The Isle of Man, a UNESCO Biosphere known for its sustainability

Gaiety Theatre

By Natasha Blair

Surrounded by the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, known as Manx, has biosphere status, and is small enough to explore in one visit – although there is so much to see and do that it left me wanting to return.

Small in size but big in personality

The island is just thirty-two miles long and fourteen wide and although part of the British Isles, governs itself. A highlight of the year, taking place in the summer, is the TT motorbike races which take place on the roads at speeds of over 200 mph.

Conquered both by the Celtics and the Vikings, folklore plays an important part in its culture, and apparently there isn’t a spot that isn’t haunted with either fairies or ghosts. Depending on where you are, and with whom, it is likely you will be entertained by local stories. There is even a Fairy Bridge which when walking or driving over, it is important to say ‘hello’ to the fairies.

The island has an efficient bus network but has retained its Victorian heritage ways of getting around, mixing the old with the new. During the summer months, horse trams transport people from one end of Douglas promenade to the other. Also starting at Douglas, the island’s capital, steam railways transport people 16 miles south, providing a leisurely way of seeing the countryside, with the option to get off at one of the seven stations along the way. The end of the line Port Erin is where the Steam Railway Museum, home to the Royal Train, is kept. Here too is one of the many beaches that surround the island. At the far end of the promenade, also in Douglas, the Manx Electric Railway takes visitors to the north of the island. I took it to Laxey where it’s possible to take a train to the summit of Snaefell Mountain where on a fine day you can see the ‘seven kingdoms’ – England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Isle of Man, heaven and sea. Laxey is also home to the Laxey Wheel, at 72 foot 6 inches, the largest waterwheel in the world.

Tour the cultural icons of the island

On the promenade at Douglas, the Gaiety Theatre, built as an opera house in 1899 is still used by the locals for theatrical productions which include musicals, drama, dance, opera and comedy. The theatre which has guided tours backstage, has undergone a major renovation which includes the preservation of an original act drop.

The Isle of Man is a Crown Dependency but manages itself with its Parliament Tynwald, also in Douglas. Free guided tours taking around one and a half hours take place on Mondays and Fridays. The public can also watch any of the sittings from the galleries located in either of the chambers, the lower house of Keys or the upper Legislative Council.

During World War One, German people living in the British Isles were interned at Knockaloe near Peel in the west of the country. A visitor centre, where we were greeted by the resident dog, tells the story of the camp, its guards, and over 30,000 German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish civilians that were interred there behind barbed wire. One of its internees, Joseph developed his theory that became known as Pilates. The museum is also a centre for people researching their descendants.

Milntown is the only historic estate on the island open to the public. Guided tours of the Gothic mansion need to be booked. Surrounded by 15 acres of gardens there is a mill pond, home to a variety of ducks and a kitchen garden. Visiting at the appropriate time of the year there are giant Rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas together with a hedge maze in the shape of the Isle of Man, and among the flowers, a pets’ cemetery. There is also a working water mill, vintage vehicles, and woodland walks.

In the north, the privately owned Motor Museum, open between April and September, has an amazing assortment of over 500 vehicles from around the world. The collection includes unique prototypes, early steam cars, TT winning motorcycles, and even a Soviet Space Capsule.

For bird watchers the Calf of Man, an official British Bird Observatory is the place to visit. There are also over 100 wild wallabies on the island, basking sharks that come to feed in its plankton-rich waters and dolphins, and Minke whales that can be spotted swimming in Manx shores.

Getting there

The island embraces sustainability, and with the introduction of the state-of-the art Manxman Ferry, encourages visitors to come by land rather than air. A plus bonus is that the ferry has a lounge reserved for anyone coming with pets. The Manxman operates from Douglas to Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin.

Coming from London, I flew with Loganair which flies from both London City and Heathrow Airports, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester and Newquay, and still provides an inflight service of a hot drink and biscuit.

Next steps

To start planning your holiday to the Isle of Man, visit https://www.visitisleofman.com/ and call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.

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