Review: Isle of Man
Isle of Man
41 people found this review helpful
The Isle of Man is a small island, being only 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, but there is much to see and do whether you are interested in motorcycling, railways, walking, cycling or history.
I travelled to the island via the ferry from Liverpool. The new docks for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company are near the Liver Building, a short walk down Chapel Street from the Moorfields Station. I booked my return foot passenger ticket on line for £40. I had looked at vacation packages on their web site but found that it was considerably cheaper for the same hotel to book accommodation through LateRooms.com and the ferry separately. After checking in I had time to take some pictures of the Liver Building and the views across the River Mersey and sit in the sunshine catching up on some reading.
The 2 ½ hours ride over to the Isle of Man was a little choppy to say the least, but I’ve had worse trips on bigger ships. The Sea Terminal in Douglas is at the south end of the Promenade and contains the tourism centre. Unfortunately it was Sunday and the tourism centre was closed, however the hotels usually have a wide variety of information available. So I headed out on a half hour walk to reach the Rosslyn Hotel which is about half way along the Promenade to the north just a couple of streets before the Hilton Hotel. I followed the directions from LateRooms.com – about a mile along the Promenade, turn left onto Mona Drive and immediately right on Empire Terrace and the guest house is on the left side of the street amongst numerous others. In fact there are many hotels and guest houses all along the Promenade. Speaking of which, the Promenade reminds me of southern England – lots of gardens in bloom, palm trees and beautiful architecture facing the sea.
The Rosslyn Hotel looks like all the other buildings on the street but inside it appeared to have had a recent upgrade as all the furniture and decoration seemed new as did the en-suite in my room. It was close to 3:30 P. M. by the time I had checked in, unpacked and was ready to set out and explore Douglas. I walked to the north end of the Promenade to the Electric Railway terminal and talked to the staff about the Island Explorer Tickets. There are 1, 3 5 and 7 day tickets that you can purchase that provide unlimited travel on the Manx Electric and Snaefell Mountain Railways, Isle of Man Steam Railway, Bus Vannin, and the Douglas Corporation Horse Trams that run along the Promenade in Douglas. If you are going to be doing any travelling around the island, it is really a very good deal. As the trains stop running around 6:00 P. M. and I was staying for 3 nights with a mid afternoon ferry back to Liverpool I decided not to purchase a pass until the next day. That way I would get more use out of the third day of travel. The 3 day pass costs £30 and I would have spent about £35 if I had paid for individual fares. If you are going to be staying on the island for a longer period of time, the 5 day pass is an even better deal at £37 and the 7 day pass at £45.
After a hearty and delicious breakfast the next morning I walked north along the Promenade to the Electric Railway and purchased a 3 day pass. The Electric Railway runs north from Douglas to Ramsey and the first published trip that morning was at 9:40 A. M. but they always do a service run a bit earlier as far as Laxey which is where I was going to go so I got on the earlier train. It was a very pleasant half hour ride with beautiful scenery along the coast then inland through fells dotted with sheep and goats. Some of it reminded me of the Lake District in England with its stone fences and rolling hills. In Laxey I switched trains and took the Snaefell Mountain Railway for a further half hour ride up to Snaefell Summit. Although it was a rather warm day it was quite blustery and cool at the Summit. From the Summit Hotel you can walk up to the top of the Summit for views of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. In fact, I could see Scaefell Pike near where I had been in the Lake District a few days earlier.
After a little walk to take some pictures I took the same train back down to Laxey then followed the signs from the station to the Laxey Wheel. I have a National Trust membership in England and was able to use it to enter all the Isle of Man Manx National Heritage properties I visited, including the Laxey Wheel. The wheel is also known as the Lady Isabella in honour of the wife of the Island’s Lieutenant Governor at the time. It is the largest surviving working waterwheel in the world and was created in 1854 to pump water out of the zinc and lead mines. I spent a couple of hours at the wheel exploring the wheel itself which you can climb for great views of the Glen Mooar Valley, and the trails around the wheel. Keep in mind that it is an outdoor exhibit and though some of the trails have steps built in, they are of uneven heights and depths and include tree trunks. Good walking shoes are recommended. The trails take you to the Old Adit Level (entrance to the mine), the Rod Viaduct, the Wheel Cistern (which collects the water from the surrounding hillsides that powers the wheel), the T-Rocker, the Machine House, the ruins of the Compressor House, the Engine House and the entrance to the Welsh Shaft. There are story boards along the way providing information about the wheel, the mine and the flora and fauna in the valley.
The mine closed in 1929 after the shafts had been dug to a depth equal to the height of Snaefell Mountain – 2036 feet. At this point it was increasingly difficult to keep water out of the lower shafts and was unsafe to continue operating. If you have more time to spend here at Laxey you can also take another train ride – into the mines to get a better feel for the miners’ lives.
From Laxey I took the Electric Train to Ramsey, the end of the Line. There was a billboard at the train station providing directions to The Grove, the only Manx National Heritage property in Ramsey and my destination for the afternoon. It is a 5 minute bus ride or a 20 minute walk and I opted to walk as it was a lovely afternoon. I was beginning to think I had missed a turn in when I passed the hospital and there was a field of Manx Loaghtan sheep to my left but the house is just after the field. My first stop was the Conservatory Tea Room for a delicious afternoon tea. It was lovely to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy the sandwiches, fruit scone and ginger and lemon cake. Definitely a meal in itself especially as it included salad with the sandwiches and fruit with the cake.
I then toured the Gibb family home. I bought a guide book about the home and family in the gift shop when I first arrived and read it while having my tea. Duncan Gibb was a ship builder from Liverpool and he bought the property and had it expanded as a summer home for his family in the late 1830’s. There is a tenant living in part of the home so not all rooms are open to the public. Downstairs there is the dining room, sitting room and the kitchen and scullery presented as they would have been in the late 1800’s. Upstairs are six rooms one of which is recreated as a bedroom and others as exhibition rooms to show clothes and toys of the Victorian time up to the last family members who lived in the home until the 1970’s.
The last train leaving Ramsey for Douglas is at 4:40 P.M. and I just made it back to the station in time. If I had missed it I could have taken a bus back as they do run until 10:30 P.M. but are more sporadic as the night wears on. When I got back to Douglas I did some shopping along the Promenade on the way back to the hotel.
The next day had originally been forecast as overcast and wet but turned out to be another lovely day. I walked to the south end of the Promenade and took the #5 bus to Peel at 9:40 A.M. from the Bus Station on Lord Street near the old harbour. When looking at the bus schedule it is sometimes easier to find an indirect bus to where you are going. For example, the bus from Douglas to Peel is less frequent than the bus from Douglas to Ramsey via Peel which is the #5. I got off the bus in Peel at another Manx National Heritage Property, the House of Manannan, at 10:15 A.M. and was advised by the staff to return in half an hour as a couple of school groups had just gone in. The other property I wanted to see in Peel was Peel Castle so I headed down the quay to the castle. This is a castle ruin and another property that good shoes are required for exploring. As part of your entry fee you receive an audio guide which provides information about the various buildings, when they were built and who by. For example you will see the ruins of St. German’s Cathedral, the 10th century Church of St. Patrick, the Round Tower and the Great Garrison Hall. You will also see wonderful views of Peel, the harbour, Peel Hill and the surrounding countryside. After touring round the castle I walked off St. Patrick’s Isle and climbed up Peel Hill for a great view of St. Patrick’s Isle and the castle.
More than half an hour had passed when I headed back up the quay to the House of Manannan. This property does a very good job of presenting the history of the Isle of Man from 500BC and it is easy to spend a couple of hours wondering through the exhibits. The stories are told through a few short movies and reconstructed scenes along the way including a Celtic roundhouse, a Viking longhouse, a Viking longship, 19th century businesses, and the stories of the Steam Packet ferries and Castle Peel. Many of the exhibits are interactive with touch screens to provide information on topics of interest to you and to test your knowledge.
By 3:00 P.M. it was time to find something to eat so I walked back down the quay to the Promenade and went to the Harbour Lights on Shore Road. It is billed as like being in your grandmother’s dining room with the furniture, decor and dishes, and it delivers. The food is delicious and is recommended by the @Taste Isle of Man’ quality assurance scheme which you can refer to for restaurants/cafes which consistently provide high quality. Establishments under this scheme have stickers in their windows identifying their participation. At Harbour Lights I had Welsh rarebit with Manx cheddar cheese, with Manx haddock. The hot chocolate came in a big cup with a dish of cream, a dish of marshmallows and a small chocolate bar. All delicious and very well presented.
From the Harbour Lights I walked along the Promenade then turned up hill into the centre of town to the bus stop across from the town hall. I had about 20 minutes before the next bus to Douglas so took a look inside the new St. German’s Cathedral. It has stone arches, a wooden vaulted ceiling and lovely stained glass windows. I took the #8 bus to Douglas via the hospital. It had just started to rain as I got off the bus and walked back to the hotel along the Promenade. I never did take the horse tram along the Promenade as I usually prefer to walk and there usually wasn’t one coming along in the direction I was walking.
On my last morning I packed after breakfast and headed along the Promenade to the Sea Terminal. My ferry was at 3:30 P.M. with check in closing at 3:05. I could have left my backpack at the hotel and picked it up in the afternoon but it would have taken me out of my way as I was taking the steam train south and it is close to the same end of the Promenade as the Sea Terminal. There are lockers at the Sea Terminal so for £1.00 I stored my backpack for the day then walked up Lord Street to the Steam Railway Station. I took the 9:50 A.M. train to Castletown which is about a half hour ride. Castletown is not the end of the line but I don’t have time to go to Port Erin and on to the Calf of Man as I have to head back to Douglas for the ferry. The carriages on the steam train have compartments which could seat up to eight comfortably and have individual doors whereas the carriages on the electric trains are one large compartment similar to most modern trains. There were three of us in the compartment I was in and when it started to rain as we were leaving the station we opened the window at one end so we could stay dry and still see the scenery unimpeded by raindrops running down the window pane.
Upon arriving in Castletown I walked in to the town centre to Castle Rushen, another Manx National Heritage property. I spent a couple of hours at the castle climbing the spiral staircases to the exhibits and to the top of the castle walls. There are exhibits at each level to break up the climb and story boards tell of the different uses made of the castle over the centuries from home to the Kings (then Lords) of Mann to a prison. There are great views from the castle walls of Castletown, the harbour and the Calf of Man. Since I wasn’t able to get as far south as Sound and the Calf I was glad I was able to see if from the castle. The staff was very welcoming and helpful steering everyone through the exhibition halls and ensuring any questions were answered. There is a short film near the beginning of the tour and some of the exhibits are recreations of rooms as they would have been for the Lords of Mann in the 1500’s.
The rain had stopped so after the castle I spent some time in the town checking out the shops such as Memory Lane sweet shop on Arbory Street then had something to eat at Bank Street Cafe – fresh crab on a granary bap with crisps, salad and coleslaw. The fresh fish and seafood is a must in the Isle of Man whether it is fish and chips, smoked haddock, crab or local scallops (Queenies). And let’s not forget the great ice cream whether it is Jimbo’s Manx Ice Cream or Davison’s Ice Cream.
After my meal I walked back along Victoria Street for the 5 minute walk back to the train station for the 2:12 P.M. to Douglas and it started to rain again. The forecast for Liverpool this afternoon is thunder and lightning so it could be an interesting crossing. I just made it back to the Sea Terminal in time to check in although I had trouble getting my backpack – the locker wouldn’t open. The check-in staff called the Port Authority to send someone to help who ended up getting the pass key to open it. The gangway for foot passengers was now closed so I was taken 100 yards by courtesy bus along with a few other passengers and walked onto the ferry after the last of the vehicle traffic. Despite the dire forecast it was a calm voyage although we arrived an hour late due to engine trouble. The beginning of the thunder and lightning started as I walked up Chapel Street to Moorfields Station and the train home.
My three night stay in the Isle of Man just touched the surface of what this island has to offer. There are a number of Town Trail walks to do within Douglas (e.g., Douglas Town Centre Heritage Walk, Douglas Promenade Heritage Walk), Ghost Walks in Douglas, Peel and Castletown, and special events throughout the year at the various properties. There are also miles and miles of posted walks around the island be it coastal walks or glen walks that are of interest to you. There is much more to this island than Manx cats and the TT races. I know I’ll be back to discover more for myself.
41 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.