Posted 29th 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
While in the south of the island, don’t miss a visit to the picturesque coastal town of Castletown – the ancient capital of Man. Uncover the turbulent history of Manx politics as you explore, heading inside the Old House of Keys, the former home of the Manx Parliament, where animated portraits and models bring the debating chamber to life, inviting visitors to participate. At the heart of the town find Castle Rushen, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, originally built for a Norse king in around 1200 AD, it is today open to ponder its rooms and hear from its past inhabitants, while some mesmerising views can be enjoyed from the ramparts. A stone’s throw from the town lies the perfect spot for lunch after a busy morning. Café Bar Two-Six perches on its own rocky outcrop in Derbyhaven, overlooking the beautiful briny on three sides, with the airport as its backdrop, and offers a quaint restaurant in which to enjoy simply cooked, local produce. Chef Sean heads up the kitchen cooking up the likes of moules marinière or prawn and chorizo skewers with vine-ripened cherry tomatoes for starters, while mouth-watering mains include local king scallops wrapped in proscuitto, dressed crab with lemon and a tangy seafood sauce, and succulent loin of lamb. Lamb is a local delicacy on the island, with their own native Manx Loaghtan breed given Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. The rare breed sheep are recognisable for their dark brown wool and four curled horns, while its meat is dark in colour and naturally low in fat and cholesterol, with a distinct gamey flavour. Another gem of the island’s abundant larder is Manx Queenies. The small queen scallops are fished around the island’s waters and are delicious eaten raw or cooked, and have a delicate, sweet flavour.
The Isle of Man boasts a rich harvest of local fare to get your teeth into, in fact the island is a treasure trove for locally produced food and drink. Proud to live off the land and make use of the island’s abundant produce, you won’t travel far before stumbling upon the likes of the Apple Orphanage, where innovative couple Charlotte Traynor and Will Faulds run a fruit exchange, taking surplus fruits and unwanted produce from the island to turn into freshly pressed juice or cider, while over at The Dairy Shed find scrumptious extra thick farm-made yogurts using milk from their own herd of Ayrshire cows. In Ballasalla, uncover the story of Peter Birch, a passionate local who specialises in making fudge using cream and butter from the Isle of Man Creamery. After retiring Peter began experimenting with making fudge in his kitchen at home, inspired as fudge was imported to the island at the time. Using his extensive food knowledge he went on to sell his sweet confection at local farmer’s markets. Soon his delicious fudge was so popular he was able to set up his own unit on the Balthane Industrial Estate and The Original Manx Fudge Factory was born. Working at his 120-year-old confectioner’s table, Peter hand pulls and makes wonderful toffees, Manx knobs – similar to a mint humbug, hand-made chocolates and an array of fudge flavours, including local honey fudge, scrumptious cherry bakewell and creamy milk chocolate. A visit to the factory shop offers the chance to pick up a souvenir or two and sample some fudge as you watch the sugary treat made before your very eyes. But, perhaps there is no producer more passionate on making the most of the Isle of Man’s quality produce than Miles Pettit, founder of the wonderful Noa Bakehouse.
Swapping a career in special effects for baking bread, Miles moved back to the island just a few years ago to pursue a better quality of life for raising a family. Having helped out at the E5 Bakehouse in East London, he was inspired to revive the artisan traditions of bread making on the island, and set up a bakery of his own specialising in sourdough breads. In the island’s capital and hub for shopping, Douglas, find the Noa Bakehouse a stone’s throw from the promenade, inside a light and airy warehouse. Find an open bakery at the heart of the café, a coffee shop where Miles roasts his own single origin beans, and patisserie emitting wonderful aromas as their famous sourdough croissants bake after taking a long three days to make – though are well worth the wait! Keen to support his community, Miles opens the café for local events and heads up the island’s Food Assembly, a local project giving small businesses the chance to sell their produce online via the Assembly, before it’s collected at a fortnightly community event. Almost all of the ingredients used at the bakehouse are sourced locally, including flour from Laxey Glen Mills who recently adapted their machinery and processors in order to mill the only non-wheat flour in the last 150 years, grown as an experiment by a local farmer, which is then turned into a delicious rye loaf at the bakehouse. All of his wonderful loaves can be purchased at the bakehouse shop, while the likes of gourmet cheese on sourdough toast can be savoured in the café.
If your tummy is rumbling then be sure to pay a visit to the Cook Shack at Glentruan Cottage, where exuberant foodie Georgie Revill runs Vivaldi Catering courses, teaching students how to turn delicious Manx produce into tasty dishes to try at home. Based in the beautiful gorse laden foothills of Bride, overlooking the flat plains of the Ayres and shimmering Irish Sea, the Cook Shack is nestled in the garden of the family’s cottage and offers a traditional Aga to cook a variety of cuisines on. Passionate cook and entertainer extraordinaire, Georgie, shares her talent with groups of up to 10, who join together around the large kitchen island to cook, producing vibrant dishes to be eaten over bucolic views. Home-grown produce and local flour, dairy, meat and vegetables fill the Cook Shack’s larder, where courses for the whole family include vibrant veggies, bread making and exotic cooking, rustling up everything from hand-rolled sushi and freshly baked loaves using local Laxey Glen Mills flour, to mouthwatering pink rose meringues and mango and lime ice cream for dessert. If you’ve got the day to spare, then book on to a Manx Plough to Plate experience including a tour of local Smeale Farm before tuition and lunch in the Cook Shack, offering the rare chance to follow food on its journey from field to fork.
Smeale Farm is a cherished Manx family farm with history dating back to the 1500s, today run by brothers and sixth generation farmers Chris and Steve Martin, and Steve’s wife Beth, whose family have lived at Smeale since 1824, while their ancestors farmed much of the land from as far back as 1515. The 350-acre working sheep and cereal farm is set within an award-winning conservation area overlooking the Ayres National Nature Reserve and sea to the north, surrounded by rolling hills, abundant wildlife and littered with historic beech stone outbuildings, some dating back to the 16th Century. The traditional farm is open for prebooked tours to go behind the scenes and discover how cereal and crops for animal feed are grown and harvested, as well as the chance to meet some of their 450 breeding ewes and cuddle a newly born lamb. Donning borrowed wellies, head off to discover the blue peas, oats and barley growing in the fields, as well as wheat for Laxey flour, before taking in the familiar smells in the barn. Learn how flour is milled and taste a home-made flapjack before heading for a ramble through the orchard and across the wildlife conservation area, wading through marram dunes and expansive heaths all the while listening out for the burbling call of a curlew or striking sight of a diving gannet.
As you explore the north of the island you might take a second glance as you glimpse what appears to be a miniature kangaroo hopping through the bushes. Don’t worry, your eyes haven’t deceived you, the creatures are in fact wild wallabies, descendants of two wildlife park escapees who absconded into the countryside back in the 1970s. Normally attuned to the warmer climes of Australia, the animals have flourished on the Isle of Man, with what is thought to be in excess of 100 living in the wild, grazing the grasslands of the North-West. Deep in the patchwork of woodlands, old hay meadows and wet grasslands encompassing remnants of an ancient lake that make up Ballaugh Curragh, meet the Manx Bard, John Dog Callister, for a spot of wallaby watching at dusk. A local expert and craftsman, John spent many years working for the Manx National Heritage and knows the wetlands of the Curragh like the back of his hand. Follow John bimbling along winding country lanes until you reach the Close Sartfield Nature Reserve, where wallabies often congregate and a score of wild flowers can be spotted from May, including beautiful native orchids. Hear folktales as you wander the small woodland, where John stops and speaks in hushed tones as he points out fairy ears growing on a nearby elder tree. The deserted agricultural fields are a silent haven on the island, with few people seen walking here, offering plenty of opportunities to spot a wallaby as you step quietly through the landscape with only birdsong for company.
Don't miss part three of our fascinating series, looking into the breathtaking Isle of Man.
Photos courtesy of Isle of Man Tourism, Natalie Crofts, Allan Brown, Alamy