The Isle of Man, almost equidistant from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, is one of the most beautiful spots in Britain, a mountainous, cliff-fringed island just 33 miles by thirteen. There’s peace and quiet in abundance, walks around the unspoilt hundred-mile coastline, rural villages and steam trains straight out of a 1950s picture book – a yesteryear ensemble if ever there was one.
Many true Manx inhabitants, who comprise a shade under fifty percent of its 80,000 population, insist that the Isle of Man is not part of England, nor even of the UK. Indeed, although a Crown dependency, the island has its own government, Tynwald, arguably the world’s oldest democratic parliament, which has run continuously since 979 AD. To further complicate matters, the island maintains a unique associate status in the EU, and also has its own sterling currency (worth the same as the mainland currency), its own laws, an independent postal service, and a Gaelic-based language which is taught in schools and seen on dual-language road signs.
All roads lead to the capital, Douglas, the only town of any size. From the summit of Snaefell, the island’s highest peak, you get an idea of the island’s varied scenery, the finest parts of which are to be found in the seventeen officially designated National Glens. Most of these are linked by the 100-mile Raad Ny Foillan (Road of the Gull) coastal footpath, which passes several of the island’s numerous hill forts, Viking ship burials and Celtic crosses. Scenery aside, the main tourist draw is the TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle races (held in the two weeks around the late May bank holiday), a frenzy of speed and burning rubber that’s shattered the island’s peace annually since 1907.Read More
The Calf of Man
The Calf of Man
It is worth making the effort to visit the Calf of Man, a craggy, heath-lined nature reserve lying off the southwest tip of the Isle of Man, where resident wardens monitor the seasonal populations of kittiwakes, puffins, choughs, razorbills, shags, guillemots and others, and grey seals can be seen all year round basking on the rocks.
Charter boats leave from Port St Mary, but the most reliable scheduled service (weather permitting) is from Port Erin pier; call in advance as numbers are limited and weather conditions affect schedules. You can also sea kayak around this spectacular coast. Adventurous Experiences run trips from evening paddles to full-day excursions – no experience is required.
The trans-island A1 follows a deep twelve-mile-long furrow between the northern and southern ranges from Douglas to Peel. A hill at the crossroads settlement of ST JOHN’S, nine miles along, is the original site of Tynwald, the ancient Manx government, which derives its name from the Norse Thing Völlr, meaning “Assembly Field”. Nowadays the word refers to the Douglas-based House of Keys and Legislative Council, but acts passed in the capital only become law once they have been proclaimed here on July 5 (ancient Midsummer’s Day) in an annual open-air parliament that also hears the grievances of the islanders.
Until the nineteenth century the local people arrived with their livestock and stayed a week or more – in true Viking fashion – to thrash out local issues, play sports, make marriages and hold a fair. Now Tynwald Day begins with a service in the chapel, followed by a procession, a fair and concerts.