Posted 1st Dec 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
A wallaby sighting in the wild can’t be guaranteed, but if you’re keen to see one up close then pay a visit to Curraghs Wildlife Park where wallabies live alongside a whole host of fascinating animals, from penguins and meerkats to lynx and bats. The Isle of Man’s only zoo, the park is perched at the edge of the Ballaugh Curraghs Site of Special Scientific Interest, and specialises in wetland animals, endangered species, large cats, birds of prey and primates. Follow waymarked paths around the picturesque park to see these animals up close or enjoy a stroll along the nature trail through the Curraghs to spot Manx wildlife. The Isle of Man is one of the best places in the world for exploring nature, from silent moors, waterfalls and fairy bridges to soaring hills, rugged cliffs and its only mountain, Snaefell, reaching over 2,000 feet above sea level. Packing vast natural beauty into its modest size, the Isle of Man is particularly famous for its rich marine life, with the likes of grey seals, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoises and whales regularly seen frolicking around its shores. You might even see a few rumpy and stumpy cats – the two varieties of Manx cat, prowling the countryside.
More of the island’s wildlife can be discovered at the Tynwald National Park and Arboretum, where flocks of ducks greet visitors amongst 25 acres of picturesque countryside. Discover ornamental trees and shrubs amongst the grassy ridges and sparkling ponds of the arboretum, where trees from the 17 Manx Parishes are planted, while further up the hill find a shelter and picnic area with unrivalled views out to sea. If you’d prefer a spot of lunch inside, then head to the family-run Hawthorn just over a mile away. The pubcome- bistro specialises in home-made food, cooked fresh to order and served inside their cosy olde worlde pub or outside on the sunny roof terrace. Tuck into local Manx Queenies served with a garlic, coriander and white wine sauce and crusty bread, a creamy lemon and roasted vegetable risotto, or sumptuous grilled goat’s cheese with a pomegranate dressing to start, while mains such as slowly braised Manx lamb shank with rosemary and mint, a homemade beef burger served in a brioche bun with chunky chips, or baked North Sea cod loin with sautéed vegetables in a dill cream sauce promise to sate your appetite.
Just outside follow the A1 road straight to the island’s capital of Douglas, where you can step back in time aboard the world’s oldest surviving horse-drawn tram, dating back to 1876. The traditional seaside resort boasts a busy working harbour, where the ferry can be caught, and a ride on an electric bike can be had. The Green Wheelers Electric Bike Company offers thrilling electric bicycle tours suitable for any age and ability, picked up from the Sea Terminal in Douglas, while an off-road tour through forests and green lanes is ideal for the more adventurous. If you stumble upon the impressive financial district surrounding Athol Street as you explore, then be sure to pop into the imposing Courthouse bar and restaurant found inside the old Grade II listed former courthouse building. Open all week, you can stop by for a cup of freshly ground coffee, leisurely lunch, cocktail or elegant dinner cooked by one of the Island’s most prestigious and ambitious chefs, James Stubbs, who won Chef of the Year in 2015 while the restaurant has consistently been awarded the Taste Isle of Man Award for their high quality, decadent fare. The unusual menu is made up of two halves; the first combines delicious meats and cheeses from the best artisan producers from the UK and beyond, while the other half focuses on classic British dishes, with the restaurant serious on using the finest ingredients, knowing the individual farms and farmers they source from. Dishes are cooked fresh to order and everything is home-made, even down to the sauces and traditionally-made stocks packed with flavour. With such a large menu you’ll be spoiled for choice, though Greeba Farm’s Manx baby chestnut mushrooms in a garlic, cream and white wine sauce, a warm salad of local Manx Queenies with pancetta, or slow cooked pork belly slices with chargrilled ciabatta slices, make especially mouth-watering starters. For mains choose from Bushy’s Manx beer battered fish with triple cooked chips and home-made pea purée, fishcakes with salmon and fresh Manx crab infused with lemon thyme, chilli and coriander, or a home-made burger made using local steak.
Before you leave Douglas, one stop well worth making to discover more about life on the Isle of Man is the fascinating Manx Museum. Exploring all aspects of the island’s 10,000- year history, from the TT races and wildlife to the story of Tynwald and Vikings, there’s plenty to discover. Take a seat to watch a short film on the island’s colourful history before meandering through galleries set up with interactive displays, fascinating exhibits and a wealth of treasures. You’ll also learn about farming and the crofting way of life, though there’s no better place to truly discover these historic communities than at Cregneash Village in the south of the island. Nestled on an upland plateau in the shadow of Meayll Hill, overlooking the dramatic landscape of the Calf of Man, Cregneash offers the chance to step back in time and wander through a bygone village that was one of the last strongholds of the Manx language and customs which characterised the crofting way of life and today remains a living illustration. Step inside one of the old stone cottages to get a feel for how crofters lived and hear stories of a time gone by. See traditional farming practices and heavy horses in action in the fields, stroke a Manx cat, spy an indigenous Loaghtan sheep or make a bonnag fruit loaf – a round Manx bread cooked on a griddle – in old Harry Kelly’s cottage. Listen to a local storyteller as they bring to life the dark, dank surroundings lit only by a small window and fire loaded with peat bricks. Burning day and night, the fireplace formed the heart of the home where a simple diet of barley, vegetables and a small amount of meat would be cooked in a pot over the flames. A close knit community known as crofters would have lived here in the 19th and early 20th Centuries when times were hard; there was no electricity and food was so scarce that the entire village risked starvation in winter. Harry Kelly himself was a deep sea fisherman who never married, living alone in the cottage until his dying day – the last survivor of the traditional village. Before you leave, take a short drive or walk along Howe Road until you reach the very end, where the most breathtaking views of the Calf of Man can be savoured alongside panoramic sea views.
The Isle of Man is truly an island of discovery, yet lies just under the radar – and a shroud of mist – allowing its diverse landscape to remain unspoiled and its story a secret. A scratch beneath the surface reveals a fascinating heritage, rich marine life, abundant wildlife and a wealth of innovative and inspiring food producers all within its modest shores. It might be small but the Isle of Man boasts extraordinary character, where enduring beauty meets thrilling motor races and pretty fishing villages cross medieval fortresses, making the island a place to be treasured.
Head to www.visitisleofman.com to discover more.
Images courtesy of Isle of Man Tourism, Natalie Crofts, Ron Strathdee