Manx Burning

A great day for a fire
A great day for a fire

Having thoroughly enjoyed my trip out to the Isle of Man last year, I was keen to get back for round two – albeit with a single and extremely important change. No matter what happened, I was determined not to take the late night ferry crossing from Heysham which usually leaves the port at 2:15am. Arriving at your destination at 05:45 is the best way to ensure a terrible start to any trip, and it was my sole regret of 2014’s visit that I decided to go for the “red-eye” and thereby write-off the first 12 hours of my stay.

So it was with a palpable degree of smugness that I pulled into the harbour to catch the 13:30 ferry on Wednesday afternoon, secure in the delightful knowledge that I could mince onto the ship and enjoy the trip at my leisure. It was not to be. Owing to some maritime whim of tide or lunar cycle, the ferry had elected to leave half an hour early and I was left high and dry like an abandoned jellyfish on the wharf as my ride coasted out into the Irish sea. The unhelpful ticket-stamper transferred my passage to the 2:15am ferry and I was resigned to pass twelve hours in Lancashire.

The time flew by, and I spent several happy hours watching big flocks of golden plover swarming around the fields below Abbeystead while smoke streamed up from the hills above me and the sky was filled with tumbling peewits. I had dinner in Yorkshire and then rushed back to spend the night sleeping face-down on the carpet in the canteen area of the ferry while truckers noisily swapped rambling and improbable sexual anecdotes nearby.

But it was all worth it the following morning as we headed out onto the Manx hills for a day’s heather burning, passing a couple of hen harriers as we ground our way onto Colden in a vintage Kawasaki Mule. The conditions were perfect, and with support from a tractor laid on by the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture, we covered a huge amount of ground in the clear sunshine.

Lisping pipits trilled their songs and parachuted down through the smoke, and there was a stunning glimpse of a so-called “skydancer” plunging up and down as if strung to a bungee cord. The white shape vanished after a second or two, and we burnt on into the afternoon, letting the fires run with the wind and soaking up the rich, poppy crackle of burning blaeberry. Some ravens swirled around in the cinders, and our progress was closely monitored by white hares, which sat on their hunkers and eyeballed us with suspicion.

And there were harriers again on the drive home. I stopped the Mule to watch a ringtail circle round and round on the fringe of a spruce plantation as the sun started to set. As much as I had been trying to work, my visits to the Isle of Man always feel like a holiday.


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