Posted 27th Nov 2017
The breathtaking Isle of Man is brimming with stunning natural beauty, an abundance of wildlife, wonderful artisans and a wealth of fascinating history, all waiting to be discovered beyond its modest shores
In the shadows of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales lies a kingdom at the heart of the Irish Sea, where deep glens, rocky coves and lofty hills are hugged by sparkling turquoise waters hidden beneath the misty cloak of its great sea god and protector, Manannan. Shielding its boundless beauty from unwanted visitors, it’s easy to see why this enchanting isle has long been kept a secret, for a bounty of natural splendour awaits within its sea-bound shores.
The Isle of Man, or Ellan Vannin as it’s known in its native tongue, is a magical island, stretching for just 33 miles, and 13 miles across, yet with a big story to tell. Rich in wonders, the self-governed island has a unique personality and varied landscape that can seem a world apart from its neighbouring countries, from its tail-less cats and four-horned sheep to its famous TT races and unique Gaelic language, there’s plenty to uncover. From the moment you step foot on the island – reachable by the Isle of Man Steam Packet ferry, or via a short flight – you’re sure to hear a tale or two from one of its intriguing storytellers, keen to share more on the island’s rich myths and legends. Superstitious locals will tell you from the off to respect Man’s abundant fairies who live underground, and never to utter the word ‘r-a-t’ (they prefer long-tails) for it will bring a slew of bad luck – and a few stern looks!
The Isle of Man is a haven for lovers of the great outdoors and has been recognised for its bucolic natural beauty when it was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco last year – one of only six in Britain – praising the rich biodiversity of its landscape, from its breathtaking waterfalls and verdant glens to important peat reserves and costal plains, while its waters are home to the likes of precious basking sharks, European eels and Atlantic cod. Though the island has been inhabited since before 6500 BC, it has remained unspoiled and some of its most dramatic vistas can be admired on the 95-mile coastal path, Raad ny Foillan, or The Way of the Gull, that encircles the island, where views of golden sandy bays, pretty ports, quaint sea-front cottages and soaring cliffs can be relished by experienced walkers. And you won’t get far before crossing an ancient stone, fortress or historic home or two, left behind by the warriors and pioneers of a bygone era. By nightfall inky black skies are punctuated with millions of twinkling stars treating its visitors to a wonder of astronomical delights, with 26 official Dark Sky Discovery Sites dotted around the island from which to catch glimpses of the Milky Way and even the Northern Lights at the right time of year.
There is a real sense of being somewhere different when visiting this gem of the British Isles, where life takes a slower pace yet there is no shortage of activities to do. History, spectacular scenery and wildlife is crammed within its 227 square miles, while almost half the island has been left uncultivated, leaving an awe-inspiring, natural landscape perfect for exploring on foot. No two sides of the island are the same – the flatter north is rich in agriculture and boasts long stretches of sandy beaches while the island’s heart is made up of dramatic heathery hills and dazzling plantlife, and over in the south you will find rocky cliffs, charming fishing villages and sheltered bays, with a smattering of smaller islands around its shores, including the Calf of Man, a beautiful islet off the south-west coast, home to a fantastic nature reserve and bird observatory.
It’s not just the island’s topography that makes it stand out. As a Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man is not in fact part of the UK, it is instead governed by Tynwald, considered to be the oldest continuous parliament in the world, dating back for more than 1,000 years, giving the Isle of Man a strong sense of independence. First established by the Vikings, Tynwald still observes the Norse tradition of a ceremony held in summer where new laws are proclaimed. The island’s intriguing history doesn’t end there, for it also boasts its own national emblem – the famous Three Legs of Man, known officially as a triskelion, which graces the national flag and local currency. Manx heritage is rooted in Celtic, Viking and maritime culture and legend has it that the Isle of Man’s name came from the Celtic god Manannan Mac Lir, who was Lord of the Sea and the Isle of Man was his throne, which he would protect with a cloak of mist in times of trouble.
Manannan is still the island’s greatest storyteller and inside the House of Manannan Museum in Peel, journey through time with Manannan at the helm as he retells stories of the island’s colourful past. Set inside the old railway station, discover a life-sized reconstruction of a Celtic roundhouse, join the crew of the Odin’s Raven Viking longship, or take in the sights and smells of a Manx kipper yard, coming face to face with characters from the past as you explore. The immersive experience promises fun for every age, with touchscreen activities, short films and eye-catching displays designed to transport you back in time – don’t miss a visit to the reconstructed Peel quayside in 1891, where you can eavesdrop on the conversations of locals as they discuss the superstitions of the fisherfolk.
Peel itself is a picturesque Manx fishing port with hundreds of years of marine heritage etched into its cobbled streets. The imposing ruins of Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle nestles on a peninsula at the tip of the town, dominating the landscape just a stone’s throw from the last traditional kipper curing yard, where oak-fired, chimney smoked kippers are produced beside the River Neb. Be sure to wander the pathway around the perimeter of the castle, where you might just catch a glimpse of seals playing in the surf, or of an impressive basking shark between May and August, as Peel is one of the best places in the British Isles to see the world’s second largest fish from the shore. Explore its charming harbour and watch the daily catch come in before savouring a taste of it inside Filbey’s Bistro on the East Quay. Overlooking the peaceful harbour, Filbey’s boasts the freshest Manx produce, all home-made on the premises. For starters, locally-caught, meaty king scallops are not to be missed, pan fried with smoked bacon, apple and samphire. Main courses are just as tempting, with the likes of fillet steak from Ballahig Farm served with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms, cannon of Manx lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and a rosemary jus, or a platter of delicious local seafood, piled high with scallops, sea bass, razor clams and king prawns, steeped in lashings of garlic and herb butter sauce. If you can save room for a pudding then do, as offerings include creamy cheesecakes, a chocolate and espresso mousse and sublime local ice cream.
Just next door, The Creek Inn offers a lively local in which to share a nightcap or two after dinner. The cosy pub is well loved on the island and offers plenty of snugs to hunker down in with a pint of locally brewed Okell’s ale in hand. A wood panelled interior decorated with whimsical maritime memorabilia, beautiful paintings and old photographs, with views over the marina, makes for a wonderful setting, with plenty of outdoor seating to watch the sun set over Peel on a warm night. In summer make the most of lighter evenings and wander up the grassy ridge just opposite the castle, towards Corrin’s Hill. It’s a steep climb but well worth it for the breathtaking views and variety of wild flowers in bloom at this time of year. If you have time, keep walking until you reach Corrin’s Tower, a 50ft monument built by Thomas Corrin in the early 1800s as a memorial to his wife and child. Though you can’t freely enter the tower, the panoramic vistas around it are stunning – don’t forget your camera!
There are a wealth of fresh air activities to enjoy on the island, including spectating at the world-famous TT Races. This year taking place from 27th May to 9th June, TT (Tourist Trophy) season is a very busy time on the island and if you intend to go, make sure you book accommodation well in advance as the exhilarating races can attract in excess of 40,000 visitors. Dating back to 1907, the prestigious races offer a spectacle like no other, held on a 37 and three quarter mile circuit known as the Snaefell Mountain course, littered with vantage points to watch from. But, there’s more than just the TT races to get adrenalin pumping on the Isle of Man. Why not see the sights with the wind in your hair aboard a thrilling Segway instead? A choice of Segway Safaris with Segway Isle of Man offers the chance to view the island from a new perspective, whether gliding through the forest, zipping along the promenade or zooming up and down golden sands. The two-wheeled transporter is built for fun, is easy to use and is great for the whole family, suitable for ages 10 and up. Stop and admire views of the island’s beautiful forests as you glide along South Barrule, the highest hill in the south of the Isle of Man, before heading inside for cake and a cuppa to warm up.
Don't miss part two of our fascinating series, looking into the breathtaking Isle of Man.
Photos courtesy of iStock, Isle of Man Tourism, Muck Buck and Ron Strathdee