Step back in time

2010-09-04 00:00

RESIDENTS of the tiny Isle of Man, which you will find on your map in the Irish Sea between Liverpool and Dublin, may not thank me for writing this article in praise of their beautiful island.

I think they prefer to keep their hide-away a closely guarded secret as a tourist destination. I believe most of the locals go underground when their little corner of heaven is invaded by the hordes for the annual Rally Isle of Man motor rally. I think, however, that residents have little to fear in this regard because those looking for crowds, nightclubs, classy restaurants and the noise and bustle associated with many European capitals should be going somewhere else.

The magic of this little island lies in its peace and tranquillity. It is a place for the tourist who would like to take a step back in time and enjoy wonderful scenery, courteous, friendly people and a way of life that is free of the stress and anxiety that has become so much a part of international travel.

Much of the superstition and secrecy that seem to be part of the island’s charm stem from its fascinating history, which is evidenced in Viking castle and interesting ruins, all left behind by the Druids and Celts of a bygone age. Some place names bear witness to this distant past. For example, Douglas, the capital, is also called Doolish. Peel on the west coast can be called by its Gaelic name, Port Ny Hinshey.

For South Africans, the relaxed lifestyle on the island is particularly noticeable because it is so completely free of security concerns and reminders of crime statistics. You can walk anywhere on the island at any time of day or night, and while the insurance companies urge you to lock your doors when you go to bed, residents rarely bother with that kind of precaution when they go to town during the day.

The scenery, shaped for the most part by the last Ice Age, varies from the mellow and gentle to the positively stunning. Parts of the very popular movie Waking Ned were filmed on the island. If you like fields and valleys, spectacular seascapes and beautiful trees and parks, this is the place for you. The variety of flowers and shrubs will take your breath away. You can expect to see bright yellow gorse all over the hillsides in May and June, not to mention a kaleidoscope of colourful bluebells, daffodils, tulips and peach blossom. Walking on the island is as rewarding and beautiful as anywhere in England, including the Lake District. All you need is a little booklet entitled More Rambling in the Isle of Man, which is available at most of the bookshops, stations and tourist agencies.

Some of the houses and cottages are picture-postcard beautiful and if you ask the locals they will tell you where to go to see whales, seals and basking sharks. If you get the impression that there is little to do on the island, think again. There are seven golf courses, sailing and boating are part of the local culture and there is also cycling, good trout fishing and sea angling. You may, of course, just prefer pottering about or taking a tram up to the top of Snaefel, which at about 600 metres is the island’s highest point. There are also some fine pubs where you can quench your thirst, and — need I say — what a wonderful thing it is that everybody speaks English (well nearly).

There is a beautiful restaurant with striking seascapes on the coast at Niarbyl where you can eat young scallops or, “queenies”, as they are called by the locals. There is seafood in abundance, as you would expect, and the smoked Manx kippers are not to be missed.

You need to give some thought to the appointment of a designated driver if you intend to go carousing. One of the impressive things about the Isle of Man is that everything works, including the local constabulary, and you are ill advised to push your luck on the drinking and driving limits. The Manxies are law-abiding, helpful people and you are not likely to encounter hooligans or jobbos anywhere.

As far as climate is concerned, the best time would be late May through June and July, and you would be well advised to watch the press for volcanic ash and airline strikes! My wife, Marge, and I had two beautiful weeks there in May and on one memorable morning the garden was bathed in bright sunshine with a powdering of snow on the surrounding hills.

Try an unusual destination. You may be pleasantly surprised.

• Gordon Crossley is a writer and retired schoolmaster who lives in Hilton.

L OCATION: The geographical centre of the British Isles in the Irish Sea

SIZE: 572 square km

POPULATION: 81 000

STATUS: Crown Dependency or constitutional monarchy

LANGUAGE: English, Manx Gaelic

CURRENCY: Manx pound or Isle of Man pound

CAPITAL: Douglas or Doolish

CLIMATE: Temperate

BEST TIME TO VISIT: May to July

The most frequently used route to Ronaldsway, the main airport in Castletown, is to take a bus from Heathrow across to Gatwick and then fly to the island. Flybe Airlines flies this route daily and can be booked through any reputable travel agent. If you need any more information go to www.visitisleofman.com

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