The Manx Parish Walk: speed walking, sore buttocks and a distinct lack of cats with no tails
Updated: Jan 23
In June 2019, my friend Sam and I took on the challenge of the Manx Parish Walk. The rules are simple – walk around the whole Isle of Man in 24 hours, through each of the 17 parishes. The route is 85 miles in total, and you’ve got to touch the church gate at each of the churches in a certain order. It’s a walking race – so absolutely no running is allowed.
I want to make it very clear before launching into this that I did not do the whole thing! I’m still in slight bewilderment over how people do, and not only complete it, but do it in ridiculously fast times. In our defence, we hadn’t done any training (yes, this is a stupid idea), and the rules state that you are not allowed to continue past a certain point without a support vehicle. As I don’t know anyone that lives on the Isle of Man, this wasn’t an option.
Our training consisted of running back from work slightly more often than usual, and watching Mindhorn, a bizarre comedy about an actor past his heyday who is brought back to the Isle of Man to help the police try and catch a criminal. The weekend soon rolled around and we found ourselves on a very short flight to Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man.
The evening before the main event, we had a wander around Douglas and then headed over to the local sports centre, where we registered and eyed up our fellow walkers. It’s a real community event, and it seemed like lots of people were annual regulars who just try and see how far they can go. This made me feel slightly better as I was feeling more underprepared by the second. We registered, got handed a tote bag from Isle of Man Organ Donation (I decided not to take that as a sign of things to come), and went to carb load ahead of the big day.
The morning of the walk arrived, and we made our way down to the sports centre (adding on an extra mile of walking already…). in our bright green race t-shirts. We then gorged on a couple of McMuffins and decided on our target for the day. Rather than think through tactics or giving it much more thought, we decided just to see how far we could get. Filled with McDonalds porridge and McMuffins, we made our way to the start line with the crowds of others taking part. The gun sounded, and we were off.
The first few miles and couple of churches passed by quickly. We were averaging thirteen to fourteen-minute miles and it was all quite jolly. There were feed stations every so often with lots of snacks, sweets and drinks – including some local Isle of Man milk which I guzzled down. I think I went a bit mad on the guzzling and was chomping down on chocolate bars from the off, which I don’t think particularly helped our progress.
Everyone was so friendly. It was lovely to hear stories about the walk and people’s reasons for taking part. After a few conversations with other walkers, one thing started to be mentioned over and over again - ‘The Sloc’. We had no idea what this was, but the way people said it made it sound pretty ominous. It also sounded suspiciously like ‘slog’. We looked at each other every time it was mentioned, bemused at our utter cluelessness.
On we went, seeing the scenery change around us as we walked. It’s fair to say that before going to the Isle of Man, I didn’t really know much about it at all. The extent of my knowledge about it was motorbikes and cats with no tails so I didn’t really know what to expect.
With its magical glens, far-reaching views and rich history, it’s fair to say that this island in the middle of the Irish Sea is a really beautiful place. You know you’re in the UK and yet it feels very distinct, with its own language, history and culture (and there are meant to be fairies living there). We were gifted glorious weather on the day of our epic walk, and so looking out across the sea in different directions we saw the fells of the Lake District, the edge of Scotland, the coast of Wales and parts of Ireland.
We reached the church at Rushen on the south of the island, and then finally, we came to The Sloc. Someone handed me some sweets from a feed station, saying we’d need them. The road ahead quickly started to incline but it looked manageable, and so we pressed onwards, going at a good speed.
We soon reached the top of this first hill. That wasn’t so bad! Maybe we were actually pretty good at this walking 85 miles in 24 hours business. Then we saw the rest of it.
Hundreds of people in bright green t-shirts snaked up the side of a huge hillside and beyond into the distance, outlining the route ahead. Reality sunk in.
There was only one way to go. The Sloc really was a slog. The sun was high in the sky at this point, beating down on us as we pressed on. We climbed up and up, our surroundings transforming into moorland that swept downwards to the sea. It was tough going, but on the plus side, all of this climbing meant we were rewarded with stunning views.
We’d been going for about seven hours now. On the way down to the other side of the island, we were beginning to tire and soreness was setting in. Our next checkpoint would be Peel, on the western side of the island, and we had to make a call to whether this would be our personal finish.
I was so torn about whether to carry on or not. Competitiveness and determination were gnawing away at me, and it felt wrong to stop. But in the end, we did stop. We hadn’t got a support vehicle, we’d made it all the way to the other side of the island in just eight hours, and it had been a challenging but good day so far. Sometimes, however hard it is, stopping is the right call.
We got our medals and free ice cream, and then wandered to the beach and ate a delicious sandwich filled with queenies from a stand on the seafront. I don’t really remember much of the rest of the day apart from eating an enormous amount of food and getting a very early night.
The next day, I woke up with the sorest buttocks I have experienced in my entire life. I staggered into the shower, my glutes freshly on fire with each step. It was the kind of day where you just want to curl up in big pair of pants with a film and eat some treats. But, we wanted to explore, and as much as my buttocks would have enjoyed the immediate gratification of a lazy day, I don’t think tomorrow they’d be thanking me any more. Fearing the wrath of more buttock pain, we set off for a look around and to hopefully see a cat with no tail.
First stop was Snaefell, the highest point on the island. On a normal day this would have been a great hike to the top. Today however, wasn’t a normal day, and so getting the mountain railway to the top seemed perfectly reasonable. It’s said you can see seven kingdoms from the top: the Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven and the sea. It was pretty windy and cloudy by the time we got up there though and so I think I only saw three.
After some lunch in the café at the top we went the mining village of Laxey, on the east coast of the island. It's a very pretty village, with a name meaning 'Salmon River' in Old Norse. A metal salmon topping a village sign nodded to its nomenclature as we arrived on the electric railway. Laxey is home to a famous waterwheel that features in, you guessed it, Mindhorn. Apart from its Hollywood fame, it’s also the largest working waterwheel in the world.
Once back in Douglas we paid The Manx Museum a visit, which gave a really interesting look into the past of the Isle of Man, before heading for some fish and chips.
Sadly, we’d reached the end of the trip and there had been no sighting of a tailless cat. Nonetheless, I felt like I’d discovered a little gem in the Isle of Man. There was so much I still wanted to see – it's a bit of a paradise for outdoor lovers with kayaking, stargazing, wildlife watching and hiking. I’ll definitely be back, and even though now I know there is way more to the island than cats with no tails, fingers crossed next time I’ll finally catch a glimpse.