little further along the path, there is Scarlett Point Radio Tower. This was originally a Coastguard watch point which was decommissioned in 1971. It fell into disrepair until it was restored by a group of amateur radio enthusiasts who have also now added a couple of webcams:

There is a lot of bird life and flora and it was very pleasant on this spring day as the sun began to poke through the clouds. We then headed around towards Bay ny Carricker, often referred to erroneously as Gansey Bay which is the lovely little beach at the other side of the inlet.

Having passed Pooil Vaaish, the quarry from which Bishop Wilson reputedly donated the steps for St Pauls Cathedral in London, to be honest it is a little untidy and the farm area looks like it could do with some clearing but beyond that is a little farm shop with an honesty box.

By Isle of Man standards, this is one of the flatter walks and the next couple of miles is alongside the road which can be a little noisy. However, the Shore Hotel is well worth a visit and by this time we had worked up both hunger and thirst.

There is a great view from the public bar which has great character as it is built with reclaimed materials and you can have fun sitting and working out what the individual components once were. There is a separate restaurant and the kitchen and toilet areas have recently been extended. The reclamation theme has been continued into the loos. Did you ever see urinals like these?

Unfortunately, although we were able to have a drink, they were very busy, so rather than wait as had been suggested, we were keen to continue our journey. However, I can recommend the food as Irene and I ate there two weeks previously.

A few hundred metres later, past Gansey, you can once again get off the main road and follow the Raad ny Foillan around the point and into Port St. Mary Bay. This is another great beach, though it isn't as popular as Port Erin or Peel, perhaps because there are less facilities. One of the sadder sights is the Balqueen Hotel which has remained unused for almost as long as I can remember but once once amongst the most prestigious on the Island.

One of my favourite parts of this walk is the Cat Walk which was damaged quite badly in a storm a few years ago but which has now been mended by the Commissioners

Eventually, we landed in the beer garden of the Albert Hotel from where we were able to have toasties and a few beers, much required after our walk and barely a stagger from the bus stop.

And Lucy? She was great company and had hardly a cross word to say despite having to keep up with the 'Exercise Freaks.'

Once again, showing my technical prowess, unfortunately, I failed to work out the distance on 'Googlemaps' because it kept wanting take me along the road but I'm guessing about 6 miles/10k.