With pristine beaches, flower-filled valleys and charmingly old-fashioned seaside towns, the Isle of Man is an idyllic place to while away summer days
While the Isle of Man may be famous for the motorbike races, it is also a wonderful place to take an idyllic, old-fashioned beach holiday. In summer the island becomes utterly magical, with flora and fauna to impress even the most pernickety nature-lover. There are heather moorlands in its mountainous interior and dramatic valleys with pretty meadows filled with wildflowers. The coastline is among the best you’ll find anywhere, with charming old-fashioned seaside towns like Port Erin and Castletown great places to spend a couple of hours exploring. ‘Old-fashioned’ appears to be the adjective of the day, as steam trains still run here as well as electric trams.
While you’re here you must try the famous Manx kippers for breakfast and Davisons ice cream (made on the island in small batches and with all manner of different flavours from local ingredients). Both items are to be found all around the island at various shops.
I set off for Laxey on my first day here. It is a tiny glen with mines higher up in the village leading through windy roads down to the most breathtakingly beautiful bay. I head over to the Lady Isabella, the huge waterwheel that Laxey is famous for. It began its work of pumping water from depths of up to 2,000 feet below in 1854. Named after the wife of the then governer, it is very impressive, at 75 feet across, with 95 steps to the top of a viewing platform that looks down on the wheel and across the countryside. I am wearing flip flops so my ascent is precarious to say the least but the view is worth risking life and limb.
In the same complex as the wheel, there is a mine entrance that you can walk down with a hard hat on if you’re feeling brave. In the 19th century the lead mines here saw a huge boom, and learning about the lives of the miners makes you fully understand the phrase ‘it’s not like being down the mines’. They would walk up to eight miles in the morning from surrounding villages, climb 45 minutes down the shaft to begin work and then have to climb 45 minutes back up again to begin their walk home!
After the oppressive confines of the mine, it is a pleasure to walk in the sunshine down to the bay and enjoy the unparalleled views of flower-strewn grassy cliffs overlooking sandy stretches of pristine beach. The sea is a brilliant blue and the sky a paler one. Even though it is summer, the shore is not at all crowded and is a stark contrast to the cramped conditions you find on some British beaches.
After a couple of hours sunning myself and going beachcombing, I am a bit exhausted at the thought of walking all the way back to Laxey station, so decide to try and find a smaller station indicated as being on the top of the cliff. I ask a man cleaning his car if he can direct me to that station. ‘Just go to the end of this road,’ he says, ‘and you can wave the tram down to stop for you. They have to stop at crossroads if there is a person who wants to get on.' I look doubtful, having been sprayed by water from a speeding bus several times in London when trying to flag one down two millimetres past the stop. ‘Only Manx folk know that they have to stop. It’s a by-law,’ he says, cheerfully.
Later I find that the tram does indeed stop for me (causing other tourists who had trekked back to the station to give me envious and admiring looks) but also that hardly any Manx folk know of this arcane by-law. Whatever the story, I’m very grateful at having flagged down my ride and I sit at the front of the tram with a fresh breeze in my face and the most stunning coastline out of the window to my left. The sea air is fresh and I wish all journeys were this pleasant. The tram drops me off in Douglas, the capital, where I continue my pleasant journeys theme with a horse tram ride. They certainly know how to travel in style here.
Animal life is a strong feature of the island, with many species that you are unlikely to see elsewhere; they even have wallabies. One of the main creatures you’re likely to see is the rare Manx Loagtan sheep, primitive horned sheep native to the Isle of Man. (See Diana Steriopulos’s stunning photography of these beautiful creatures by visiting www.manxloaghtan.com.) If birds are your passion, visit the Calf of Man on a day trip; this is a 616-acre islet off the coast that used to be a refuge for Christian monks but is now home to a number of seabird colonies.
There are many pagan symbols on the island, from pre-Christian crosses to the three-legged symbol for the island itself (an ancient symbol that represents the Sun). However, the big draw is the folklore and traditions of the magical isle. It is said the Isle of Man was formed when Irish giant Finn Mac Cuill lobbed a handful of earth at another giant in Scotland. He missed, and the island was formed. Manannan Mac Lir was the sea god who ruled the island and he ensured that it was cloaked in a mysterious mist to put off invaders. Even today that mist can descend.
It is considered bad luck to refer to fairy folk by their names and so they are referred to as Themselves or the Little People. When going over the fairy bridge on the main road from the airport to Douglas, it is the done thing to greet the Little People, as they may take umbrage if you don’t. Given how often you’ll want to return to the island after one holiday here, it’s probably best not to annoy them.
Flybe fly to Isle of Man for around £50 each way; depending on when you travel, there may be cheaper fares available.
Where to stay
Mount Murray Hotel and Country Club has double rooms from £94 a night, including breakfast. The hotel also has a very well-regarded spa and golf course.
Find out more
For tourist info, visit www.visitisleofman.com or call 01624 686766.