If there was one fantastic decision we made on this trip, it was to take the car.
I mean that for all aspects of the trip, but one part we were most looking forward to was exploring Ash’s “home town” of the Isle Of Man.
I had visited the IoM once before, a few years ago, and one of Ash’s best friends had taken us around the whole island on a very rushed trip full of silly photos of me next to signs of place names that I found hilarious.
Not much has changed, but this time I was looking forward to driving around at our own pace and visiting some places I had discovered that even Ash had never been to.
In case you’re wondering where the Isle Of Man even is, it sits between the north of England and Ireland, nestled in the Irish Sea with views of Scotland and even, on extremely clear days, Wales.
A visit back to the island has been on the cards for years, but this particular visit was for Ash’s best friend’s wedding, and naturally Ash was keen to make a holiday out of it. So after our first day of catching up with friends, having some beach time and ice cream with their kids, and going out for a meal with the bride- & groom-to-be, we were excited to get out and explore.
Even better: the weather was absolutely perfect.
Here’s what we got up to.
Ash used to live in Castletown on the south of the island, so it was fitting that this would be our first stop of the trip. First port of call: Castle Rushen.
Castle Rushen is interesting because it has followed a few different paths throughout history since 1200AD. As well as being the main line of defence and house of the royal families, from the Norse kings to the Lords from England, it fell into disuse and eventually became a prison for over a century.
The inside of the palace rooms felt really unusual because of the decoration, but the castle itself has been extremely well-preserved. I was completely unaware of a lot of the history of the Isle Of Man, so it was interesting to read up on the old Kings of Mann, the history of the Stanley family who took over the island (Ash’s mum’s maiden name is Stanley, so make of that what you will!!), as well as some of the more prominent figures who were kept prisoner later on.
It was 100% worth going into, and we had a little bonus: our Historic Scotland passes allowed us into all the Manx sites for free! We thought we’d have to at least pay half price for the entry fees, so we donated what we would have paid.
We took a quick wander around the town centre and stumbled across some really cute tea rooms, but we decided to save ourselves for lunch. Instead, I managed to find some of the adorable fairy doors!
And some cute, colourful streets!
I really liked how laid-back Castletown was. Although it’s not the most scenic town on the island, it feels like a nice place to base yourself.
Cregneash is one of those quintessential Manx images you see of old croft cottages and traditional farm life. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to exploring this cute attraction.
Let me tell you: I am so glad it was included on our Historic Scotland pass. I would perhaps have paid the discounted price, but I would have felt hugely ripped off paying the full price of £5. There are two cottages – one is an old barn, and the other is the farmhouse. As we walked into the farmhouse, a girl stood up, holding a Manx cat I think, although she didn’t draw any attention to this, and told us a couple of sentences about the house and how life would have been for the family. Then she sat down again and that was our tour over. We had a fairly informative introductory video before we went into the house, and that was it.
We took a little look around for a couple of minutes, and then we left, stopping to say hello to the Loghtan sheep outside who took no interest in us whatsoever. There were also a couple of beautiful Clydesdale horses just up the track.
The village itself is pretty nice – just a handful of houses that feel as though they’re stuck in the past, and it has a certain charm about it. There was a similarly thatched croft house with a workshop inside that we stopped and had a look in, although this wasn’t part of the attraction and I’m not even sure we should have been in there. Needless to say, we soon moved on.
High up on many people’s favourite places on the island, the Sound offers amazing views of a couple of little islands just off the coast, the largest of which is the Calf Of Man. We stopped here for lunch with a view, before sitting and watching seals play just off-shore.
King Seal sat on a rock on the nearest island while several others caught themselves in the riptides and let themselves float down the rapid with visible glee on their faces! It was a beautiful moment that I mostly spent kicking myself that I haven’t got the zoom fixed on my camera yet.
On the way back from the Sound, we cut along the single track road towards Port Erin, and stopped off to visit somewhere Ash had never even heard of: Meayll Hill. It wasn’t very well sign-posted (in fact, we weren’t even sure we were going down the right road because we’d seen one sign at the Cregneash car park), but I’m really glad we found it, purely for the views like THAT.
It’s a stone circle of twelve tombs dating back to the Neolithic era; something, being from Orkney, that I’m very familiar with and naturally have some interest in.
We had already spent the previous day in Port Erin, so we didn’t make the stop there, however we had to pass through from the road from Meayll Hill, so I decided to stop to take in the sweeping view of the beach with Bradda Head in the background.
And promptly got stuck on a very narrow private road that I had to make a 9-point turn to get out of.
Niarbyl is Ash’s favourite place on the Isle Of Man, and I can see why. I’m really glad we got to visit on a nice day, because the views were phenomenal. We could even see Ireland in the distance!
Plus there’s this cute house.
I also found out that you can stand on a fault line where two plates collided before the Atlantic Ocean split (the Laurentia, found in North America – and, weirdly, Scotland – and Avalonia, found in western Europe), so obviously that happened.
Our final stop was the western town of Peel. As we had already done Castle Rushen, we decided not to visit Peel Castle – I love castles but two in one day might have been a bit much! Instead, we paid a visit to the House Of Manannan, which totally surprised me.
It’s a museum, but it didn’t actually have many signs to read or in fact much information dotted around at all. It was totally visual, with videos in every room and THE most incredibly decorated and themed rooms. I actually really enjoyed it!
Probably the most impressive part was the massive, and real, Viking longship that has a really cool set-up because the statues pulling it are half in-half out of the building!
At £10, the museum isn’t cheap and I’m not sure if we would have gone had it not been for our passes (considering the Manx Museum in Douglas is free), but I would have happily paid the half-price entry. Again, we donated what we would have paid because the whole place was done up really, really well.
We stopped for a quick drink in the Creek Inn, right opposite the museum and the marina, which marked the beginning of the end of a perfect day.
Although we didn’t go into Peel Castle, we did decide to take a walk around it, which is a really nice walk along the coast behind it and then back along by Fenella beach with a great view over Peel.
I realise that we didn’t hit any of the north of the island. We did all of that last time, from Mooragh’s Park in Ramsey right up to the Point Of Ayre, and although there was one silly photo opportunity I wanted to get this time (not to mention the wild wallabies that now roam part of the island after they escaped the wildlife park!!), it seemed pointless driving all that way and making it a rushed day.
Stay tuned for a post on our public transport-tastic day where we went to Laxey, Snaefell and Port Erin using electric railways, mountain trams, horse-drawn trams and steam trains!
Although we didn’t go here on the same day, we popped by Malew churchyard on the way back from seeing friends on our first day… because there’s a vampire grave there.
A vampire grave?!
That’s right – chains and all, complete with a cracked grave. The grave is for Matthew Halsall, who died in 1854 and reportedly woke up during his wake. He was promptly staked through the heart, and now his grave is chained up to stop him re-emerging! Spooky, huh??
Places we missed
Unfortunately we just didn’t have time to do everything we wanted to do on the island. Here are some of the places on my list for next time.
Cashtal yn Ard
Cashtal yn Ard is a Neolithic tomb site which I was really interested in seeing, but it just didn’t tie in with our route as it’s on the way to Ramsey from Douglas. It’s probably now #1 on my list of places to visit next time.
Another Neolithic site; I was really peeved about this one. I suddenly spotted the sign towards it from the main road between Peel and Douglas, but we missed the turn-off and went to turn around. As incredibly bad luck would have it, we had to pass through some roadwork traffic lights before we had a chance to turn back… followed by OVER A MILE of traffic jam to get back through the lights to the junction. And so we just went back to Douglas.
One thing high up on our list was a walk up Bradda Head above Port Erin to Milner Tower. We ended up planning to do this on our last day, but we wound up having a pretty full on day and decided against it.
I also read a couple of fantastic posts over on Lovely Greens, which highlighted loads of unusual places on the Isle Of Man, including Meayll Hill and the cute fairy doors of Castletown as above. We managed to do everything I really wanted to see from this other awesome list, so that’s something.
Unfortunately we missed a couple of things on the first list that I really wanted to see, including:
The Giant’s Hand
At 7’11” tall, Arthur Caley became somewhat of a legend on the island. One great tribute to him is up on the north of the island, where there is a green cast of his hand above a house sign. I have the smallest hands ever so I quite fancied going along and comparing sizes for a silly photo! Sadly, it’s pretty out of the way (on the road between Ramsey and Andreas) so we didn’t make it.
I have no idea about the science of this place, or if it’s an illusion, but if you park up on this one part of the road and put the car into neutral, you start rolling back up the hill. This was one of my must-do’s but although we passed fairly close to where the road is, I was having too much fun on the coastal road parallel to it to make the off-shoot.
The Horse Penis Gate
“The WHAT?!” I hear you ask. That’s right. There’s a nice little sign on someone’s gate of a man ploughing with a horse. Except there’s something a bit unusual about the horse. Yeah… you can guess.
Real Fairy Bridge
Although I’ve passed over the tourist Fairy Bridge quite a few times now, I wanted to try and make it out to the real fairy bridge. The Isle Of Man is full of stories and legends, but this is the most famous: fairies live around this bridge, and if you say hello to them (“lay mie moonjie veggey” which translates literally to “good day little people” in Manx Gaelic because apparently they get offended if you call them fairies) it’ll bring you good luck. I took the bus out to Port Erin one day and there’s even an announcement to tell you to say hello!
Another contender for my #1 place to visit next time I head over to the IoM, this glen apparently offers beautiful walks, but its focal point is a Victorian carousel that still works on water power. Apart from looking like an astounding photo opportunity, HOW COOL IS THAT?! It’s just outside Ballasalla (best town name ever) so even pretty accessible, and I still didn’t make it there!
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Don’t have a car? It’s bloody expensive to take one over to the island! We spent our last day using some of the quirkier public transport the Isle Of Man has to offer, so stay tuned for a post on that!