Isle of Man
'I don't want to go to Idaho, I don't want to go to Tennessee. Let me spend a while on Mona's Isle -That's the life for me' So ran the lyrics of a jolly seaside song played at the Manx Museum over archive footage of Victorian tourists enjoying the Douglas promenade. While the jaunty piano and George Formby-esque ... vocals echo a bygone era, the song is actually a pastiche created to provide a musical backdrop, and was probably recorded in a garage in 1994. That said, the song does reflect a time when the Isle of Man was a popular beach destination: a more secluded version of Rhyl or Blackpool that British families flocked to. Of course for many of us the beaches of southern Spain are now both cheaper and more convenient to access meaning that the island is now more of a boutique destination.
Indeed with the onset of the recession, the Isle of Man has adopted a distinctly laissez-faire attitude to tourism and has placed its eggs in one basket with the summer TT Festival. My own experiences of the island have stemmed from the annual Easter Athletics Festival, a yearly event organised by Manx Athletics. It may not match the TT for speed, but it's a great way to get to know the island.
The choice is simple- ferry or by air.
Unfortunately the liquidation of carriers such as Euromanx, Aer Arann and Manx Airlines, as well the discontinued routes from Eastern Airways means there's less competition than there used to be.
Flybe serves the largest number of UK airports, offering services from Manchester, Birmingham , Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Gatwick and Luton. Typical fares booked well in advance start at about £50 from Manchester and £80 from Birmingham (Euromanx used to operate a scheduled service from London City for the same price- hence my point about lack of competition)
Manx2 is another key carrier, serving Gloucester M5, Belfast City, Blackpool, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle and Oxford. Be prepared for a Biggles-like experience in a very tiny plane if you choose to fly with them!
Other services include Easyjet flights from Liverpool, Aer Lingus from Dublin and Blue Islands services from Jersey and Guernsey.
Isle of Man Airport- the islands airport is located at Ronaldsway in the south east of the island, roughtly 6 miles from the capital, Douglas. The airport itself is very modern, although without the range of shops and services one would find in a major UK airport. Half-hourly buses link the airport to Douglas (£3 single, journey takes around half an hour) and the buses stop right outside the town's main ferry terminal. Taxis take 15-20 minutes and will set you back around £20.
If you prefer the ferry option, then the Isle of Man Steam Packet company offer great value services from Liverpool or Heysham in Lancashire (during the winter months the latter service operates from Birkenhead).
The Liverpool route is covered by the fast catamaran Manannan, which links you to Douglas in 2 hours 45 minutes. Prices start at £30 return for foot passengers if you book early (size restrictions on large vehicles so check their website). The ferry departs from Albert dock which is a 15 minute walk from Liverpool Lime Street station and only 5 minutes from James Street station. You can check bags in and walk straight on board with no lengthy security checks. Be warned that if seas are rough then the catamaran service will not operate. You'll most likely be transferred (free of charge) to the slow boat from Heysham which means a lengthy delay to your journey. Because of this, it's worth keeping an eye on shipping forecasts and the Steam Packet website so that you can plan ahead.
Manannan has several passenger lounges as well as a bar at the rear and a café at the centre of the ship (be warned- it's expensive and a full English breakfast is £7.99). There's also a mini-cinema and a children's area with beanbags, toys and televisions. You'll find a small outdoor area at the rear where you can soak up the sea air (and the pungent fumes of marine fuel). The upstairs of the craft is largely taken up with various 'exclusive' lounges that you can access for a small fee, but as it's such a short journey I didn't bother with these.
Heysham is operated by the larger car ferry Ben-My-Chree which takes around 3 and a half hours to reach the island. Heysham port can be easily reached from the town's railway station, which has links to Morecambe and Lancaster. The Ben-My-Chree has a lot more in the way of onboard services with passenger cabins that can be reserved and a special lounge for passengers with dogs.
The Douglas ferry terminal is a short walk from the centre of the town. It also has an airport-style conveyor belt to retrieve luggage and a large Costa coffee. Adjacent to the terminal is the town's bus station, from which you can access other parts of the island.
Places to see
Compared to British towns of a similar size, Douglas shows few signs of economic decline. The narrow main shopping street has a healthy ratio of independent stores to chain retailers even if prices are generally a little higher, particularly for food (unfortunately the local Marks & Spencer seems to have set the prices for the rest of the town).
The main attraction is the award-winning Manx Museum, accessed either from a lift at street level or from climbing a daunting hill. Admission is free and highlights include:
-'The Story of Mann' - a 20-minute video retelling the island's history (it's actually very funny- not on purpose though)
-Exhibitions on the Manx language
-A section on Manx emigrants to the New World
-A mock-up of Douglas in its tourism heyday
-A taxidermy section with all manner of stuffed island wildlife on display
The museum really is brilliant, especially if your time is limited and you want an easy introduction to the culture and history of the island.
Perhaps the best beach on the island, situated on the southern tip of the Isle of Man. On a fine summer's day this little cove has a real touch of the Mediterranean about it. The main pub by the beach frequently has live music during the high season and has a very good range of ales.
The island's cultural capital, situated on the west coast of the island. Here you can visit the House of Manannan museum, which sheds light on the island's Viking past. There's also a charming kipper factory that offer tours. The most eye-catching attraction is the former Viking fortress of Peel castle, which is connected to the town via a causeway. On a fine day, a walk up Peel hill gives you spectacular views of the island and you may be able to make out Northern Ireland in the far distance.
The Tynwald Hill, St Johns- the site where the island's parliament (the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world) meets on Tynwald Day. It's a very grand grass mound with a nice pub opposite.
The Laxey Wheel- at the time this was the largest water wheel in the world. A potent symbol of the island's industrial past.
(Bear in mind there are plenty of other sites of interest on the island. However, as I don't have a car I've listed sites that are relatively to see using public transport).
My experience of Isle of Man accommodation is limited to Douglas but here's a brief guide:
Rotherham House (Broadway)- very cheap at £19.95 a night. Rooms vary in size and not all have an ensuite but all have been recently renovated. A kitchen is available for those wishing to self-cater.
Thiseldo (Woodville Terrace)- rooms start from £25 per person per night with breakfast. Quite old-fashioned in its décor but this adds to its charm. Very nice but cosy bar in the basement.
Strathmore House (Stanley Terrace)- very friendly family-run hotel, feels more like a home than a B&B! Starts from around £20 per night with breakfast.
Hilton hotel (Promenade) - a more expensive option but plenty of deals are available. Great location right on the sea front and you also get use of a health centre and casino.
So that's my review of the island. It's still a relatively cheap holiday if you use the ferry and you're willing to opt for basic accommodation. Otherwise it's almost certainly going to be more expensive than a similar stay in one of the traditional package destinations. However, for most parts of the UK it's easier to reach than other similarly 'rugged' destinations like the Scottish highlands or Cornwall. It's also a great place for a holiday if you're genuinely interested in the island itself- it is a unique place culturally and historically and while you are in the geographical centre of the British Isles, it truly does offer a way to 'get away from it all'.
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Alfriston (East Sussex)
ALFRISTON VILLAGE WEEKENDER'S VISIT THE VILLAGE Back in March I decided along with my husband, my youngest son and his fiancée to have a weekend away. We wanted to go somewhere in the East Sussex area so that my son's fiancée's parents could easily come along (as they live in East Sussex) and we could continue ... getting to know them. We decided to spend a weekend in the village of Alfriston in East Sussex. For myself and my husband this was a first visit but the other four had previously visited Alfriston.
We had wanted somewhere to go for the weekend that didn't take too long to drive to from our area north east of London (London/Essex borders) and had some interesting places to see that we could walk to from our weekend accommodation. We weren't looking for theme parks or anything extreme but simply wanted somewhere easy and pleasant and thought that perhaps somewhere quintessentially old English would be enjoyed by all.
The weather forecast wasn't good for the weekend; rain was on its way. However, for the first day of our trip it was, in fact, a lot better than we had expected. It drizzled slightly on the start of our journey but as we approached Sussex the sun shone and it was quite warm. This changed on Sunday with rain for most of the day and grey gloomy skies but overall the weather wasn't too bad.
AROUND THE VILLAGE
Alfriston, we were told was pronounced All-Friston but we found people in the locality pronouncing it as All-Friston and also as Alf-riston-and so I think I can be forgiven for changing my mind on how to say it!
The village is quaint and pretty. It's small and interesting. I think two or three nights spent here would be long enough to see much of the village but, as it is in a good location to visit other places in East Sussex such as Lewes and Brighton, just for starters, and so, if wanting to explore beyond the village, then Alfriston proves an ideal location to stay in for longer. From here it is easy to get out and about. The area, situated on the South Downs is a popular area for walkers.
Alfriston's 'high street' is small and winding with narrow pedestrian walkways. As we walked along on a very wet Sunday the village's roads were becoming very waterlogged with huge muddy puddles. At times we had to walk very quickly when there was no traffic passing hoping to reach a 'safe' and dry area before a car drove past. If a vehicle did drive pass and a huge puddle was unavoidable we jumped on to the grass verges. When there was no place to hide and we found ourselves squashed between cottage and puddle we then discovered that people are mainly polite in this village as drivers slowed down considerably and drove as best they could to avoid the puddles for the sake of pedestrians.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Simply driving into the area and then walking around the village it is evident that this village must have many old tales to tell. Visiting the 'Olde-worlde Shoppes', The Tye (village green), the churches and the 'high street' one can feel the history of this place; although inevitably it has moved on change seems to have come at a slower pace than in many areas of England.
Although I am interested in history I don't pretend to be very knowledgeable (please skip this part if history isn't your 'thing' and you just require information on the village in its present day form) and so for those wanting a taste of the village's past spare a few moments for this:
The village was settled long before the Norman invasion of 1066 , as the mound that the church lies on was an old Saxon burial ground. St Lewinna a Saxon virgin Christian was killed by the Saxons in 690AD and her body was kept at the church, her relics were attributed to a number of miracles.
King Alfred was believed to have burnt the cakes at the Star Inn in the village, this is possible as he had his palace a few miles away atWest Dean .
Towards the end of the 1700's the son and heir of the Chowne family, who owned Place House Estate, went for a walk with his dog, and was attacked by thieves. He was killed by a blow to the head, and the thieves buried the young man. Seven years later, a couple were walking along the road, and saw a small white dog that walked into the bank of the read. Every seven years the phantom dog returned until the early 1800 when the skeleton of a young man was found while the road was being widened, his bones were moved to the church and the ghostly dog never reappeared.
During the Napoleonic Wars Alfriston was the home to a large number of troops
After the Napoleonic wars the village turned to smuggling, and theAlfriston gang, well known for their violence, used the Cuckmere river to bring the illegal goods in to the village. The gang was broken up when the leader Stanton Collins was caught for sheep rustling in the early 1830's and transported to Australia.
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HOW TO GET THERE
Alfriston is near to the south coast of England in the county of East Sussex. It is by the South Downs and river Cuckmere. The area is one of local beauty and very popular with walkers. Also in its favour is the fact that the village is close to Eastbourne and within easy travelling distance of Brighton, St Leonards and Hastings and many other popular towns and villages around the south coast.
We travelled from Essex and travelled from the M25 and A26, A27 and A22.
Polegate station is about three and a half miles from St Andrew or ten minutes by car. Mainline trains run from London Victoria to Polegate.
AN ACCOMMODATING VILLAGE
There are several places to stay in Alfriston and I have given some details of just a few which I feel are varied from one with facilities such as a swimming pool and restaurant to a tea room offering overnight accommodation. Something for everyone, I believe, in this village, from the backpacker to those loving their creature comforts.
We stayed at The Star Inn on a bed and breakfast basis. We were pleased with the standard of accommodation and friendliness of its staff. The location is great and we were pleased that we could park our car in the Star's car park at the start of our stay and not need to use it again until we departed for home.
The Star was built in the thirteenth century and still shows off its half-timber framed building. . Inside, the old part of the inn has oak beams, stone floors and an inglenook fireplace. The Star is said to be one of England's oldest inns. Since it was built it has, over the years, I understand, accommodated pilgrims, smugglers, royalty and me!
The hotel has thirty-seven rooms, two of them are single and some are inter-connecting.
The Star serves food in its bar and lounge area and also serves food, in a more formal setting, in its Capella restaurant.
YE OLDE SMUGGLERS INNE
I loved the look of Ye Olde Smugglers Inne, both inside and out, with its oak beams, uneven stone flagged floors and inglenook fireplace.
An interesting pub menu is available here with a good choice of sandwiches, snacks and three course meals. Tasty soups, sandwiches and fish and chips or gourmet sausage and mash at reasonable prices.
Rooms are reasonably priced here but they aren't en-suite.
THE DEAN'S PLACE
A little more expensive; I believe a room would cost upwards of £100 with breakfast for one night in March. The Dean's Place is a fourteenth century country house style hotel which is in four acres of lovely grounds. It has an outdoor pool and also a restaurant. I had a look around here and thought it looked a very nice place to stay.
THE GEORGE INN
The George Inn is another fourteenth century inn. I had a look inside the inn part and it did look very quaint and interesting. The other members of our party have eaten here before and speak highly of the standard of their lunch.
CHESTNUTS TEA ROOM
This is a comfortable welcoming tea room which can also offer some bed and breakfast accommodation.
PLEASANT RISE FARM
Rooms here are on a bed and breakfast basis. The building is set in one hundred acres of land overlooking the Cuckmere valley. Rooms are en-suite and facilities here include both indoor and outdoor tennis and badminton courts plus horse stabling facilities for guests.
SPENDING SOME TIME IN THE VILLAGE
Drusilla's is an award winning zoo which, as well as being a zoo, offers Thomas Tank engine rides, Amazon adventure, panning for gold and lots more.
Opening Times - every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day
Summer opening-10am until 5pm.
Winter opening-from 10am until 4pm.
ST. ANDREW CHURCH
St Andrew Church was built in 1360. It sits on Alfriston's village green. St Andrew is built in cruciform shape. It came to be known as 'The Cathedral of the Downs' owing to its large and impressive appearance for a village which when built was not inhabited by many. I enjoyed visiting this church and looking around inside and at the grounds outside. It is in a truly beautiful and unspoilt spot looking over the South Downs.
This is a 'living' church with regular church services held here and its six bells call worshippers to prayer before these services. Bell ringers ring the bells from the chancel crossing.
We all found the church welcoming and we attended a service here on Sunday morning.
THE CLERGY HOUSE
Beside St Andrew Church is The Clergy House. This old and interesting fourteenth century building was the first property to be bought by the national trust. This cottage with its thatched roof is an unusual building and, along with its pretty gardens is well worth seeing.
There isn't a public toilet here or car parking.
Although I would say that the inside of the Clergy House isn't the most accessible place for those with mobility problems (steps and very narrow passageways) there is a drop off point for cars. Large print and braille guides are provided.
I have to say that the garden and exterior areas aren't the most level and easy for some but for those with moderate difficulties visiting the house may prove a worthwhile experience with some help perhaps. It is recommended that those with mobility difficulties arrive with someone able to assist.
If you are able to access the clergy house then it does make for an enjoyable visit for a couple of hours and then when you've had your fill of looking at the house and grounds there's a national trust shop here too.
ALFRISTON VILLAGE STORE
We found this shop absolutely charming. On entering the shop you immediately see staff dressed in their crisp white aprons serving. Walking around this shop one could liken it to an Aladdin's cave; so wells stocked with interesting merchandise as well as the more mundane but necessary items. It sells most things which a convenience store would stock such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, needles and thread, bread, tea, coffee and then some...beautiful cakes and pastries, preserves, local cheeses... gifts and even a painting or two by local artists.
It also serves as the village post office.
The store is over two floors. The first floor can be accessed by stairs rising from the centre of the ground floor.
VISITORS LEAVE THE VILLAGE
I found the village of Alfriston quite lovely. Walking around it and admiring its treasures I was reminded of various village fiction type reads of a place where everyone knows all of their neighbours. I imagine a place where villagers volunteer to clean the church, raise money at the village fetes, bake cakes and take enormous pride in their village. I would think it a lovely place for children to grow and families to live in, as long as there aren't too many visitors like my family invading its space. I hope we really were as welcome as we were made to feel.
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Hatton Country World (Warwick, England)
Hatton Farm Village / Country World is based in the beautiful Warwickshire county. We used a Satnav to travel there are found it very easily, and I'm sure it would be almost as easy to find using map directions. As my husband is on holiday from work we have been taking our almost 2 year old son out on day trips and yesterday ... decided to visit Hatton Farm Village. There are plenty of parking spaces, even though it was very busy we didn't struggle to find a space.
Tickets cost £12.95 for adults, £13.95 for children and under 2's are free. I found a buy one get one free voucher on vouchercloud.com and our son is still under 2 so it only cost us £12.95 for admission.
Hatton Farm Villiage has so much to do, there was plenty for our son but even more for slightly older children. There are plenty of toilets, with baby changing facilities and restaurants and cafe's or picnic benches if you prefer to take your own food. There is a section of lovely little shops, that sell crafty things like candles and cards etc and the usual souvenir shop.
For children there are the farm animals to look at and feed and Guniea Pig Village, where they can hold a Guniea Pig. My son loved holding and stroking the Guinea Pigs, he had a massive smile on his face! A lot of the animals can't be fed directly and you have to put the feed that you buy into a tube and it slides down to the animals, at least it stops little fingers getting bitten! The animals we saw included sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and baby chicks, not sure if we missed any out.
Upon arrival at the farm we were given a timetable of the events throughout the day, these included a children's show (which I can't comment on as we missed it), Daft Duck Trials, where ducks are herded around by a sheep dog, and as it was Easter there were Easter egg hunts and other Easter activities. There was also a bird of prey display, you could also walk around this area at any time of the day to look at the birds. My son enjoyed watching the owl fly around but we didn't stay for the entire bird display as he didn't want to sit still for too long!
There were also a handful of little fair ground rides, two of which parents are allowed on with younger children and one other that is for over 4's. There were also bouncy castles (one for under 5's and one for over 5's) and trampolines, frisbee golf, giant snakes and ladders and checkers, a big inflatable slide and a plastic twisty slide. My husband took our son on the twisty slide, you have to sit in a sack to come down and my husband said they just got stuck and he had to keep pushing with his hands.
There is an indoor soft play area, which was great as it had separate sections for different age groups, including under 2's, 2 - 4's and a bit for the older kids. The cafe was also in the same building and it was very busy but we managed to find somewhere to sit.
We ate in the cafe, which as in all places like this, seemed to be quite expensive. Next time we go we will definitely be taking a picnic. There is also a refreshment stall near the fair ground rides for drinks and snacks and a restraurant near the shops.
We had a great day out, the activities are almost all included in the price of your ticket so the only extra we spent was in the cafe and souvenir shop.
We are definitely planning on going again in the future and I would recommend Hatton Farm Village to anyone with young children.
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