In love with The Isle of Man, Part Two

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In our last issue, Trevor and Karen Franklin began recounting their visit to a place famous for fast motorcycling. They found there is far more to it than the TT;

Having flown in on our previous visit to the Isle of Man, this time we arrived by `fast cat’ out from Liverpool to Douglas. This was a voyage of under three hours on the Manannan, a fast catamaran made in Hobart by INCAT Tasmania. This company has been manufacturing world-class “Wave Piercing” catamarans there since 1983 with worldwide sales to both domestic and military operations. This trip was both smooth and uneventful, making for a relaxed journey from England to the place which both Karen and I have simply fallen in love with.

It’s not just the racing, it’s not just the people, and it’s not just the countryside, it is simply the feeling of all of these things combined.  Small wonder that Manxmen, as all persons born and inhabit here are known, rarely ever leave. It’s not a sexist wording, and you will find it in the dictionary. Their strong sense of individuality is probably well described by the island’s coat of arms.

It’s not just the racing, it’s not just the people, and it’s not just the countryside, it is simply the feeling of all of these things combined.  Small wonder that Manxmen, as all persons born and inhabit here are known, rarely ever leave.

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Karen and I have now visited the Isle of Man (IOM) twice, and although the main reasons for our visits to the Isle were for the acclaimed race meetings, we soon found that there is an amazing historical culture here amassed over the centuries of habitation. We found this fascinating and it intrigued us to learn more. Proud, too, are the people who live here as seen by the picture above.

Journeys through time

Each and every town you go to on the island offers similar amazing time capsules, and fascinating history unique to perhaps that town or as a whole for the Isle.

Such examples are Castletown for its age and history, and Peel for being the only “City” on the IOM with its fortifications and ruins, including the only cathedral on the island. It is also the main fishing port, with fishing having a long history in Peel. To this day the harbour can still be seen filled with boats of the fishing trade. It is here that herring is cured to make the famous Manx kippers.

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Yes, you can get them by post, but only if you live in the UK. That seems a bit like getting fish and chips here by Australia Post!

A day is easily lost in Castletown, in absorbing the history and visiting the excellently restored and maintained buildings and belongings from times well past.  Tracing its origins back to 1090, Castletown holds true as one of the oldest towns in the British Isles. Its narrow streets and small fishing cottages prove this ancient past at every corner. The medieval Castle Rushen, once the home of kings and later government, still dominates the town centre. Fishing boats continue to fill the harbour, though Castletown saw the end of major commercial traffic to its port in the 1970’s. However, the ongoing expansion of financial and industrial businesses in the area keeps Castletown on the map as an important island town.

A long history

In earlier times, Castletown was the original location which includes the House of Keys being the directly elected lower branch of Tynwald, the parliament of the Isle of Man. The Tynwald or more formally, the High Court of Tynwald, is the legislature of the Isle of Man, and claims to be the oldest continuous parliamentary assembly in the world, with a tradition of over 1000 years of meetings being held. As an assembly first in Celtic and later Viking guises, the main business was not legislative, i.e. passing laws. It was the means by which the ruler controlled the community, ensured continuity by nominating successors, and resolved disputes.

The Old House of Keys is the former meeting place of the Isle of Man's parliament. It is located across the street from Castle Rushen in Castletown, the former capital of the Isle of Man, in the south of the island. The building was used as the House of Keys from 1821 until 1874, when the parliament was moved to Douglas.

Prior to 1821, the House of Keys had no official home, but met first at Castle Rushen, and later at the Bishop of Sodor and Man's library in Castletown. After criticism from a Royal Commission, plans were drawn up for a new meeting house for the Keys in 1813, but after concerns about the cost, they were redrawn and approved in 1819. Designed by Thomas Brine, the building was completed in 1821. It housed the House of Keys until 1874, when the Keys followed the other primary functions of the island and moved to Douglas. After that move, the Old House became a branch of Dumbell's Bank, and later Parr's Bank. In 2000, the Manx National Heritage acquired the building and began restoring the house to how it appeared in 1866. The building opened to the public as a museum in November 2001.

To stand where people stood over 1000 years ago is an amazing and almost humbling feeling, considering we now arrive on fast ferry or aircraft in comfort, and can drive around the island in a single day in air-conditioned comfort, not via a rough-hewn timber boat at the mercy of the elements.  You may not view all the island has to offer but it can be done easily. After all, the Isle is only 32 miles long and 14 miles wide, with an area of 221 square miles, so it easily fits inside the area that covers Canberra. Why am I stating in miles? Because that’s the main measurement here, and after all, the official race circuit is 37.73 miles long, so who am I to argue?

All the comforts of home

Karen and I stayed on this visit in the small hamlet of Dalby, on the south-west coast. Our hosts were the hospitable Islanders Cheryl and her husband who provide one of the thousands of “Home-Stay” facilities on the island. You are basically a visitor in their own house with provision of facilities and breakfast included if you wish. During coffee one evening, Karen mentioned her liking for kippers that we had during our visit two years prior. Cheryl then provided them for the next two days. Karen was a happy camper! Nothing was too much effort.

Previously overseen by the island government, but now by a private company, each and every offered accommodation is inspected with specific requirements to be met before they can be included in the scheme. It is hugely used over the race meetings’ weeks, with some premises booked out for years to come by people who have been coming to the racing for up to 50 years.

Out of our first floor bedroom window we could see the outline of Northern Ireland’s coastline in the misty distance during the day, and with the sun then setting over this landfall it made for a beautiful view each night. We also looked down over green lush fields that ended at the edge of the Irish Sea, with huge grassy mounds to the left and right of our viewpoint.

Each and every town you go to on the island offers similar amazing time capsules, and fascinating history unique to perhaps that town or as a whole for the Isle.

Intrusions of modern warfare

Similar mounds across Britain are ancient burial sites, but these are of much more recent origin. During the Second World War, this section of the Irish Sea was used for submarine training for the allied forces. It was normal to see `steel whales’ surfacing here, along with the occasional sightings of Minke whales, porpoises and dolphins.   These lovely native visiting creatures are still sighted here and it is not unusual for the restaurant to empty if they are seen sounding.

The mounds are actually concrete bunkers, built to protect a radar system that was installed here scanning the Irish Sea for enemy planes. Today, they are used for storage by the local water authority pump stations, or as animal refuges during nasty weather. The largest bunker which the water authority uses was for sale in 2013, being thought it carried separate ownership from the landowner. But this could not be proven so it still remains as it did then, overgrown and locked.

Narrow road ahead – everywhere

As you drive along these narrow roads, care must be taken for other traffic and even for the close edges and walls. The Irish coast in the distance and the beautiful rolling Irish Sea provide a relaxing feeling, so stop and take a look around. Just at the edge of Dalby we turn right down on to an even narrower side road heading to the coastal edge and you find Niarbyl. This is a very well patronised restaurant offering excellent food and reasonable rates, and a view of the coastal edges of this portion of the west side of the island is “to die for”, to use a well-worn phrase.

Continue to the road’s end sloping to virtually the water’s edge, you find a hidden gem of a cottage where various families have lived. They continue to fish almost  directly out of their front door either by rod from the rocks, or with a tractor that delivers the small fishing dinghy into the water via their own hand-hewn ramp.

There are some interesting rough weather pictures back at Niarbyl showing this house being battered by the rough coastal weather.  Perhaps not Karen’s and my idea of the ideal home!

As we drove back up the lane from Niarbyl, we now saw the old Dalby Hotel which has been unused for a number of years owing to work required to bring it up to scratch and was for sale. We looked at each other and laughed as we knew what each was thinking, so, yes, we enquired.

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Unfortunately the asking price was £900,000 (or around $1.7 Million Au)

Drats, just a tad outside our budget…

A walk to be planned

This visit included travelling the west coast along to the southern end of the Isle. This southwest coastline is amazingly rugged and is the most barren part of the island, with no village established for obvious reasons. There is, though, the track which circumnavigates almost the entire 99 mile coastline, with the exception of the west edge near and around Dalby and north towards Peel. Otherwise you can hike the edge and get views that change each day’s walk from weathered ageing towns, to weathered aging cliffs. This is not recommended for the unprepared or unplanned excursion, as the weather can quickly change to the unpleasant. Ill-prepared hikers are often caught out needing to shelter until it passes, or simply head inland and abandon the hike owing to weather that can stay bleak for a number of days.

Our final episode in the next issue will include the other main locations of the Isle, perhaps to whet the appetite of some of you who love to travel and see something a little different.

Trevor Franklin #13770

V-Sport

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