THE ISLE OF MAN – a small island in the Irish Sea (to the left of the Lake District, to the right of Northern Ireland) – is now best known for its annual motorcycle sporting event, The Isle of Man TT. However, this biker nirvana is actually only a small part of what the destination has to offer. From stunning coastlines and beautiful landscapes to medieval castles and adventure activities, the Isle of Man is a fantastic holiday destination for all – and the mugs are not too expensive. That’s what a writer thought …
The foaming waves break on the rocks as the seagulls scream in the blue sky above me and I utter a little cry of excitement: a seal has emerged from the sea well below my point of view at the top of a cliff.
The black and shiny dome of his head sparkles in the sun as he looks around him, bristling moustaches, showing no care of saltwater slipping on his forehead. He floats for a moment while basking before plunging into the Irish Sea. In the distance, on a tiny island, his corpulent boyfriend drags himself uneasily on a rock to take full advantage of the sun – and I curse my lack of binoculars.
I can see why seals would congregate in such a place. After all, The Sound, at the southern tip of the Isle of Man, is considered one of the most picturesque places in the British Isles. It has a majestic coastline with steep cliffs covered with grass, ferns and purple heather. We walk along the coastal path, breathing deeply into the fresh sea air, thus marking this seaside idyll. Although frequented by tourists because of its natural beauty, we only meet a few hikers despite the high season.
It’s actually a recurring observation during my trip. The island was once an extremely popular holiday destination for British Victorians. The number of visitors peaked in 1913 when 663,000 people travelled to the Isle of Man. However, in 2017, the destination registered a 9% drop in the number of arrivals, with just under 267,000 tourists visiting the island.
Nevertheless, part of the charm of the island, at least for me, lies in the fact that it does not seem to strive to impress. There is a feeling of distorted weather on the spot. Americans seeking the British experience from around the world would be well advised to make the leap to the Isle of Man. The beauty of the island does not have to be dressed – it’s a microcosm of the British coast and countryside, and its castles, landscapes, and friendly people speak for themselves.
And indeed, for such a small locality, the island has an incredible selection of castles. Castle Rushen (with the entertaining storybook from Castle Street, Castletown), in the south, is considered one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world.
It was built in the 12th century for a Nordic king and developed by successive rulers until the 1600s. It was used as a fortress, a mint, and even a prison. A huge place, there is a lot to learn at Castle Rushen – with castle guard mannequins moaning over the toilet (or rather a wardrobe) and disguise options for the kids to be happy. The view from the top of the imposing limestone walls is impressive through the picturesque Castletown and offshore. I recommend you give yourself two hours to explore comfortably.
Of course, if you really want a breathtaking view from the castle walls, it’s best to visit Peel Castle on the east coast. The fortress of the eleventh century was built by the Vikings and later hosted Christian missionaries and kings. Take the free audio guide for a complete story. It is now largely in ruins, although the exterior walls remain intact. Its hilltop position against a backdrop of a ruined 13th-century cathedral (with a mysterious crypt below) and its breathtaking coastline make this dream a romantic one. The spot is also famous for its sunsets.
Romance and magic also come to mind at Dhoon Glen on the west coast. If the fairies live anywhere, it’s here. Visitors to this beautiful place can be from any era – but modern walking shoes are highly recommended.
Dhoon Glen is one of the most spectacular valleys and waterfalls on the island. It is nestled in a steep valley covered with forest. The rocky path is bordered with ferns and trees covered with moss, sunlight filtering through the canopy of the leaves. The water pours, cascades over the rocks, winks where the sun hits the water. From time to time we come across an old stone bridge – I can only assume that the trolls were hiding that day. At one point, I see a miniature house coming out of a rock, built with complex details. Fairies are excellent craftsmen, it is surely the only explanation.
When we reach the bottom of the waterfall, it is clear that nothing can compete with its rivals Icelandic or Niagara, but the Dhoon Glen waterfall has a poetic and quiet majesty. The water pours over the rocks, breaking in millions of glittering drops as it hits the sharp edges and falls into the pool below. I like to think that forbidden and forbidden lovers would have met at this picturesque place.
Continue the walk and you will find yourself on the secluded pebble beach of Dhoon Bay. We do not meet anyone during our stay here, making it the perfect place for a moment of reflection (or a love affair for the lovers mentioned above). It would also be a great picnic spot – as long as you’re ready to hang out all the way!
If you prefer to go to the sea for an active adventure, why not try sea kayaking? I took a trip to Peel with the fabulous Adventurous Experiences team. Although sea kayaking is not my natural strength (although I strongly blame the rough waters and the wind for any inaptitude), it was very entertaining and definitely an exercise.
Guided by the very happy and infinitely patient founder of the company, Keirron, we kayaked to Peel Castle and along the beautiful coastline. As we learned techniques, we explored caves hidden in cliffs that were only accessible by water, intertwined and emerging from rocks emerging from the sea. The team wanted us to challenge ourselves but understood the limits of the participants (read: me) when it came to fighting against the elements. When we were asked to choose a more “white water” route back to the beach, I knew it was time for me to retire.
If you are looking to impress, you can do it in trike on the island with the IOM Trike Tours. Ideal for motorcycle enthusiasts and fans of the famous TT race, it is also fascinating for novices and novices, as well as for those for whom TT thinks more of caffeinated beverages than beefy bikers (read: me). The trikes see an expert sit at the front of the vehicle while two people can sit behind, securely fastened and equipped with helmets and protective gear.
We follow the course of the TT race on the island while discovering the fascinating history of the event and its famous riders. As we drive at a considerably lower speed than runners (think of a staggering speed of 130 mph, if not more to the skin), we hit at an impressive speed that lets my cheeks snap in the wind and ask me if ahead can not blow. offering a silent Hail Mary.
Apart from thrills, the tour is another great way to admire the beauty of the Isle of Man. We climb up to Snaefell Mountain from where, on a clear day, we can see six kingdoms from the top: the Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Paradise – and the view is certainly impressive. -inspirant.