Why we went
After a long, drawn out summer holiday in which my twins, Kit and Natasha, had started to climb the walls (and a lot more besides), my husband Sam suggested a short break, before back to school, would do us all the power of good. The Isle of Man had never really been on my radar – aside from tailless cats and world famous motorbike races, I didn’t really know much about it – but on the recommendation of a colleague, I started to investigate. Situated slap bang between Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, in the middle of the Irish Sea, it seemed remote enough to be different and exciting, but close enough to be familiar and fun, while encompassing all the best bits of its neighbours. We were sold!
Rather than grapple with long car journeys and choppy ferry rides with children in tow, we opted to take to the air. Flybe runs an excellent service from London Stansted that deposited us on the island in just a little over an hour. Amazingly, having left a grey, rain sodden mainland, the skies were now clear and blue, a not unusual scenario we were later told. As such, our descent into Ronaldsway Airport was one of the most scenic I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness, revealing the craggy Manx coastline in all its gorgeousness, and certainly whetted our appetite for all that was to come. Travelling hand luggage-only meant we were through the airport in a matter of minutes, before locating the car rental company and picking up the Ford Fiesta that would serve us well on the island’s twisty, turning roads through the duration of our stay.
A journey that should have taken 20 minutes took us a fair bit longer (I blamed the SatNav, Sam blamed the navigator, while the children bickered noisily amongst themselves!), but when we eventually pulled up the drive of Groudle Glen Cottages all friction quickly disappeared. Situated on a rocky headland, with spectacular cliffs dropping down to the sea, and where a small pebble beach (once reputedly a smuggler’s cove) nestles like something on a picture postcard, Groudle Glen has an ethereal, magical quality. Directed by the helpful young woman in reception (everyone we encountered on the island was super friendly), we found our appointed cottage and let ourselves in. Spotlessly clean and spacious, with everything a family could possibly need, our two-bedroom property also enjoyed stunning, uninterrupted views of the coastline thanks to the fact that all of Groudle’s cottages are dotted along different levels of the glen. Kit and Natasha, having bagsied their beds, turned their attention to the large, flat screen TV in the living room, leaving me and Sam free to soak up the scenery on the balcony with a well-earned glass of vino – bliss!
What we did
What didn’t we do, more like! With Kit and Natasha at an age where unless an electronic device is attached to their hands, they seem to be at a loss to know what to do with themselves, we were determined to show them an action-packed, fun-filled time! With the island being just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, it’s easy to get around (a word of warning however, road closures due to motorcycle racing in August and September, often means seeking out alternative, usually longer routes), so the next morning we were up bright and early, heading to the opposite side of the island for an off road Segway tour (segway.im) followed by The Ape-Mann Adventure Course (apemann.info), both located in the magnificent South Barrule Plantation (a Crown-owned forest). A laughter-filled, thrilling few hours ensued, which left us all ruddy-faced and ravenous, so we headed off to the pretty seaside town of Peel, where we enjoyed the most delicious fish and chips, from the much lauded Peel Fisheries, perched on a washed up log on the sandy beach. Stuffed to the gills (an apt idiom considering our location), we decided to walk it off with a tour of Peel Castle, a wonderful ancient fortress at the mouth of the harbor, whose lush green mounds were perfect for lying on or roly-polying down, depending on your bent! The next day, and now confirmed adrenalin junkies, we again set off early for a spot of Gorge Scrambling – what do you mean, you don’t know what it is? Well to be honest, we didn’t either initially. But Kim and Sam, the charming chaps at Adventurous Experiences (adventurousexperiences.com), soon filled us in as they decked us out in wetsuits, safety helmets and buoyancy aids, gulp! The reality of clambering across mossy rocks and sliding down freezing cold waterfalls, all in the most picturesque of glens, was actually incredibly exhilarating rather than scary. Of course, the children were naturals, while Sam and I lagged behind, yet we did it, and we all felt utterly exhausted, but with a huge sense of achievement at the end. On our final day, we decided to take things slightly more sedately with a trip to Curraghs Wildlife Park, the island’s only zoo, and a jolly lovely one at that. The children were totally captivated by the macaque monkeys, who gave us a fine display of grooming, while Sam and I were particularly partial to the penguins. We then took a scenic drive to the southernmost tip of the island, known as the Sound, taking a pit stop en route at the Patchwork Café (patchwork.im) in Port St Mary for what we’d been assured were some of the finest sandwiches on the island. Having opted for delicious Manx crab and avocado, with some homemade chocolate brownies thrown in for good measure, we made our way, with picnic in hand, to the Sound’s rocky headland. Having found a suitable rock to perch ourselves on we marveled at the incredible view out to the Calf of Man, a small uninhabited island that’s home to more than 30 species of birds. As if to order, half a dozen seals bobbed to the surface and proceeded to give such a brilliant display of synchronized swimming, they’d have won a gold in the Olympics – it really was the perfect finale.
What we ate
While it’s trendy these days for restaurants to bang on about their food being local and seasonal, meals done the Manx way seem to have always been thus, just one of the many upsides of living on a small island with fertile soil, an abundance of family-run farms and a plentiful supply of seafood on your doorstep! Take our dinner at The Courthouse restaurant (the-courthouse.com) in the heart of the Island’s capital, Douglas. Situated in a grade II listed former courthouse, as its name suggests, we enjoyed a feast of superb freshly produced food, with the warm salad of local Manx queenies (scallops) and Greeba Farm’s Manx mushroom risotto being of particular note. Another meal at the Island’s oldest Italian, La Mona Lisa (lamonalisa.im), on the riverside near the small harbour at Laxey village (we’d caught the electric tram from Groudle), we indulged in the most divine pizzas, all made from scratch using local Manx flour. On our final night, we decided to push the boat out, and dine at the rather splendid The Abbey restaurant (theabbeyrestaurant.co.im) in Ballasalla. Set in a fine old country house, complete with lush green lawns and a babbling brook, the restaurant has a daily changing menu, which left us salivating just reading it! Natasha’s cod on a bed of ravioli with pea ice cream was declared one of the best meals she’d ever eaten, while Kit and I opted for chicken done three ways, and packed with such meaty flavour it was incomparable to the flaccid, bland bird so often served. Sam, meanwhile, had devoured his pan-fried sea bass fillets before I’d a chance to taste, which says it all really! Suffice to say, you won’t go hungry on the Isle of Man. In fact, I think I went home half a stone heavier!
Why we’d go back
We’d return in a heartbeat, quite frankly, with the Island offering everything you could possibly want for a fabulous family holiday. In some ways it’s a wonderfully old-fashioned place, with un-spoilt coast and countryside, quaint villages, Victorian seaside towns and a slower pace of life that leaves you relaxed and refreshed. Yet the 21st century is very much in evidence, with services and facilities that are second to none, and where thrill seekers and foodies can have a field day. At one point during our stay, Kit asked our lovely taxi driver, Sheila, what the Manx flag stood for with it’s famous three legs forming a kind of wheel, to which she replied that it meant that wherever you went, you would always land on your feet, which perfectly sums up our time on the Isle of Man.
Flights from London Stansted to the Isle of Man with Flybe starting at £60. For more details visit flybe.com. Cars are available to rent at IOM airport from Mylchreests Car Rental. For more details visit mylchreests.com. A cottage at Groudle Glen Cottages start form £90 per night. For more details visit groudlecottages.com