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Isle of Man - England

Once inhabited by Vikings, this windswept land is home to abundant wildlife, ancient castles and – rumour has it – elusive mythical creatures. Alex Mead goes fairy hunting

Travel Time 1hrs 20min

Why go?

Despite being home to no more than 80,000 souls, and drivable end-to-end in 40 minutes, this rugged slice of Celtic rock, adrift between the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English coasts, is rich in history and culture – not to mention the sweetest scallops you’re ever likely to taste. Invaded by the Vikings, owned by the King of Norway and sold to Scotland, it eventually became British but carries plenty of traits from its past: its own language (Manx); the world’s oldest parliament; and ancient castles aplenty. Add to that friendly people, plus a landscape that’s as fertile as it is attractive – this is where the famous Manx Loaghtan lamb is reared – and a coastline that delivers wonderful seafood, from clams to queenie scallops, and you have plenty of reasons to jump on the ferry.

What to do

In May, anticipation is mounting over the renowned Isle of Man TT (30 May – 12 June), when bikes race at speeds of up to 300km/h around the road circuit, which also has no speed limit when not in race mode. Visit before the crowds arrive, though, and explore the peaceful coastline dotted with bastions such as Peel Castle, perched at the end of the town’s curl of white sand. The Duchess of Gloucester was imprisoned here for sorcery in the 1400s, and it has stories etched into every crag. Head south, to the Sound, and cross for the Calf of Man, an islet home to just two people but 33 species of seabird. In the north, there’s Snaefell, the 610m mountain from which seven ‘kingdoms’ can be seen: Mann, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Neptune and Heaven. With a landscape mirroring that of the Scottish links heartland, the isle has eight golf courses – four of them the work of legendary designers Old Tom Morris (St Andrews) and Alister MacKenzie (Augusta). Look closely, and you may see tiny houses, a tribute to the island’s fairies – with Fairy Bridge, halfway between the capital Douglas and Castletown in the south, a hotspot for ‘sightings’. Then there’s the Laxey Wheel, a 22m waterwheel; the heritage railway; and endless cycling and hiking trails, all wrapped up in a biosphere Unesco deemed worthy of protection.

Where to stay

The Isle of Man isn’t the place for five-star hotels (it has none), but it has plenty of characterful lodgings, as well as glamping and farm stays. Sea Cliff near Douglas caters for just six guests in three luxury suites, overlooking the Irish Sea. Another clifftop option, with hot tubs and sauna, is Seascape in Laxey, which also has three suites. For a friendly B&B, book Albany House in Peel or, for an option offering all the modern trimmings, try The Claremont – the only four-star hotel on the island.

Where to eat and drink

At the end of the promenade in Peel there’s a fish stall, The Fish Bar, where a chef in a bandana rocks up in his Reliant Robin to serve Manx kipper baps, pickled scallops, whelks, cockles, and even rollmop herring. Douglas’s 14 North is the island’s must-visit, with an Asian-leaning menu packed with local produce. In the same family in Douglas, there’s also a more relaxed café, Little Fish Café serving queenies with garlic and bacon on sourdough and quality fish and chips. They also now have a buzzy burger and cocktail bar, Dream Bird, on Victoria Street. Also in Douglas, for coffee and brunch, locals head to artisan bakery and roastery Noa Bakehouse on Fort Street, while at Isle of Man gin-makers Seven Kingdoms you can slip from sipping to supper at their eponymous fine diner. Elsewhere, there’s Port Erin’s The Bay, home of local beer Bushys whose flavoursome list includes an oyster stout. A final tip, for the freshest lobster salad, make way to the Bay Green Restaurant at Castletown Golf Links – the local fisherman heads there every morning after he’s checked his pots from the neighbouring cove.

Time running out?

Don’t leave without having glimpsed the seven ‘kingdoms’ from the Snaefell Mountain Railway – the only Victorian electric mountain railway in Britain.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Isle of Man pound (IMP), which has parity with pound sterling (GBP). Time is GMT. Flight time from London is 1 hour 20 minutes; ferry crossings take 2 hours 45 minutes.

Getting There

easyJet flies from London Gatwick to Ronaldsway Airport, near Douglas.

Steam Packet operates ferry services from Liverpool and Heysham to Douglas.


Visit Isle of Man is the official tourist board and its website provides essential travel tips, plus accommodation, restaurant and information on cycle and hiking routes.

This article was taken from the May 2020 issue of Food and Travel.

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