My sister and I are past the stage of buying each other “stuff” for birthdays and Christmas. Instead we tend to buy an experience or a holiday, something we both can enjoy. So that is why in April this year (2023) we found ourselves at Gatwick Airport waiting for a flight to Douglas, Isle of Man. My sister had bought me this trip as an Xmas present and because it was an early morning flight we had decided to stay at Gatwick overnight. We booked The Premier Inn that we had stayed at before…or had we? On arrival at Gatwick I realised I had booked the wrong Premier Inn! It seems online I had booked the one on the A23 and not the one right by North Terminal! It is actually only a 5 minute walk away but just a tip for everyone, make sure you know which one you have booked!
Next morning our flight was 40 minutes late departing and then the pilot announced that because there was fog over The Isle of Man we might have to return to Gatwick! (It seems Douglas does not have the right kind of radar so this is a regular problem!) Luckily after circling for an hour the fog lifted and we could land. We had booked a hotel package at The Comis Hotel and Golf Resort and they had sent a driver to collect us. Arriving at the hotel before 10.30, we were too early to check in so we left our bags and caught a bus the short distance into Douglas. We were impressed with the great sweeping crescent of a promenade. Made up of large, old, well maintained houses it looked like a fairly wealthy up market seaside resort. However there is a distinct lack of open cafes and restaurants on the front. We had to walk into town to get some lunch, after which we headed to The Sea Terminal which is a ferry/bus hub. We found the Tourist Office and bought a 3 day bus and train pass for £39. We then headed back to the hotel where we had booked dinner in their nice restaurant overlooking the golf course. The hotel, from the outside, looks like a prefabricated car showroom but the reception area was rather plush (with so many comfortable sofas that we thought we might have wandered into a DFS showroom!) Our room was nice and there was an indoor swimming pool which I had to myself that evening.
A little word of caution here, if you buy a 3 day bus/train pass please think before you use it. We used it to get back to our hotel that afternoon and this meant we had activated it and only had 2 days left on it!!
The following day, using our pass we headed to Derby Castle where the Electric Railway starts. It is like a tram on rails and has an open sided coach (a little chilly in April) or a closed carriage. They both look a bit like a Pullman coach with lovely wood interiors. There were wonderful views of coves and bays as we chuffed along the high cliff tops in a Northern direction. (It seems on this island you go North by electric and South by steam!) We went to the end of the line, Ramsey. We had lunch (again we found a shortage of pubs and cafes near the front!) Ramsey’s claim to fame is it’s imposing Queen’s Pier (2,241 feet long) but unfortunately it was under renovation whilst we were there. We then headed back onto the train to Laxey where we got the Mountain Railway to the top of Snaefell. (In Laxey there is the impressive Great Laxey Wheel. It is one of the world’s biggest water wheels). The trip up Snaefell was lovely. We saw lots of goats, sheep and rabbits and also passed some of the viewing places for the yearly TT races. There was a lovely cafe at the top where they served cake and prosecco! Back down the mountain, back on the Electric Railway and returned to Douglas for dinner in The Fig and Olive pub in the harbour area.
Nest day we did the horse drawn tram in Douglas. Pulled by beautiful Shire horses the bumpy ride was not as enjoyable as we expected. Luckily it is very short. We then got the Steam Train to Port Erin. Lovely scenery and a nice comfortable ride. At Port Erin we struggled again to find a lunch place and ended up with a bag of chips. (I don’t think the Isle of Man really wants tourists, there seems to be few facilities for them!) Before we headed back we visited the Railway Museum in Port Erin station. It is very small but also very interesting.
On our last day because we had very stupidly used up our 3 day pass we had to buy a one day bus pass for £7 (although as we took 7 different buses that day it still worked out economical). We had decided to do the rest of the Island before we left so our first stop was Castletown. With the exception of the Castle, this town was exactly like all the others we had seen. There was a Co op, a sewing/knitting shop, a butchers and a few airy fairy gift shops where you wonder who buys their pretty but useless wares. We then headed to Peel. This journey took us across the island and the scenery was just as lovely. Lots of fields and lots of rabbits in said fields! (I have never seen so many rabbits in my life!) Peel was very nice but again had much the same shops as mentioned above. The sea front with the castle was beautiful and there are two cathedrals there but again there were few places on the sea front to eat or get a drink. Having now done most of the island we headed back to our hotel, picked up our bags and were transferred to the airport. Luckily no fog delays so our flight home was uneventful.
So our opinion of the Isle of Man? Very scenic, rather old fashioned and easy to get around. However, it is almost like they don’t want to encourage tourism. No ice cream stands on the beachfronts, few cafes and not many pubs with outside gardens. I expect during the TT races it is much more commercialised but I doubt I would go again as the scenery is very similar to Devon or Cornwall and you can get to those places without the proper radar!