Isle of Man offers attractions for all vacation tastes

By: Wanda Coady

By: Wanda Coady

By: Wanda Coady

For a unique vacation spot, we recommend the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, this self-governing nation has some of the most glorious scenery in the British Isles and a beguiling mix of Viking and Celtic folklore and traditions.

Manx hospitality is exceptionally warm, and the pace of life is relaxed. There are attractions, activities, accommodations and cuisine to delight all ages and interests. Hikers love the challenging 90-mile coastal path around the perimeter of the island as well as the more leisurely 300 well-established trails through beautiful wooded glens.

The Motorcycle TT Festival Fortnight held each June has been a major island event for more than 100 years. Bikers come from all corners of the globe to race on a 38-mile circuit of public roads with hairpin turns, built-up areas, and 1,400-foot elevations at speeds over 190 miles an hour.

We are neither hikers nor bikers; I am an artist who returned from this year's visit with 300 photos of paintable subjects. Thatched-roof cottages, stone fences covered with flowers, landscapes dotted with sheep, coastal views with multicolored cliffs, seals sunning on rocks just off shore, ancient castles, and harbors filled with boats are just some of the subjects I'm eager to paint.

Wildlife enthusiasts marvel at the basking sharks (as long as 35 feet), whales, dolphins and seals that frequent the surrounding waters. Man is rich in cultural events, too. There are festivals of opera, jazz, blues, orchestral music and dance in the magnificent Gaiety Theatre and in Villa Marina's Royal Hall.

Several sites should be on every visitor's must-do list:

– Castle Rushen, a marvelously preserved medieval castle, dating from the 12th century. Detailed displays with wax figures authentically recreate life as it was for the kings and lords of Man.

– National Folk Museum at Cregneash, where life of 19th-century Manx crofters is authentically reproduced in this outdoor living museum of thatched, whitewashed cottages with costumed villagers demonstrating their crafts. A working farm surrounds the village, where the unusual Loaghtan sheep with four horns can be seen and even petted.

– House of Manannan in Peel, a heritage center that uses state-of-the-art interactive display techniques to show how early Manx Celts and Viking settlers shaped the island's history. An authentic Viking boat is also there.

– The Manx museum in Douglas, which has a vast collection of interesting artifacts from centuries of life on the island.

– Peel Castle, featuring the ruins of a huge castle and cathedral from the 11th century that was the ruling seat of the Norse Kingdom of Man.

Another task on a first-time visitor's list should be to look for one of the Isle of Man's tailless cats. If there is no tail, it is called a "rumpy"; those with half a tail are "stumpies."

We think the best way to see everything on the island is to rent a car. If you do, you will find the steering wheel on the right and driving is on the left side of the road.

Roads are very scenic but also very narrow with no shoulders. In places there is room for only one vehicle so either you or the oncoming vehicle must pull over in the occasional widened area.

If you chose not to explore by car, there are three charming railways. You can steam your way from Douglas south through town and village to sea and sand on a 15-mile route.

Or you can take the electric tram for a 75-minute ride through quiet countryside and around rugged coastlines from Douglas to Ramsey in the north. The third option is to climb aboard the British Isles' oldest electric mountain railway as you slowly wind your way around Snaefell Mountain, which reaches a lofty 2,036 feet.

Manx cuisine includes a great variety of seafood, but my husband ordered queenies, a small scallop, at every opportunity. He rated them almost as delicious as his favorite Maine lobster. Good lobsters and crabs are also caught around Man.

Their traditional favorite, kippers, are still smoked over oak chippings in the old way in a factory in Peel and appear on most menus and buffets, even at breakfast time. In my opinion, they are too smelly to even sample! But, they are sold around the world and are available in the airport packaged to take home for your friends.

Manx ice cream is so delicious and rich that one tries not to think of the calorie content. Man also produces a nice variety of cheeses and award-winning Manx beers. Because of all the sheep raised on the island, lamb is popular and Loaghtan lamb is prized for its low-fat, distinctive flavor.

Several airlines serve the island daily from cities in Ireland and England, but the planes are small and luggage allowances are restrictive. If you need more than a carryon, it is better to travel on one of the ferries from Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool or Heysham.

The ferry is also less expensive, but their schedules are tricky. From most of those ports, they do not leave every day or may not return on the day you require to meet your flight back home. Check the ferry schedule before you make round-trip flight reservations from the United States.

Go to www.visitisleofman.com for more information and request a tourist bureau magazine that lists the many island accommodations and things to do.

Wanda and Tom Coady live in Paxton.

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