Published: December 21st 2021
Douglas, Isle of Man
Greetings and a Merry Christmas! I am writing this entry after my first venture off the island of Great Britain in nearly two years! Yay – how wonderful, and I feel truly blessed to have been able to do this. Whilst Great Britain is certainly a beautiful island, and I have very much enjoyed exploring more of it these last two years due to the circumstances, it is still an island, and for a travelling soul like myself, I haven’t felt completely myself being island-bound for so long. The great wide world out there has been beckoning, and I feel more confident in being able to explore it again.
Alas, I did not venture far this time – just a short hop over to the nearby Isle of Man, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. I decided after I came back from Scotland in the summer that I was ready to travel abroad again, and jump through any hoops which they put out there, in order to get my travelling life back again. I booked this trip a couple of months ago, along with a trip to Ireland in February, and New England
“Quocunque Jeceris Stabit”, “Whithersoever you throw it, it will stand”. The Three Legs of Man symbol of the Isle of Man.
USA in April, and feel ready for this gentle increase in venturing abroad again. I will of course play it by ear for my next two trips and see how it goes, with the option of cancelling if need be. Nevertheless, as mentioned, I feel ready to jump through those hoops, fill in the forms, take the tests, and do what is needed, just to feel myself again. Thank you in particular to Merry Jo and Dave, Brendan V, and Lori and Susan, my fellow TB-buddies on here, whose recent excursions abroad have encouraged me to have the confidence to do the same.
So yes – the Isle of Man! Before the world changed, I was actually planning to do this trip this time last year, December 2020. It was a follow-on from my December 2019 trip to Guernsey and Sark, and December 2018 visit to the island of Jersey. These three distant islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man all appear as three separate territories on the Travellers’ Century Club’s list, so along with being low-hanging fruit to add up my TCC list of countries, I was also intrigued to explore these distant little neighbours. While
Douglas, Isle of Man
Jersey and Guernsey are both really quite tiny, at 45 and 25 square miles respectively, the Isle of Man is comparatively huge, at 221 square miles. They all have similar populations, 60,000 for Guernsey, 100,000 for Jersey, and 85,000 for the Isle of Man. But with their sizes, the Isle of Man is much less densely populated, and felt much less claustrophobic, with vast open spaces, long and empty roads, rolling hills, and swathes of deserted beaches and coastlines. It was really very beautiful, and felt like a large chunk of Yorkshire had simply been plucked up and plonked in the middle of the Irish Sea. The country also has an intriguing past to learn about, having developed out of both Celtic and Norse Viking origins, and is surprisingly abundant in myths, magic and fairy tales. It was a very special place, and a good place to name my 99th TCC country. All being well, Ireland in February will mark my 100th TCC country, and enable me to gain fully-fledged (as opposed to merely provisional) membership status!
Having just finished for the Christmas holidays, I took an EasyJet flight from London Gatwick airport on a Sunday evening. It was
good to see there were many people in the airport, even if only one of its two terminals was operating. The gentleman who served me in the Wetherspoons pub there said it was the busiest it had been since March 2020. It was pleasing to see so many people travelling, visiting relatives, and getting over the many obstacles the government has placed for us under these trying circumstances. I must admit I felt a bit nervous flying again after so long. My least favourite parts of flying are taking-off and landing, and since this was simply an up-and-down flight, the whole flight was an uncomfortable one for me. I remember feeling the same flying to Jersey and Guernsey. I guess on a long-haul flight, once you are up there and cruising one can switch off easily from the fact that one is ten kilometres up in the air. Not so when just going up and coming down. We were also landing in 50mph gales, but it was surprisingly smooth coming down – what a relief!
The airport was fairly easy to pass through, once the prior formalities had been met – I had to apply for a vaccination exemption
There is no Lonely Planet coverage of the island, this was a good and informative book.
form and a “Manx Entry Permit” online a few weeks before my visit, having demonstrated that I had been fully vaccinated. I then had to complete a landing form within 48 hours prior to my arrival, and commit to taking a self-administered Lateral Flow Test within 12 hours after arrival, submitting my result online to the Isle of Man government. This was comparatively simple compared to the PCR tests that have to be booked for other places, currently for both going out and coming back, and thus I felt I had chosen well to have the Isle of Man as my first trip abroad under the current situation. I must admit I felt fear at the prospect of potentially having to self-isolate on the island for ten days should my test turn out positive, but as the course of my trip taught me, it is important to choose faith not fear in these times. I felt I was able to conquer a number of fears during my days on the Isle of Man.
Once through security having demonstrated evidence of all the above, I took a taxi to take me to my accommodation for my four-nights on the island.
My accommodation, Lower Foxdale, Isle of Man
The taxi seriously speeded through the Manx countryside along the dark country lanes. The Isle of Man quite famously has no speed limit outside urban areas, and I clocked the driver going at a steady 70mph through the dark country lanes – a bit unusual, and a little hairy I must admit! We got to my accommodation safely though, and rather quickly (!), and I certainly chose well! I had booked myself into a delightful Air BnB property, an annex adjoining the detached cottage of a truly wonderful Christian couple, husband from Birmingham and wife from Kenya, who had settled on the island around three years ago. The cottage was in a tiny village called Lower Foxdale, along a lush and isolated valley following the Foxdale River at the foot of the highest mountain in the south of the Isle, South Barrule, home apparently to the island’s Celtic god and protector, Manannan – more on him later. The annex had a bedroom, bathroom, lounge/dining room, and kitchen, with all amenities imaginable, and the couple were there to welcome me and settle me in. I took the Lateral Flow Test with a negative result, and settled myself down into my first
At the foot of South Barrule Mountain in the distance, home to the island’s protector, Celtic sea god Manannan
evening on the Isle of Man, TCC country number 99!
My first sleep was a bit troubled, as it often is on the first night of a trip, but also aiming to conquer a few of the fears of being abroad during such circumstances. I awoke refreshed though, and really excited to be exploring a completely new land again. This first day was just wonderful, and there were several moments when I felt completely in my happy place again for pretty much the first time in two years, exploring new places and meeting new people in an unknown land. It was bliss, I was in my natural state and habitat once again. There was a bus stop just outside my accommodation, but the bus runs along that route only once every two hours or so, so I found it more convenient to walk 30 minutes up the road to the village of St Johns, where there were bus connections running to the island’s capital Douglas every 20 minutes. I didn’t know it when I booked my accommodation, but St Johns is of utmost historical and political importance to the Isle of Man, and my visit there helped me to
Foxdale River Valley
understand more about the foundations and politics of this unusual little country.
Manx people, as residents of the island are officially known, trace their origins back to the Celtic period, when the Celts were abundant throughout the British Isles during the neolithic period. The Romans overlooked the Isle of Man in their conquest of Britain in the first century AD. Along with Scotland and Ireland, the island’s Celtic culture thus continued until the arrival of the Norse Vikings, who starting raiding and then settling the island during the 8th to 9th centuries. By 1154, the island had been incorporated into the Norse territory called the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, comprising the Scottish Hebrides islands and the Isle of Man. It then became a part of Scotland for a short period in the 13th to 14th centuries. Since 1399 however, England, and latterly the United Kingdom, have claimed some kind of leadership over the island and its people, yet despite this, it has always retained its own self-governance and independence. It is today regarded as a British Crown Dependency, looking to the Queen as its sovereign, but holding its own independent government. The country’s parliament, called Tynwald, is
The Hope village, Isle of Man
actually the oldest continuous parliament in the world, ruling over the island for over 1000 years. Instead of Members of Parliament (or MPs), Tynwald’s parliament is formed of 24 Members of the House of Keys (or MHKs), each representing the various parishes of the country. The tiny village of St Johns is a very important place in the country, as the Manx Parliament continues to meet there, as they have done for centuries, once a year on 5th July, also known as midsummer’s day or Tynwald Day, to pass and approve new laws which have been proposed over the previous year. The MHKs, the island’s Lieutenant Governor, and the Lord of Mann, often represented by a member of the British Royal Family, meet and sit on Tynwald Hill, in the heart of St Johns, an artificial hill said to have been built from the soil of all of the island’s parishes centuries ago.
After grabbing a coffee at a nearby friendly café, I headed up Tynwald Hill, through the nearby Tynwald National Park, and on to the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist, where Tynwald Day is also marked with a special service. It was a lovely introduction
St Johns, Isle of Man
to the country, to visit its political heart. I then took a bus eastwards, to my next destination for the day, the country’s capital, Douglas.
I loved Douglas as soon as I arrived. With a population of only 27,000, it is still the island’s main population hub, and is not yet even a city. This may change this coming year, however, as along with Peel on the opposite side of the island, Douglas has applied to the UK government for city-status – something which British settlements can do apparently each time there is a Queen’s Jubilee. 2022 will mark the platinum (70 years!!) jubilee of the Queen on the throne, and both Douglas and Peel are taking advantage of the event to apply for city status. I got off the bus at the town’s Sea Terminal, and enjoyed a wonderful walk along the promenade, taking in the majestic two-mile sweep of a bay, with the iconic Tower of Refuge jutting out of St Mary’s Isle in the middle of it. This Tower was built in 1832 to provide shelter for the many mariners who became shipwrecked on the tiny island as they were arriving in or leaving the town’s
St Johns, Isle of Man
harbour. Today it is the town’s emblem, and provides a really attractive seascape overlooked by the lovely row of elegant Victorian hotels lining the prom. My walk took me past the very recently-erected statue of the Bee Gees (July 2021), Isle of Man natives who went on to worldwide fame from their humble beginnings in Douglas, past the famous Gaiety Theatre and then heading inland again to the wonderful Manx Museum. After a lovely lunch at a nearby café, smoked salmon, tomato and onion bagel with carrot and coriander soup, I spent a blissful hour or two in this fact-packed museum, learning about the island’s prehistory, Celtic and Norse origins, and more recent jollities such as the Victorian and post-war tourist booms when the island became a hotspot for vacationing northern Englanders, and the world-famous TT (Tourist Trophy) races which began in 1907 and should re-start again this coming year after a two-year c-word-related hiatus. In actual fact, my grandparents met while they were both holidaying on the island not long after World War Two. My Grandad was there on a golfing holiday, and my Granny was there to watch the TT races. I recall my Granny saying Grandad came
Isle of Man
up to her and spoke to her while she was having dinner somewhere, and then they apparently met the next day to take in a round of golf. Shortly after along came four children, nine grandchildren (including myself), and four great-grandchildren. It felt really quite special to visit the place where they had met, and where the Waring family as I know it really began.
After the Manx Museum, I headed back to the bus station near the Sea Terminal again, taking in along the way the government buildings and the Tynwald Court where MHKs meet on the third Tuesday of each month to discuss matters of state. I took another bus back towards St Johns again, and then further along to the west coast town of Peel, the other town seeking city-status in 2022. I arrived in Peel around 3.30pm, with the town’s main attraction the House of Manannan closing within an hour. The bus dropped me right at the front door fortunately, and along with the Manx Museum back in Douglas, I was again the only visitor during my time there. I do love visiting tourist places out of the tourist-season, and this was certainly no exception.
Isle of Man
The downsider was that aside from these two excellent museums, all other tourist attractions on the island were closed during my visit, including the famed Manx Electric Railway, the Steam Railway, Snaefell Mountain Railway, and the Douglas Horse Trams.
Ah well, the House of Manannan was just amazing!! Whilst the Manx Museum seemed to focus mainly on history and modern culture, the House of Manannan seemed much more focused on the island’s Celtic roots and culture. It is named after the afore-mentioned Celtic god of the sea, Manannan, whose legendary home is the Isle of Man. I can just imagine the heart of the ancient Celtic world, being based in both Great Britain and Ireland, seeing the distant shape of the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea separating the two large islands, and imagining it being the home of the great sea god himself. Manannan apparently kept the island safe from invaders, such as the Romans, by having the amazing ability to be able to cloak the island in cloud and fog when potential invaders drew near. His dwelling place is the afore-mentioned South Barrule mountain, looming over the village of Lower Foxdale where I
St Johns, Isle of Man
was staying, and here in the House of Manannan, Manannan himself is your host guiding you through the various exhibits from the past to the present. I found this very cleverly done, as whatever time period you were in, the same actor portraying Manannan appeared on the various TV screens donning the typical fashions of the day. In Celtic times he was dressed in a cloak, in Victorian times he was dressed as a sea captain. I loved the presentation of the island in the museum as a magical, mystical land of legend and beauty. I enjoyed my visit immensely, even though I was fairly rushing through it to see everything before they ushered me out very promptly at 4.30pm closing time.
By this time, the sun was setting, and the harbour of Peel was beautifully lit with the gorgeous Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle taking pride of place in the distance. I took some incredible photos of the sunset from Peel, looking west over the Irish Sea and giving extraordinary lights from reds, to oranges, to blues even, over the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland across the distant waters. Peel Castle was another of the closed
Douglas, Isle of Man
attractions during my visit, but it was enough to see it from the outside. I had the option to walk around it, but with the darkness drawing in, and stories of the castle being haunted by a giant black dog, I opted against this, instead taking a lovely stroll along the cute little beach in front of the main town itself. I then stopped by the local Co-Op to stock up on all my self-catering supplies for the remainder of my time on the island, and timed it perfectly for a return bus to Lower Foxdale leaving at 6.07pm which would go down the Foxdale River Valley this time and drop me right outside my accommodation.
With a stocked-up fridge, and my cosy accommodation welcoming me with open arms, I felt amazingly at peace after such an enjoyable first day on the real travelling road again. I was very much in my happy place again beyond the fears of the night before, had many memories of the day to contemplate, and slept absolutely wonderfully for a whole ten hours that night. It was a wonderful start to my time on the island.
I shall write about day two
Isle of Man
of my Isle of Man adventures in my next one, so for now, thank you for reading, and all the best to all 😊
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