Smack in the middle of the Irish Sea, equidistant from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, the Isle of Man remains a mystery to all but the most devout Anglophiles. Faery Tale author Signe Pike uncovers the isle’s many activities and attractions.
On the Isle of Man, local legend has it that the Celtic sea god, Manannan, would draw his cloak of mist round the island to protect it from harm in days long gone by. Perhaps this is why, despite the fact that it and despite the fact that it hosts one of the largest and most prestigious motorcycle races in the world each year, few people have ever heard of the place.
Technically, Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency. It has its own money (Manx Sterling), its own language, its own Parliament . . . its own culture. Unlike much of Britain, Man was never conquered by the Romans, and today still bears an impressive blending of Celtic, Norse, and Manx sensibilities that live in the local food, building styles, fishing ports, and even in the warmth of the Manx people.
When it comes to variety, Man packs a great punch. Neolithic monuments? Check. Glens with tumbling waterfalls? Check. Endless miles of footpaths for hiking? Check. Great brew and comforting food? Check. The island — much like the magical cloak of Manannan itself — seems to draw back to reveal new hidden places with each visit. Here are a few of the gems I’ve come to love best on the Isle of Man.
Places to See:
- Snaefell: Old Norse for “snow mountain,” from the top of Snaefell on a fair day they say you can see the seven kingdoms; England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Mann, Earth, and Heaven. A wooden tram built in 1895 takes you from the town of Laxey to the summit (April through September). If you’re built of sterner stuff you can enjoy a gorgeous hike back into town along the hillsides and through a creepy old mining site.
- Cashtal yn Ard: This Neolithic tomb dates from 2000 BC and is one of the best preserved in the British Isles. Finding it is half the challenge, but when you get there, you’ll more than likely have the place to yourself. Steeped in mystery, it’s one of the best places to slip into another world on the island.
- The Fairy Bridge: Up until the 1800’s most locals on the Isle of Man believed in faeries. No kidding. Clearly marked by a sign on the way from Ronaldsway airport, you can visit the Fairy Bridge, where wishful thinkers leave ribbons, notes, and more as offerings, hoping their wish will be granted.
- Dhoon Glen: Isle of Man is up to its ears in wooded walks and Glens – there are 17 National Glens, each possessing its own character. But Dhoon Glen, with its 130 foot waterfall, is a must see. The path is steep and at points mucky, but it’ll only make your tea with scones taste all the sweeter: post –walk there’s a wonderful coffee shop on site. (Water, good hiking shoes, and a waterproof are a necessity for any hiking on Isle of Man).
- The Town of Peel: Found on the West coast of the Island, Peel is an old fishing port and a microcosm of the island complete with a small harbor, the ruins of an 11th century castle, and narrow twisting streets lined with historic row houses. Visit the House of Manannan Museum – with whole Viking long ships, a Celtic round house, and videos of a mystical man dressed as the ancient Sea God himself – it makes learning not just palatable, but incredibly fun.
Places to Stay
There are scores of quaint B&B’s, a few working farms where folks can stay, and posh hotels scattered around the island, most near the to
wns of Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, and Port Erin. But here are two examples that truly express the polarity of options you can find on the island.
- The Glen Helen Inn: Great food, cushy rooms, and just steps from a lush green gorge. The Glen Helen Inn is only 4 miles from Peel, so once you’ve hiked the shady, tumbling Glen, you can shower and head either to the Inn’s restaurant or into Peel, for dinner by the sea. If nothing else, it’s worth going to see strictly for the funky Victorian era fountain that graces the yard en route to the gorge.
- The Venture Centre: Located 2 miles walk from the town of Ramsey, this outdoor center offers self-catering rooms year-round. Perfect for those who love the outdoors and have traveled in hostels, you can cook your own food in the communal kitchen but still enjoy a private bunkroom with a bathroom. It’s on the railway, so when the tram is running in the warmer months you can access many of the best hikes and glens from here, and all on foot! Book in advance for kayaking, sailing, rock climbing or guided gorge walks.
Things to Savor
- Fish & Chips: Hot, flaky, locally caught and crispy goodness – with golden fried chips cooked to perfection – visit Port Erin Chip Shop or Water’s Edge Fish & Chip Shop in Peel, take away to your rental car, or in good weather, a bench over looking the sea, and dig in.
- Manx Kippers: An acquired taste for some, here on the Isle of Man, smoked herring are not just a food, they’re a hereditary art form not to be missed.
- Manx Brew: Both the Okells and Bushy’s breweries can be toured with arrangement and their beers are on offer at nearly every local pub. Taste them because this is beer at its purest; brew laws on Mann allow use of only water, yeast, hops, malt and fruit. Yum.
- Davidson’s Manx Dairy Ice Cream: Grass fed cows produce Manx butter, milk, and double cream. From Chocolate to Butterscotch honeycomb these locally made ice creams melt in the mouth like velvet. Bet you can’t eat just one.
If you’re going to fly from the states, it’s often cheaper to fly into London and hop a Flybe flight from there into Ronaldsway airport. If you’re feeling more adventurous and aren’t prone to seasickness, the Isle of Man Steam Packet operates boats from several different ports throughout the UK.
Text and photos by Signe Pike for PeterGreenberg.com
Signe Pike’s travel-memoir Faery Tale earned a “Best of 2010” nod from Kirkus Reviews in addition to receiving glowing reviews from Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s Adventure Magazine, and renowned spiritual leader Marianne Williamson. Pike has been featured on National Public Radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge” along with Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, and A.S. Byatt. Visit her website at www.signepike.com
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: North Wales
- British Isles section
- Finding Good Travel Deals in Pricey London, England
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide Edinburgh, Scotland