Our Days on Isle of Man
Updated: Feb 21, 2020
Day 1, September 21, 2019—Arriving, Douglas, Laxey, and Snaefell Mountain
Flying into the Isle of Man we got our first glimpse of this green, and also rainy, island. The island experiences a huge surge of visitors during the TT motorcycle race, but we visited in mid-September to see the home of some of my ancestors. We arrived at Ronaldsway Airport, located in the south of the Island in Ballasalla, near Castletown, after a short Aer Lingus flight from Dublin. We had asked our hotel to arrange a taxi to pick us up, so we had the opportunity to learn more about the island on our way to our hotel in Douglas. Our driver, originally from England, had come to the Isle of Man for a year and stayed…31 years. He stopped at the fairy bridge so we could greet the fairies with, “Hello, fairies,” and not fall victim to the fairies’ ill will.
We dropped our luggage at our hotel, the Halvard Hotel, and began our first day of exploring. The Halvard is located on the Loch promenade and convenient to everything. Even the road construction in front of the hotel couldn’t damper the attractiveness of the building.
The Halvard was beautiful as we entered, and we continued to be charmed and impressed as our three nights unfolded. When we returned to the hotel, we were assigned to one of the most beautiful rooms in which we have ever stayed. Our hugely spacious room overlooked the promenade and the Douglas Bay. Two chairs and a table were arranged in front of the large bay window inviting us to sit, read a book, and have a cup of tea or glass of wine. The bathroom had a beautiful bathtub and shower with the shower controls located outside of the shower, so visitors don’t get drenched while trying to adjust the temperature. The waterfall faucets on the twin sinks are LED lit to show red when hot water is running and blue when the water is cold. The room was so comfortable that we were tempted to forego sightseeing and just bask in the luxuriousness of the room. (One person shared that he was from Poland and had made the Isle of Man home now, a recurring theme during our stay of people coming from throughout the world to this small, friendly speck of land that offers opportunities.)
Travel guides about the Isle of Man are extremely limited. The Manx website, www.visitisleofman.com, was very helpful and reading blogs of fellow travelers was an inspiration.
The public transportation system on the island is historic, fun and efficient so, determined to try the system in all its forms, our first agenda item was to catch the Manx electric train to Laxey. Finding the terminus, located on the promenade, was easy—thanks to the huge “ELECTRIC RAILWAY” sign on the cliffs above it. (Think Hollywood-size signage!) Unfortunately, we missed the train by “that much” so we enjoyed a beer and fish cakes at the Terminus Tavern while waiting on the next one. The train system was built between 1893 and 1899 when the island was in its heyday of U.K. tourism. The train is the longest narrow gauge vintage electric railway system in the British Isles, and two of the trams are the oldest regularly operated tram cars in the world. (We bought the three-day Go Explore Card which saved money and made catching the various modes of transportation easier. Schedules are available online and in brochure form. Check them carefully.)
At Laxey we switched to the Snaefell Mountain Railway to reach the top of Snaefell, the tallest mountain on the island. Even though the day was clear in Laxey, the day was very different at the top! On a clear day, you can see the seven kingdoms: Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the kingdoms of Heaven; however, when we visited, there was a haze and the wind was blowing so hard that we spent most of our time in the coffee shop in a queue to catch the next tram back to Laxey before we and the coffee shop blew away. (Not literally but it certainly felt like it!) You can hike up the mountain, but we were trying to see as much of the island as possible and have time for relaxing, so we didn’t choose this option.
Back in Laxey, the wind was at a normal level, so we walked to the Great Laxey Wheel, the largest working waterwheel in the world. Climbing to the top of the wheel gives great views of the area. The waterwheel was built in 1854 to pump water out of the nearby lead and zinc mines which we visited next. Thankfully, to enter the mine requires wearing hard hats, important with dripping water and low ceilings! We wandered around the beautiful valley before catching the train back to Douglas. (Buy the Holiday Pass Card before visiting any of the sites on the island. Even though we were only staying 3 days, we saved by purchasing the 14-day pass.)
For dinner, we walked down the promenade to the Italian Job, a casual Italian restaurant in a small shopping mall. We had pasta carbonara and lasagna with salads and wine. Even with its diner-like décor, the place had a cozy atmosphere with good service and prices.
Everywhere we saw the symbol of the Isle of Man, the three-legged symbol has different legends and meanings, but the one I like most is, “Whichever way you throw me, I shall stand.”
Day 2, September 22, 2019—Peel
The next morning, we managed to peel (pun intended) ourselves away from our hotel room to visit Peel on the west side of the island. We caught Bus #5 which passed Tynwald, the outdoor site of the original Viking legislative meetings and the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence. (Iceland’s parliament does not still meet at the same location in which it began.) The bus dropped us off at a central location. Our first stop was Peel Castle which comes with an informative audio guide that shares the history of the castle and the legend of the Black Dog, the Moddey Dhoo. The hauntingly beautiful ruins are on St. Patrick’s Island although the bridge which now links the island to the mainland makes it difficult to realize that they are separated by water. Peel Castle began as a place of worship then became a fort under the Viking King of Man Magnus Barelegs in the 11th century. As we walked through the site, we visited ruins from the 10th and 11th centuries as well as the 13th century underground crypt of the Cathedral of St. German. Other ruins reflect the ongoing use of the well-situated place as we walked around the 16th century hall.
We took a break from the persistent mist for lunch at the Harbor Light Café, a cozy restaurant with soups, sandwiches, a few mains, and traditional tea. (Their desserts looked amazing!) Service was very friendly and provided a welcoming, warm atmosphere. We started our meal with Queenies, special scallops that are the national dish of the Isle of Man, and a steak and mushroom pie, both of which were wonderful. At the end of the meal we visited with an interesting couple from England. The woman grew up on the island and remembered her brother rowing her to Peel Castle and then, when she wasn’t looking, leaving her stranded! The gentleman was a Dutch/Portuguese Jew born in Suriname. He was a singer who once sang with Nat King Cole when Cole was in Venezuela.
We visited the House of Manannan which is a great interactive museum for both adults and children. In excellent movies, Manannan, the Viking god of the sea, shares the history of the island in an educational and informative manner. The three-story museum lets visitors walk through a Celtics roundhouse, peer into and listen to the conversation of a Celtic-Viking couple, and see the Odin’s Raven, the Viking longboat re-creation that sailed between Norway and Isle of Man in 1979 to celebrate the millennium of Tynwald.
We returned to Douglas via the very prompt bus system. The Peel bus stop happened to be near the Peel Cathedral Church of Saint German that was filled with a sense of community as parishioners visited and enjoyed time together on this Sunday afternoon.
After the comfortable bus ride back to Douglas and a short break at our hotel, we attempted to find a place to eat. (Warning: Most restaurants are not open on Sunday evening. They have big brunches instead!) We ended up at Barbary Coast which is similar in atmosphere to an American Red Lobster. We enjoyed our meal of unusual fried shrimp encased in wonton wrappers, hummus, olives, and a feta and grilled peach salad washed down with wine, of course!
Day 3, September 23, 2019—Castletown and Port Erin
The next morning, we headed to Castletown via steam train to visit Castle Rushen which was built for a Viking (Norse) king around 1200 AD but was added and changed through the 1600s. The Castle has had many uses in addition to that of a fortress and royal residence. The displays within the castle show its life as a mint and as a prison. (I looked up my ancestors on the prison’s database when I got home. Over 150 of my family members spent time as residents of the jail, mostly for debt, public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.) The castle exhibits are interesting and the visit, like most of the sites we visited on the island, allow visitors to roam wherever they wish.
After our visit to Castle Rushen, we walked across the street to the old House of Keys, the former home of the Manx Parliament before we enjoyed a quiet, leisurely lunch of tapas at The Garrison down the street.
So far, we had taken a taxi, the electric train, a bus, so next we caught the steam engine to Port Erin at the southern end of the island where we visited the railroad museum and hiked part of a gentle path to Milner’s Tower on the beautiful coastal cliffsides. Although there were many options for sightseeing from Port Erin, we decided to catch the steam engine back to Douglas which proved to be a good decision since it started raining as soon as we got back on the train. (I wish we had seen the Calf of Man, an island off the southern coast, but maybe another trip?)
We arrived in Douglas and trudged through the rain to our hotel for a little drying break before going to dinner at Wine Down, an excellent wine bar with great tapas-style food. Our server was from Bulgaria and explained that IOM has a large Bulgarian population, another example of people coming to the island for a better life. We dined on paella with queenies and langoustine, three dips, and duck spring rolls accompanied by a Trentham Cabernet Sauvignon. The delicious dinner, excellent service and a warm environment made the evening special and gave us the fortitude to go outside and swim back to our hotel.
Day 4, September 24, 2019—Douglas and We’re Off…
The next morning brought more rain, but the Manx Museum was not far from the hotel, so after checkout, we headed there. The museum had an informative movie and very good displays about the Isle of Man. Although much of the information was the same as the House of Manannan, this museum included more recent history. We wanted to visit the genealogy portion of the museum, but it was closed. However, all was not lost! Isle of Man has an extensive database that can be accessed worldwide (imuseum.im). Based on a quick search of my maiden name, I’ve found over 20,000 Cains from the island, so I guess the 150 Cains who were imprisoned in the Castle Rushen jail aren’t a significant percentage!
We enjoyed Wine Down so much that we broke one of our rules and ate there again, this time for lunch where we had tomato and avocado bruschetta, cheese soufflé, and olives, before returning to The Halvard, gathering our luggage, and taking the taxi to the ferry terminal where we boarded the Isle of Man Steam Pack Manannan ferry for our three-hour trip to Liverpool. (We could have walked to the terminal, but the rain had made the construction a mess.) I had gotten tickets online several months before and, therefore, saved money and had gotten excellent seats. The ferry holds 850 passengers and crew and 200 vehicles and was very pleasant despite the bumpy ride.
During our stay on the Isle of Man we experienced the major modes of transportation, except for the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway, and had a great time exploring. Would we go back? Yes, there are still items on my list we didn’t visit, and the pace of the island encourages visitors (including me!) to relax, read a book, drink a cup of tea or glass of wine, and take in the scenery.