Isle of Man: We visited ‘a paradise island in the middle of the Irish Sea’

Only 25 minutes flight from the UK and around three-and-a half-hours by ferry, the Isle of Man is referred to by its residents as ‘a paradise island in the middle of the Irish Sea’. Liz Coggins reports.

The Isle of Man is an island of contrasts from the wild rocky coastline and towering cliffs to the vintage seaside resorts it boasts a rich tapestry of flora, fauna, ancient monuments, medieval castles and National Heritage sites that celebrate its 10,000 year old story.

But the jewel in the island’s crown is that it is the world’s first entire nation to be recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere which was awarded because its extraordinary natural environment, vibrant culture, unique heritage and close knit community.

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Douglas is the capital and is dominated by its Victorian legacy. The promenade is laced with hotels built in Victorian times when the gentry came to the island for health reasons.

The Isle of Man is described as a paradise island in the middle of the Irish SeaThe Isle of Man is described as a paradise island in the middle of the Irish Sea
The Isle of Man is described as a paradise island in the middle of the Irish Sea

I stayed at The Empress, a perfect example of the period’s architecture with a glass covered colonnade facing the sea and imposing marble steps. Sitting on the colonnade it wasn’t hard to image Victoria ladies taking tea reading a novelette or doing their petit-point as they watched the waves crash on the beach. The Empress is still an elegant hotel and has been lovingly refurbished and without losing its Victoria charm.

Other impressive examples of restored Victorian buildings are the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre both in Douglas.

The Villa Marina can trace its history back to the early 1880’s when it was a private estate. Later it became an entertainment venue with Dame Nellie Melba and George Robey appearing there in the 1900’s and was visited by royalty.

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In 2001 an extensive restoration took place. The marble colonnade walkways and fountains are impressive with the Royal Hall hosting star-studded concerts and events.

The Isle of Man Steam RailwayThe Isle of Man Steam Railway
The Isle of Man Steam Railway

The Gaiety Theatre built in 1893 was designed by famous theatre architect Frank Matchum. After a chequered history the theatre has been historically restored and renovated to its former glory.

The theatre has the only existing Corsican Trap still in use in the UK and possibly the world. The theatre stages productions all year round and its worth taking one of their tours to learn more about its past.

A guided tour of the historic Tynwald Chambers, the national parliament of the Isle of Man and the oldest continuous national parliament of its kind in the world is a chance to learn more about this self governing crown dependency in an informal way.

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Travelling around the island is easy with is an excellent bus service Vannin which combined with the vintage railways helps you get around.

The Isle of Man Steam Railway was built in 1873 and runs from Douglas to Port Erin with stops along the way- its like stepping back in time with plush carriages, some marked First Class.

Port Erin has a stunning golden beach and many coastal footpaths to explore but its station still retains an Edwardian splendour.

The island’s former capital Castletown famous as the location for the film Thomas and the Magic Railway also the inspiration for the Thomas the Tank engine stories is another station stop and great for a leisurely stroll.

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At Port St Mary visit the harbour, shops and cafes on sheltered Chapel Beach. There’s a section of the coastal path between here and Port Erin that is a good place to see basking sharks in the sea below depending on the time of year.

The Manx Electric Railway is 131 years old and goes from Douglas to Laxey i and Ramsey. Taking around 75 minutes it travels along some beautiful scenic stretches on the East Coast. On one side you’ll experience the countryside and on the other views reaching out to the sea.

The railway stops at the famous Laxey Wheel, the oldest water wheel in the world, and if you feel brave enough ascend a spiral staircase to the high viewing platform for some stunning views.

Ramsay has a vast sea front and beach, a great shopping area and on its outskirts Milntown Historic House with picturesque gardens.

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It is also home to the Fynoderee Distillery Bar and Shop. The distillery tour is fascinating. Here artisans produce premium spirits using copper pot stills and locally foraged botanicals.

To mark 100 years of the RNLI, founded by Manx born resident Sir William Hilary in 1824 Fynoderee are producing a special spiced rum as a tribute to the RNLI.

The Manx Motor Museum is described as a’ petrol head’s paradise’ with over 500 vehicles. Now I am no petrol head but I just didn’t want to leave. The collection is fascinating and the stories behind the exhibits including a 50’s Greyhound Bus , 1918 Charabanc, Lincoln Flower Car used to carry flowers to gangsters funerals, A Gold Cadillac Japanese Hearse and the car the late Queen used on her 1953 world tour are amazing.

The Greatest Free Show on Earth takes place on the last week in May and first week in June on the Island when 42,000 visitors invade the island and around 19,000 thousand bikes for the famous T.T.Races. Tours will take you sedately round the island on the course but not at the speeds the riders experience.

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The island has its own folk lore, legends and fairy tales so just as my taxi driver told me as we crossed the Fairy Bridge on my way to Douglas I said “Hello Fairies” as I was leaving as if you don’t something bad will happen to you – but that’s another tale.

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