On the wildest of whims, I decided to travel to the Isle of Man. I had a few days in between Dublin and Glasgow, so I looked at the map to see what was in between. And, well, hello, there it was. Right in the middle.
Just a lovely island which I knew nothing about except maybe those tailless cats were from there? (They are and they will reappear later, because you know me and cats). Also it had such an interesting name – vague and open to interpretation. The island of all men? The island where they eat men? An island formed out of the bodies of men? I didn’t know and I wanted to find out.
A small and strange island
I love strange and remote islands, and a quick Google search revealed it looked pretty and it was possible to travel to the Isle of Man by ferry from the UK and Ireland. One of my dad’s rules of life is that if you can get anywhere by boat, that’s the only way to go. (He also has a weird one about fruit beer being on par with cannibalism but we do not have time to get into that now.)
So in my tired and impulsive state, I booked a bunk in a farmhouse and my ferries (the perks of solo travel: I can indulge all my strange and wild whims). After a few wild, wonderful, and very late nights in Dublin celebrating Bloomsday with my friend Kasey, I was off.
And I was in for a treat.
What it’s like to travel to the Isle of Man
Most of what came up in that Google search about travel to the Isle of Man and a quick poll of the Brits I know came up with a big old shrug. (Also a whole bunch of people talking about the Isle of Wight, which is not the same.) It hosts a big motorcycle race every year and then it seems there’s no tourism. The only people I know who’ve been there are a Greek friend who lived in the UK for a while and a Canadian married to an Irish guy. So it was a total blank slate.
My ferry ride over the sunny Irish Sea was pleasant and easy and uncrowded. I drank tea and napped and watched the low undulating vibrant green hills of the island come into view over the sun-sparkling sea.
First Impressions of an unknown island
Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I wandered the streets of Douglas, the main town on the island, to find some lunch before the bus to the other side. Everything was immaculately clean and cozy and everyone I met was friendly. It looked like what I think all Americans imagine England to look like – perfect red phone booths, shining double decker buses driven by cheerful chaps, tea shops and chippers all over. I was in heaven and I hadn’t been there an hour.
I hopped on the bus to Peel, on the other side of the island, and took in the scenery from the upper deck. It was a mix of Ireland’s impossibly lush green hills, dotted with cozy cottages straight out of a quaint British village. And in the distance, cliffs worthy of Scotland.
The Isle of Man – a unique Crown Dependency
But the Isle of Man isn’t part of any of these countries – it’s a sovereign nation in its own right. It’s not part of the United Kingdom – it’s a crown dependency, like Jersey and Guernsey. This means it has its own parliament (possibly the oldest in the world), legal system, and money. I didn’t know about the money part, so imagine my bleary-eyed surprised at the ATM when out pops several hundred Manx pounds instead of the British ones I was expecting.
They’re not part of the EU either – just a cool lil island doing their own chill thing. They even have their own form of Gaelic! And those cats.
And one more unique characteristic… their flag.
It’s multiple disembodied legs (an ancient symbol the Mycenaeans also used!). It looks rather like something a house known for its brutality on Game of Thrones would fly. A hint of darkness among the cheerful chippers – I was into it.
Hopping off the bus in Peel, I grabbed some food for the night from the organic grocery store and decided to walk the two-mile foot path through the fields to my farm rather than wait for another bus. It was brilliant and beautiful – whispering trees with ancient ferns nestled at their roots, wildflower-dappled fields full of very loud sheep, an old water mill resting placidly in a quiet shady riverbed.
Arriving at my farmhouse after a hike down the pothole-filled country road, I was in even more bliss.
Wild life, quiet bliss
Ponies grazed in the front yard as baby goats hopped onto the picnic tables, butting their friends in the head loving as only baby goats can. The hills around were green and glowing in the mid-afternoon sun, full of little white dots of sheep roaming around. And the farm itself was something out of a storybook – an old clean white stone building with fireplaces and cats curled on the front steps. Plus a modern touch with shiny new wigwams, as they called them (more like little huts) in the back.
But I was staying in the barn itself – me and a bunch of small lambs and some very loud roosters. I was up a floor from the animals, but I could peer in from the small kitchen to see them every morning. None of the doors locked and spiders peered at me from every corner (so many spiders. SO. MANY.) but since the only crime on this island tends to be sheep-related, I felt safe once I’d cleared out the spiders that were within my short-armed reach.
What to do on the Isle of Man
So how did I spend my four days here? In a very leisurely way. After my carousing in Dublin, coming home as the sun started to appear over the deserted bridges of the Liffey, I needed some catching up on sleep for sure. In my very soft farmhouse bed I did that, and as I wasn’t too far off my solo walk across Britain, I also needed training for my legs.
So most days I set off on the little foot path through the woods to Peel town, for a Manx breakfast (it’s… a full British but don’t tell them that) or grocery shopping or just poking around the beautiful harbor. Town was quiet and clean and lovely, and despite the perfect summer weather I was nearly the only tourist anywhere. Turns out travel to the Isle of Man is less popular than it should be – it’s a hidden gem.
The Raad Ny Foillan Cliff Walk
I went a little farther afield one day to attempt part of the cliff walk called the Raad Ny Foillan that runs around the whole of the island. It’s the easiest place to walk around a sovereign country, since it can be done in about a week.
It’s also terrifying in parts if you have vertigo.
I have vertigo.
The sheer drops off a seaside cliff on a path so deserted the only companions were butterflies were nerve wracking. I briefly pondered how if I sneezed or tripped my body might not be found for weeks. But I was already there, and going back would have been just as difficult, so I looked straight ahead and walked carefully and breathed so, so slowly so as not to spiral into a full-blown panic attack. Traveling with anxiety is fun sometimes.
If you are outdoorsy and not afflicted with the demon vertigo though, it was very beautiful. It was beautiful even with that. I managed not to slip to my unknown and untimely demise, emerging onto a quiet cove with only a few bad jabs from grabbing onto some thistles as I scampered on my ass in an undignified scrabble on the steep sections.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of a quiet island is the realization that the only pub (or restaurant of any kind, though I certainly needed a beer to celebrate still being alive) is closed. So much for my post-walk lunch plans. I did manage to make my way back to Peel along the highway, because I was not tempting fate a second time, and to a lovely waterfront pub for an extremely well-earned pint in the sunshine.
Then I went home, heated up some Waitrose chicken soup and a Cornish pasty in the little barn kitchen, and slept like a tiny babe.
The rest was just… restful
I did a quieter walk too, over the hills near my farmhouse. Just a few locals around walking their dogs as if the view wasn’t jaw-dropping, and about three tourists looking at the ancient and massive Peel Castle.
I read a lot in my comfy down bed (Olivia Laing’s wonderful The Lonely City about art and life and solitude) and went on all those walks and had crumpets and tea and lush local yogurt with tiny strawberries for breakfast and watched the sun set over the suddenly noisy sheep in the hills.
It was restful and beautiful and the perfect stop in between.
Four days was not enough – I’m already planning how I can come back for a longer stay next summer. In an age of wild overtourism and the cultural obsession with always being on the go and onto the next thing and staying fucking busy, a quiet rest in an unknown and beautiful island with nothing on the agenda but walking and reading and writing and holding tiny kittens is maybe the antidote.
Logistics: Travel to the Isle of Man
Getting there: You can fly into the one tiny airport on the island, but I preferred taking the ferries which depart regularly from Dublin and Liverpool. They also are run by the very quaint-sounding Steam Packet Company but they’re quite modern, and if you book ahead they’re well-priced too. The port in Dublin is a bit outside the main city but a bus runs from O’Connell Street regularly, and in Liverpool they dock in the city center.
Where to stay: the island has many stately old hotels in Douglas along the seafront, and a few adorable-looking B&Bs in Peel (I want to stay in this one when I’m more flush with cash, but it’s very reasonable). Douglas is the bigger town with more going on, but Peel is lovely and quiet with the amenities you need for a longer stay. For the more rural feel, I definitely recommend the farmhouse I stayed in: Knockaloe Beg Farm outside of Peel. They have the bunkhouse in the barn, which I enjoyed and was reasonably priced and included a kitchen so I didn’t have to eat out all the time (which was good without a car, as it’s a lovely 2 mile walk from town). They also have B&B rooms, those little huts I mentioned earlier, and one little ancient gate lodge that looks too cute. If you stay there, tell the kittens and the pony I said hello.
Getting around: the island is quite small – only 13 miles wide and 33 miles long – and has an extensive and friendly bus network. I’d also be okay driving here, which is not something I say often, but the roads are wide and uncrowded and no one drives at top speeds. I also shared my bunkhouse with two British couples who were cycling round the island, which sounds fun if you’re into that.
Where to eat and drink: I had most of my meals in the bunkhouse because I am cheap. I did have a few lovely times out: that heavenly post-walk pint at the Creek Inn in Peel, which has waterfront tables and a warm old wooden interior, a Manx breakfast big enough for four people at the classic Duncan’s Diner in Peel, and a really lovely tea selection and salmon sandwich at the Tea Junction in Douglas.
Best time to visit: I was there in late June, when the days were very long and fairly warm (for the British isles, anyhow). If you’re looking for sunshine, it’s definitely the time to go. I’d like to go back in the spring or fall though when the days are shorter, because many parts of the island are know for their clear dark skies and excellent star-gazing. With only about 4.5 hours of darkness, visiting around the summer solstice makes finding any darkness for star-gazing a little difficult.
I’m almost hesitant to write anything about this perfect quiet island paradise – in a crowded world, these places are too rare. But if you do decide to visit, I hope you love it as much as I do.