Sunday, August 28, 2016

Epilogue -- On My Boots

Many of my readers are understandably concerned about my boots.

Before departing for England in June, I examined my used boots, and brought with me a pair having sufficient tread to last 600 miles. Quite likely, they are the same boots I wore in 2014 during My Riparian Summer’s 600-mile walk in southern England. Foolishly, I didn’t examine the uppers or the laces.

I noticed the laces were badly worn on Day 1. I reinforced the laces with duct tape, but bought an emergency pair of laces in Grassington on Day 2. On Day 15, the upper on my right boot started to split, so I reinforced it inside and outside with duct tape. The exterior reinforcement peeled off almost immediately (as expected), but the interior reinforcement held tight. By Day 21, the split on the right boot was spreading though, and the upper of the left boot started to split.

Not wanting to replace the boots mid-hike, I mended both boots with glue on Day 23. I strengthened the mend on Day 32, and installed the new laces. The boots have held up well ever since. They now have at least 1,000 miles on them – perhaps 1,200 or more. They have performed well under difficult conditions, but have reached the end of their lives.

How does one retire a faithful pair of boots? Merely tossing them into a dumpster seems disrespectful. A dignified cremation might seem appropriate, but the Vibram soul (pun intended) may release toxic fumes. Tossing them into a shoe-tree would be wonderful, but the only shoe-trees I’ve seen are in America. I don’t think the shoe-tree fad has yet arrived in England, and these boots deserve to stay in England. I’ve decided to donate the laces and insouls (pun intended) to my other needy boots, and respectfully place the remains in a bin, hoping they end up in a landfill which someday will become a park or a golf course. The boots would like that.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 58 -- Looking Back

I strolled around Liverpool today, beset with melancholia, longing for the countryside. The waterfront of Liverpool is quite pleasant, but it’s not really any different from all the other big-city rejuvenated tourist waterfronts I’ve ever seen. There were crowds of people, music, sidewalk cafes, fast food vendors, souvenir shops, arcades, etc.. – the same as in San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans, London, etc. Everything was alive, but there was no life.

Where are the sheep that run away when you get too close?

Where are the cattle that run towards you hoping to be led to a greener pasture?

Or the horses that stretch their necks over a wall to greet you, hoping you will pat their heads.

I did see three horses today, but they weren’t friendly.

Even the people were too busy to talk.

I already miss the countryside roads winding among the hills, leading you to new adventures and new friends.

And I miss the fields of wildflowers that gladden your heart.

I miss the countryside.

I’ve had a great summer, and hope you did too. Good-bye for now.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Day 57 -- Liverpool, 8 miles

I don’t normally need maps because I’ve got an intuitive sense of direction. Even though I can’t possibly get lost – I’m on an island, after all, alongside a large river – I wanted a map to help me decide where to walk. So I asked my smartphone, “Where can I buy a map?” It directed me to Stanfords Book Store – perhaps the best map store in all of England. The nearest Stanfords is in Manchester, approximately 35 miles away. Well, sometimes smartphones aren’t.

I then asked it for the nearest WH Smith bookstore, because I’m smart enough to know they carry maps. The closest WH Smith is about two blocks from my hotel. The walk there was my introduction to Liverpool – perhaps not all of Liverpool, but the relatively new, upscale Liverpool in the vicinity of Albert Dock, with the Tate Museum and all of the other places the beautiful people frequent. WH Smith is located in a modern shopping area – perhaps the largest I’ve seen in years – filled with internationally known specialty shops and restaurants all designed to separate people from their money – and from the looks of it, very well succeeding. WH Smith successfully separated me from some of mine.

My walk along the waterfront started from the Albert Dock, passed by King Dock (home to a large arena), edged a marina with expensive boats and a waterpark, and then followed a seaside promenade alongside the Garston Channel. The waterpark has an ingenious system for wakeboarding (and perhaps water skiing). An overhead cable connected to a tow bar runs back and forth the length of the park, and pulls the wakeboarders (or skiers) through a slalom course or over jumps. At the end of the line, if the skier maintains speed with a wide turn, the cable reverses direction (as does the skier) and the fun continues. I was sorely tempted…

The promenade is nicely decorated with nautically themed objects artfully arranged – ship’s funnels and anchors, pier bollards, and statues. Directional markers along the way guide walkers not astute enough to purchase maps.

The markers pointed to a sculpture of Sitting Bull at the far end of the promenade. I’m a history buff, and the story of Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull fascinates me. Still, I was curious why Liverpool would have a sculpture of Sitting Bull – considering all the famous Britons memorialized in bronze and marble – so I walked the paved promenade to its very end seeking an explanation.

The promenade ends near Cressington Station, and I decided to take the train back to Liverpool. I expected an unstaffed station with an automated ticket machine, common in both the countryside and large city stations. Surprised by the man sitting behind a glassed counter, I asked for “A single senior ticket to Livingston Central.”

He stared at me silently.

Of course, Livingston is a town in central California, famous for its chickens. “I’m sorry,” I continued. “I meant Livermore.”

His stare turned to a scowl.

Of course, Livermore is a city in the San Francisco Bay Area, famous for its research laboratory. “I really mean Liverpool.”

He nodded, pushing a ticket at me. “Two pounds, fifteen. Train leaves in seven minutes. Take the footbridge to the platform on the other side.”

Like I didn’t already know which platform. After all, I do have an intuitive sense of direction.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Day 56 -- Ferry to Liverpool

The ferry moved along at about 38 mph, which is slower than motorcycles travel. But ferries float better than motorcycles, so I chose the ferry. Let's explore Liverpool tomorrow, shall we?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Day 55 -- Port Soderick to Douglas, 7 miles

A sunny, windless day was all the incentive I needed to get back on the footpath. I so much enjoyed the scenery from yesterday’s hike above Douglas Head on Marine drive, that I decided to take the train to Port Soderick and walk back to Douglas on Marine Drive. Indeed, the weather was so nice that I walked to the mile and a half along Douglas’s promenade to the railway station, despite having a bus pass. I’m including all the distance walking through Douglas in today’s mileage.
As always, I met a nice couple on the train – this time from Carlisle, where I started the Cumbria Way so many weeks ago. I was the only passenger to disembark at the Port Soderick station, and, as always, I had difficulty navigating myself off the platform. Once on the road, however, the route was never in doubt. Along the way, I met several Manx residents who were also enjoying the day by walking.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Douglas all too soon; I seriously considered walking back to Port Soderick and catching the next train back to Douglas, but reason prevailed. I’ll be leaving the Isle of Man tomorrow, and I really needed to get back to my hotel and wash my laundry so it will be dry for packing. Tomorrow I take the ferry to Liverpool. I hope the sea remains calm.

View towards Port Soderick Glen

Sea coast northeast of Port Soderick

Wildflowers growing on stone wall

Lighthouse at Douglas Harbour

Logo on Isle of Man Steam Train

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Day 54 -- Around Man

Today was a day filled with a variety of activities. The first thing this morning, Paul picked me up and we drove the 37 mile TT course. The first thing that impressed me is that the course follows a public road. It has everything we see on roads – uphills, downhills, curves, depressions, rough spots, grooves, manhole covers, light poles, fences, potholes, uneven pavement, etc. All of these conditions come at the racers in the blink of an eye, and the racers constantly adjust their riding technique to deal with them. As Paul drove his van at the speed limit, he rehearsed the route in his mind and narrated his thoughts for my benefit.

“Stay wide on this curve. Too tight too soon and you can’t make the second turn.”

“Hug the wall on this turn, but lift your head to miss the pole.”

“Throw the bike right at this point to keep the line. Then throw it left at this marker.”

By the time we reached the 12 mile marker, I was exhausted – and we still had 25 miles to go. The average speed of this year’s TT winner was over 130 mph. (That includes pit stops – they must refuel every two laps.) Top speeds exceed 170 mph. At those speeds, drivers are always thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead. By the time they see something, it’s too late to react. Think about a baseball batter trying to hit a 100 mph pitch. That’s why Paul was rehearsing the course. He’s not going to be driving at those top speeds on Monday’s “Parade Lap,” but he’ll be hitting 100 mph on a winding country road.

He’ll have several more rehearsals. I was honored to have participated in one. Thank you very much, Paul. I wish you all the best.

Back in Douglas, I needed something less taxing. I took the Manx Electric Railway (top speed about 20 mph) to Laxey to see the Great Laxey Waterwheel. I visited its little sibling last week, but the great one is a working machine – water turns the wheel, which operates a piston, that laboriously pumps water from the mine. The wheel is a beautifully designed device, almost hypnotic in its slow, deliberate movements. Its designer may have thought 3 or 4 moves ahead, but he probably dozed off between them.

Yesterday, Rachel, the helpful desk clerk at my hotel, suggested a walk from Douglas Harbour up to Douglas Head, and then along the sea bluffs to Marine Drive. A good walk was the stimulation I needed to overcome the somnambulant stupor into which the Great Wheel and the Electric Railway had put me. What the walk lacked in distance was made up by angle of ascent. 111 stair steps take one from the harbor to the bluff. Views back to Douglas were outstanding. As the route curved with the high bluff, Douglas was left behind and a series of ridges plummeting to the sea came into view, each successive ridge progressively fading into the distant haze. The scenery looked remarkably like the Big Sur coast of California, or the rugged coast of Cornwall. With sufficient time, I may have walked farther, but I still had another item on today’s agenda.

Entrance to Marine Drive
Paul had recommended that watch tonight’s Festival of Motorcycles practice run from a point at the base of Bray Hill, called Agos’ Leap, where the cyclists have their first turn after the descending a hill from the start. Due to the 15-second interval starts, the racers go all out down the Bray Hill straightaway, and hit the first turn at speeds approaching 160 mph, where a small dip in the road causes them to lift off the surface momentarily. One can see the leap on slow motion video, but in real time you will never notice it. As before, I tried to take pictures of the cyclists, but the best I could capture was a blur. As motorcyclists disappeared in the distance, I thought about the rest of the course, and how fast it would be coming at them. That’s another reason I like walking.

Find the blur

Monday, August 22, 2016

Day 53 -- Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycles

Since 1907 the Isle of Man has held an annual international motorcycle racing competition known as the Isle of Man TT (“Tourist Trophy”). Racers come from all over the world to participate. The race is along a 37 mile course of public roads – closed for the event, of course, by act of parliament. The TT is held in May and June, and draws as many as 80,000 visitors to the isle.

In August and September, the isle hosts the Festival of Motorcycles. This is also a race over the same course, but with a broader participant base. There are categories of age, experience, and motorcycle type. Thus, older competitors can compete, as can vintage motorcycles. The actual race is this weekend, but practice runs are being held the next few evenings. (The practice runs are in the evening because the public roads can’t be closed during the day.)

There is a permanent grandstand constructed for the races at the start-finish line – again, alongside a public road. The start-finish is about a mile from my hotel. I’ve never seen a motorcycle race before, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity.

I started my research at the Manx Museum, where there are several previously winning cycles on display.

It was still early in the afternoon, so I decided to scope out the grandstand, return to my hotel for an early meal, and then return to watch the practice runs. To my surprise, there were literally hundreds of motorcycles being prepared to race. They, in turn, attracted so many food and souvenir vendors, that I felt as if I had entered a small city. There was no need for me to return to my hotel, so I went to the beer garden.

That is where I met Paul, a former TT racer who is sponsoring some younger racers. Paul, himself, plans to ride a "parade lap" over the course on Monday. "Parade lap"isn't what it sounds like -- he'll be riding at over 100 mph. As part of his preparation, he will drive the course in his van tomorrow while the road is open to the public, and invited me to come along. He commented that I really can’t appreciate what the drivers face until I’ve seen the route. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

As six o’clock approached I moved to the grandstand to watch the racers start. The race is in a time trial format. Two cyclists start at 15 second intervals. Transponders affixed to the cycles electronically record the time of start and the time of finish each 37-mile lap. Fastest bike wins. The racers completed their first lap in under 20 minutes. They whizzed by the start-finish line so fast that it was impossible for me to take a picture – the slight delay of my digital camera lost the image. But I did capture the speed board for several of the slower racers. Remember, these are only practice runs – the serious speeds will be achieved at race time.


If the weather is nice, I may go back tomorrow. But first I’ll have to find a helmet in my size.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Day 52 -- Castletown to Ballasalla, 7 miles

Another rainy day forecast convinced me to spend the day inside. I had missed the nautical museum in Castletown when touring Castle Rushen and the Old House of Keys a few days ago, so I  took a bus to Castletown to fill that omission.

The former home of George Quayle, a merchant, banker, politician and erstwhile smuggler who lived from 1751 to 1835, is now the home of Isle of Man’s nautical museum. When Captain Quayle built his home, he had many secret cabinets and closets installed, and included a boathouse into which he sailed his yacht and unloaded his goods without them seeing the light of day, and without anybody else seeing what he unloaded. Untaxed contraband could then be concealed until ready for market.

Castletown from Quayle home
 On my solo tour I saw an interesting old house with shipping memorabilia. Then, docent Geoff led me through again and showed me the hidden compartments. Some of the compartments were not discovered until 100 years after Captain Quayle died, still containing bottles of liquor that hadn’t been taxed. Even Captain Quayle's family was not aware of the secret hiding places!!

Emerging from the museum, I noticed a blue sky. The wind was blowing from the southeast, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight that direction. Clouds north and west of me looked black enough to produce rain, but if the wind kept blowing from the southeast, there wouldn’t be any rain where I was. With that revelation I decided to walk to Dreswick Point. I hadn’t intended to walk; I had no poles, no pack, no hat, no GPS, no food, and only a ½ liter of water. I did have my rain jacket, and a small pack in which to carry my camera and sunglasses. I also had a map, but, hey, I’m on an island – how lost can I get? Besides, I could see the lighthouse at Dreswick Point from Castletown. So off I went.

Farmhouse ruins on Langness peninsula

Dreswick Point is at the end of the narrow Langness peninsula at the southeastern corner of the island. (You may remember that Port Erin and Port St. Mary are at the southwest corner.) The route to the point follows paved lanes, and is never in doubt, all the way to the lighthouse.

Castletown viewed from Langness peninsula

Dreswick Point Lighthouse
Seascape near Dreswick Point

Returning from the lighthouse was merely a matter of retracing my steps along the road, to a junction where one way leads back to Castletown – visible in the distance – and the other way leads to Derbyhaven. Beyond Derbyhaven, the map shows a clear road around the eastern end of Ronaldsway Airport (the main airport on Man), between the runway and the sea. That road leads to a trail, which leads to another road, which leads to Ballasalla. There’s a train station in Ballasalla, and bus stops, so why would I want to return 3 miles to Castletown when Ballasalla is almost as close – just on the other side of the airport? The sun was still shining, so I headed to Ballasalla.
My map was printed in May, 2009 – more than 7 years ago. At the end of the runway on my map are four little words set in fine print – too small for my eyes to see when I’ve already made up my mind to walk to Ballasalla. “Runway extension under construction.”

So, when I arrive at the clear road that cuts between the runway and the sea, I discover it is no longer there, replaced by an airport fence posted with RESTRICTED AREA and other threatening notices common at airports. I’ve already walked almost a mile and a half away from Castletown, and I really don’t want to turn around. Besides, the day is getting warm.

There is a trail that hugs the coast – part of the Isle of Man Coastal Trail that encircles the island, but the coastal trail doesn’t go anywhere near Ballasalla or the train station or the bus stops. Still, I’m on an island – how lost can I get? So I follow the coastal trail. The day is still sunny; I’m beginning to wish I had brought my hat. And some food. And some more water. What if the coastal trail gets really bad? I should have brought my poles. I’m only 10 miles from Douglas. Why am I carrying this stupid raincoat on a warm, sunny day? I should have brought my backpack.

Then suddenly there’s a cutoff trail. Maybe that’s the trail I’m looking for – but I don’t know where I am on the map, because the coastal trail isn’t on my map. I should have brought my GPS. I follow the cutoff trail, not knowing where it goes. Hey, I’m on an island, how lost can I get? I reach a road. Do I turn right or left? Left heads towards the airport – there’s a terminal there, with a bus stop, but it’s on the other side of the runways. Right heads off to Douglas – I think – only 10 miles away. It’s sure getting hot in the sun. I wish I had my hat.

I turn left. The road heads down towards the airport. All I can see is an airport fence cutting across the road: “RESTRICTED AREA.” For years I’ve been ignoring “private property” and “no trespassing” signs when hiking in England and Scotland. But somehow, these airport signs seem more imposing. Then, just before the fence, I see that my road turns sharply to the right. I crest a hill. I hear a whistle. Like Shackleton when he heard the 7:00 a.m. whistle from the Stromness whaling station on South Georgia, I rejoice. This time it’s not a whaling station, it’s the call of the Isle of Man Steam Train in Ballasalla. A mile farther along the road and I reach the train station, board the train and am whisked back to Douglas. I knew I couldn’t get lost on an island.
Flowers in Douglas

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Day 51 -- Rain, Wind and Surf

While having breakfast this morning, I counted more than a dozen dog-walkers on the beach, all with hoods pulled over their heads, fending off the wind and rain. A jogger ran along the promenade, the wind whipping his jacket – but he wasn’t moving all that fast. With those observations, I decided to visit a museum today.

The museum I chose is in Ramsey, about a 1¼ hour train ride from Douglas. The Electric Railway runs 2-car trains. One car is enclosed, the other roofed, but open to the sides. When I reached the station, the enclosed car was already full, but having already decided to go to Ramsey, I naturally took a seat in the open car, already filling with passengers. The man seated next to me lost his umbrella when it blew out of the train just as the train started to move. He’ll probably recover it when he returns to the station.

The ride to Ramsey was pleasant enough, despite the occasional blast of wind and rain. A light sprinkle was falling when we arrived in Ramsey. I was not to be deterred by the one-mile walk from the station to the museum. When I was about 1/3 the way to the museum, the downpour started. By 2/3 of the way, my pants and boots were soaked. I reluctantly concluded that my touring a museum dripping wet would be no fun for me, and even less fun for the museum staff. I’ll save the museum for another day.

Walking back to the train station, I passed the bus station, and the idea dawned that I should take a bus tour of the island. I found a bus whose route meandered back to Douglas, crisscrossing the island west and then east to achieve south – a great way for me to see parts of the island I haven’t been to, without walking in the rain. The plan worked well for about 20 minutes, by which time the bus filled with passengers and all the windows fogged.

When I arrived in Douglas, the misty weather seemed relatively clear compared to the foggy bus. So I walked along the promenade marveling at the full-moon-high-tide waves now breaking against the sea wall. Where the strongest breakers hit the sea wall, the police had closed the adjacent roadway to traffic. Upon inquiry, a policeman told me that the road closure was to protect pedestrians: a few years ago, a child escaping a wave breaking over the wall ran onto the roadway and was struck by a vehicle.



Friday, August 19, 2016

Day 50 -- Peel

Peel is an ancient port and fishing town on Man’s west coast, about 12 miles north of Port Erin. With a heavy rain falling, and forecasts for even worse weather to come, today seemed like the perfect day to visit two of Peel’s national heritage sites, Peel Castle and the House of Manannan. Seemed like.

Unlike the well-preserved Rushen Castle, where even the roofs were intact, Peel Castle is reduced to remains, with nowhere to get cover from the rain. Of course, I’m no stranger to rain, and brought with me adequate gear. The Manx are also accustomed to rain, because the audio devices for the self-guided tour were sheathed with plastic.

Peel was settled by Celts about 500 BC. Originally a place of worship, successive invasions by Vikings, English, monks and tourists turned Peel into a government center worth defending. It wasn’t long before it became a military post, and even the small church was surrounded by fortress walls thick enough to fend off future invaders. Eventually, the government moved to Castletown into a bigger and better fortress, and Peel Castle was left to suffer the fate of most castles whose usefulness expired. Still, it’s a picturesque stop, even in the rain.

Peel Harbour and Peel, viewed from castle

Adequately soaked, I then moved on to the House of Manannan, a three story building through which an indoor trail threads through the isle’s history. Interactive story boards, dioramas, and videos present Man history from early settlement to modern times, as seen through the eyes of legendary sea god, Manannan.  Although the museum covered far more history than I can absorb, it had a roof and a coffee bar.

Depiction of Vikings landing

When I returned to Douglas, high, wind-blown tides were crashing heavily on the shore. At least one store had placed sandbags at its front door. More heavy weather is forecast, but I’ll be inside.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Day 49 -- Castletown

Many of my American friends have never heard of the Isle of Man, and most of my English friends have only a passing acquaintance with it. To be sure, none of my acquaintances has been able to explain exactly what a “crown dependency” is. To shed some light on the matter, I decided to delve into the history of the Isle of Man today. I started by doing my own research, using my typical reliable sources, to wit: the internet, persons I met on trains and buses, and hotel service staff, most of whom have been on the isle at least three weeks and still speak with eastern European accents. As always, my thorough research means that everything hereafter is mostly true, or at least partly true, except for the stuff I’ve made up.

Geographically, the Isle of Man is part of the British Isles (as is Ireland), and for that reason the Manx consider themselves British (but the Irish don’t, except possibly those in Northern Ireland). Politically, the Isle of Man is not a part of Britain -- it is not a part of the UK. Nor is the Isle of Man a member of the European Union. As a result, the Manx did not get to vote on Brexit.

The odd relationship between the Isle of Man and the UK apparently started in year 1405 when King Henry IV of England gave the Isle to Sir John Stanley, under condition that each successive lord pledge fealty to the English monarch and present each new monarch with two peregrine falcons at coronation. That historically feudal arrangement meant that each successive monarch of England became the Lord of Man (even if the monarch is a female, like Queen Elizabeth II). Although the Isle of Man isn’t owned by the UK, it is subservient to its feudal overlord – the king or queen of England. This may be an oversimplification, but one that explains “crown dependency” rather than UK dependency or UK territory; further, since the UK doesn’t “own” the Isle of Man, the Isle is self-governing with its own parliament.

To make sense of all of this (or at least of some of this), I went to Castletown, the former capital of the Isle of Man to tour Castle Rushen, where all of this started. Castle Rushen bills itself as one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe (i.e., dating from pre-16th century). The castle was designed to defend the isle from marauders like the French or Spanish who would have liked nothing better than to wrest the isle away from a supporter of the English king and use it themselves as a base from which to attack England. So the English king helped defend the castle, setting the precedent that the English king will defend the Isle of Man -- and he did, at least until the English civil war, when the parliamentarians under Cromwell seized the castle.

Castletown Harbour
Castle Rushen
Replica of Lord's dinner
Historic Lords of Man
That brings us to the Isle of Man parliament, called the Tynwald. After touring the castle, I toured the historic House of Keys – the parliamentary building dating from the mid-1800s. The Isle of Man parliament is much older; it is the longest continuously serving parliament in the world, dating back to the Viking era in the 900s. As a parliament, it made the laws, but in the early years the parliamentarians weren’t democratically elected, and disagreements were not infrequently settled with swords and knives. But at least they got things done, unlike some of our more congenial institutions today.

Historic House of Keys

The next few hundred years get fuzzy, but I suppose it would have been hard for Cromwell’s parliamentarians and the Tynwald parliamentarians to disagree publicly, so life went on. In 1932, the Isle of Man parliament adopted as the isle's official coat of arms a depiction of three armored legs flared like a pinwheel. The image has its source in Nordic heraldry centuries old, and was accompanied by a Manx motto, a very loose translation of which is “Whichever way you throw me I will stand.” Nobody in England apparently objected, so there you have it – a self-governing crown dependency.

War Memorial in foreground; Castle Rushen in background


Isle of Man flag