Newest Review: ... 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 gre... more
Isle of Man
Member Name: Drifter_2000
Isle of Man
Advantages: Natural beauty, secluded destination
Disadvantages: Quite expensive, can't guarantee the weather
'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'.
Summary: A destination that's familiar yet different
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