castletown isle of man

isle of man

A Weekend Getaway to the Sleepy Irish Sea Island


journey profile

Where: Isle of Man (UK Dependency), British Isles. Europe
When: August 2010
What: Laxey Wheel, Douglas Castle, Snaefell Mountain Railway, Norman Wisdom Statue at the Gaiety Theatre, Electric Railway, Tower of Refuge, Snaefell Summit, Horse-drawn Tram, Douglas Bay at daybreak.
How: Ferry, bus, taxi, walking.
Country counter: Country No.: n/a
Illnesses or mishaps: Ending up on the top of a cold and windswept Snaefell mountain without so much as a coat.


The Isle of Man is almost equidistant from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. It's an island of no more than 33 miles by 13 miles, punctuated by jagged cliffs, sandy beaches, glens and, it has to be said, a slightly unsettling state symbol of three armoured legs emanating like bicycle spokes from the centre and set upon a disconcertingly lurid blood-red background. It is the strangest flag I have ever seen and has an otherworldly, foreign feel about it. So often used to arriving in an unknown place by plane, train or automobile, it made a nice change to arrive by water. Despite its proximity to the English mainland, suddenly it all felt rather intrepid. 

Not technically part of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man has the British monarch as its Head of State, and if the proverbial mess were to hit the proverbial fan the UK government would step in militarily. The island's currency, the Manx Pound, though, cannot be used back in England. Curiously, the Isle of Man is listed under the north west England section of my 'Rough Guide to England'. So its inclusion in the United Kingdom section of is logical, if technically inaccurate. Confused? Me too.

We travelled to Douglas, the 'capital' of the Isle, on the Steam Packet Ferry Company, a three and a half hour journey which began at Liverpool's evocative docks. As the ferry furrowed the eighty mile stretch of the bumpy, lumpy Irish Sea, we left England's shores behind and advanced upon a kind of sleepy yesteryear place that was neither Irish, English, Scottish nor Welsh yet, paradoxically, had the scent of all four. 

Our micro adventure began in the Isle's 'capital' Douglas. Douglas was our base from which to head further afield to the picturesque Castletown on the south of the island, the summit of Snaefell at 2036 feet high thanks to the much-needed assistance of the Manx Mountain Railway, and the island's wonderful Laxey Wheel at Laxey: the largest working waterwheel in the world (how's that for alliteration?) and an obligatory punctuation mark on our Manx itinerary. Being an island surrounded by coastline and breaking waves, staying at the Empress Hotel which overlooked the promenade and Bay of Douglas was entirely necessary. Wonderful sunny scenes greeted us in the morning, scenes which hovered somewhere between faded British Seaside town, a sleepy village and something out of the 1920s. Indeed, the presence of horse-drawn trams along the seafront only served to compound the feeling that the Steam Packet Ferry Company was part transportation company, part time machine.

There are many destinations on this Earth which are easy for the traveller's mind to grasp and categorise. The Isle of Man isn't one of them. It is a place that is, perhaps satisfyingly, wholly impossible to quantify, one which defies lazy categorisation. The multifaceted nature of its character is reason enough o visit.  


douglas bay isle of man

The wonderful colours of Douglas Bay.


castletown harbour lighthouse isle of man

Two of the red lighthouses at Castletown Harbour.  

isle of man railway signal

The Isle's yesteryear railway signals. 


laxey wheel isle of man

The wonderful Laxey Wheel. At twenty metres high it is the largest working water wheel in the world. Notice the slightly unsettling three-legged symbol of Mann.


Thirtle Bridge, Castletown. 

Summit Snaefell: 2036 feet above sea level.




travel tips, links & resources

  • Make sure you book a room with a sea view for a wonderful scene of Douglas Bay.
  • Hiring a car is probably the easiest way of seeing the island - we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for buses to arrive when really we should have been sightseeing. 
  • The Isle of Man doesn't tend to feature very highly on people's bucket lists but, in my own humble opinion, should. There really is (travel cliche) something for every type of traveller: outdoorsy types into hiking or water sports, history buffs, or those just wanting a relaxing weekend away. The Isle of Man is the kind of place where you can go to genuinely relax and unwind - except during the annual IoM TT. 
  • Weather at the top of Snaefell can change quickly and contrast starkly to the temperatures below. Take some warm clothes with you in your backpack so you do not end up at the top of the Isle's highest peak in nothing warmer than a T-shirt like me.


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