The Isle of Man is geographically part of the British Isles. However, it has its own Parliament, the Tynwald, which is of Norse origin and is older than the British Parliament. It also has its own Manx language, and even its cats are a breed apart, distinguished by their lack of a tail. The capital is Douglas, a Victorian seaside resort with a very long promenade, a fact to which I can testify, having stayed in a hotel halfway along it on my recent first visit to the island. At one end of the promenade is the town centre. As I walked around the shops I kept getting the feeling that there was something different and slightly old-fashioned about Douglas town centre. Then it dawned on me why this was: there was a refreshingly low number of chains compared with the "clone towns" of mainland Britain. Beyond the shops is the harbour and marina, lined with restaurants and pubs. This is also where the ferries come in, arriving from Liverpool, Heysham, Belfast and Dublin. Out in the bay is St Mary's Isle, with the Tower of Refuge, a structure built in 1832 to provide refuge for the survivors of shipwrecks. The islet is accessible by foot during exceptionally low tides, and one day during our April visit the annual organised walk out to the island took place, with large numbers of people lining up on the seafront ready to join the 'crocodile' line of walkers crossing the beach.
|St Mary's Isle|
The Isle of Man is famous for two things, both of which involve getting from A to B. The big event of the year is the TT motorcycle races, which start and finish in Douglas. During the races the town becomes party central in the evenings. The other thing the island is famous for is its heritage railways, two of which have terminii in Douglas. The Electric Railway, which follows a delightful route northwards to Ramsay, starts from the northern end of the promenade, and the Steam Railway bound for Port Erin via Castletown starts from near the harbour. During the summer months a horse-drawn tram goes back and forth along the seafront. Douglas' lively nightlife encompasses bars, restaurants, nightclubs and a casino, and for the more culturally inclined the Edwardian Gaiety Theatre. One of the more relaxing daytime activities is a stroll through the gardens of the Villa Marina, while the Manx Museum occupies an elevated position in the town. Outside the lively bar at the Sefton Hotel is a statue of the island's most famous former resident, Norman Wisdom, who spent much of his later life there. The island's other claim to celebrity fame is that it was the birthplace of the Gibb Brothers (or Bee Gees), who later moved to Australia. When we were there a special set of stamps in memory of the late Robin Gibb was being launched.
|View of the bay from the Electric Train|