DREAMY DES­TI­NA­TIONS: THE ISLE OF MAN

The Isle of Man

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Robin Glover views the seven ‘King­doms’ and feels on top of the world at Snae­fell, tak­ing in the spec­tac­u­lar 360º views across St Ge­orge’s Chan­nel and the Ir­ish Sea.

Robin Glover views the seven ‘King­doms’ and feels on top of the world at Snae­fell, tak­ing in the spec­tac­u­lar 360 º views across St Ge­orge’s Chan­nel and the Ir­ish Sea.

CON­TIN­U­ING OUR ‘EX­CLU­SIVELY BRI­TISH’ EX­PLO­RATION of the more re­mote des­ti­na­tions around the Bri­tish Isles, we are de­lighted to in­tro­duce the fiercely in­de­pen­dent ‘crown de­pen­dency’ of Isle of Man, a 300 sq mi is­land strate­gi­cally poised in the Ir­ish Sea, mid­way be­tween Eng­land, Scot­land and North­ern Ireland. Un­fairly dis­missed by many as sim­ply a tax haven for the wealthy where, ev­ery year, tens of thou­sands of mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts flock to see their idols risk life and limb on the tor­tu­ous 31 miles of the Tourist Tro­phy road-rac­ing cir­cuit, there are many more at­trac­tions for the dis­cern­ing trav­eller to dis­cover. For example, it seems that the rel­a­tively com­pact is­land en­joys dif­fer­ent land­scapes at ev­ery turn, some­times re­mote and rugged, some­times gen­tly pas­toral and, at oth­ers, al­most sub­ur­ban in its ter­races and vil­las. Al­though there are di­rect air links from air­ports across UK and Ireland (a tip: if you call that ‘the main­land’, of­fence will be taken!), for the many who wish to tour around at their own pace, trav­el­ling by sea, on the IOM Steam Packet car-ferry ser­vice from Heysham, Lan­cashire, is the pre­ferred, slower op­tion. The sea ter­mi­nal is in the heart of the cap­i­tal, Dou­glas, the com­mer­cial cen­tre of the is­land and home to nearly a third of its 85,000 res­i­dents. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of its sys­tem of self-gov­ern­ment, the Tyn­wald, pre­served for over 1000 years, the Isle of Man has a par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive tax-regime and the econ­omy is fi­nan­cially self-suf­fi­cient. In tourism terms, the mass-mar­ket of the past has moved on, to the Costas, pos­si­bly, leav­ing the many IOM de­lights, in­clud­ing the sandy beaches and many rock-pools, to be en­joyed and ap­pre­ci­ated, at leisure. Along the, ap­pro­pri­ately, horse-shoe shaped prom­e­nade of Dou­glas runs the first sign that this is­land is unique, the horse-drawn ve­hi­cles of Dou­glas Bay Horse Tramway, which have graced

the prom­e­nade since 1876 and give the per­fect­ly­paced op­por­tu­nity to take in the Vic­to­rian el­e­gance of the ar­chi­tec­ture and gems like the Ed­war­dian plea­sure-palace, the Frank Matcham-de­signed Gai­ety Theatre and Opera House, and Villa Ma­rina and Win­ter Gar­dens. This smile-in­duc­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is only height­ened at the ter­mi­nus, where, just a few steps away, await the re­stored orig­i­nal car­riages of Manx Elec­tric Rail­way to con­vey the now-grin­ning pas­sen­gers through the wind­ing, scenic 17 miles along the coast to Ram­sey, sea­side home of the fa­mous TT ‘hair­pin’, beaches, piers and mu­se­ums. One of the stops on this rail­way is at Laxey, once site of im­por­tant lead and cop­per mines, the last­ing legacy of which is ‘Lady Is­abella’, the Great Laxey Wheel which drove the pumps to drain the work­ings. The other rea­son to stop at Laxey is to join yet an­other feat of Vic­to­rian engi­neer­ing in­ge­nu­ity, the Snae­fell Moun­tain Rail­way, which ratch­ets its happy pas­sen­gers all the ex­tremely pic­turesque five miles to the 2036 ft (621 m) sum­mit. On a clear day, from the peak can be seen the fa­bled seven ‘king­doms’, Eng­land, Scot­land, Wales, Ireland, Mann, Seas and Heaven! Com­plet­ing the her­itage rail­way ‘full house’ is the nar­row-gauge Steam Rail­way whose vin­tage car­riages run for 15.3 mi through the charm­ing south­ern low­lands from Dou­glas to Port Erin, pass­ing the is­land’s for­mer ‘cap­i­tal’, Castle­town, home to the stun­ningly-orig­i­nal me­dieval Cas­tle Rushen, the old “House of Keys’ par­lia­ment build­ing and the ‘Cas­tle Arms’, a wa­ter­side inn bet­ter known as the ‘Glue Pot’. The is­land’s tur­bu­lent his­tory dates back over 1000 years to the Vik­ing cre­ation of the King­dom of Mann, the build­ing of Peel Cas­tle and, fol­low­ing var­i­ous in­va­sions and at­tempts to oc­cupy the land, al­liance with the crown of Eng­land in 1399, but al­ways re­tain­ing its his­toric rights of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Mu­se­ums and his­tor­i­cal sites abound but among the best are the in­ter­ac­tive ‘House of Manan­nan’ in Peel, the Nau­ti­cal Mu­seum in Castle­town and Creg­neash Vil­lage near Port Erin. Given its re­mote lo­ca­tion, the is­land is, un­sur­pris­ingly, a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve and wildlife haven, above and be­neath the waves, with reg­u­lar vis­its from whales, sharks, dol­phins, por­poises and seals as well as chough, ful­mar, red­shank and a breed­ing colony of Manx shear­wa­ter. Take time to ex­plore and en­joy this won­der­ful is­land, on two wheels, if you must, but slowly! Robin Glover was a guest of Great Rail Jour­neys (greatrail.com 01904 734812) and sam­pled their ‘Vin­tage Rail­ways of the Isle of Man’ es­corted group tour. From £675 pp, the 6-day trip in­cludes 4* ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion, all rail and ex­cur­sions and se­lected meals. A sis­ter brand, GRJ In­de­pen­dent (greatrail.com/grj-in­de­pen­dent 01904 527181), can ar­range be­spoke tours, on re­quest.

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