Here we are! Yet another Thursday with a travel tale and do you know what's special? Well! I can't wait to happily announce that this travel review (a merger between A to Z and travel tales) is a guest post by none other than Sid Balachandran. He writes at I write Those, I took those and Foodness me. I first got to know him through his on-going project Project 365 and have been really inspired by his writing. A few weeks ago, while planning for the A to Z challenge, I requested him to write a guest post and he agreed to write a post for "I". Here he has written a wonderful review cum travelogue of Isle of Man for my little blog. So without wasting much of your time with my blabber, I pass on to Sid's words.
Before we go ahead, I’d like to do a group activity. So stretch your right hand out. And now your left hand. Now, rotate your hands so that your palms face each other. Now spread them apart a bit more. A little bit more. Aww….here’s a hug back for you. Welcome to my first ever travel post. And I’m pleased to have the lovely Sugandha host it on her gorgeous blog.
Travelling is something that is very dear to me. Probably as much as both writing and photography are. So, when Sugandha told me that she’d like me to do a travel post for her, on a place starting with the letter “I” (so it blended in with her A-to-Z challenge), I pondered over it for a few minutes. My mind had gone blank. And then I looked up, and glanced at my laptop’s wallpaper. There it was, literally screaming “Me, me…..talk about me!”. I smiled, and typed a “yes” to Sugandha and connected my hard drive up to get the photos that I required. It was time to let the world know about one of the lesser known places in Europe - the beautiful and dynamic, Isle of Man.
Now, unless you follow car racing, it is quite unlikely that you’d know about this nature-lover’s delight, nestled secretly between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, right in the middle of gorgeous blue-green Irish Sea. My wife, Janaki and I have always ended up on offbeat and adventurous holidays. It wasn’t always by choice. Sometimes, it was just bound by monetary and time constraints. And the IOM was one such amazing discovery.
Geographically, the island is tiny. At 33 miles in length and 13 miles in width, I personally am surprised that it is such a hub of bustling activity all through the year. Now, if you’ve ever been to Britain, you’ll know that everything revolves around the unpredictable nature of weather. But IOM is slightly different. Since it’s in a very central position right between the British Isles and the Irish Sea, it has reasonably temperate climate, making it a perfect all year round destination. And here’s the most amazing fact - though it’s so small, it has a coastline that stretches for about 100 miles and even a mountain. Wonders of nature eh?
Culturally, the IOM is extremely diverse. It has not just Irish and English influences, but also Viking, Celtic and of course their very own Manx culture too. And it is this cultural variety that sets the IOM apart from some of the other isles and islands around the coast of Britain. It’s a place where people can still wow you with tales of sea-monsters, giants, fierce battles, brownies and even fairies. Why, it’s even got a “Fairy Bridge”, where there is still this whimsically cute belief of wishing the fairies a “Good Morning” or even a “Good Day”. So much so, that a lot of racers who take part in the IOM TT and annual Manx Grand Prix, often visit the Fairy bridge before setting up for the practices for the races. Though we personally hoped we’d be able to see a fairy or two, we had to make do with a few amazing statuettes that an old Manx mason had created, thousands of years ago.
Politically, the island is a self-governing British Crown dependency. Which means though they’re not legally part of the UK, the British government is responsible for its external and defence affairs. The IOM has the oldest continuous parliament in the world, Tynwald, which dates back over 1000 years. Even today, you can tour the Tynwald building and visit Tynwald hill, where the parliament meets in open air, once a year.
The IOM has 9 major towns and villages, all of them unique in their own right. Douglas, the island's capital, is a vibrant and busy town, and a shopper's delight. Amazing restaurants (particularly Indian...yep, we are everywhere), comfortable hotels and B&Bs and almost every popular UK retail outlet, make this the best town to stay in, if you want to be closer to all the action. Ramsey, the island's second largest town boasts of a working harbor and open expanses of sand and shingle beach throughout. But the true hero of Ramsey is the 40 acre Mooragh park, a truly have-it- all leisure facility with tennis courts, bowling greens, beautifully manicured gardens, a large boating lake and children's activity center. With quaint, narrow streets and a magnificent harbor lined with rows after rows of fishing boats, Peel reminds you of a unique setting that you would often read about in those English classics. Peel also boasts of the ruins of the magnificent castle, which dates back to the 11th century. If I had to describe Port Erin in one phrase, it would be "imposing and majestic". Located within a beautiful bay with a soft, golden sandy beach, the northern most point is dominated by the towering Bradda Head. The Bradda Head boasts of being the location of the winning prize for the Kodak World photography contest in 2005. The only way to get to Bradda head is via a nature trail, which truth be told, has spectacular and at times, mind numbing views. If you are an avid bibliophile like me, be sure you pack a book or two, as nothing can give you more pleasure than lying down on the spectacular hill side and enjoying a good book while the sea side breeze gently caresses your hair (or your head, for the follically challenged).
Onchan, though one of the smaller villages on the IOM, has a number of unique attractions of its own, ranging from the Onchan Leisure Park and Stadium offering a number of activities from Stock car Racing to bowling. It is a delightful old-style village, where you could relax idly over some amazing food. Port St. Mary is a picturesque coastal village, where you can often find plenty of yachts and is one of the starting points of the excellent organized coastal walks available. If you find Douglas a tad bit too crowded and touristy for your liking, Port St. Mary serves as an excellent alternate accommodation location. Now, Douglas wasn’t always the island’s capital. It used to be another castle-dominated town called, no surprise here, Castletown. Castle Rushen, though no longer functioning as one, is still magnificently preserved and open to visitors. Definitely worth a visit, and if you aren’t claustrophobic, do try climbing up the steep and narrow winding staircase to the top. St. Johns, thought not a town per se, is said to be a village that comes alive during the Manx national day on July 5th, and is said to be a sight to behold. Sadly, we had visited a few days prior to the national day, and hence didn’t get a chance to view this glorious spectacle. Probably the most spectacular town of the lot is Laxey, which is set in a beautiful, deep valley which boasts of magnificence Dhoons (picturesque valleys) and the famous Laxey wheel and the mines.
What I loved the most about the IOM is that there are a host of activities that we can indulge in. For the adventure seekers, there are activities such as stock car racing, angling, flying, mountain biking, kayaking, horse riding and yachting, just to name of a few. Being an island, it’s no surprise that IOM boasts of some of the best beaches that I’ve ever seen. Miles after miles, of pristine, golden sandy beaches, inviting you to lie down and bask in the magical warmth of the sun. And for nature lovers like me, you have those long nature trails, some of them through amazing deep valleys (known as Glens). If you like a bit of adventure with your nature trail, make sure you check out the DHOON Glen, which is the deepest glen on the island, and the path is paved with steep inclines, and wooden steps which are often found to be missing, and if present, they are very slippery and difficult to navigate. There is a sign in Manx, displayed above the hidden entrance, which translates to “ Welcome to the Dhoon Glen. She will make you work hard to see her beauty. “ And it’s true. Because it’s a 198 steps back to the top, if you can find the steps that is. At the bottom of the glen, you get to behold the main waterfall, known as the "Inneen Vooar" or "Big Girl”. We'd read an interesting story that said that name of the waterfall was because a young girl had drowned in the pool below the waterfall and it is said that her ghost haunts the glen to this day. And for that reason, it wasn’t recommended that anyone stay back past sunset. Though, the scientific side of me argued out the reason for the curfew was that there were no lights to guide you back, just hearing the wind whistle through the trees and the sound of the waterfall kind of spooked us out. Needless to say, we literally ran back up the 198 steps.
Getting around the IOM is delightfully easy. Buses are frequent and you always have the option of horse driven trams, an age-old electric railway and of course, the steam railway which dates back to 1874. And if you’re there, you need to definitely check out the Snaefell mountain railway (refer back to my earlier point about the “only mountain” on the island). Since I cannot do enough justice in words, I’ll let a couple of photographs do the talking :)
Don't let the fact that IOM is in the middle of a sea deter you from travelling to this gem of a place. It is well connected both by air and sea, from most major British and Irish cities. We took the ferry from Liverpool, and it was a delightful four-hour ride, and we managed to spot a couple of basking sharks (They are huge!) and some bottle nosed dolphins.
As far my research stated, when we visited, which was in 2011, if you had a UK Visa, you could travel to the Isle of Man. So the next time you’re in the UK, make sure you reserve 3-4 days to explore this beautiful island and enjoy the hospitality that it has to offer. And believe me, when it’s time to go back, you will do so only with a very heavy, yet joyous heart, filled with lovely memories, a waistline that is bound to have increased a few inches and a camera loaded with stunning photos. But it’s not just its extensive coastline, stunning landscapes, unspoilt beaches and deep valleys that made the isle so special to us. It’s also because, that’s where we discovered that we “two” were about to become “three” :)
And before I wrap this post up, I’d like to leave you with panoramic photographs of two gorgeous Isle of Man towns. Take a peek, and let me know if you think it’s worth visiting or not J