Lazy Days on the Isle of Man


Wednesday was gloomy, a thin veil of rain spoiling the view, so we decided to go for a drive. We drove to the little village of Strang, then headed north on the B22. The road (excellent, because all roads on the Isle of Man are excellent) took us along the top of a mountain, looking down into steep valleys. There were lots of random sheep, patches of snow, plantations of pine trees. We passed reservoirs, crossed cattle grids and narrow stone bridges. Tried to find an ancient stone cairn, but failed.

Drove to the Motor Museum in Jurby. It is shut on Wednesdays.

We then had to decide: pop to look at a nearby prison, or drive to a car park near the sea at Sartfield. We chose the car park near the coast (at least, Husband did, which is the same as us both deciding. I voted for the prison.) Turns out that Sartfield is where the septic tank lorries empty the poop into vats, and a long pipe carries it the length of the footpath, to the sea. I have visited better smelling beaches. Wasn’t tempted to swim.

Drove along the A10, through the northern edge of the island. It was very flat, with fields of cattle and trees twisted by the cold north wind. It has echoes of Dungeness, where weird houses face the the elements in the shadow of a power station.

Drove to the village of Bride, passed an open tea-room and as it was 2.30 and we hadn’t eaten lunch, we stopped. It was perfect. I had red wine and goulash, and Husband had a cup of tea and a burger. People at other tables seemed to be ordering food that wasn’t on the menu (I definitely saw a lasagna!) but I was happy with my choice.

The guide book said there was a Celtic cross in the Parish church, so we went to look. We wandered among the graves, but no Celtic cross. I decided to look inside the church, and there it was! The black stone, engraved in the year 900 was still ornate, though it exuded old age, somehow the black stone managed to look ancient. The son who created it over the grave of his mother would never have guessed that we, in our modern clothes, with cars and houses, would one day trace the markings with our finger, and think about those long-ago people.

We drove home via Ramsey, simply so that Husband could drive the A18, which is the TT course across Snaefell. I am so glad we didn’t hire anything faster than a Corsa!

On Thursday, we went to Castletown. In the town square is the ‘Candlestick’ which is the plynth intended to hold the statue of Governor Cornelius Smelt (1805-1832). But the town people refused—and still refuse—to pay for the actual statue, so the column stands there, empty, looking like a giant candlestick!

I had read that Castletown had the plug to an old volcano, and I was interested to see it (to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what a ‘plug’ was, but I like volcanoes). We set off for the visitor centre. It was shut (everything is shut in March) but there was a helpful sign on the wall, which explained the geology of the beach. Now, I do not usually have any interest in geology, but this was rather amazing. There were slabs of limestone, which had been mined, and the remains of the lime kilns. Right next to the lime was a ‘storm beach’—fat pebbles washed up during a storm; and behind it all was the volcano plug, which was a hill of rocky volcanic larva from about a million years ago. It was, surprisingly, very interesting.

We finished our trip to Castletown with tea and cake. There is of course, a castle in the town, but I felt the teashop would be more fun.

I hope you make some good choices today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

The Cafe at the Sound


Our guidebook was, to be honest, pretty useless. It told us things like “There is a Celtic cross at Bride, which is very interesting.” Not a huge amount of information or background in that statement. However, some of the places it mentioned (whilst giving absolutely no information about) were rather splendid. The Cafe at the Sound was one of these.

We drove across the island, me giving directions, Husband ignoring them and pretending he was a racing driver. I was in an excellent mood, having enjoyed another breakfast at our favourite cafe: The Tea Junction. Every morning I had porridge, sprinkled with slices of banana and cinnamon, with local honey in a tiny pot at the side. Perfect.

However, the cafe we were heading for was not recommended for its food, but for the view. And oh my word, what a view! Perched on the side of the cliff, overlooking waves that crash over rocks, and sea that races between the Isle of Man and the tiny island of the Calf of Man. The weather was wild, which is absolutely the best time to visit, and we walked up to the cafe and sat at one of the tables next to the curved window, watching the sea and the weather and the wonderful strength of it all.

We ate sandwiches, which were very nice (though nothing could compare with the view) and I lingered over some rather tasty-looking cakes sitting under their glass domes in a tempting manner. Husband reminded me about my cholesterol levels (sometimes I hate him) and we left and went for a walk.

There were paths below the level of the cliff, and we dropped down out of the wind, and everything felt calm and peaceful (apart from the sea, which was still whooshing through the gap between the islands). I thought I could hear a hoarse bark, over the sound of the wind, and peered across to the Calf of Man. It was slightly too far away to be in focus, but I could make out rocks in the little cove. Then one of the rocks lifted its head, and I realised they were seals. We weren’t near enough to see them properly, but every time one of them moved, or a new arrival humped its body out of the waves, we could discern they were seals. It was terribly wonderful. We sat for a while, watching them flop their bodies across the beach, then we drove back across the island.

We passed a big church, with an area lined with flag poles, and a tiered hill like a green wedding cake. We stopped. This was Tynwald, the parliament hill I told you about in an earlier post. We walked around for a bit, trying to imagine how it would have been 1,000 years ago when it was established.

We drove home via Peel (home to those kipper-burgers from yesterday, which I can still taste by the way!) Peel is beautiful, with a quay full of fishing boats, and a castle from a storybook. The castle was possibly Avalon, from the King Arthur legends, and it used to be on an island but now it’s attached to the town by a little road. It was closed (everything was closed the first week of March) but there was a hill opposite, so we sat at the top in the sunshine, staring at the castle and thinking of stories (well, I was. Husband was probably thinking about the cost of renovating it) while the wind pushed against our backs and froze our bones.

Then we left, driving back (racing-driver style) to Douglas, where our Airbnb is. Another nice day on the island.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a nice day too.
Take care.
Love, Anne xx

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The Island with the Best Roads in the World


The back view is definitely the best! Front view has steamed-up glasses and a very red face.

I am sure you will have guessed by now which island we visited, but here are some more clues:
Each morning, we ran along the quay. I use the term ‘run’ lightly, but it was a lovely way to exercise, watching the ferry appear over the horizon, listening to the seagulls, watching the waves heave seaweed onto the beach. Just beyond the harbour is a tiny island with a tower on it. At night, it lights up with different coloured spotlights, and looks magical.

I went to one of the many shops selling ‘tourist trash’ and spent a happy time looking at fridge magnets and sticks of square rock (because that’s a thing here) and T-shirts with TT Racing emblazoned on the front (because that’s a BIG thing here). I bought a T-shirt. (TT actually stands for Tourist Trophy.)

The TT race is massive here. The island has a tiny population of about 80,000 and about 50,000 people arrive for the race. The race course is on the actual roads that cross the mountains, with start and finish in the towns. Which means that if the roads have even the smallest pothole, they dig up the whole section and resurface it properly, making all the roads fabulous for driving on. This island possibly has the best roads in the whole world.

While I was buying my T-shirt, the person in the shop told me a little about how crowded the island becomes during race season. Most residents have a room they can rent out, and farmers use fields as campsites, and all the restaurants are completely full. The week before the race, the road across the mountain is made one-way, and people with expensive cars come to zoom along the road. Of course, it is still open to normal traffic, and if Mr. Ferrari happens to get stuck behind Granny Slow-Boots, then there is a ginormous traffic jam. Possibly, I was told, the most expensive traffic jam in the world as it is full of the very best, fastest cars.

We were not on the island for racing season, but Husband still enjoyed the roads, and I was glad of seat-belts. As we drove through the mountains, we saw patches of snow and beautiful views and we frequently stopped to enjoy where we were. It was always freezing!

We drove up to Laxey, which is an old mining town. There is an huge waterwheel, made into a monument to the miners. My recommendation would be to visit this out of season, otherwise you might be forced to walk up some very scary steps, right to the top. Or to be asked to “Take a photo when I’m up there,” which will involve a long cold wait at the bottom. Much better to visit in March, when everything is closed and you can simply peer through the gates!

On the side of the Laxey Wheel is the triskelion. This is the emblem that is on the flag, and on practically everything else on the island (even hanging from street lights). I could not, to be honest, quite get my head around it. No one seems to really know where it comes from. It’s a three-legged swastika (nothing to do with Nazis) and I found it uncomfortable to look at. Each leg is dressed in armour, and it’s associated with the motto: Quocunque Jeceris Stabit (‘Wherever you throw it, it will stand’). The museum has several ideas about where it originated from, but no one is quite sure.

The island is also famous for a breed of cat. The Manx Cat has no tail, and the back legs are apparently slightly longer than in other breeds. I say “apparently” because we never saw one. I dragged Husband along residential streets, peering over garden walls and into bushes, but we didn’t see a single one. Personally, I think they do not exist (unlike the fairies, of which we saw many potential candidates).

Our first evening on the island, I ate Queenies—the Queen scallops that are a local delicacy.

We also ate some Manx kipper-burgers. These are smoked kippers, served in a bap, and the best place (according to the locals) is a small kiosk next to the castle in Peel. We drove there, dodged the extensive roadworks, and ordered our kipper burgers from the harassed-looking woman behind the counter. Then we climbed some steps, to an eating area above the kiosk and sat on a wooden bench, looking out to sea. The kippers were freshly cooked, the juices dripping from them when we took a bite, the bread fresh and soft. We ate them watching seals in the sea—or rather, with seals in the sea bobbing up to watch us! Kipper burgers are a sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Glad I did it, never need to do it again. It was a hard-to-forget experience, as the taste lingered long, long after the last bite was swallowed. . .

I am sure by now you know that we were on the Isle of Man. I will tell you more tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Eat something tasty today.
Love, Anne x