Despite its small size, the Isle of Man harbors amazing contrasts. The island in the middle of the Irish Sea offers visitors a mixture of steep hills, lush valleys, green pastures, views of the omnipresent sea – and roaring motorcycles.
Motorcycles, of course, are chiefly associated with the first two weeks in June, when the traditional Isle of Man TT race is held. With bikers racing at speeds approaching 200 mph (320 kilometers/hour) on public roads, the competition is a main attraction on the island. Several other races are also held here, however, both bike- and car races. The season starts in April/May and continues through October.
Even though Isle of Man clearly is a motoring enthusiast’s paradise, the island has a lot more to offer visitors. A self-governing British Crown Dependency, it is estimated that the island has been inhabited since 6,500 B.C. Over the years since then, the inhabitants have been influenced by Gaelic culture, the Vikings have visited, and the island has been a part of both Scotland and England.
What one might find a bit surprising, perhaps, is that the ever-present Romans never took over the island when they were at it in the British Islands.
Nevertheless, such an abundance of historic influences have of course left their marks. As a consequence, the Isle of Man is rich not only in stone circles, fortresses and other monuments, but also in legends and folklore. An example is the triskelion, the three bent legs that is the symbol of the island. According to the legend, Manannán mac Lir, a sea deity, repelled an invasion of the island by transforming into the three legs. Rolling down a hill, he then defeated the invaders.
The symbol is also said to represent the belief that the island’s inhabitants never lose their balance.
Douglas is the capital of the island, and the largest city on the Isle of Man. Counting in excess of 26,000 inhabitants, Douglas is home to about one third of the island’s total population of around 80,000. Key economic sectors include tourism, manufacturing and offshore banking. The island is also becoming something of a center for film making, with 96 TV and film productions produced to date (including Iron Man and Miss Potter).
The Isle of Man has its own National Day: the Tynwald Day. Usually occurring on July 5, the island’s legislature meets at the village of St. John’s instead of Douglas on this day.
Cruise ships call in Douglas, capital city of the Isle of Man. The city center is within walking distance from the port, some 0.25 miles/0.4 kilometers away. Tourist information and taxis are available pierside.
- At the House of Manannan in Peel, learn about the sea god Manannan who plays a central role in many of the myths surrounding the Isle of Man. You will also be given the opportunity to experience a Celtic roundhouse and a Viking longhouse. The island’s maritime past is also in focus.
- For an insight into life on the island in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, visit the Grove Museum near Ramsey – once the summer retreat of the Gibb family. The possibility to count the flock of four-horned Manx Loaghtan sheep is a bonus.
- There are a number of ancient monuments spread all over the island, ranging from Neolithic tombs to Viking boat burials. You will find the main sights listed here: Crosses and monuments.
- With its collection of artefacts from all over the island, the Manx Museum is a natural stop for anyone interested in learning more about the Isle of Mann. An extensive collection of the work of Archibald Knox can also be viewed here. Born on the Isle of Man, Knox was one of the foremost artists of the late 19th and early 20th century.
- For a different perspective on the island and its capital, Douglas, visit the Camera Obscura. Located on Douglas Head, the Camera Obscura was built with 12 lenses that each highlight a segment of a 360-degree view.
- You will find one of Europe’s most well preserved medieval castles in Castletown, which is the island’s historic capital. Castle Rushen was developed in the period between the 13th and the 16th centuries, its origins being traced to the period of time when Norse Kings ruled here.
- The largest waterwheel in the world can be experienced here. The Laxey Wheel, also known as Lady Isabella, was built in 1854 to pump water from the shafts of the nearby lead mine. The wooden wheel is 22 meters/72.18 feet in diameter.
- Peel Castle is considered one of the principal historic monuments on the island. Buildings from different periods of time highlight the importance of the site from religious and secular perspectives.
- A good way to experience the island on your own might be to go by train. The Isle of Man has three different railways: The steam railway takes passengers south from Douglas, while the electric railway goes north. There is also a mountain railway, connecting the town of Laxey with the summit of Snaefell. 2,034 feet/620 meters high, Snaefell is the highest point on the island. The mountain railway connects with the electric railway in Laxey.
A number of shore excursions can be available on the Isle of Man. Examples include:
- Snaefell by rail will enable cruise guests to sample the best of the Isle of Man as they travel by train to the highest point on the island.
- Scenic tours of the island can be available, focusing on the island’s rich variety of scenery and natural beauty. Small villages, wild moors and plunging cliffs are examples of sights that will be on the agenda.
- Castletown can be the destination for some excursions. The town was the island’s capital for hundreds of years, before Douglas took over. Castle Rushen (see above, under Do Not Miss) is a main sight in Castletown.
You will need to travel by either ship or airplane to get from the Isle of Man. The closest land is southern Scotland. To England’s west coast and Ireland’s east coast, the distance is about the same.
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An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com