Are all things Manx dull? Mark Rowe takes a scenic walk along the island's dramatic coastal path and confounds his prejudices

Nigel Mansell is to blame for the fact I had never visited the Isle of Man. Vague, and probably selective, memories of a 1980s documentary which featured Mansell playing golf there firmly stowed the island in the "dull" category: the golf course was as flat as Mansell's Midlands vowels, and man and sport were about as interesting as one another. This perception dealt the Isle of Man an extremely unfair hand; the island has a lot more to offer than financial services, the TT races, and fame as the birthplace of all three Bee Gees.

Nigel Mansell is to blame for the fact I had never visited the Isle of Man. Vague, and probably selective, memories of a 1980s documentary which featured Mansell playing golf there firmly stowed the island in the "dull" category: the golf course was as flat as Mansell's Midlands vowels, and man and sport were about as interesting as one another. This perception dealt the Isle of Man an extremely unfair hand; the island has a lot more to offer than financial services, the TT races, and fame as the birthplace of all three Bee Gees.

Admittedly, two golf courses hove into view as my aircraft came into land, but so did charming coves, rolling hills, and jagged cliffs. The island has an unexpectedly large number of footpaths that venture into wild coastal scenery, sweep through glens, or simply meander along pleasant, lightly managed countryside where they happen upon Neolithic or Celtic sites. There is a walking festival, now in its second year, which runs from 19-24 June.

Walk hard to work up an appetite, for this is an island that prides itself on its cuisine: Manx kippers are everywhere, along with queenies - sweet scallops cooked with bacon and garlic - and a wide range of cheeses. Among restaurants with character is Tanroagan, a waterfront fish bistro in Douglas, a 30-seater outlet run by a chef who cooks what his boat catches each day.

This month's walk tackles a small section of the island's 95-mile coastal path, the Manx name for which - Raad ny Foillan, or the Road of the Gull - is suitably tough-sounding for such a dramatic path.

Start in Port St Mary in the south of the island, and make your way to Clifton Road on the coast. Follow the road to the edge of a golf course and take the path to the left of the concrete wall, as it traces the cliffs. Pass through a green kissing gate and turn left onto the road. Keep ahead through a private estate and follow the public footpath sign up to a fenced path. Then turn left downhill on the road, cross a small stream and keep ahead on what becomes a small country lane. Soon you reach a rise and a glance back gives wonderful views over Perwick Bay and Port St Mary.

When the road peters out, follow the blue signpost for the coastal path, crossing two stiles. You then pass through a series of grid-like fields bordered by dry-stone walls. Later, a signpost points you uphill to a gate and then up to a stile. If you suffer from vertigo, don't cross this stile but follow the signposts, heading for the deserted house ahead. Otherwise, cross the stile and explore the Chasms, a series of vertical slate cliffs that tumble thrillingly to the sea, from where a sea stack thrusts dramatically upwards. The slate has fractured under your feet, opening up broad gulches between the footpaths, so walk with care as some of these innocuous-looking fissures go down a long way. Kittiwakes fill the air.

Head for the gate that leads to the path in front of the old deserted house. Cross a stepped stone stile and follow the broad track across the wide, gorse-covered headland inhabited by rock pipits and stonechats. There are wonderful views across Bay Stacka; to the south is the beguiling Calf of Man, a 600-acre island nature reserve, and on a clear day you can see the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland. At the end of Bay Stacka, look for a small, knee-high footprint sign which ensures you follow the contours of the coast, and you soon reach Spanish Head, the island's southernmost part.

The path then rises to a large stone cairn with cracking views in all directions. The path drops steeply, crosses a burn and sweeps up over one last headland before reaching Little Sound, where the café is a good place for a break.

Climb the stile just beyond the Thousla Cross, a monument to the rescue here in 1858 of the crew of a French schooner, and follow the path up across the inviting green flanks and then through a stretch of narrow, exhilarating rocky coastline. After three-quarters of a mile you reach a stile by a drystone wall and follow the path along the cliff top with the west coast laid out before you. After one last climb up Meayll Hill, the path sweeps down towards the Victorian promenade of Port Erin. The most enjoyable way to return to Port St Mary is by the vintage steam railway.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Distance: six miles

Time: three to four hours

The "Public Rights of Way and Outdoor Map" costs £6 and is available from shops across the Isle of Man and the Tourist Information Centre (01624 686766).

Where to stay

Mark Rowe stayed at Birchfield Villa, a five-star B&B in Douglas (01624 670383; www.isleofman .uk.com/birchfieldvilla.htm) which offers double rooms from £59 per night, including breakfast.

Tanroagan Bistro (07624 472411) is at 9 Ridgeway Street, Douglas. Open Tuesday-Saturday, price £35 per head, including drinks.

Further information about the island available at www.isleofmanuk.com. For more details on this year's walking festival visit www.isleofmanwalking.com.

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