AN ISLAND GUIDE
‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,’ cited St Augustine. Whether The Isle of Man is a new chapter for you or one which you are revisiting, there is plenty to surprise and delight you during your stay on Mananan’s Isle.
Named after Mananan MacLir, the Celtic god of the sea who protects the island in times of danger with his cloak of mist, The Isle of Man is an intriguing location. Although easily accessible by boat and plane, the visitor has the feeling, once here, that they have been well and truly removed from the frenetic pace of life elsewhere.
There are no bullet trains here; no motorways or flyovers to separate you from the earth which cries out to be tramped. You can take a Victorian steam train from Douglas to Port Erin, enjoying the privacy of your own carriage as you rattle past fields and coast line to the sandy beach of Port Erin. You can ride the Victorian Manx Electric Railway from Douglas, stopping at Laxey for the world-famous Laxey Wheel and climb through Squeezers Glen behind it. Continue on the tram for Ramsey with its cluster of independent shops and immaculate Mooragh Park. Most spectacular, on a fine day, is the ride on the Snaefell Mountain Railway along the knife edge of the Laxey Valley, up to the summit of Snaefell. From here you can view, so it’s said, the seven kingdoms of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven, Earth and Mann.
The Glens are the island’s hidden gems. Whether it’s the Dhoon Glen with its impressive 130 foot waterfall or Glen Helen with its endless canopy of sequoia, thuja and spruce, it’s impossible not to be rejuvenated by a stroll through the island’s deep ravines. In Ballaglass Glen, the river has snaked over grey flag stones for millennia, carving surreal rock formations akin to the landscapes of a Dali painting. It’s easy (but perfectly safe) to find yourself alone in these Glens, magical places which are woven into much Manx, Celtic folklore.
Dora Broome’s Fairy Tales from the Isle of Man, based on Manx folk stories, tells of The Glashtin, a dark, handsome stranger who would pull young maidens down into the sea; The Taroo Ushtey (Water Bull) which lives in deep pools beside river banks and which, if riled, can carry a person down into a bottomless pool. She tells of the hairy Phynnodderees with pointed ears which have been reported to live in caves at the top of waterfalls and the Ben-Varrey (mermaid) who charms hapless fishermen. Even today, The Fairy Bridge, on the main road between Douglas and Castletown, is a popular location, with passers-by leaving notes and gifts for the modern day Little People. Woe betide motorists who drive over the Fairy Bridge without saying hello to the faeries.
The Raad ny Foillan coastal footpath skirts some of the island’s most spectacular scenery. Even if you only have time for a short walk, start at Cregneash folk village, experience the Chasms (staying mindful that the vertiginous splits in the cliff are of deathly height), peer over at the Sugar Loaf Rock, home to legions of kittiwake and follow the footpath to The Sound, southern tip of the Isle of Man and surrounded by wild waters and vantage point for the Calf of Man, now a wildlife sanctuary. Here you can enjoy a jam and cream scone in the panoramic Sound Cafe whilst spotting seals lounging on the rocks of the Calf of Man.
For a decent hike (three hours plus), Stan Basnett’s Hidden Places of Mann has a range of walks from 7 miles upwards. Try one and you will be rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery in the British Isles.
If your love of the outdoors extends to alternative active pursuits, you can join a kayak adventure, try coasteering, rock climbing, diving, go-karting or golf. Bring your mountain bike with you and spend a few hours on one of the increasingly popular mountain bike trails. Visit www.gov.im/tourism for information on all of the above.
The Isle of Man has a chequered and interesting history. Inhabited first by the Picts, then the Celts, invaded by the Vikings, its story is excellently told in the award-winning Manx Museum in Douglas. The national-award winning museum has an informative and inspiring introductory film outlining the island’s history. (It also has a nice tea-room.)
Ancient monuments, Neolithic tombs and Viking boat burial chambers are an integral part of the Manx landscape. Maughold Church grounds are the location for the main collection of the island’s 6th – 13th century Celtic cross grave markers. They feature a fascinating fusion of Celtic, Old Norse and Christian imagery. Visit Maughold’s Cashtal yn Ard to see one of Britain’s best-preserved Neolithic tombs dating from 2000 BC.
The former capital of the Island, Castletown, is dominated by one of Europe’s most finely-preserved medieval castles. Seat of the Kings and Lords of Mann, it played a central role in the island’s turbulent history. The central square stone tower or Keep, with its inner courtyard, are the oldest parts of the Castle, dating approximately from the time of Magnus, the last Viking King of Mann, whose death in 1265 was recorded in the Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles.
Peel Castle is one of the island’s principal historical monuments. Climb Peel Hill for a view of the castle, perched on St Patrick’s Isle, surrounded by rocks and swirling tides. Don’t be surprised if you spot seals, basking sharks or Minke Whales in these waters. Try a kipper bap from the kiosk on the jetty. The kippers can also be purchased (vacuum packed) at nearby Moore’s Traditional Curers where it’s also possible to make a tour. Although it has been revamped in recent years, the Peel remains a proudly Manx, traditional fishing town and its narrow, twisting lanes with their sandstone terraced houses are worth a wander with your camera. Celtic Gold on Michael Street has a wide selection of celtic jewellery. It also hires out Manx kilts.
Most new to the capital, Douglas is the North Quay refurbishment where wide pavements and cafe tables give a European flavour to early evening drinks and snacks. 14 North and Tanroagan are both committed to serving delicious, fresh Manx produce.
The Sayle Gallery, in the redesigned Villa Marina Arcade, replenishes its art exhibitions frequently and stages work from local artists with ab international following such as Eileen Schaer, the late David Fletcher and Svetlana Cameron, local artists with an international following. September’s sees a Semi-Abstract Painting and Sculpture Exhibition. Try the ice cream at Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour next door. Its supreme creaminess has won the makers Gold status in Britain’s National Ice Cream Competition.
The Gaiety Theatre is located near the Sayle Gallery. It is an immaculate Victorian theatre, designed by Frank Matcham, designer of the Richmond Theatre, Middlesex. Tours run on Saturday mornings and the refurbished interior is a must for anyone with a passion for Victoriana. Telephone 694555 or contact email@example.com.
Strand Street is the island’s main shopping street. Here you will find chain stores available in the UK but at 25 Nelson Street, Mostly Manx stocks beautifully-produced Celtic pottery, art and jewellery made in the Isle of Man. A larger range of these products can be found at The Laxey Woollen Mills, founded by John Ruskin in 1881. Here, Manx tartan is still made on traditional looms. The Hodgeson Loom Gallery can be found above.
One man who can craft you a Manx souvenir in seconds is John ‘Dog’ Callister. John leads walks through the Curraghs on the northern plain of the island, imparting information on the 100 species of bird and animal found in these boggy wetlands. At times, the Curraghs have the largest numbers of winter roosting hen harriers in Western Europe and are a breeding habitat for that highly endangered migratory bird, the corn crake. Wallabies, which escaped from the neighbouring Wild Life Park, now also inhabit the dense wilderness and John will help you track the footprints, hopefully leading to a sighting. www.gov.im/tourism
Close to The Curraghs is the recently-opened Milntown, the island’s only historic house. It is set in 1.5 acres and boasts a stylish restaurant with views of the Milntown gardens. It was the former home of the Christian family and was left in trust to the people of the Isle of Man. It also features a fine collection of vintage motorcars and motorcycles.
The Isle of Man Examiner and The Manx Independent both list What’s On Guides to the Isle of Man. If you like folk music then you should enjoy traditional Manx music. The Manx Museum in Douglas has a collection of local musicians’ CDs on sale, including King Chiaullee who inject verve and vigour into many old tunes; Mactullagh Vannin; Moot, Breck; The Mollag Band and The Mannin Folk. Peel Centenary Centre also hosts gigs and concerts most weekends.
Remember, if there’s just too much to squeeze in over this last weekend in September, you can always return to Mananan’s Isle – provided Mananan MacLir sees fit to let you return, of course.