Isle of Man
Impressions from a two week visit in August 2018
Isle of Man is a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea in view of
Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It is 30 miles long and 1o miles
wide at its widest point. The central mountain mass is bisected by the
Central valley. Snaefell is the highest mountain at just over 2000’.
North and South Barrule are lower but with their poor soils and
windswept bare sides feel a lot higher.
Cultivation is not profitable above 600’ and their are the remains of ruined farmstead (tholtans) on the mountain sides. These are not pulled down as according to Manx folk lore, they remain the homes of the ‘little people’.
These were originally single storey two room buildings with a thatch roof, like those seen at Cregneash and in other places around the island. It was a hard life dependent on fishing, subsistence agriculture, weaving and mining or quarrying.
The mountain sides are cut into by swift flowing streams forming steep sided glens. Many of these were opened up by enterprising landowners encouraged by the boom in tourism at the end of the C19th. With the decline in tourism in the mid C20th many of the glens were bought by the Government. They provide attractive walking for visitors.
The glens contain natural deciduous woodland. Mountain sides are often planted with commercial forest.
At the north and south of the island are much flatter. The north is made up of glacial deposits and the low cliffs are subject to rapid erosion by the sea.
The south of the island is fertile agricultural land with arable and dairy farms with some sheep. Fields are surrounded by hedges, often with fuchsia
Traditionally, crofters kept Loaghtan sheep which were ideally suited to the poor rough grazing. These fell out of favour in the C19th and were replaced by the Scottish Blackface sheep. With their four horns, they are now increasingly seen around the island for the quality of their and flavour of their meat.
The rapid growth in tourism at the end of the C19th lead to the rapid development of towns with their rows of large hotels along the sea front. Small fishing settlements like Port Erin with its huge sandy bay soon developed into a major Holiday resort.
Tourism declined in the 1960s with the advent of cheap foreign holidays and many hotels closed down or were turned into flats.
The Isle of Man may have fallen off the holiday radar for many people but is now being resdicovered as an ideal holiday base with good ferry and air connections. The island retains its unspoilt 1050s charm and has a lot to recommend it from superb coastal scenery to some quite serious mountains. It is also good for wildlife with sightings of basking sharks, dolphin and seals.
It has a range of good walking from long distance footpaths like the Raad ny Foillan (the coastal footpath), the Millennium Way and Bayr Ny Skeddan (the Herring Route). There are also good walks in the many glens around the island. The OS Landranger Map number 95 at a scale of 1:50,000 map marks many footpaths and bridleways that make good walking. It is much better than the Isle of Man Survey Outdoor Leisure Map at a scale of 1:25,000.
The history of the island extends back to the stone age with stone circles.
Early Christian Missionaries left the remains of tiny keeils scattered around the island along with crosses marking burial sites. The Vikings arrived, bringing their system of government with them. The Tynwald is the oldest parliament in the world and still meets on Tynwald Hill every year.
St Patrick’s Isle is the site of the original cathedral and was later fortified as a castle. Castle Rushen is possibly the best preserved Medieval castle in Europe.
The now ruined Rushen Abbey was once the centre of learning for the island and the Bishop was the most powerful man after the King of Mann. It is a lovely spot to drop out on a warm sunny day.
The island was very prosperous in the c19th with a thriving herring industry and kippers are still smoked traditionally in Peel. large deposits of lead were discovered and the Great Laxey Mine with its massive waterwheel, supplied lead for water pipes and roofs across the United Kingdom.
The remains of smaller mines can still be found around the island.
Transport links around the island developed rapidly in response to the rapid growth in tourism at the end of the C19th. Although the Douglas to Peel railway line and the St John’s to Ramsey lines have closed, the Douglas to Port Erin line survives. With its original locos and carriages it is popular with modern visitors.
The ever popular horse trams run along the promenade to the terminus of the the Manx Electric Railway.
Running from Douglas to Laxey and Ramsey, the Manx Electric Railway runs through some of the best scenery on the island and also provides a link to the Snaefell Mountain Railway as well as the Groudle Glen Railway.
This was built built as a Victorian tourist attraction carrying visitors to see sea lions and polar bears kept in enclosures at the base of the cliffs, still runs although the animals are no longer there.
A modern fleet of buses runs a regular service between the main towns and villages starting early in the morning and ending late at night. You don’t need a car to explore. The popular Go Explore cards are excellent value and allow free travel around the island on buses and railways.
We first visited the island in 1997. We'd been talking about visiting for several years so expectations were high and there is always the risk of being disappointed. We took the overnight sailing from Heysham and I'll always remember my first sight of the island around 4.30 on a crystal clear morning. It was a magical sight and the the island sparkled in the sunshine. There was a slight cloud cover on top of Snaefell hiding the gubbins on the top. Twenty plus years later, it is still magic.
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