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Wednesday, 11th June 2003

"The third landing was the best."
We foregathered as arranged in the foyer of the London City Airport and compared the weights of our packs. It seemed that the heavier loads had been brought by those who were to the AHWC. 'nuff said!

We showed our photo-ID and checked in. Dave managed to persuade them that the picture in his daughter's passport looked like him and he joined us.

In the departure lounge we collectively opted to tea and coffee by majority decision and calmly waited until it was our turn to board. The flight itself was unremarkable apart from some bumps as we passed up through the cloud layer. After an hour or so we were descending and flying South West along the Manx shoreline as the winds buffeted the light plane. Then turning to the right we were over the runway and landed, well the left wheel landed, then the right and finally both together.

Mike was already studying the map as we walked across the tarmac and into the terminal with us on one side of a barrier and Mike still engrossed in his map on the other. Whoops!

With the baggage collected we emerged and took a picture to prove that we had arrived. This was immediately followed by a dispute about which way to go and even how to get out of the car park to the road. Not a good omen, I thought.

We settled for taking the road into Castletown instead of following the footpath sign. (We would use that path another day.) The walk was interrupted a few times as sacs and harnesses were adjusted for newbies but there were problems

Soon we were in Castletown and strolling round its harbour with gulls overhead and the smell of seaweed in the air. The planned stop for the night, a B&B, was a couple of miles away and out of town, did not serve evening meals and was isolated so we found the Castle pub with a pleasant position on the harbour and beside the castle (in Castletown) which advertised food. But not on a Wednesday! We asked, but Castletown seemed bereft of places to eat.

A quick call via mobile 'phone to the B&B resulted in the advice that they would provide lifts to a nearby pub that served good food, so off we trotted round the coast path with our loads settling onto our shoulders. It was very pleasant and within the hour we spied our destination and found the man of the household walking his duckling. (It had been abandoned by its mother, and he was introducing it to his fishpond.)

We settled in to our luxurious lodgings and then accepted a lift in matching Volvos to the nearby pub where we enjoyed a hearty meal while watching England beat Slovakia at football. Our host stayed with us during the meal and it arose in conversation that we had not been able to arrange the next night's overnight stop in Port Erin because there were no advertised campsites and all accommodation was booked.

To our amazement and delight we were offered a second night at .... complete with an evening meal of roast beef and to be ferried back and forth by car. Following a full group discussion lasting about 5 nanoseconds five of us accepted leaving a reluctant Mike still arguing for the merits of dossing in a telephone kiosk or on a park bench.

We walked back the 1 1/2 miles as the light faded arriving at 23:00 and went to bed.

Tuesday, 12th June 2003

"There's a sail maker at Port Erin."
After a splendid full English breakfast we set off with minimal packs for the scenic walk around the rugged South West corner of the island to Port Erin.

It was a gentle stroll around the bay to the delightful fishing village or St Mary and then a climb up to the cliff path was punctuated by our first blister stop and application of Compeed plasters. The path led ever upward along magnificent unspoilt coastline reminiscent of Cornwall. Rounding the southernmost tip we could see the purple outline of the Mountains of Mourn on the western horizon.

There was a profusion of wild flowers: pink thrift, blue scabious, yellow birds foot trefoil. Up and between gorse bushes the path suddenly revealed great clefts in the cliff where it had been cracked open only a few feet from us. It was a glorious day with a clear sky and strong sun relieved by a gentle cooling breeze. We proceeded following the edge, up and down and round with a splendid view at every corner.

Around flew three pairs of ravens disputing the rocky cliffs with raucous gulls, and once we spied a small group of choughs with their distinctive red beaks and legs contrasting with their black plumage. We had the walk to ourselves with only the birds for company.

Graham found the gradients and uneven footing difficult and stumbled on a steep descent to split his trousers more than modestly should allow, but fortunately he was soon clad in his waterproof overtrousers - not the best garb on such a hot day.

And so we descended to The Sound separating Man from its Calf. The tide rushed through the gap leaving whirlpools on the further side and on the rocks exposed by the low tide were seals sunbathing of disporting in the water and cavorting in the current seemingly at play. There was a cafe and visitor centre nearby and the time being 13:00 we stopped for a cup of tea and a rest.

The afternoon walk to Port Erin was still along the cliffs but the terrain was less awesome than before. The sheer drops and sharp crags were left behind and it was a gentle stroll down to the bay and then into the town of Port Erin. At the far end of the seafront we stopped to reward ourselves with an ice cream cornet and a rest before wandering up and finding a pub at the end of the Manx steam railway (the prototype for the Thomas the Tank Engine stories).

Relaxing inside we spent a happy hour trying to unblock Dave's mobile 'phone. It could receive but not send. We called our host at the B&B and at 17:00 our chauffeurs arrived and whisked us back to Castletown with ten minutes - so much for all the walking that we had done!

The rush for the shower was followed by a superb roast beef dinner augmented by some red wine that we had bought in Port Erin.

Friday, 13th June 2003

We were sorry to leave Francorchamps guest house but the cars were ready and our hosts deposited us midway between Port Erin and Peel.

We started with a gentle downhill walk towards the coast followed by a brief spell along a lane and past a combined chapel and manse that seemed it could belong to the Adams family. Several times that morning we needed to apply sun cream to arms, necks and faces.

We stopped for a lunchtime drink of lemonade and lime (well all except one who needed the nourishment afforded by ale) at the pleasant Waterfall pub. The place was aptly named, afterwards we took the path out of the car park and across a bridge directly over the waterfall and the head of Glen ???. It then descended in steps to a lower viewing gallery built out over the stream where we assembled for photographs. The well-made path followed beside the river and made a pleasant shaded walk until it was time to cross over and climb up out from the side of the glen until the trees were below us and before the coast path ran along the edge of crumbling cliff bestrewn with flowers.

Mike spotted a black blob among the waves far down below us and claimed it was a basking shark but some remained sceptical and preferred to classify it as a drifting buoy broken loose from some lobster pot. In either case it was too distant to be certain what it was.

The tower outside Peel was our landmark guide but it never seemed to become closer. Like a mirage it appeared in view as we rounded some headland but always far away until, at last, we were upon it.

Colin, who was charged with the map, announced that we would see Peel below us once we turned the headland. By the third headland his claims were beginning to be viewed with scepticism and it was at this point that we met a woman gazing out to sea through binoculars.

She reported (a) that Peel was just around the corner, (b) that there had been reports of basking sharks between Peel and Port Erin. We advised her that a stout member of our party a little way behind would be delighted by this news whereupon Dave came into view and was immediately accosted! We explained that we meant STOUT and we settled down by a gate to assemble our party.

After a rest we followed the path away from the sea and there was Peel below us. We seemed to be looking down the chimney of one of the two power stations on the island. We descended a steep and bracken covered hill, over a river, and into town. Colin found the sign "Campsite 1,050 yards" and we followed its direction as we trekked around the town until we found the site.

The campsite was a large level field with good facilities and a collection of two dozen "Bambi" camper vans based on the Bedford Rascal. We enquired of them and learnt that we had stumbled upon the secret ritual convention of these rare and secretive vehicles and their senior owners/occupants. Dave helpfully suggested that they might like to try getting a "proper" camper van such as a Dormobile, but we hustled him away before trouble started.

We erected the tents, brewed a cuppa, showered, washed clothes and made ourselves presentable before limping into Peel in search of food which we found in plenty at a quayside fish and chip parlour: giant portions with mushy peas too.

Mike's preparations included a photocopy of the appropriate pages from the CAMRA guide and so we set out in search of the "White House". This we discovered lay on the direct route between where we had entered Pee land our campsite and some way off the path that we had followed earlier.

It was an unprepossessing establishment but obviously very popular with the local clientele. We settled down at a table in a back room and four of sipped our ale. Mark had a gin and tonic, and Mike poured three pints of mild down his neck and then replied to Mark's questioning that he drank no more than one pint a week on average. There was simultaneous spluttering as we fell off our chairs. Mark persisted and Mike revealed that he intended a life-style change if he were to lose weight. This remark was noted and it was calculated that at an average of one pint a week Mike was already up to Christmas by this point in the holiday.

It was at this point that the evening was enlivened by the arrival of a jovial Irishman about eight months pregnant who cordially offered us his wife, his sister-in-law and his daughter-in-law. There would be no charge, they were all immediately available and there for the taking. Colin swirled the remains of his glass of beer and we decided to have a second drink. (Second for most but also a fourth.)

We ambled back to camp arriving about 22:00 in the fading light and made ourselves a hot drink before bed.

Saturday, 14th June 2003

"Phwoar! Did you see the fins on that?"
After an uneventful night we awoke at 7:00 and prepared breakfast of bacon baps with mugs of tea. After washing we were packing our rucksacks when we were presented with two pots of fresh tea from one the Bambis that we had spoken to earlier. We were asked if we were really the Association of OverWeight Walkers and we had to correct the quite forgivable misunderstanding.

We purchased sun block and other sundries in Peel and were on the road by 10:00.

It was an easy walk from Peel along a coast path and then along a disused railway line. It was hot and windless with a clear blue sky. At one point we spied two black objects cutting through the water in lazy swirls. Mike was delighted and enjoined us to wonder at the dorsal and tail fin of a basking shark. This time there was no mistaking what we were watching about 250 metres off shore.

Graham was making slower progress than the rest of us and we eventually straggled into Glen Whyllan just outside Kirk Michael. It was a popular and busy site placed on either side of a stream in a steep valley. Being the weekend it was probably more crowded than other days. We found the best available spot and settled down. Tea and cakes were brought from the site shop and were readily consumed.

We showered and washed clothes and hung them out. Then it was time to prepare our evening meal of pasta, soup, sliced ham, stock cubes, all thrown into a pot.

Feeling that we had better see the town, we toddled up the road and soon discovered the Mitre where we had a glass. Then going further we discovered several chapels and a church but nothing else of significance so we returned to the Mitre to recount the day. At was at this time that we decided to try the national delicacy that we had seen on several menu boards. Soon we were consuming chips smothered under a blanket of melted cheese served swimming in beef gravy. It was an interesting dish, perhaps best described as mediocre.

Sunday, 15th June 2003

The night was uncomfortable given the nature of the hard furrowed ground. Breakfast was the now familiar bacon baps, grass and unfortunate small insects.

We were on our way by 9:30 following a disused railway line heading North East cutting off the Northern tip of the island. As previously agreed, Graham progressed at a steady 3 mph (one half mile every ten minutes) while the rest of us were happier at a pace of 4 mph with longer rest stops. It was another hot day and we made good progress as the track ran parallel to the A3 main road along the "Sulby Straight" (part of the TT course).

Motorcyclists were following the TT course as part of their pilgrimage and sped past us with the familiar weeeowwwww sound.

We stopped at midday and the only pub in Sulby for a couple of glasses of lemonade and lime (apart from our hop addict). We sat outside while inside were locals, characters from Deliverance (sound of battling banjos). Enquiring of the landlord whether they served food only to be told that they did not because there was no demand and we were the umpteenth he had told that day.

Then we trudged the hard highway into Ramsey with the only diversion from the monotony being Mike trying to identify the machines by their exhaust note as the approached from behind us. It was a tedious and unforgiving walk that afternoon.

Walking out from the centre of Ramsey to the Edwardian B&B seemed hard on the feet but we arrived and were shown to our rooms. The author was assigned a single room (what luxury) that was taller than it was long. The premises seemed the epitome of the boarding houses that feature on countless humorous seaside postcards, and I wondered what hapless holiday makers had spent they summer break there.

We bathed/showered, washed smalls, rested our feet and were ready to hit the town. Dave and Martin scouted for places to eat and the hottest nightspots while the rest swamped the local Methodist church.

The evening's entertainment turned out to be the Lotus Chinese restaurant where we plumped for set meal number 5 for six persons accompanied by suitable beverages. It was a good meal and at last we hobbled up the road and crawled into our beds.

Monday, 16th June 2003

"I'm off to Starbucks. I may be some time."
We had a very adequate breakfast of fried everything and after packing with staggered out of Ramsey criss-crossing the railway line. We followed the level coastal path that varied between low tide level and 1,000 feet. Graham wisely decided to take the train after the second descent to the shoreline while the ragged remainder clambered along the cliff and around the next headland for a stunning view over a mirrored sea to Scotland and Cumbria.

Up and down and following steep goat tracks by delightful deserted coves where the hand of man had seldom set foot (sic). Arriving at an isolated church we examined a collection of Man crosses and other ancient inscribed stones. These were from the period from the 6th to the twelfth centuries and had both Runic and Ogam scripts reflecting the fusion of Norse and Irish influences that comprised ancient Man.

After one final rugged climb down to a beach we plodded up the hill to a tiny railway halt where we had arranged to meet Graham. It was hot; we were tired, and the sound of the approaching a couple of hundred metres away made us believe that we had missed the connection. Inspired and undaunted Mark began to run, yes run, up the 1:3 road so determined was he not to miss it. But Graham had matters in hand and had caused the guard to delay departure until we had all piled into the open carriage and sunk ourselves onto the wooden seats with our rucksacks discarded around us.

We rattled along in Annie and Clarabelle as we wound round the countryside for a few stops into Laxey being set down at a set of steps that descended from the railway bridge and only a few hundred metres from the campsite. And what a pleasant site it was. There were electric cookers, fridges, tables and chairs, hot water and only one other inhabitant. We pitched tents on level ground beside a broom bush smothered in sweet scented yellow flowers.

Once we had established ourselves and hung out washing to dry in the sunshine we asked directions and took the footpath into the centre of Laxey and walked up the road to the railway station. The tickets o the top of Snaefell we a tad expensive but we felt that might not be back soon so it was a legitimate expense. The journey was sedate and took up past the famous Laxey water wheel (the largest in Europe) built to pump water out of nearby mines. The views were splendid and Mike was entranced by the sights along the river valley where one could imagine sunbathing on the rocks.

The line wound up and over a saddle and then spiraled round to the summit where it stopped at convenient cafe. We followed the path to the trig point at the top and then looked across and over most of the island pointing out the routes that we had taken and the places where we had stayed. After such a trek we felt that we deserved a mug of tea and a sticky bun and the cafe seemed destined to be blest with our presence. Then down in the train again and into Laxey.

We assembled in the local grocery store and bought a disposable barbecue and all their sausages, burgers, rolls together with two bottles of wine, a quaffable Merlot and a full-bodied Shiraz.

The evening meal was much enjoyed. Mark took charge of the barbecue and Dave cooked soup, pasta, rice, everything, in two pans on the electric stove. It was a fine repast but needed a stroll to settle the meal into our stomachs. So we strolled in our sandals down to the harbour where dog fouling is considered a serious offence worthy of proper investigation.

On the way back we were unavoidably delayed in the Shore Hotel where after a few pints Graham was acclaimed as President of the AHWC and given the responsibility to design a membership tie and to convene a debriefing meeting upon our return home. Thus was spent a pleasant evening and we retired to our tents relaxed and at ease.

Tuesday, 17th June 2003

"I didn't go to the toilet. I couldn't decide between the Gents and the Disabled."
The usual breakfast of bacon baps and mugs of tea were consumed by 8:00 and we were away by 9:00. It was a walk along the uninspiring main road out of Laxey towards Douglas and through the quaintly named, but profoundly uninviting, Fairy Cottage until at last we branched left onto a quiet lane for several miles and down to Sea Lion Cove and up out the other side. Whereupon Graham took the Electric Train to Douglas.

Thereafter it was an easy walk along deep Glen ??? beside a charming stream. Too soon this ended and at White Bridge we headed left along the main road into Douglas arriving at midday and camped behind the pits at the start/finish of the TT course. The site was in the middle of the town and beside the main police station and prison. Even so we were grateful for the level ground and the excellent washroom block nearby.

We strolled into town and went along the seafront. Douglas seemed faded as though past its heyday as a popular seaside resort. The front was lined with hotels and guesthouses that must have been very grand in the early 20th century. We ambled along the main tourist shopping street, now pedestrianised, seeking souvenirs. It was hard to find anything truly Manx other than the three-legged emblem and motorcycle TT races. It seemed that Manx identity and culture has disappeared.

At the far end of the promenade we stopped and had ice-creams and watched the world for an hour and then wandered back to the other end where we had a fish and chip dinner in a basement cafe.

The walk up from the front to the campsite stretched our tired legs and we returned at about 19:00.

A wash and brush-up, or rub down with an oily rag as appropriate, and we seemed fit for public display. A quick blister count managed a collective total of 11 - not bad.

Then off to the local pub following the misdirections of a local. Mike waited for a gap in the traffic before rushing out and kissing the tarmac at the start/finish line. Soon we were occupying a large circular table and putting the world's problems to our collective consideration.

Wednesday, 18th June 2003

Awoke at 7:00 by the a gentle patter on the tent that soon turned to the steady rhythm of rain. Bugger! Some rushed to the campsite washroom to pack and dry their things, returning later to collapse and pack their tent. Older hands stayed in their tent and calmly packed their rucksacks and then took down the inner tent and put on waterproofs, only emerging at the last moment to strike camp.

We assembled at 8:10 at the park cafe for full breakfasts and a tower of toast - most welcome.

We hobbled off through the sodden town to the steam railway station, bought tickets and flopped in the waiting room until 10:00. Then it was off to platform 9 3/4 and into the Hogwarts Express. The whistle blew and we slowly lurched into motion and the evocative smell of coal and steam filled the carriage. Soon the chuff-chuff, clackety-clack music of yesteryear's travel had us all relaxing.

The glistening green valleys rumbled past and the damp countryside was glimpsed though clouds of steam and we made our sedate progress between hedges and over stone bridges, past cottages and private gardens, through fields and beside cliffs. There were several tiny stations until we stopped in the middle of the countryside and the guard announced that we were at Ronaldsway. It seemed like nowhere but we obligingly alighted and discovered a stile in the hedge and a footpath on the other side. So off we went the half mile to the airport terminus and arrived at 10:50 for our flight at 13:45.

Browsing the facilities in the departure lounge took about five minutes and we assembled as a ragged bunch on a bench of seats. I watched the others in the lounge. They seemed to consist of elderly couples, single mothers with their children and dodgy-looking businessmen.

Our flight was announced and the strolled to the plane and soon we were gone, off over the sea and above the clouds.

The flight was uneventful and only as we approached the City Airport from the North East over Essex did we see the ground. We flew straight in and landed on a sixpence, disembarked and collected our luggage from the carousel. Emerging into the hall we walked out and straightway caught a bus, 70p, to Stratford via a scenic tour of the East End.

We looked out of place queuing for tickets amidst the throng but none of us cared. And so we assembled on platform 10 and awaited our trains. Leaving Graham to catch a later train to Kelvedon, we squeezed ourselves and our packs into the train and were soon at Billericay. There was time only for handshakes all round and the holiday was over.