Arriving on the Isle of Man, it’s hard not to notice that things are a little behind the times - this is a slice of Britain from days gone by. Yet this is deliberately so. Outside of the world-renowned TT motorbike races, the island is largely unmodernised, with little mass tourism and no overt commercialism, making it an ideal place when you need to escape the modern world.
Home to some wonderful scenery, the Isle of Man boasts lush valleys, barren hills and a rugged coastline replete with fine sandy beaches, making it a true adventure playground for lovers of the outdoors. More than 40% of the land is unpopulated; there are 17 national glens, an easy summit to scale and a number of excellently maintained parks and gardens that are ideal for walkers. There is abundant wildlife; the Sound is perfect for spotting killer and humpback whales, basking sharks, dolphins, seals and masses of bird species. Other opportunities exist for water sports, diving and mountain biking. Of course, the island is also a Mecca for motorsports enthusiasts, with the world famous TT races and other motorsports events held here annually.
If all that nature doesn’t do it for you, then maybe the main town of Douglas will. Once the playground of tourists who poured off the Steam Packet ferries that ploughed across the Irish Sea, the city, although a little faded, still retains its Victorian seaside charm and long promenade, where horse-drawn trams amble. Victorian narrow-gauge railways and steam trains linking some of the towns elsewhere on the island only reinforce this time-warp feel.
But it’s not just the Victorians that have left their mark on the island. The Isle of Man’s history stretches back several thousand years and has seen Celts, Vikings and Christians settle here. Prehistoric tombs, elaborate Celtic crosses, Iron Age hilltop forts, ancient Viking burial ships and plenty of early churches and abbeys are just some of the evidence of the history that played out on these shores and the locals are justifiably proud of this complex and colourful legacy.
Lying adrift in the Irish Sea, between mainland Britain and the Republic of Ireland, the name reputedly comes from the Celtic sea god Manannan Mac Lir, who protected the island from invaders by cloaking it in mist to make it invisible. This sea mist still persists, as do other folk stories and legends associated with this enigmatic island. Stories of mythical creatures such as the malevolent Buggane ogre and ghostly Moddey Dhoo dog, as well as a tradition of greeting fairies when crossing a particular bridge, ensures that the island is characterised by mainlanders (who’ve probably never been there) as a quirky, old-fashioned place.
But despite the continuing legends that abound, modern day Isle of Man also has a contemporary edge, meaning that there is so much more to it than its reputation suggests. It’s still heavily associated with the finance industry, which remains central to the economy here, yet film-making and tourism are increasingly important as people start to discover the Isle of Man’s quiet natural beauty and rich heritage. Although occasionally damp, it’s never dull, and this compact little island consistently dazzles.