The ISLE OF MAN is a magical, mystical, and magnificent island situated in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Evidence shows that colonisation started around 6500 BC when people arrived by sea. People survived by living in crude shelters and hunting and fishing for food. With the Iron Age came the Celtic influence and by the 5th century, the Manx language developed out of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. By the 8th century, the Vikings arrived and began to settle here. We arrived in mid-afternoon on a beautiful sunny day and were greeted by the Tower of Refuge in the harbour at Douglas.
"The Tower of Refuge stands upon St. Mary's Isle (also known as Connister Rock) - a marine hazard upon which many ships approaching Douglas Harbour wrecked due to low visibility or bad weather. The miniature castle was built in response to the 1830 destruction of the packet St. George with local donations. The project, undertaken by Sir William Hillary and designed by architect John Welch, was completed in 1832 and increased the visibility of the waterway hazard as well as provided a storage place for dry provisions in case anyone shipwrecked upon the isle. The islet is seen here at an average tide. Low tide allows one to walk out from the Douglas shore. Extremely high tide will completely submerge the islet from sight except for the Tower of Refuge."
I had a marvelous experience on my recent holiday, hosted by Carol and Alan Cooper, residents of Douglas on the Isle of Man. As soon as we arrived by ferry and had dropped our bags in their elder daughter's room, (Thanks Becki) they took us for a drive south towards Castletown, the Isle's ancient capital. We saw Castle Rushen, built for a Norse king who died in 1265 and buried nearby in the Abbey of Rushen. Apparently, there is evidence in the castle that at one time there was a siege by Robert the Bruce. We did a little walking tour from the Castle to the Old House of Keys, the former home of the Manx Parliament and to the Old Grammar School, which was originally a church and transformed in 1570 to a school for boys.
A trip to the Isle of Man is never complete without a ride on the Steam Train! We watched it arrive, puffing steam all the way, hopped on and had a memorable half hour or so. As well, one of the first things we were told was that when we crossed the "Fairy Bridge" we must say hello to the fairies. It is a long-standing supersition on the Isle, but most believe it is unlucky not to say hello. As extra luck, I bought my granddaughter a little necklace with a pink-jewelled fairy on it for a Christmas gift.
That first night we celebrated Alan's birthday at Tanroagan, a wonderful seafood restaurant in Castletown. However, the road on which the Coopers live was closed off for the trials of one of their famous motorcycle races. So in order to get there, we had to go through the forest behind their house, wind our way through the bushes and trees to find the path that led to stiles over which we climbed to get to the cars that Alan had earlier moved. What an experience that was! Carol and I got detached from the group of 8 that included their 4 kids and Alan had to come back to find us - in the deepening dark! Thank goodness we all have a sense of humour!
During our stay, we also visited Port Mary and Port Erin where sailboats line the harbours in style. I have never seen so many sailboats in one area in my life! On the west coast of the island is the town of Peel with beautiful beaches and stunning views of Peel Castle, an impressive fortress on St. Patrick's Isle. Legend has it that St. Patrick himself visited this tiny island, bringing Christianity to the Isle of Man. Magnus Barefoot, an 11th Century Viking King of Mann, remained a royal resident of the castle. The castle was also the center of government for over 200 years until power moved south to Castle Rushen.
Alan and Carol took us for a lengthy visit to Cregneash, a picturesque village with thatched Manx cottages, Loghtan sheep (famous for having multiple horns and fine brown fleece popular with hand spinners), Shorthorn cows, and working horses. We wandered the country lanes and marvelled in some breathtaking photo ops. We also drove to the Sound where we had a magnificent view of the Calf of Man, home to a breeding population of Manx Shearwaters, a seabird which derives its name from its presence in Manx waters. Do check out the link as it's quite an interesting place.
Also, Carol and Alan took us to the House of Manannan, a museum of the Celtic, Viking, and Maritime past. We saw a life-size reconstruction of a Celtic roundhouse and a Viking longhouse, walked through a quayside warehouse to discover sailmakers, coopers and chandlers and learned about the importance of the sea to the lives of the Isle of Man's people. There was also a Viking longship called "Odin's Raven" from which there appeared to be sailors pulling it through the window of the museum.
I must say I'd love to go back for another visit to explore the northern end of the isle. I want to go by steam train to the isle's highest peak as well as visit the Manx Museum, the Laxey Wheel, and towns of Ramsey, Jurby, and Kirk Michael as well as the Point of Ayre. I hope you enjoy the slideshow accompanied by Celtic music as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I know it's long, but it might just encourage you to make a trip to the Isle of Man yourself!