I didn’t really know anything about the Isle of Man. The estate agent’s blurb reads well:
“The Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom. It is a self-governing British Crown Dependency with its own parliament, Tynwald which, at more than 1000 years old, is the oldest continuous parliament in the world.
The island is situated equidistant between England and Ireland in the Irish Sea. It has favourable strategies with respect to corporate and personal taxation, a highly developed financial services sector and a diverse economy. There is no capital or inheritance tax and no property stamp duty.
Frequent air links operate to London City, London Gatwick, Manchester, Dublin and Liverpool.
The Isle of Man has a population of around 85,000, enjoys an enviable quality of life and is the only entire nation in the world to hold unesco Biosphere Reserve status.
The Island has 95 miles of coastline, 32 beaches, 18 scenic glens, 26 amazing official dark sky sites for stargazing (the highest concentration of dark sky sites in the British Isles). It’s the safest place to live in the British Isles, and one of the safest in Europe.
There is an abundance of marine life, birds and wildlife.”
Here’s our story of an all too quick (and interrupted by rain) visit to this lovely island in the Irish Sea:
Monday 3rd June: Isle of Man – A fast sail to Isle of Man
We had a fast sail from Holyhead to Douglas! We set off at 6am, with reefed mainsail and foresail as we expected good wind. We gave The Skerries a wide berth, and sailed across the major shipping channels to and from Liverpool and then set the course nearly straight north to Douglas, on the Isle of Man.
We had 2-4 knots of tide and F5-6 winds. And crucially wind followed tide, and the notoriously choppy Irish Sea was choppy, with 2-3m waves but it was actually fine. The Auto Pilot cut out again, in similar circumstances to before, so Dominic helmed for the last few hours, which was hard work. When we got to Douglas we contacted Harbour Control and as they had said last night, there is no space for a boat of our draft in the inner harbour, and could we go on the visitors’ pontoon in the outer harbour. When we got to the pontoon there were already two large yachts there and they were very clearly not interested in having us rafting up, so after more calls to Harbour Control a very nice bloke called Craig came down and discussed options with Dominic. There was space on the walls by the fishing boats, but we don’t have a plank (must get one) so that was not ideal. They walked into the harbour and Dominic decided we’d risk it on the one space on the pontoon where we could go. They lifted the bridge just for us and Dominic parked us beautifully in the tight space.
This harbour has a lifting bridge with a sill which controls the height of water in the inner harbour, so you should never have less than 1.7m depth. This depth is actually too low for us, but the mud is soft and our keel sank down well with the outgoing tide and once the sill was raised at 14:32 we could breathe a sigh of relief as we were in fact ok. Not ideal, but ok.
We walked to the visitors centre and collected information for our exploration. At M&S we decided to treat ourselves and got Indian take out. We’re both tired. We’ve covered 365M since we left Mylor two weeks ago. New impressions, new situations, decisions to make both small and big, broken sleep; yeah, we’re tired.
Stats: distance 54.9M, underway 5hrs 31min (discounting harbour wait), average speed 9.5 (discounting harbour wait), max speed 16.1 knots.
Tuesday 4th June: Douglas
A momentous day: exactly one year ago we drove down to Hamble Point Marina with a laden car, ready to take ownership of our new yacht Idun! Now, Idun may not have been as ready as she should have been, and we may have had the odd problem with her, but still, it was a momentous day in our lives!
A rainy day so we stayed in Douglas. Dominic talked to Craig who said he’ll swap us to a deeper berth once a particular boat has left. He also described the difficulties he’s having at the moment, coping with all the additional boats coming in for the TT races. We’re probably the only people who have not come for the races! We had brilliant views from the cockpit of the amazing Red Arrows display in the evening!
We went to Manx Museum which is brilliant. I saw my first ogham inscriptions and the archaeological reference collections have some stunning flint objects and amazing neolithic and BA pottery.
Wednesday 5th June: The Isle of Man TT Races are a premier motorbike race taking place during two weeks in May/June every year. It draws 60,000 visitors to the island over two weeks, (the population of IoM is only 85,000). It’s a very important event not only for the motorbike racing world but also for local businesses.
There are signs of TT wherever you go: bikes, bikers, notices of road closures. Along the route home owners make their own stands for watching, churches rent chairs and you can stand along the route where allowed. This is clearly a dangerous race. Fatalities happen every year, and seem expected. The route is along public roads through towns and up into the mountains. The council pads streetlights etc, but if you came off the bike you could still easily run into a wall or a house. There are races of all kinds, including side cars, and the faster races have an average speed of 130 m/h, with max speeds up to 175 m/h. On public roads during these two weeks, where there is a national speed limit, you may drive as fast as you want, which is thoroughly enjoyed by the bikers!
On Wednesday we walked up to Noble Park which is the main area for TT activity. Huge number of stalls selling everything and anything related to motorbikes and racing. We got grandstand tickets and were looking forward to a good day’s racing! We talked to a very nice couple from Stoke who come every year, which is what people do. You have to book your accommodation and travel at least a year in advance. They couldn’t believe we had just turned up, not aware of what TT is! Unfortunately rain on the western part of the circuit eventually closed all races for the day. There was an amazing Red Arrows display over the bay one night, and impressive fireworks another. So we didn’t get to see any actual racing, but we’ve at least been a part of the atmosphere both in town and near the circuit. Isle of Man TT Races
Thursday 6th June: Steamtrain ride to Port Erin, Meayll Hill and Cregneash:
We took the steam train from Douglas to Port Erin on the west coast. Our engine was The Caledonia, and we had a very comfortable ride in our 1st class cabin through glorious countryside.
From Port Erin we picked up a footpath from our OS map, and soon realised this was a very seldom used path! We went steeply uphill, through fields and gorse until we reached the Meayll (pronounced Mull) Hill. Here is a late Neolithic or early Bronze Age circle of cists in six pairs, with a passage between each radiating outwards. Apart from being unique, this circle sits in the most spectacular position just off the brow of the hill, with views to Port Erin and over the Irish Sea. I found it a truly peaceful place.
We marched on up to the top of the hill, where WWII lookouts have taken the place of much earlier occupation. The 360 degree view is breathtaking!
Going down the other side of the hill we came to the old village of Cregneash. This cluster of houses was one of the last strongholds of the Manx language and the crofting way of life. Some of the houses are in private ownership, and others are run as a national folk museum. We decided not to visit the inside of the houses, but to just enjoy walking amongst them and imagining the rather harsh way of life this must have been.
Our walking adventure continued down the Sound road and amazingly we could see the Irish coast in the distance. We had our packed lunch admiring the Calf of Man, and seeing a few boats traversing the rather scary looking overfalls, tidal streams and standing waves. In the small bay in front of one of the islands in the Sound, seals were enjoying swimming and popping their heads up.
To return to Port Erin we decided to take the Coastal Path. Up and down the grassy headlands, sometimes perilously close to sheer drops, we enjoy gulls nesting, rabbits scuttling off, calves feeding, lambs staring at us with curious looks, bees collecting nectar from the spring flowers. What a glorious walk! And all this in sunshine, with but a cool wind.
Strangely enough, when almost at Port Erin there is suddenly a sign saying the path is closed from this point. No reason why, and no other path is suggested, and we know we haven’t seen any other paths during our hour long trek. So we felt the only thing we could do was to just walk on anyway. Not the sort of thing we like doing but we got to Port Erin without being charged with any offence! When we walked into the friendly Good Healthstore, we mentioned this and the lady said ‘ah, that will be because of a dispute with the landowner’. Then she and others in the store told us, with disgust in their voices, how Jeremy Clarkson (yes, that Mr Clarkson) having married a Manx lady, and having bought a stunning property on a headland near Castletown, decided to close the long since existing coastal path on his land. This did not go down well with the locals, and he has since been forced to allow the continued use of said path. One way of making sure you’re not ever going to be one of the Manx.
Friday 7th June: Laxey and the Great Laxey Mine Wheel
We took the number 3 bus up to Laxey, and enjoyed seeing the streets and houses of Douglas and the villages along the east coast. The bus network is brilliant here on Mann. Laxey means Salmon River (Just like Laxå for those of you who know Sweden!).
Mining for lead and zinc began at Laxey about 1780 and by the mid 1870s the Great Laxey Mine was one of the richest and most successful metal mines in Britain. The mines were worked by local men in extremely harsh conditions and their earnings were very poor, even for the times. The separation of the waste stone from the precious ores was done by women and boys on huge washing floors. The cleaned ore was then shipped, mainly to Swansea for smelting. Life expectancy for the mining community was low due to the hard living and working conditions, poor diet and the constant exposure to lead. (The rivers here are only now beginning to recover from the waste products of mining, and the salmon is slowly returning to the river.)
I am very interested in social history and we had a long chat about this with the bloke at the gate. He also told us a great deal about the Lady Isabella, the Great Laxey Wheel. It is the largest working waterwheel in the world. It was designed by the Manx engineer Robert Casement and built in 1854. The wheel has a diameter of over 22 metres, and is capable of pumping 1136 litres of water per minute from a depth of over 450 metres. There are 192 wooden buckets on the wheel, each holding 91 litres. The power from the wheel was transmitted to the pumping mechanism by a series of rods supported by and running along an imposing viaduct. An absolutely amazing construction!
A very interesting morning, which we ended by sitting at the Okell’s pub, Dominic drinking the proper bitter and me having my usual cider.
Saturday 8th June: preparing to leave
In the melee of the various lows, tomorrow’s winds are favourable for going north and therefore we will now leave Isle of Man. The morning was spent fixing things and cleaning and at high tide we slipped our lines to catch the 4.15pm bridge opening. We had a short sail to an anchorage in the bay by Derbyhaven, between St Michael’s Isle and the island’s airport. It’s nice to see the small aircraft coming down. Early night tonight, to be rested for tomorrow’s long sail.
Stats: distance 11.0M, underway 1hr 55min, average speed 5.7 kts, max speed 8.8 kts.