Man Hunt (Manx Geocaching)
With the longest dimensions being about 35 miles by 12, and a population of around 77000, the Isle of Man would be expected to have perhaps a dozen geocaches. That there are more than forty here is remarkable – as I’m to blame for about a third of them I feel I should do penance and write a few notes about the Manx caches, and cachers (Manx and otherwise). As I’m currently the only person to have visited them all, I’ll also try and drop in a few hints without giving away any vital secrets!
Writing for geocachers, who will all have an excellent knowledge of British geography (ahem!), I need hardly introduce the island. But I will introduce it briefly, to jog the memories of those few who might have forgotten one or two details about the place.
The island is located about 36 miles to the west of the Cumbrian coast, with the northerly tip (The Point of Ayre) 17 miles from the Scottish coast. It’s not part of the United Kingdom, but being a British Crown Dependency, the Queen is depicted on the Manx currency (which is not legal tender in the UK, by the way). Most of the population lives in and around Douglas, but there are several significant historic towns around the island as well as lots of open countryside, and fantastically varied coastal and hill scenery. Snaefell, in the centre of the island, rises to 2039 feet and there are many significant hills in the surrounding moorland areas, as well as in the south-west between Port Erin and Peel. The climate is milder than the mainland UK – cooler in summer but warmer in winter, and although showers are common, the summer weather is generally very pleasant for outdoor activities. Winter tends to leave the land muddy and wet, but with snow and ice rare, the island is normally suitable for geocaching all year round.
Ramsey and the Point of Ayre
The forty-two caches currently available represent a fascinating and varied portfolio. Most variations are to be found: from the most basic, straightforward find (Manx, Captain Scarlett, Injebreck Triangle) through simple multis (Treasure Isle) to tricky puzzles (Time Piece, Coastal Caper), a big multicache (Man Hunt) and tough terrain (White Feather, Over a Barrel). Even city-style micros are available (Manx Micro, Island at War). Some take you up into the hills, with splendid views and rough walking (Red Mountain, El Presidente): others can be completed without stepping more than a few paces from the car (Tourist Trophy, Rune Stones 2). The famous “Seasider” managed to log half of the caches in a day (at the time, it was all of them!), but a week is probably the minimum time required to collect them all nowadays, although the enthusiast could probably manage the feat in three days. Hopefully, most visitors will not be playing the numbers game too seriously, though, and will enjoy being given the most rigorous (but fun!) grounding in the landscape, history and traditions of the Isle of Man.
Seals on Kitterland
The chronology of the Manx caches
The first geocache, “Manx”, appeared in May 2002: by “The Puzzler” from Northern Ireland. Placed in a hurry, it’s only a short walk from the ferry terminal in Douglas. The Puzzler brought the cache with him on a day trip from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland in a bid to set the first Isle of Man geocache. Unfortunately the trip was a bit of a disaster: mountainous seas caused the boat to be delayed, and it arrived an hour and a half late. Added to this, the return journey embarkation had been brought forward so there was very little time to hide the cache. Still recovering from seasickness, he ran up the hill towards Douglas Head, until encountering the first feasible cache site: IOM geocaching was born. The journey back was even worse than the morning crossing – a day trip to forget, I think!
The box is hidden by the side of the road: a short battle up a slippery bank amongst trees brings the cache within reach: the main problem is that the road is quite popular and you’re likely to surprise a passer-by when you suddenly emerge from the bushes with no obvious good reason to be hiding there. This is a perennial problem for the geocacher, though, and it’s not stopped a steady stream of visitors over the years. A hint here is that the co-ordinates are for a cross marked on the wall opposite the cache – the cross has now faded away completely. The first finder was well-travelled Pennsylvania cacher team Deetylong: it was their first FTF as well.
Nearly a year went by with the single geocache remaining the only sign on the island of this up-and-coming pastime. LinearB visited in April 2003: I assume he’s another NI geocacher (though a very infrequent logger of caches). His contribution was “Mad Ma(n)x 2”. Tucked away deep inside the ornamental Summerhill Glen near Douglas promenade, this cache is a challenge due to the evil combination of tree cover and muggles, but is handy for the holidaymaker with children in tow.
The next cache to be placed, four months later, was outside Douglas. But only just! “A walk in the country Part 1” is to be found on a pleasant footpath boardwalk near the Clypse reservoir, in the hills north of Onchan. This was the first cache placed by a Manx resident – Ellanvannin. It is possible to drive within a few yards of this cache, but the most pleasant approach is by using the anglers’ car park near the reservoir, walking along the edge, then following the GPS directions to the cache.
October/November 2003 saw geocaching take off on the island, and by the end of the year there were 17 geocaches available. Castletown cacher Cushag had prompted action to be taken to give the IOM a separate official identity on geocaching.com – Lactodorum is to be thanked for his quick response to the request. Up until then, the caches were categorised under either the UK or Ireland, on an arbitrary basis.
At this time, Cushag, JohnnyG (=^..^=) and Ellanvannin were the leading enthusiasts. JohnnyG started the ball rolling on 23 October with the first of the more remote caches, “Cold n’Dark?“ . This is in the Colden Plantation (hence the name), about 750 feet above sea level in the beautiful West Baldwin valley. Once you’ve found the right track, it’s not a difficult cache, as you only have to step a couple of feet to the side of a wide forestry path to reach the box, and GPS reception is good. When I found this one, there had been a force 11 storm overnight and I was faced with a longer walk-in due to a big tree having crashed across the main road by the side of West Baldwin Reservoir.
Cushag arrived on the cache-placing scene three days later with her first contribution: “Twixt Two Towers”. This is out on the delightful but windswept peninsula of Langness, in amongst rocks and heather, with great views out across the tide races and standing waves of Dreswick Point. Many tales of shipwrecks are grim testimony to the difficult and dangerous navigation at sea around here: the cache description mentions the Provider tragedy, and there are many more. Geocachers should find no danger or difficulty, however, but if time permits should take in a walk round Langness – well worth the effort.
One of the Two Towers is an old herring-smoker: the other is the lighthouse (TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson recently bought the lighthouse cottages).
Finding Twixt Two Towers
The same day, JohnnyG placed the challenging “Watch out for the Witches Barrels” in Slieau Whallian Plantation above St. Johns. With tricky GPS reception, steep ground, trees and tangly undergrowth, this cache is not an easy find and probably worth its Terrain 4 rating. Two days later, he set up “Fall of the Woodcutter”. Another forest cache, the approach takes you deep into Axnfell Plantation, near Laxey. If your GPSr lasts the course, you emerge from the trees and stumble straight into the cache location.
Not to be left out, Ellanvannin set up the second “Walk in the country” cache. By far the highest cache at that time, it’s at 1700 feet on the side of an exposed hill (Clagh Ouyr), at the westerly end of the superb North Barrule ridge – the traverse of the ridge is one of the great British hill walks. If the weather is amenable, it’s easy enough to reach the cache site from the car park on the TT course (wear good walking gear as the ground can be very boggy). The difficulty begins once you start searching as there are numerous hiding places at the co-ordinates but no sign of a cache (look about twenty feet above where the GPSr points!). The famous Seasider took three quarters of an hour to find it on his Manx Mission (of which, more later). On my first visit I only allowed myself five minutes so had to give up and get to my appointment – I returned a few days later to bag it, but not until another lengthy search had been undertaken.
Clagh Ouyr: A walk in the country part 2
The very next day, another cache appeared: this time Cushag’s second. The aptly-named “Captain Scarlett” is hidden at the extraordinary Scarlett Point, south-west of Castletown. Despite many attempts to build a housing estate in the area, the wild coastal scenery has remained essentially preserved here, and the amazing rock structures of limestone and basalt are worth finding out about at the visitor centre.
The third in the “Walk in the Country” series appeared next, on the 2nd November. Ellanvannin had used an old biscuit tin for this, which was replaced by Seasider once the rust had taken hold. The area is very much in contrast to most of the island, being a tree-covered swamp, and you have to avoid leaving the raised pathway, not least because you expect alligators to be lurking in the mud…
One of those fine cache sites where you realise you’d never have found such a great spot without this inducement to go there.
Again on the 2nd November, JohnnyG was out at the Cringle Plantation on South Barrule placing one of his characteristically rugged caches. “Boy, it’s cold ‘ere” is tucked under a little shrub in a moorland area within the forest. Plenty of open sky, so no excuses – although the mud and boggy ground on the approach may cause some trouble during the wet season (which is sometimes all year!).
Caches were appearing thick and fast now, and the next day it was the turn of that regular visitor from the South of England, Nibbo. After some negotiation with the reluctant geocaching admin, he was allowed to set up the island’s first Virtual cache. The site is central Douglas, so the boots and gaiters can be left to dry out for a while until you’ve identified a couple of characters who are noted for their Manx connections: “Two of a Kind”.
Back with JohnnyG on 4th November and “Tip of the Arrow”. The point of this one was to show the visitor the Archallagan Plantation from a different viewpoint than the standard stroll from the car park. The plantation was being proposed as a dump for the incinerator ash, and Johnny wanted to draw people to the hidden pond (and swamp) before it disappeared. Unfortunately the cache has been disturbed by forestry work and is not available at the moment – a shame, particularly as it was the only one I’ve not been to!
Next into the fray was Ellanvannin with the island’s first microcache: ”Manx Micro#1”. This is an urban micro, with a really crafty hiding place just off one of the busiest streets in the finance district of Douglas. You need to read the hint carefully as good GPS reception is not guaranteed, but there’s just enough to let you know what to look for. The cache disappeared for quite a long time, but was reinstated at the beginning of November 2004 and logged quite a few times in quick succession. Accompanied by the Canadian Cacher CC#1, I ventured out on a lunchtime sortie to log this one. The first effort was unlikely to succeed, as we hadn’t brought a GPS unit, or even the cache description. Obviously memory and a vague idea of the location wasn’t enough as we failed to get anywhere near finding it. We returned a couple of days later with the required gear, and spent some time searching before CC spotted it – this time we’d forgotten to bring a pencil so had to wait until the next day to log it. The main difficulty once you’ve seen the container is being discreet enough to avoid compromising the cache: perhaps a Sunday or late-night visit is best.
Geocaching.com admin was given a ten-day break from IOM cache approvals at this point, but it was Ellanvannin again, this time out on his mountain bike, who provided the next challenge. “Secrets of Red Mountain” is a hilltop cache, high up on Lhargee Ruy above the Balwin valley. The terrain is more like the Pennines, with rough, boggy moorland and a wide but rocky track on the standard approach from the south. The ridge is airy with great views in all directions. The cache is well hidden amongst rocks just below the summit cairn: I found it in a gale but luckily the box was on the lee side of the hill where it was possible to stand fairly comfortably. The approach I took from “Cold n’Dark” was quite gruelling, though, with rough ground and a stiff ascent to the summit of Colden from the valley – an easier walk is from the road to the north, along the well-marked path. The recent Injebreck Triangle caches can be combined with this one quite easily, making a pleasant and productive high-level caching trail.
The November 2003 caches were not complete yet: “Descent of the Aqua” appeared next. This cache by Johnny G involves a longish walk (or cycle) along a good track from the lovely little village of Agneash, up in the hills above the Laxey Wheel. Those that prefer the shortest possible approach will try and squeeze the car into Agneash itself, but it’s better to park at the Wheel, or in Laxey, and take the longer (but still pleasant) walk. The cache is found at the side of a mountain waterfall: it actually took quite a while to be found – Cushag and Yessir attempted it and failed before Cushag paid a return visit on 11 December, with amended co-ordinates, and logged it.
On my first attempt the bank had collapsed around the cache hiding place, and there was no sign of it. After my visit Johnny re-found and reinstated the cache and a month later I came back to log it.
A month went by before a new cache appeared. This time it wasn’t one of the usual suspects, but newcomer Yessir, from Douglas. With only one find to his name at the time, the quality of this first (and only, so far) Yessir hide might be supposed to be indifferent. Far from it! “The Exercise Wheel” is at the side of the eroded and rough track known as the “Pipeline” which runs down towards Glen Maye from the “Round Table” near South Barrule. It’s hidden in some cottage ruins (a Tholtan, to use the local word) but I won’t reduce the pleasure of the find by revealing why the name is so appropriate.
And so into 2004: fifteen caches now in place, enough for a keen geocacher to justify a weekend on the island….. January and February were very quiet, with no new caches being placed. There had to be some time put aside for finding each other’s cache hides, though, didn’t there?
After buying myself a Garmin Geko for use when out mountain walking, and looking for an excuse to try it out, I’d managed to log a few caches (mostly on the IOM, of course). It seemed to me that, although the current crop was very enjoyable, there were none that could keep the Manx cachers entertained for very long. The UK geocacher can go for a drive and find a few more caches to tick off, but here, once you’ve done them all, there’s nothing left (without major expense and planning). As the IOM caches could all be completed within a few days, even at a leisurely pace, the new Manx cacher would soon be forced to give up. So to slow down the cache-ticking, I devised an ambitious, round-the-island mega-multicache. Not advisable for a first attempt at cache-setting, but thanks to the assistance of Mrs. Humphrey and a complete dry-run, it worked. As well as providing some amusement for the IOM team, it was designed to give the visitor an introduction to parts of the island’s coast which aren’t all part of the obvious tourist route. The multi stages begin at various points of interest, including a waterfall, historic harbours, Viking remains, picturesque cottages, nature reserves, parks and churches. The name “Man Hunt” just had to be used! This cache requires about 80 miles of driving, followed by a short walk up a spectacular headland, to finish at a large ammo box. There is a little twist near the end as well…!
I’m hoping someone will do it all in a single cycle trip one day, but no takers yet. The first finder was Yessir, who split the stages into three groups – there seems to be endless ways of completing this task, the most popular method being to collect the stages over several days – although I think the Coastway Cruisers managed it in a single push.
I was keen to provide a contrasting cache, so a week later (March 14) I was up on the cliff top heights of Spanish Head, near Calf Sound, placing another large ammo box, “El Presidente”. As much as Man Hunt is elaborate, this one is simple, and on a reasonable day the fantastic views from the top amply reward the effort of climbing the hill. The view in a westerly direction from the cache take in the remote and craggy coastline of the Calf of Man, as far as the rock called Burroo (known as the “drinking dragon”) and the Stevenson-built Chicken Rock lighthouse. The main decision is whether to approach from Calf Sound or Cregneash: if I was a first-time visitor I’d find the cache on a circular walk taking in both places.
A Basking Shark under the cliffs of Spanish Head
The next cache was by another newcomer: Elvis The Trog (with two dogs, Elvis himself, and The Evil Homer). Although in a straightforward format, this cache is not on straightforward ground, with vertical drops very close by and an approach along a path which requires care and a reasonable head for heights. “The End Of The Line?” is hidden near Sea Lion Cove, which is approached along the Groudle Glen miniature railway, just to the east of Onchan, near Douglas. Walk up to, or alight at, Sea Lion Cove station and follow a narrow footpath around a big drop and across a gorge until you reach the cache area. It’s been moved recently and I don’t know the exact site now: I was FTF on this one, having raced out there straight after work on a bright and blustery spring afternoon. Some notable travel bugs have been released here as well: Elvis The Trog (the TB) is currently in Florida, getting closer and closer to the ultimate goal of Memphis.Kermode (bear) is trekking across the northern USA, heading for British Columbia and a meeting with the “real” Kermode bears.
The Groudle Glen Railway: End of the Line
At the same time Elvis was working on his first cache, I was preparing my third: “Time Piece”. This one is a puzzle/multi cache – firstly you have to identify the hidden instructions in the short story (the “piece” – exclusive hint for GeocachingToday readers: look at the second word of every sentence!). This gives you the location of a number, which can be found on foot or by using Internet know-how. The number then gives you the location of the final cache. The hiding place is a beautiful coastal location, with a very wild and remote feel, which is approached along a spectacular footpath via some historic ruins. The cache box has surprised a few, as well. It’s important to note the time on the timepieces you encounter here, as it is crucial for the next cache placed on the island: “Devil’s Mouth”. This was placed on 18th May, about a month after Time Piece. The story in the cache description is a sequel to the Time Piece tale, and gives another simple puzzle. The location is another coastal one. Gob y Deigan (“Devil’s Mouth” in Manx Gaelic), which is a fine, unspoilt beach, is overlooked by the cache site – a nice indoors one with an easy approach. Parking can be tricky at the co-ordinates specified, and Nibbo has made the sensible suggestion that the visitor parks at the picnic spot (the Devil’s Elbow) just to the north-east. Gob y Deigan was once a favourite cove for smugglers, as they could cache their booty in the slopes behind the beach until it was safe to return and collect it.
Gob y Deigan
A few days later, on May 25th, I had my customary lunchtime scan of the IOM caches, and noticed a new Elvis the Trog offering. “Coastal Caper” appeared to be near my workplace in Douglas, only requiring a short swim! Closer inspection revealed that the use of map, ruler, protractor, compass and dividers was necessary to plot a course to the cache location. I did have a map in the car, and the edge of a folded piece of scrap paper had to suffice for the rest. Fairly quickly, I had the co-ordinates. But there was a snag.
Having spent a little time exploring the Geocaching.com web site, I came across the UK forum and noticed a thread by IOM cacher Cushag, discussing the possibility of completing all the Manx caches in a day. This challenge was aimed at the famous geocacher “Seasider” – at the time he’d collected over a thousand caches (the first in the UK to achieve this feat, and particularly notable as he’d managed it within a year). Being based in the Blackpool area, the island is almost in his local cache zone, and he was keen enough to take up the invitation. All the current Manx cachers were notified, and an Event cache set up for the night before the “Manx Mission”, which was to begin first thing on Wednesday May 26th.
Turnout at The Bay (Port Erin) was a bit sparse, probably reflecting the midweek date, limited numbers of current local cachers and non-central location, but enough were there to make it a worthwhile first (and only, so far) Manx Cache Event. Hampshire caching expert Nibbo was paying a well-timed visit to the island: he not only attended the event but also volunteered to be Seasider’s chauffeur for the day. This would be a real challenge: with 21 caches lined up, the day would be long, and a lot of patience would be required.
The “snag” I mentioned above was that “Coastal Caper” had appeared on the afternoon of Seasider’s flight across. The original task had been based on bagging all the IOM caches in a day and Seasider had a plan which would get him round the 21, but only just – was I to go for the FTF on the assumption that Seasider would have to skip the new one? It wouldn’t have been a decision, except that it was more or less on my route home and it was the most perfect weather! The “rules” were agreed – only the original 18 caches would be necessary for the Mission to be a success so I reasoned that he wouldn’t mind me bagging a cache that wasn’t even in the plan – so, greedily, I logged the cache on the way to the event. It turned out to be along the fantastic coastal footpath (“Raad ny Foillan” – Way of the Gull), at one of its most enjoyable sections, and hidden under a rock “coffee table”, precariously placed on the edge of rugged cliffs.
The Manx Mission
The Manx Mission took place the next day: I won’t try and write an account here as Seasider wrote a fascinating diary of the whole day (read his cache logs, or see the write-up in the forum here). Suffice to say he succeeded, although it was a long, hot, exhausting day. Perhaps no-one has experienced more of the island in a single day as Seasider did in those eighteen summer hours!
The Manx Mission Travel Bug set out at the same time, and has been to Canada, back to the Isle of Man, England, Germany, and now Austria (8502 miles currently).
Back to the main story…I’d been trying to think of a good geocache to connect with the famous Isle of Man TT motor cycle road racing festival, which begins towards the end of May. Ideally, a lap of the TT course should be involved, so it would have to be a multicache. I devised a set of picture clues, which would have to be placed in order, based on the famous 37.75 mile road circuit. Each clue has an associated number, and once you sort the pictures into the correct order, the sequence of numbers gives the cache location. Originally this was a Virtual, leading to a plaque on a wall just off the course (at the original TT start, Alexandra Avenue in Douglas). This has been recently “promoted” to a traditional cache, sited just a little way past the Quarterbridge (the first major corner on the TT course). The cache is called “Tourist Trophy” (which is what “TT” stands for, in case you weren’t aware). It’s not meant to be only for motorbike enthusiasts, but does keep to tarmac apart from the last ten feet or so. It’s the sort of cache you might enjoy if the weather is cold, damp or windy as you never have to leave the vicinity of your vehicle. The less able-bodied would appreciate the terrain, as well. There haven’t been many logs for this cache, oddly, but those that have done it are full of praise – perhaps next TT will see a few more?
I followed this with a series of caches based on a “water’s edge” theme. The Water Margin series consists of three caches, all as close to the sea as feasible. The first one, “Harold’s Boathouse” is a gentle multicache in the north of the island. The second location is right at the northern tip of the island, a spot which is well worth lingering at, with enormous pebble banks leading down to the shingle shoreline, backed by endless heathland and rabbit warrens. The boathouse itself has pretty much collapsed – no wonder the Coastway Cruisers couldn’t even find a local fisherman to give them directions! It’s quite a pleasant walk of about a mile and a half, along a path on the bank just above the beach from the second clue to the boathouse. If the tide’s out the beach itself is pleasant: you can walk it at any state of tide but the pebbles become tedious and uncomfortable after a while. Take a fishing rod and catch a couple of bass on the way – look out for sea trout leaping, and the ever-present seal patrols.
The Point of Ayre Lighthouse
Water Margin part 2 is hidden away in a once-popular location in the wonderful Garwick Bay, south of Laxey. Although a simple cache, the location co-ordinates have to be obtained by visiting Harold’s Boathouse. The beach is very rocky, but a slippery path threads its way along the tide line, and in and out of holes in the cliff side – hence the name “Eye of the Needle”. The ammo box cache is suspended inside a hidden hole at the side of the track.
For Water Margin part 3 (“White Feather”), I wanted to set a real challenge. There are no caches on the Calf of Man: it’s a difficult place to reach and to set up a permanent cache box would be of doubtful value unless you’re prepared to set out in a boat for maintenance visits fairly often. As well as that, the island is owned by Manx National Heritage and kept as a Bird Sanctuary: Tupperware may well be unwelcome as even fishing from the rocks is prohibited. However, a very carefully hidden micro would surely be allowable, and so it proved as I was able to hide a tiny cache in the shoreline rocks, near the southern tip of the island. But the micro is merely the intermediate stage – the difficulty level of 5* is partly due to having to arrange transport to the Calf, partly because it’s a micro cache some way from the normal landing place, and partly because you then have to return to the Isle of Man and continue the hunt. The next stage leads over the edge of a cliff: after identifying the descent point (not easy), a faint path leads very steeply down a grassy hillside, then rock scrambling takes the intrepid cacher to the base of the cliffs. Awkward rocks are followed into a large gully which appears to be an impasse, as the opposite side rears up almost vertically for about twenty feet. But there is a way for the non-climber – steep enough to require both hands but quite safe for the reasonably agile. It’s still worth the 5* terrain rating, though! The cache itself is some way above the highest breakers (I hope!) but only a couple of large ledges need to be ascended to reach it. Perhaps overall, Britain’s most difficult cache? There has only been one known attempt so far, which failed at the final hurdle: happily without mishap. Possibly it’s Britain’s most long-awaited FTF!
White Feather approach
Water Margin part 4 is to follow soon…
The next cache was the third placed by Cushag: “The Brooghs”, in mid-June. Pronounced “the Bruffs”, this is a complete contrast to White Feather as it’s just a little stroll from the car along a delightful level cliff top path. Visit the link in the cache description to find out more about this intriguing area at Port Soderick just down the coast from Douglas. I’d recommend taking the walk along Marine Drive from Douglas if you have time, then the steam railway from Port Soderick station. If you have less time or energy, at least visit the pleasantly quiet bay below the cache: there are steps up to the cache from the beach. The cache is a small container – as it’s right at the side of the path it’s difficult to spot and spiky to search for. Normally a group of muggles appears as soon as you open the container, no matter how quiet it was up until then, and there’s nowhere to hide!
Long Distance Footpath sign at The Brooghs
Encouraged by the popularity of The Brooghs, Cushag placed the very family-friendly “Victorian Fantasy” later in June. This is in the inland tourist haven of Silverdale Glen: a lovely little park with a boating lake, craft shops and a café. The path leads up the glen to the cache past a unique water-powered roundabout – the kids will love that and the grown-ups will be intrigued by the Victorian engineering. Myself and Mrs. Humphrey took a trip out on the following Sunday to register the FTF, arriving early enough on a glorious summer day to pre-empt the crowds which doubtless thronged the glen later on.
Boating Lake at Silverdale Glen
A lull in cache-placing followed this busy period, and it was another Happy Humphrey one which broke July’s duck, on the last day of the month. I’d noticed that the highest British and Irish mountains tended to have their attendant caches, so obviously the Isle of Man had to have a cache at the highest point. Accompanied by Mrs. H, I set about the task of creating “Six Kingdoms”. We used the spectacular Snaefell Mountain Railway to reach the summit: this is a historic electric railway with charming little wooden carriages, taking you effortlessly (if a little slowly) from the junction with the main railway at Laxey, all the way to the summit station at 2000 feet. We had the ready-to-use cache box with us, and hoped to find somewhere over the 2000 foot mark but not too close to the summit itself (due to the strong likelihood of the presence of curious crowds). Unusually, the weather was warm and the air still: just below the summit it was more like St. Tropez than Snaefell, with bikinis (and less) in evidence rather than the customary Gore-Tex and fleece.
We went straight to the eventual cache site – just out of sight of the parties queuing for the summit and with the most magnificent views of all six kingdoms (read the cache description!). As a follow-up, Barnabus set up a new cache (“Mourne Cache”) on the highest top of Northern Ireland, so there are now six “highest points” to collect in the British Isles.
The Mountain Railway from “Six Kingdoms” – looking north
In early September, the island had been honoured by a visit by geocaching team The Coastway Cruisers, who’d logged all the caches on the island (except “White Feather”) during a nine-day visit. They were so pleased with the geocaching on offer that they set about creating their own Isle of Man Virtual cache. Now, this is not an easy matter as Virtual caches are rarely approved these days, and the Coastways being Sussex-based the cache would be a “Holiday Cache”, which are also rarely approved. I’d noticed their interest and offered to maintain the cache for them: should any problems crop up requiring a personal visit I undertook to perform this on their behalf. Despite this, approval was refused, but after more discussion Eckington and Lactodorum caved in and allowed the cache: “Give us a Ring”. The cache consists of an enjoyable multi-stage stroll around the area of Tynwald Hill in St. Johns, where the annual Tynwald Day festival takes place (Tynwald is the Manx Parliament, famous for being the longest continuously-running Parliament in the world). Though it sounds hilly, the walk is mostly around a flat field, taking in ancient standing stones and Viking crosses before finally crossing the restful Arboretum to the steep hill and cache site at an excellent viewpoint.
A few days later, Johnny G set a micro cache in Molly Quirk’s Glen, near Onchan, after noticing that the area had been spruced up with a set of new footpaths: “Molly put the Kettle On”. Although I suspect that there is a site for a traditional container nearby, I won’t quibble, as the hiding place is very inventive and gives an amusing end to a pleasant, short and easy walk. . An excellent circular walk can be made taking in this cache AWITC Part 1, Fall of the Woodcutter, Water Margin 2 and the End of the Line.
“Molly” appeared at the beginning of October: first to find was Cushag, dragged well away from her home area by the lure of a new cache. She was stumped when it came to the next cache, however!
This cache appeared at the beginning of October: first to find was Cushag, dragged well away from her home area by the lure of a new cache. She was initially stumped when it came to the next cache, however!
“The Runes Stones part 1” is the first in a series of three puzzle/multi caches, based along the low-lying coastline between Port St. Mary and Castletown. The story is about an eccentric archaeologist who is mysteriously drowned after investigating some ancient stones inscribed with rune characters. The task is to decipher runes in the cache description, thus finding the stones which can also be deciphered to lead you to the cache. Each part (Part 2 is just to the east) also gives half the co-ordinates of a Viking landing place nearby: this information is essential to find the next in the series.
Dawn at The Rune Stones
Deciphering the runes is the only real difficulty with these two caches, and those who have the intiative to read the hint will soon work out that the vital clue is found via the geocaching profile of Munin Redlegs!
Munin was the next cache-setter to contribute, with the mysterious “In search of Thor’s Hammer”. The Isle of Man has a strong Viking heritage, and just along from the Rune Stones caches is one of the most interesting of the Viking archaeological remains, a Viking ship burial. With its neighbouring ancient monument, Balladoole is a “must visit” for anyone who enjoys ancient sites with atmosphere. Munin’s cache tells the tale of Olaf, a Viking warlord who meets his end nearby after escaping from enemies on Anglesey. To find the cache you have to locate Olaf’s landing place, then project a line from here to the cache – which is reached via a route taking in the Ship Burial at Balladoole. The original cache contained a “Thor’s Hammer” amulet which is an accurate reproduction of a genuine amulet of the Viking period – hence the name. The amulet is also aTravel Bug, with the mission of returning to Haithabu, Olaf’s birthplace. It has had good luck on its travels so far – have a look!
Viking Ship Burial, Balladoole
After a false start, Cushag enlisted the help of Nibbo to locate this one and logged it (appropriately) in a late October storm – a memorable 100th cache find.
Over a month later, on the 26th November, not one but three new caches appeared by the prolific cache-setter, and mountain-bike fanatic, Johnny G. “The Injerbreck Triangle” series of caches (Part One , Part Two and Part Three ) sit waiting for the more energetic cacher, as they are all in an area of moorland high in the hills above West Baldwin: right in the centre of the island. Johnny designed this set of caches to fit with a cycle or walk from the Glen Vine area to the south: there is a good track up Cronk Breck past “Secrets of Red Mountain” and then a small path from the col between Lhargee Ruy and Colden, to the Creg via the first cache. There are some old telegraph poles here – probably of WWII vintage, and two of the caches utilise the remants. Part Two is the odd one out, as it is hidden more conventionally, and all use cycle drinks bottles as containers (so don’t bring large swaps!). The terrain is not really as severe as the rating suggests, although if you take a route along footpaths the approach will be lengthy and exposed, and proper hillwalking gear should be taken.
The Injebreck Triangle ridge from Cronk Breck
In December 2004 the pace didn’t let up, despite the deteriorating weather. The island is full of potential “themes” and an obvious one to me is that many films are made using Manx locations. Although some films have been quite successful, it’s not always entirely clear where some of the scenes were actually shot. So I set about creating a series of caches which will take the visitor to identifiable locations, keeping to those which have a bit of interest in themselves even if you’re not too bothered about the cinema connection.
The most successful film to date is “Waking Ned”, starring Ian Bannen and David Kelly, which was set in a fictional Irish village. The unique Manx “living museum” of Cregneash was used as the basis of the village, so it now has its attendant geocache, “Don’t Wake Ned”. This one is a micro, hidden inside the stonework of the village well. It is accessible at any time, and due to the situation of the well it’s fairly easy to be discreet when searching.
Two more “Isle of Man Film Series” caches were placed later in December, but Elvis the Trog reappeared to set up a new inland cache on the 14th – “Just Dhoo It”. The cache is to the north of the island, in the stunningly beautiful valley of Glen Dhoo, just to the south of Ballaugh. So far, the approach walk has always been very muddy despite a good track leading all the way to the ruins against which the cache is hidden. I’m sure it dries out occasionally! There’s also a slippery “bridge” across a stream on the way – wear something waterproof if the stone is likely to be at all damp as you may be wading the stream even if you hadn’t planned to.
Back on the Film theme, the final two caches of 2004 were “Island at War”, and “Treasure Isle”. “Island at War” is located in the main square in the delightful harbour side area of Castletown, right in front of its impressive Viking castle. By using a very small container, I managed to set the cache right at the side of the square itself. It’s easy to find where to look, more difficult to avoid attracting the attention of muggles: I suggest waiting for a quiet period, and preferably darkness, to attempt this one. The square was used extensively for the TV series “Island at War”, posing as a place in the Channel Islands occupied by Germans in the war.
“Treasure Isle” has a lighter theme, and a certain amount of piratical fun can be had with this one. Jack Palance starred as Long John Silver in a Canadian adaptation of the R.L.Stevenson “Treasure Island”, which was filmed in the south of the IOM. I saw part of the film shoot, and managed to get some photos, which are featured in the cache description. The cache is a straightforward multi, with the first (small) box outside the buildings used as the Admiral Benbow in the shoot and the “Treasure Chest” hidden at the beach where the treasure scenes were filmed. Ooh aarrr…
Filming “Treasure Island”
There is now an official Travel Bug Hotel, called (boringly) “Manx Travel Bug Hotel”. Conveniently sited for the Douglas-based cacher, this is close to the road and also only a short walk from the Sea Terminal, where the Sea Cats and conventional ferries bring cars and passengers to and from the island. It’s also in the Film Series, as The Nunnery is a popular location for filming. I placed it and submitted it on the morning of 22nd January 2005: by the time I’d been into Douglas and back home there were two finds. It seems there have been starting blocks in use lately!
And finally (for the moment, anyway): the all-round difficult “Over a Barrule”. Placed on a beautiful, crisp and very cold January morning, this is situated high on the North Barrule ridge. So much is obvious from the description, but the precise location is not given. A rather unhelpful, vague map is supplied and you have to deduce the co-ordinates using this and a key which translates symbols into numbers. The problem is that you have to work out the order of the numbers, and it’s not immediately clear how to begin. That the cache is protected by such a puzzle when it’s already well-protected by its situation is testament to the determination of the geocaching community – I felt that caches are not taking long enough for the more experienced cachers to find. The cache is actually inspired by the much harder “Magisches Viereck” in Germany. It’s worth the mental effort, though, because the cache is on one of the most spectacular high ridges south of the Scottish border, with stunning views all round. On a reasonably clear day, the effort of reaching the ridge is rewarded with the great sight of the Cumbrian mountains and the Scottish Uplands, across a Mediterranean blue sea.
The last year has seen the appearance of several new Isle of Man based geocachers, who appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the Manx caching experience. This home interest is vital for caching here, as visitors are few and far between over the winter months and it would be sad if there were no logged visits for such long periods. Because of this, we need to continue setting new challenges: interest may die away once the locals have logged all the IOM caches (or at least, all those they intend to log).
As long as we continue to add new caches and promote the island as a geocaching paradise (which it is!) we’ll be able to sustain quite a large number of cache hides (perhaps double the current number). I hope we’ll keep to the principle of only setting up caches that are of good quality, are entertaining to find and take the visitor somewhere interesting. This way, geocaching can be used to guarantee that people are guided to parts of the island which are top quality, but not necessarily in the standard guide book – and they can have a bit of fun on the way there.
The centre of the Isle of Man
Manx Cache Summary
|Boy its cold ‘ere||=^..^=||(1.5/3)||GCH5MW|
|Coastal Caper||Elvis the trog||(1.5/2)||GCJGHF|
|Cold n’ Dark ?||=^..^=||(2/2)||GCH3YJ|
|Descent of the Aqua||=^..^=||(2/3.5)||GCH9F6|
|Don’t wake Ned!||Happy Humphrey||(1.5/1.5)||GCM8KR|
|The End Of The Line ?||Elvis the trog||(2.5/3.5)||GCJ7NP|
|The Exercise Wheel||Yessir||(2/2.5)||GCHCXH|
|Fall of the woodcutter||=^..^=||(2/3)||GCH4YZ|
|Give us a Ring||The Coastway Cruisers||(1/1.5)||GCKMA1|
|Injerbreck Triangle Part Two||=^..^=||(1/4.5)||GCM586|
|The Injerbreck Triangle Part One||=^..^=||(1/4.5)||GCM57R|
|Injerbreck Triangle Part Three||=^..^=||(2.5/4.5)||GCM58C|
|In Search of Thor’s Hammer||Munin||(3.5/2)||GCKPKV|
|Island at War||Happy Humphrey||(1.5/1)||GCM99F|
|Just Dhoo It.||Elvis the trog||(1.5/2)||GCM95J|
|Mad Ma(n)x 2||linearB||(1.5/1.5)||GCG18H|
|Manx Micro #1||ellanvannin||(1.5/1)||GCH6AJ|
|Manx Travel Bug Hotel||Happy Humphrey||(1.5/1.5)||GCMHRZ|
|Molly put the Kettle on.||=^..^=||(1/2.5)||GCKPM9|
|The Rune Stones – part 1||Happy Humphrey||(3/1.5)||GCKPM4|
|Over a Barrule||Happy Humphrey||(3.5/3.5)||GCMJET|
|The Rune Stones – part 2||Happy Humphrey||(2.5/2)||GCKPMD|
|Secrets of Red Mountain||ellanvannin||(2.5/2.5)||GCH7RV|
|Six Kingdoms||Happy Humphrey||(2.5/2.5)||GCK4J3|
|Tip of The arrow ??||=^..^=||(1/2.5)||GCH62H|
|Treasure Isle||Happy Humphrey||(2.5/2.5)||GCMBF2|
|Twixt Two Towers||Cushag||(2/2)||GCH4GT|
|Two of a Kind||NIBBO||(1/1)||GCH5ZN|
|A walk in the country part 1||ellanvannin||(2/2)||GCGN15|
|A Walk in the Country Part 2||ellanvannin||(4/4)||GCH54P|
|A Walk in the Country Part 3||ellanvannin||(1.5/1.5)||GCH5MM|
|Watch our for the witches barrels.||=^..^=||(2/4)||GCH4FM|
|The Water Margin series – 1: Harold’s Boathouse||Happy Humphrey||(2/2)||GCJNT3|
|The Water Margin series – 2: the Eye of the Needle||Happy Humphrey||(2.5/3)||GCJNT9|
|The Water Margin series – 3: White Feather||Happy_Humphrey||(5/5)||GCJP2V|
The keen walker might consider spending a few days on the beautiful and rugged coastal footpath (“Raad ny Foillan”) which is a circular walk of about 90 miles. The list of caches which are on the footpath (or feasible with only a minor diversion) are (clockwise from Douglas centre):
- Manx Micro #1
- Two of a Kind
- Manx Travel Bug Hotel
- The Brooghs
- Coastal Caper
- Twixt Two Towers
- Island at War
- Treasure Isle (1)
- Captain Scarlett
- In Search of Thor’s Hammer (some backtracking required)
- The Rune Stones – part 2 (some backtracking required)
- The Rune Stones – part 1
- Don’t wake Ned!
- El Presidente
- Treasure Isle (2)
- Time Piece
- Devil’s Mouth
- The Water Margin series – 1: Harold’s Boathouse (get the first clue beforehand!)
- The Water Margin series – 2: the Eye of the Needle
- The End Of The Line ?
- Mad Ma(n)x 2
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company run regular vehicle and passenger ferries from Liverpool, Heysham, Dublin and Belfast. To keep costs down, consider the five-day return fares and look out for special offers. The last week in May and first week in June can be fantastically expensive, as the island profits from the very popular TT fortnight, so unless you want to experience an island packed with motorbikes don’t try and book in this period.
The service consists of a couple of conventional boats in winter (the Ben My Chree from Heysham is the best), but the rest of the year there are fast craft which generally give a good, quick and comfortable crossing. Liverpool to Douglas takes about two and a half hours.
For package deals and tailored holidays, Travel Services can arrange good deals, with discounts on ferries and hotels.
Increasing number arrive by air nowadays: if you’re coming across as an individual or a couple it’s often almost as cheap as the boat. The airports with direct IOM flights are now legion! The cheapest fares are normally from Liverpool, but other airports include Blackpool, Manchester, Gatwick, London City, Stansted, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Southampton. Try Emerald Airways or Manx Flights – British Airways and Euromanx are probably the biggest airlines serving the island.
Finally, don’t hesitate to contact me via my geocaching.com profile for and help or advice. Perhaps I’ll bump into a few “foreign” geocachers here this summer and get the chance to buy them a drink in one of the many fine refreshment establishments around this lovely coast!
Happy Manx caching!
Story and photos by Happy Humphrey