No sooner had I settled into my seat than there is an announcement from the co-pilot to advise the airhostesses to prepare for landing in ten minutes and we begin a gradual descent over the Irish Sea.
For a change I have decided that it’s time for me to venture beneath the clouds before landing to explore this mysterious island.
The Isle of Man has seen a recent resurgence, which has been led by a pro-active tourist board (http://www.visitisleofman.com/), which has worked hard at developing the island as a premier short-break destination.
Within half-an-hour of leaving Belfast City I find myself stepping on to a wind swept runway at Ronaldsway International to collect my luggage swiftly from the carousel from inside the terminal before picking up my hire car.
Pulling on to the road I remember I need not worry about which side of the road I am driving on, so I turn left at the roundabout and head to the south of the island and Castletown.
One of the best sights in Castletown is the Castle Rushen (open 10am – 5pm, 1st April to 26th October, Price: Adults £4.25, Children £2.25, Family £10.75). The castle, which is probably the finest medieval castle in the British Isles, is situated at the centre of town. The castle’s origins can be found in the Norse period when Norse Kings fortified a strategic site guarding the entrance to the Silverburn River.
The castle was developed by successive rulers of Mann between the 13th and 16th centuries, and its towering limestone walls would have been visible over much of southern Mann as a continual reminder to the local population of the dominance of the Kings and Lords of Mann.
Back in the car I travel further south and west on the island and reach the Meayll peninsula, which lies beyond the bays of Port St Mary and Port Erin, this craggy upland has been home to people for thousands of years.
The spectacular coast at the Chasms, or at Spanish Head and Black Head, shows the intricate banding of geological formations and provides nesting spaces for sea birds.
I travel on to the very tip of the island and reach the Sound with its spectacular views of Kitterland, the Calf of Man and the racing tidal currents, which separate them.
The Sound Centre (open all year 10am to 5pm) has been built by Manx National Heritage to provide catering, interpretation and other facilities for visitors to the Sound. Carefully designed to fit into this precious place the centre provides excellent displays telling the story of the Sound and the Calf of Man.
It is possible to reach the Calf of Man by boat from both Port Erin and Port St Mary. Look for the information panels at the harbours. These seasonal trips depend upon visitor numbers, weather and tide.
There is self-catering accommodation on the Calf of Man. Enquiries and bookings should be directed to Manx National Heritage on 01624 648000.
I travel on to Peel where I spend my night. After checking into my hotel I explore Peel and pay a visit Peel Castle (open 10am – 5pm, 1st April to 26th October, Price: Adults £3.00, Children £1.50, Family £7.50), yet another historic monuments which occupies the important site of St Patrick’s Isle.<!–page–>
The Castle’s Curtain Wall encircles the ruins of many buildings, which are a testimony to the site’s religious and secular importance in Manx history. These include St. Patrick’s Church and the Round Tower from the 11th century, the 13th century Cathedral of St. German, and the later apartments of the Lords of Mann.
At the other end of Peel harbour is the House of Manannan (open all year round 10am – 5pm, 1st April to 26th October, Price: Adults £5.00, Children £2.50, Family £12.50) uses state-of-the-art display techniques to explore the Celtic, Viking and Maritime traditions of the Isle of Man.
Another superb attraction in Peel is the Kipper Museum (open 10am – 5pm, 1st April to 31st October Mon to Sat, Price: Adults £2.00, Children £1) on Mill Road. Mann is world famous for it’s kippers, which have been produced on the island since 1770. The last of these old style-curing yards is now a living museum preserving and almost lost culinary art.
The following morning and with a heavy sea mist engulfing Peel I decided its time to drive across the island using the famous TT route to Douglas where I learnt that the best way to make the most of a holiday on the Isle of Man is to enjoy the unique vintage railways.
The Isle of Man Steam Railway, founded in 1873, operates throughout the summer and runs from Douglas to Port Erin in the south, passing through some magnificent countryside. Also in Douglas there are the horse drawn trams – the oldest trams in the world – in continuous service, except for the war years since 1876.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway, the only such railway in the British Isles, celebrated its centenary in 1995 and runs to the summit of Snaefell Mountain, 2036 feet high, the highest point in the Isle of Man.
The main train, electric tram and bus stations are in Douglas. The Steam Railway Station is situated at the end of North Quay and can be reached by bus. The Manx Electric Railway Station (known as Derby Castle) is at the Northern end of the promenade.
It is from Douglas that I catch a tram which snakes its way through the Manx countryside up to my final stop on the island at the village of Laxey with its famous waterwheel (The Great Laxey Wheel and Mine Trails, open 10am – 5pm, 1st April to 26th October Mon to Sat, Price: Adults £3.00, Children £1.50, Family £7.50) and mine which can be found half a mile from the village on a steep sided glen astride the River Mooar.
The site, unique due to the ingenious use of the river to supply all the plant with continuous ‘free energy’ is perhaps one of the most important sites of the industrial revolution in Britain.
Running for more than a mile in a north south direction from the washing floors of lower Laxey to the village of Agneash, the mine was the workplace of five hundred men.
Reaching a depth of more than three hundred fathoms, the mine produced one fifth of the total British output of zinc in the 1870’s along with a massive turnover of lead and a significant supply of copper.
Having spent a long weekend on the Isle of Man I realised that it is an island which has plenty of offer and much to be explored – curious history, breathtaking countryside, quaint tea-shops and public transport – and well worth a visit.
Darryl Armitage travelled to the Isle of Man courtesy of the Isle of Man Tourist Board.
Copyright © 2003 Darryl Armitage