The joys of the Isle of Man – a little British secret of an island


Manxland for Mirth and Merriment! That’s a 1932 advert for the Steam Packet Company promoting the five fine ships that once ferried holidaymakers to Manxland — the Isle of Man.

The poster is in the House of Manannan museum in the harbour village of Peel, on Man’s west coast. It’s the right place, because that slogan has long been consigned to history.

Mirth and merriment are out. Instead, the Isle of Man tourism people have just unveiled a ‘Mindful Map’ of the island, featuring wild swimming, hikes and the like to offer ‘accessible wellness’.

Well, this is 2023. Even a short break for some fresh air has to be therapy. I touch down at Ronaldsway airport, get in a hire car and set off to boost my resilience and access a good dose of wellness.

The Isle of Man was left adrift in the Irish Sea as the ice sheets melted some 8,000 years ago. It’s almost equidistant from the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English coasts — and different bits of the landscape will remind you of all four. With a population of just over 84,000, there’s space for everyone.

Majestic: Mark Jones explores the Isle of Man and learns that the tourist board has just unveiled a ‘Mindful Map’ of the island, featuring wild swimming, hikes and the like to offer ‘accessible wellness’. Above, a view over Peel Castle on the western coast 

Twenty minutes later, I am tucking into a therapeutic bowl of soup and gazing through the window of the Sound Cafe at the south-west tip of the island.

After lunch, I stroll down to the inlet where a family of seals are bobbing up and down. There’s truly nothing like looking into the limpid, dark eyes of a big, fat seal to improve your wellbeing.

Instead of staying in a seafront hotel, I choose a more contemplative spot inland, five miles north of Castletown on the edge of the South Barrule Forest. Kerroobeg is a lovely converted cottage with morale-lifting views across sloping farmland to the Irish Sea. What I need now is a jolly wine bar with a bad pun for a name. That would be Wine Down in the capital, Douglas.

These days, Douglas is less quiet and more prosperous than it used to be. The finance and ‘fintech’ (financial-technological) industries keep people, and estate agents, busy — and Wine Down is full of mirthful and merry Manx people.

Next day, I go into Castletown for breakfast. This is my favourite place on the island: a Georgian harbour town with a proper square and rows of fine houses. Even the medieval Castle Rushen has a cheery air about it. I chat to two young American women from Wisconsin. How had they ended up on Man? A friend of a friend had suggested it and they adore this little British secret.

Mark visits the island's capital, Douglas, and finds that it's 'less quiet and more prosperous than it used to be'

Mark visits the island’s capital, Douglas, and finds that it’s ‘less quiet and more prosperous than it used to be’

The Georgian harbour town of Castletown, pictured, is Mark's favourite place on the island

The Georgian harbour town of Castletown, pictured, is Mark’s favourite place on the island

The Isle of Man is almost equidistant from the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English coasts — and different bits of the landscape will remind you of all four. Above is the island's Snaefell Mountain Railway

The Isle of Man is almost equidistant from the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English coasts — and different bits of the landscape will remind you of all four. Above is the island’s Snaefell Mountain Railway

And they love the history. Indeed, the fold of the Manx shale beneath your feet tells the story of a land that has travelled from below the equator, then broken off from the ancient Laurentia continent. The Romans were too busy building Hadrian’s Wall to pop over to the place the Celts called Ellan Vannin. But Man/Vannin soon found itself at the centre of a thriving trading route for the Vikings.

The Norse influence is still there in the name of the parliament of this self-governing crown dependency, the Tynwald. The original site is a tiered, grassy mound just outside the village of Peel. A temple dedicated to the god Thor was also unearthed.

Man has been a Unesco Biosphere since 2016. But is its natural beauty enough to help the island reach its target of 500,000 annual visitors by 2032? One alarming headline announced that the island was undergoing a ‘Shoreditch makeover’. So, are they seeking the hipster as well as the mindfully well crowd?

Mark checks out the exhibits at the House of Manannan museum in the harbour village of Peel (pictured)

Mark checks out the exhibits at the House of Manannan museum in the harbour village of Peel (pictured) 

A Steam Packet Company advert from 1932. Mark says the slogan on the poster 'has long been consigned to history'

A Steam Packet Company advert from 1932. Mark says the slogan on the poster ‘has long been consigned to history’

I am happy to report that signs of Man turning into an inner-city London borough, notorious for the size of its beards and the price of its loft apartments, are few and far between. But there has been an outbreak of fashionable cuisine.

On my last night, I start with a glass of rhubarb sparkling wine at Foraging Vintners on the harbour. Next, I head to the drawing room of a converted terrace house for dinner at Versa. The ingredients include scotch bonnet chilli, penny bun mushrooms, water mint dressing and fermented spruce tips.

Australian Ian, the vintner, and Leicestershire native Pippa, Versa’s chef/owner, love the island for its slowness and beauty, rather than because it is fashionable.

In a way, they are both descendants of the original Manx people — hunter-gatherers who settled here thousands of years ago. Every day, Pippa walks to the restaurant through the fields or along the beach, and what she finds is what you get for dinner.

Just about to hit 30 and get married, she has already decided the island is her forever home.

‘It’s so backwards, it’s forwards — and I like that,’ she says.



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