I’ve been visiting the Island for nearly 40 years on family holidays, day trips, motorcycle tours etc. If, like me, you like to get the feel of a place in order to appreciate what might not seem obvious to the casual visitor then I think you need to do a bit of preparation prior to exploring the Island. The diversity of interest in such a limited space is staggering and a bit of prior research would pay dividends when it comes to making the most of your visit.
For a short break I suggest a visit to both the Manx Museum in Douglas and its sister, the House of Manannan in Peel, as your first ports of call. These are without a doubt my two favourite museums anywhere, and a day spent here would give you a fabulous start when it comes to adventures in the field. If time is really limited then I would at least try to spend a couple of hours in one of them: Manx Museum for natural history, geography , agriculture, history of tourism/TT, art, literature and music; House of Manannan for Celtic & Viking history, the fishing industry and the Island’s maritime heritage.
If you have time to do a bit more “homework” prior to setting out on your trip to the Isle of Man, then there are many useful publications worth seeking out as well as online info (the various Manx forums can be useful for details but as with any of these you do tend to find more than your fair share of grievances being aired!). There are also a number of good DVDs on various aspects of the Island including geography, tourism, walking, shipping, the Tynwald parliament and, of course, the TT races. If you really wish to get a feel for the Isle of Man in all its multiplicity, then my absolute favourite publication is “Portrait of the Isle of Man” by E.H. Stenning. Although out of print for many years, it is usually available online, often for pennies, and it can be found in many second hand book shops and occasionally in local libraries. The book is as comprehensive as the Isle of Man is diverse. Although somewhat out of date regarding the Island’s status as a centre for tourism it is a mine of information (pun intended) on the Island’s industrial, prehistoric and historic heritage and its geography, geology, flora and fauna. It is a good source of information on Manx customs and folklore and gives an insight into the language and culture of the Manx people. Above all it is a well written book that is a pleasure to read; not overly scholarly but crediting the reader with some degree of intelligence.
My advice as to which attractions to visit would depend on your interests and, if time is short, which features could be combined into a single outing to maximise your enjoyment. In the following lists I have placed these ideas in MY order of preference and indicated where it is possible to combine them. Some of these are quick visits to interesting places. Others are longer, sometimes full day excursions. I’ve also added [B]Bus, [ER] Manx Electric Railway and [SR] Isle of Man Steam Railway labels for those without cars or who wish to take advantage of the historic railways or excellent bus services.
1. Douglas to Ramsey on Manx Electric Railway. Victorian tramway which hugs the coastline for most of the way. Spectacular views throughout. Best viewed from the open sided trailer cars if you don’t mind a bit of breeze. Worthwhile stops en-route are: Laxey for the Lady Isabella waterwheel and the Mines Trail; Cornaa for Ballaglass Glen and Cashtal-yn-Ard (see below).
3. Visit Peel Castle [B]. Seals are often seen from the breakwater, the rocks behind the breakwater (through arch in wall near takeaway kiosk) and from Peel Hill overlooking the castle (breathtaking views). Seals often follow fishing boats into harbour in the evening. Basking sharks can frequently be seen just off-shore. Catch the spectacular sunsets over the sea. If you haven’t already done so, visit House of Manannan.
4. Walk through Ballaglass Glen to the “lagoon” at Port Cornaa [ER]. Whilst in the area visit Cashtal-yn-Ard, the remains of a stone-age chambered tomb in a very picturesque setting (follow road downhill from Cornaa railway halt and after around 500 yards follow footpath on right past ruined cottage to field containing monument).
5. Visit Castle Rushen in Castletown [SR] [B]. Mediaeval castle in remarkable condition, many rooms are furnished as a museum.
6. Drive around TT course. Thirty seven miles long, the current lap record is around 17 minutes; it will probably take you 60-90.
7. Visit Calf Sound at the very Southern tip of the Island [B]. There is a café and visitors centre here with stunning views across to the Calf of Man. Look out for seals. Combine this with a visit to Cregneash, a traditional Manx village, preserved as a museum.
8. Visit Laxey for Mines Trail including Lady Isabella waterwheel [B] [ER].
9. In clear weather take the Snaefell Mountain Railway from Laxey [B] [ER] to the top of Snaefell for stunning views. You can leave/rejoin the tram at Bungalow station if you wish to walk the final few hundred feet of ascent to the summit.
10. Stroll along Marine Drive between Douglas Head and Port Soderick. Fabulous cliff top views.Edited: 24 November 2012, 03:21