ISLE OF MAN


Peel sunsetWith a sea-faring cultural tradition and a proud wealth of myths and legends, the Isle of Man (pop. 80,000) might be described as the 'British Sicily'. Although not strictly part of the UK, it is a Crown dependency with a distinctive culture that has grown since around 6500 BC from a blend of Gaelic and Norse customs and language. Manx Gaelic is now considered an endangered language as English is the official language of the island but in recent years there has been a strong push to retain the local culture and language.

The Isle of Man is popular with tourists for its many opportunities for outdoor sports and its diverse landscapes. In particular, water sports such as fishing, diving, and sailing, motor sports, and walking are enjoyable pastimes for many visitors here. 

 

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Layout
In the middle of the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, the Isle of Man is a mere 52 km long and 22km wide (at its widest point). The capital Douglas is in the middle of the eastern coast. The Isle of Man has an excellent public transport network with buses and trains, though the latter are largely used as tourist attractions: visit here for details.


Ronaldsway Airport at Ballasalla links the island to a number of destinations in the British Isles. There is also a Steam Packet service that operates out of the Douglas Sea Terminal and can convey passengers (and cars) to Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool, Birkenhead (near Liverpool), or Heysham (Lancashire).

Sights
Get out and see the Isle of Man's beautiful natural scenery. There are some fantastic walks (see here for details of a few popular ones) throughout diverse landscapes: cliffs, coves, heather moors, green rolling hills, and sandy beaches.

Stone crosses [This site has an excellent list of sites as well as car, bus, and train directions] can be seen all over the island, particularly in churchyards. These memorial stones date from the 6th century AD onwards with the earlier crosses made in the Celtic style and the later ones in Norse styles.  There is a large collection of Celtic crosses at Kirk Maughold (near Ramsey) and of Norse designs in the parish church of Andreas.

A few smaller surrounding islands also come under the control of the Isle of Man: Chicken Rock, Calf of Man (home to a bird sanctuary), St Patrick's Isle, and St. Michael's Isle.

Tynwald ChamberThe Tynwald [Bucks Road, Douglas, for tours call +44 1624 685520, free entry] of the Isle of Man is the world's oldest parliament in continuous existence. This institution was founded by the Vikings in the 8th century AD.

 

 

 

 


 


 

Douglas horse tramDouglas [pop. 26,200] is the capital of the Isle of Man and is located on the mouth of the River Douglas, on the eastern coast of the island. It is home to the Tynwald, a 1000 year old parliament that is the oldest continuing parliament in the world.

Layout
The older Victorian parts of Douglas are around the promenade and Victoria Pier. Get around the promenade (and pass by many of Douglas' hotels) on the horse-drawn trams that began in 1872 and are the only ones remaining on Man. For details about bus and train times, visit here.  

Sights
Douglas:  Refuge CastleThe Tower of Refuge in Douglas Bay is also known as St Mary's Isle or Conister Rocks. It was built by Sir William Henry in 1832 as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors until help could arrive.

The Manx Museum [Kingswood Grove, +44 1624 648000, free entry] holds many artefacts relating to the history of Manx culture. There are many items relating to Archibald Knox, a Manx designer noted for his work for Liberty department store, and some interesting relics from Man's dramatic past including the Viking 'Pagan Lady's necklace from Peel Castle.

The Home of Rest for Old Horses (Bulrhenny, Richmond Hill, +44 1624 674594, free entry but donations are encouraged) began in 1950 when the founders realised that older horses, particularly those that pulled the trams, were being sent away from the island and, most likely, to their deaths. The property Bulrhenny was purchased 5 years later and it has been home to more than 280 animals since then.

 

 


 

Peel streetscapeThe rose-bricked Sunset City of Peel [pop. 4,300], is home to the Isle of Man's only cathedral but in many ways it is still a simple fishing town.

Layout
Peel is situated on the west coast of the island. Peel Harbour cuts into the land south of the town and St Patrick's Isle is to the north west and linked to the mainland by a causeway. See here for details about buses and trains.

Sights
Peel CastleWilliam le Scrope built Peel Castle [West Quay, St Patrick's Isle, Adults £4, Combined tickets with the House of Manannan £8.50] in 1392 on top of earlier structures. The castle is situated on St. Patrick's Isle, an early centre for Christianity on the island. The castle's curtain wall encloses St German's Cathedral, constructed (and reconstructed) between the 12th and 15th centuries.

The House of Manannan [Between Mill Road and East Quay, +44 1624 648000, Adults £6] brings to life Man's Celtic and Viking history with a particular focus upon the role of the sea in everyday life. Go inside a Celtic roundhouse and a Viking longhouse, listen to stories and local legends, and see what Peel looked like in the 19th century.

Find out how to cure kippers at Moore's Traditional Museum [Mill Road, +44 1624 843622, Adults £2]. Manx Kippers are famous and have been made since at least the 1870s using traditional oak smoke curing methods.

 

 



CastletownCastletown [pop.  3,100] is the former capital of the Isle of Man. It is an ancient fishing town that was home to the Viking kings and then the seat of power for the Kings and Lords of Man.

Layout
Castletown is situated in the south of the island on the north western side of Castletown Bay. It is close to the Isle of Man Airport. See here for transport details.

Sights
The Viking invaders of the 9th century settled down on the island and established their open air parliamentary system, the Tynwald, the world's oldest continuous parliament. The Keys made up the lower house of the parliament and their meetings were held in various places until the Old House of Keys [Parliament Square, Adults £4] was built in 1821. It was only used until 1874, when the Tynwald was moved to up and coming Douglas.

Castle Rushen [Castle Street, Adults £5.50] was built in the middle of the 13th century by the island's Norse-Manx rulers but over the years it has been held by the English and by the Scots. It is one of the best preserved Medieval castles in Britain and visitors can find out a lot about daily life during the period. From the last Viking King of Man, Magnus, Castle Rushen became the stronghold for successive Kings and Lords of Man.




Calf of Man Spanish HeadThe Calf of Man lies off the south west coast of the Isle of Man. The name 'calf' actually derives from an Old Norse word, 'kalfr', meaning a small island near a larger one. In 1939 the island was donated to the National Trust (and later the Manx National Trust) and it became a bird sanctuary. Among the diverse species of birds, you can see puffin, storm petrels, and kittiwake.

It is said that the Irish giant Finn McCool carved the Sound that separates the Calf, the Man, and Kitterland, another small island.  His feet made deep impressions in the earth, which water then filled, during a fight with the Manx giant Buggane.

For more information about visiting the island, see the government website here or call +44 1624 648000.

 


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