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A whistle stop trip to the Isle of Man

As a child, I loved to stand on the pier in Warrepoint, Northern Ireland to watch the cruise ferry take its annual trip to the Isle of Man. Since then I’ve always wanted to visit.

It might have taken me 41 years to visit the Isle of Man but oh wow it didn’t disappoint.

I’ve no idea why I’ve not visited this rugged island before now. It’s quite strange how time escapes us and those things we want to do never get done! I’m so pleased I’ve ticked off another destination from my bucket list. The only problem is now I can’t wait to return to discover more - and at a more leisurely pace!

Known for its rugged coastline, rolling hills and the famous TT motorbike race, this island in the Irish Sea, nestled between Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, offers so much.

The island is only 33 miles long by 13.5 miles wide and is filled with natural beauty. It's the only entire nation that is a member of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

I visited the island as part of a work trip but managed to see quite a lot in a short time, thanks to the lovely Bunty, a local taxi driver.

On a very wet Wednesday evening, I landed into the small terminal, collected my luggage and proceeded to go in search of a taxi! Well this was easier said than done as all taxis were pre-booked. I went to the information desk who assisted - they were shocked that Bunty on their first call was only 10 minutes away. Hurrah - I had transport.

On the journey to my hotel, Bunty and I chatted, and it was soon apparent that he was the font of all things Manx. Being a believer in fate, I knew it was meant to be that we met and I enlisted him as my guide around the island.

It was mid March and the season was not quite in full swing. I examined the train timetables and was delighted that I would be able to fit in a train each day based on their reduced opening times.

Here's my itinerary...

Day 1 (Thursday)

I woke to a very foggy, drizzly morning and was picked up from my hotel at 11:30 - I was staying at The Comis Golf & Spa Hotel. This is where my event was taking place. Whilst it’s on the outskirts of Douglas, it is on the bus route. I headed to Douglas for a look around before getting the electric train.

Douglas is set along a vast sandy beach and has two quirky roundabouts at either end. I hung out with some icons of screen and stage Norman Wisdom, The Bee Gees & George Formby.

At one end of the promenade is the ferry terminal, The Gaiety Theatre, the Villa Marina (gardens and venue for events) and a small shopping centre; and at the other end, there is the electric railway. The tram and horse drawn train are also in between.

The Manx Electric Railway travels between Douglas and Ramsey and is an interurban tramway built between 1893 and 1899.

Due to my time restrictions, I got off at Lexy and was met by Bunty. Whilst my journey was short, we passed some lovely scenery. I felt like I’d stepped back in time to a simpler pace of life.

Lexy is home to the largest working water wheel in the world. It used to pump water to assist the mines. Isle of Man tartan is also produced here and there’s even a flour mill dating back to 1860.

Next stop was Peel. On route, we travelled along part of the TT course - alas only at 30-40 mph rather than 170-200! I’m in awe of the drivers as some of the roads are quite meandering.

We also passed Slieu Whallian, the hill where suspected witches were rolled down in a spiked barrel to check if they were indeed witches. If they died, guess what? They weren't a witch!

Peel is a fishing village and home to the best ice cream and the island's famous smoked kippers. (Sadly, I can’t comment on the kippers as I was so full from breakfast but the Davison’s ice cream was indeed delicious).

The streets in Peel are quite narrow and I’m pleased I wasn’t driving. There's also a castle, harbour and a beach, which was awash with scallop/ queenie shells!

Alas my time of discovery for day 1 was at an end and we headed back to the hotel as after all I was visiting for work and had a travel agent event to attend.

Day 2 (Friday)

After another huge breakfast at the Comis Hotel, I checked out ready to pick up my adventure and discovery of the Isle of Man.

My first stop was the steam train. There’s something earthy, real and exciting about travelling on a stream train. I was travelling on a piece of 150 year history. It was such an exhilarating journey through stunning scenery. The wind, smoke and ash hit my face as I leant out of the window. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop.

The steam train runs between Douglas and Port Erin. It’s a Victorian steam railway – the longest narrow-gauge steam line in Britain, recognised as the inspiration for Wilbert Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine. As we travelled along, I could hear the engine singing I think I can I think I can (lovers of Thomas the Tank Engine will understand lol).

Alas I departed early as wanted to discover so much of the island and time was limited as I’d a late afternoon flight to catch.

My journey ended in Castletown where I waved off my train akin to that of the railway children. The station at Castletown was like something from a period drama.

Bunty took me on a tour of the town and we stopped at Hango Hill. The last hanging was in 1976 but hanging wasn’t abolished until 1993 when you could still be sentenced to hanging, unless the Home Secretary asked for a pardon. At this time, whipping by birch was also stopped.

Castletown is aptly named as it has a castle (Castle Rushen, a medieval castle). It also has a harbour and, yep, more narrow streets.

On route to Port St Mary we visited Cregneash, a village owned by Manx National Heritage as part of a living village with thatched cottages and farm animals.

Port St Mary is a small but busy yacht harbour with fishing and sailing boats, and a sheltered beach.

We then headed to The Sound, the most southerly point over looking the Calf of Man, a small island just off the Isle of Man.

My last stop was Port of Erin, a seaside town and supposedly home to the best fish and chips. Alas my breakfast was yet again too big so I didn’t get to sample. That and I’ve got to keep some things for my next visit!

On a clear day, you can see the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland - for me it would have been a little glimpse of home.

I can guarantee you it won’t be another 41 years until my next visit...


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