From my first Radio Caroline inspired visit to the Isle Of Man with my parents in the mid '60s I fell in love with the Island,taking my Fiance there for a day trip in 1973,having our Honeymoon there in 1974 & then from 1976 visiting pretty much every March & December,Summer vacation,as many day trips as I could & sometimes other short breaks,we loved the Isle Of Man,I listened to Manx Radio,had the Manx paper dlivered,read Manx Life every month & dreamt of living there,then Seacats happened,a number of bad experiences with them,no more conventional ferry from Liverpool,we no longer felt confident of going & returning when we planned,along with the rising cost of the hotel we had used since 1979 saw us sadly look elsewhere 10 years ago,a short break 7 years ago turned out pretty miserably.
I had wanted to go back last year in March for my Birthday but the sheer price that we were being asked really put us off but this year I was determined,origional prices were again scary but then the Isle Of Man Steam Packet gave me a remarkably good quote(which they then reduced!),less than half of some others(where do they get these figures from?),a quick call to Karen(Super friendly & helpful) at the Steam Packet & sorted,out from Heysham on the 'proper' ship on March 25th & back to Liverpool on the Sea Cat on Monday March 29th(no rush to get home was the thinking!).
First surprise came before we went,travel documents show out from Heysham on Mannanan,the Sea Cat,the Ben My Chree out of action for service until the next day,just our luck,scouring the weather forecasts days before became order of the day!
With some trepidation we made the journey up to Heysham(100 mainly rather boring miles!),as in the past we had lunch at the pub by the ferry terminal,The Duke Of Rothesay,excellent service & food,& made our way to the check in,to our surprise we were straight on board & after a tour of the vessel we picked a place in the bar at the stern of the vessel,nice & light & airy we thought,cue music on the TV's,not just not our type of music but pretty loud making conversation difficult,the vessel was getting pretty full pretty quick,a quick search for similar seating failed so we stuck with it.Next was the exhaust fumes which started to appear as departure time neared,then,on time at 1415hrs we left,worries about the music soon were forgotten as the noise of the engines drowned it out!Sailing time was advertised as 2 hours,as in many of our previous Cat experiences this took 30 minutes longer on a perfectly flat sea,not a good start.
The traffic along Douglas sea front was as bad as ever but eventually we reached our home for the next 4 nights,the Sefton Hotel,a place we have so many happy memories,things didn't get any better,they had no booking for us,after a short delay we were told that there was one double room available & so we headed up to room 395,this was one of the rooms looking out over the Atrium Garden,with a balcony,very nicely equipped & spotless,result at last!
After unpacking we went for a walk to see what had changed,sadly one of our old favs,The Waterloo has gone from the Strand,we walked as far as the Quay noting what had & hadn't changed & then decided to walk back along the prom,on the way our nostrils picked a quite superb smell,this led us the Curry Lounge,we had an absolutely beautiful meal there,the place was packed,we walked back along the prom,a couple of drinks on our balcony & went to bed after a long day.
Next morning dawned dry & bright &,as in the past saw me making a pig of myself at the Sefton's superb breakfast buffet,something I had vowed not to do but it was my Birthday!
Then we set off on what had,all those years ago,been our routine Southern island tour in the car,first impression was how much more traffic & roundabouts there are these days,first on the list was Castletown,followed by Port St Mary,The Sound & Port Erin via the single track road,an old favourite,Niarbyl before heading to the Waterfall at Glen Maye for lunch,we went in & got a drink but decided that neither of us was that hungry,prices also seemed a bit steep at nearly £8 for a steak sandwich,& so we decided to move on,but before we did time for something silly,a visit to the Waterfall in the Glen,my Wife made it to the first bridge,I decided to go all the way down(the shaky start to the break already had me wondering if we would ever get back again so I felt I had to),being rewarded with a stunning sight,the falls were really going well,I was glad I made the effort,the climb back up nearly changed my mind but it did give us both an appetite & inspiration came to mind,let's go to another old fav,the Farmers at St Johns,brilliant,of course many will know what comes next,it's shut!
What to do next,we drove to the end of the road,saw(a rather scruffy) Tynwald Hill Inn & thought,what the hell let's go in there!
Are we glad we did,having said that it looks scruffy it is in the process of being refurbished,the lounge is closed & all meals are being served in the bar,a friendly greeting,we got a couple of drinks & took a seat to decide what to eat,suddenly we realised that almost everybody there was ordering the steak dinner,which was some size,had the most amazing looking chips on it & was £4.95,cursing the breakfast 'pig out' we ordered batches & a portion of chips,the baps were super,the chips were by far the best I've eaten at a bar for years,OK our plans changed we will be back for our steak lunch before we leave on Monday(one thing I will say is that the food service was a bit erratic,a group of 4 got their meals at widely differing intervals,having said that it is being refurbished I will give them the benefit of the doubt!),back to Douglas,parked the car & went for a bit of shopping before going back to our room to prepare for evening.
My Birthday meal was to be at L'Experience on Summerhill Road,another old fav of ours & we were not disapointed,an absolutely superb meal & great service,good choice!
Saturday Morning saw another bright day & us both trying to be a bit more sensible at breakfast by just ordering the kippers,bad move,they were gorgeous but so many of them,it's going to be another hard day!Another routie trip for us,down to the bus station & off to Peel,again taking in the changes on the way,lunch as in the past was at the Marine,seeing a sign for beef stew we thought seemed a wise move again we were proved correct,absolutely delicious,(so glad we did,the Lasagne that the woman next to us recieved was the size of a large house brick!),the staff in the Marine were brilliant,great juke box which meant we spent more time in there than usual(& drank more!),as a result we decided to leave our visit to the Whitehouse,there was no way we were going to do it justice & we had already changed our thinking to where will go next time we visit the Island so we got the bus back to Douglas,some more shopping & to our room for a couple of drinks on the balcony.
That evening saw one of our bad moves,we got dressed & went out to find somewhere to eat,which proved pretty impossible having not made a reservation so we decided to make the most of our balcony & order in,the food arrived amazingly quickly,my Wife had the Lasagne & I had the Steak,Mushroom & Ale pie &,sorry Tynwald Hill Inn,the most amazing chips,washed down with our own wine,another winner!
Roaming Douglas had been our plan on Sunday but we decided instead to head for Laxey so we set off for the tram,sadly we found that they had moved the tram,I know we're getting older but no way was it that far from the Sefton to the tram before surely!Anyway the journey on the tram was as wonderful as ever,great weather too,arriving in Laxey we went into another old fav,the Mines Tavern for drink before doing a tour of the village which seemed remarkably empty(we love Laxey,we stayed there for a week once & know it well),we then returned to the Mines for lunch,the Roast dinner looked wonderful but having decided to book the restaurant at the Sefton for that night we decided to be good & settled for a bowl of soup which was delicious.Before we left Laxey I rang the Sefton only to find that the Gallery Restaurant doesn't open on a Sunday night so booked for Sir Norman's instead,we then got the bus back to Douglas,a quick visit to another old fav,the Albert,what a let down,where have all those wonderful old cartoons gone(!),before a stroll down the Strand for a restful afternoon.
Evening saw us in Sir Norman's & having exactly the same as we had the night before,& yes it was every bit as good as the night before!
Monday morning dawned wet & wild,as forecast,an ominous sign for us after our previous Seacat experiences,we said farewell to the Sefton(separate review posted on that),packed up the car & went for a drive,up the TT course to the Bungalow & then left onto one of my all time fav drives,through Tholt-Y-Will & Sulby Glens(in first cloud & then very heavy rain),out to Ballaugh Shore(my how that has changed,you used to be able to step accross that little trickle of water now it's a full blown stream!),back to Ballaugh & down the side of the Raven to the Druidale Road(couldn't see what used to be the Ravensdale Castle,I know it's long since closed as an hotel but is it still there?),another superb road to drive,all on our own too,not surprising in view of the weather which had turned the road into one long water splash,as we got higher we started to see more of the white stuff until we were well & truly in a blizzard,not something I do every day!By the time we got back to the TT course we were back in the rain & heading for our 2nd visit to the Tynwald Hill Inn for lunch,sadly due to the weather & amount of traffic our progress was very slow,upon reaching the Hawthorn we decided to head in there,remembering this place of old,what a change,I guess it's no longer somewhere you go just for a few beers,none of the furniture looks comfy enough for that,but service was superb,we ordered the Liver & Bacon which was delicious & headed back to Douglas.As we came on to the prom at the bottom of Broadway we were greeted by the sight of waves coming over the sea wall& both had the same thought,we are not going to sail!
But sure enough,we borded,this time choosing seats in the forward lounge,much quiter,observed the optimistic sight of many stewards wandering around with bundles of sick bags under each arm,always a reassuring sight,before the Cat slipped its leash 15 minutes early & headed out to what we expected to be a roller coaster ride,how wrong we were,the vessel seemed to stay remarkably flat & smooth during the entire journey,the Captain informed us that we were doing 33kts,it really didn't feel that fast,but just over 2hrs 30mins later we were in Liverpool
So ended our trip 'back home',are we going again,my heart says yes,but in the last 7-10 years we have found other places to go which we love so fitting it in isn't going to be that easy,we'll have to work on that.
Finally for anybody still awake after all that thanks to all TA advisors who helped us with our planning for this trip,you were all spot on as usual,look after that Island 'til I get back!