diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Isle of Man (Southeast)

Manx Electric Railway
Los Angeles may have its Hollywood sign, but Douglas has the Electric Railway. Fifteen illuminated letters beam out across the bay, welcoming passengers to the far end of the promenade for a heritage ride. The Manx Electric Railway runs up the eastern side of the island from Douglas to Ramsey, with its main intermediate station at Laxey roughly halfway. It doesn't run direct either, following a sinuous 17 mile route along the coast, around headlands and across the tops of steep wooded valleys. Local residents could use it - there are innumerable request stops - but generally don't, it's far quicker to drive or take the bus. But the MER is ideal for tourists who want to take it slow and enjoy the view, plus there's an interchange at Laxey for those taking the train up the mountain. Just avoid the rush hour if you want to get a seat.

The first train of the morning looked to have plenty of space, but the luxury coach pulled up alongside should have been a warning. An entire walking party duly poured into the observation trailer from the platform side, squishing in with rucksacks and poles, creating a situation reminiscent of peaktime on the Northern line. And then we rattled off up the hill, past the bungalows and apartments on the edge of town, a hooter buzzing for every sideroad and farm track we crossed. The railway's twin tracks and electricity poles closely follow the main road, occasionally crossing it, before eventually careering off alone through clifftop fields. The first important stop is at Groudle Glen, the original 1890s terminus, where you can alight for yet another heritage railway, or a pootle down to the ruins of a Victorian pleasure garden. The walking party alighted at Fairy Cottage, which I was disappointed to see was a corrugated iron shelter, and then everybody else on board departed at Laxey. Which left BestMate and I with the entire service to ourselves, soaring over crystal blue bays and past goat-infested fields, to a tiny request stop at the top of a waterfalled glen. A proper treat and, if you avoid the busy stretch at a busy time, about as far away from the Northern line as it's possible to get. [7 photos] [map]

The capital of the Isle of Man spreads out along a broad curved bay on the southeast corner of the island. Arrive by ship, say aboard the Steampacket from Liverpool or Dublin, and you'll disembark in the shadow of the Sea Terminal. This 1960s concrete creation resembles a raindrop splashing in a bowl of water, or maybe a gasring, and may be the most Modernist chunk of architecture on the island. It's under threat of demolition, naturally, as the Manx government recently launched plans to replace it with "a new landmark gateway to the island" incorporating cruise liner facilities and commercial opportunities. Cruise liners are a growth area for the town, with one anchored offshore on Sunday disgorging its holidaymakers by shuttle across the bay. They might have enjoyed a walk along the promenade, with its arc of grand hotels and fluttering Manx flags, or taken a ride on the Horse Tram (which is yet another of the island's heritage railways).

Douglas is as close to UK-ordinary as the island gets, with parks and schools and housing estates. The main shopping street has several well-known household names, although I was disappointed to see that TK Maxx hadn't rebranded with an 'n' instead of that first 'x' - surely an opportunity missed. Residents have to get their entertainment where they can, hence the Gaiety Theatre sometimes welcomes acts from the mainland (it's John Newman next month), but more likely puts on a Gala Concert or Abba tribute. Sir Norman Wisdom was a huge fan of the island and spent the last 30 years of his life here. A hotel bar on the seafront is named after him, and a bronze likeness sits on a bench outside the front window, cloth cap on head, should you fancy a photo. If you can stand his cheery demeanour, this 5 minute TV clip promoting his favourite island gives a pretty good overview of the place. [12 photos] [map]

The island's main airport is perched on a flat plain by the coast, so you're likely to fly in low across the waves before touching down. Ronaldsway's departure lounge was opened 20 years ago by Nigel Mansell, another motorsport-related resident, and there's a decent view from the windows of planes taking off if you can't stick watching Channel 5 movies on the big screen telly. That scary-looking dark tower opposite belongs to King William's College, the private school with the nigh impossible general knowledge quiz the Guardian prints every Christmas. [1 photo] [map]

Before Douglas took the administrative crown, the island's capital was Castletown. And that was for several centuries, when the Isle of Man had its own line of royalty and an entirely separate history to the rest of the British Isles. The Kings of Mann had a castle built here to protect them against the Vikings, the Scots and the English, with the current structure dating back to at least the 12th century. Castle Rushen is one of the best preserved medieval castles in the world, what with a dynasty to support and few marauding armies ever getting this far. And as such it's therefore a fine place for a visit, indeed its completeness is likely to make crumbling ruins elsewhere seem almost ordinary. Taking the tour involves climbing a spiral staircase in stages to the roof, or indeed several roofs, and enjoying the view down over town, harbour and Co-Op. More effort has been made on the descent to depict how the Lords of Mann might have lived and entertained, with some finely decorated rooms and a steward who'll tell you all about 17th century banqueting in fine detail until you manage to thank him and walk away.

The Queen is now the Lord of Mann, but only infrequently pops over to exercise her rights. Across the road is the Old House of Keys, formerly one of the houses of the Manx Parliament which, as you may know, is the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world. This rather understated building was its home in the 19th century, then became a bank, and is now an intriguingly democratic tourist attraction. Visitors are invited to vote on historic motions from the island's past, including the one which gave women suffrage in national elections earlier than any other country in the world. A couple of other museums on the seafront give tourists alternative options for infotainment (the world's oldest yacht, anyone?), although the town centre itself is a bit small, and I can see why those elected representatives relocated. [4 photos] [map]

(If protracted non-London reportage is getting you down, rest assured that later in the week I'll be bringing you all the latest news from Sutton)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream