When visiting the British Isles there’s one island that’s renowned for its warmhearted and welcoming people. Its not called The Isle of Man for nothing.
Take this incident for example… Splashing around the grounds of Castle Rushen on a grey, drizzly morning, I’m interrupted by a sprightly old lady with twinkling green eyes who taps me on the arm, correctly identifies me as a tourist and promises earnestly, “I’ll wish good weather for you before lunch”.
Within minutes – literally minutes – the dark clouds had rolled away and the Manx sun was beating down on us, and our many layers of clothing.
The Isle of Man is an enchanted place, swirling with superstitions and myths. Everyone seems to have a story.
Apparently, it’s terribly bad luck to mention rats on the island and if by accident you do so, you are advised to touch some wood, whistle for a dog and grab a stick.
If you are exploring the area around Ballalonna Glen and wish to cross the fairy bridge at Castleton you are instructed to bid the fairies ”good morning” and people do… all the time.
The Peel Castle ghost tours are an experience not to be missed and attract a wide range of people from serious ghost hunters, to groups of guffawing students and wide-eyed 10 year olds.
Alan, our teacher and chief Ghostbuster, booms out tales of Moddey Dhoo – the red-eyed black dog that haunts the Battlements. High up on the cliffs as night falls, with the wind (and Alan) howling, it’s a spine-chilling way to spend an evening.
Just at the foot of the castle, is the old Moore’s Smokehouse, where you can pick up your morning kippers – served with slices of hot-buttered toast and mugs of tea. The company does mail-order and will even gift-wrap your purchase. Why send flowers when you can send the finest smoked fish?
The harbour is home to a selection of smart seafood restaurants. MacFarlanes offers fine dining, or for a younger crowd, try The Courthouse, a bar/restaurant that caters more for the island’s jet-setting financial workers.
The Isle of Man tax laws were passed in the early 1960s in response to a crumbling economy. It was a brave move and the island is now a successful international tax haven.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Isle of Man has a proven record for being a forward thinking, liberal and progressive democracy. In 1881, it became one of the first authorities in the world to award women equal votes and in the same year, James Brown (the black son of a freed slave) became the founder and editor of the Isle of Man Times.
Locals are proud of their history and a worthwhile trip is the House of Keys interactive experience. Take your seat in the hallowed Speaker’s Chamber and engage in a surreal debate with a unnervingly life-like hologram of the Speaker of the House.
Tourist accommodation in the centre of Douglas mainly consists of grand old seaside hotels and they’re often full. Better to stay a little out of town and see more of the island.
One of the best ways to get around the island is by car. The roads are picturesque and a pleasure to drive on. Rentals can be expensive so a good option is to do things the old-fashioned way and take a “drive-on” ferry from Belfast.