Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had only visited the Isle of Man twice before. The last time was in the late 1980’s and it was memorable only for how miserably cold and damp it was. The rain never stopped from the moment I landed until, well, I guess, sometime long after I left. That’s what you get for traveling there in March. The first time I went, I was a kid and I remembered it as a magical place. I met relatives I never knew I had, watched part of the Isle of Man TT races, went to Laxey wheel, explored some of the glens, traveled the electric railway, learned about the fairies that inhabited the island and heard stories of ancient Norse raiders who eventually settled on the island. Above all, I thoroughly fell in love with the Island and dreamt one day of living there. Not long after that visit we emigrated and my memories faded over time, almost lost for many years.
Three years ago, by happenstance, I reconnected with extended family from the Isle of Man and rekindled my interest in visiting. I thought that if we could make it happen, a visit would be a great experience for our own children, as well as an opportunity to learn more about a family branch that I had, sadly, almost no recollection of beyond a few names. When we planned our around the world trip, the planned stops in England allowed us to factor in a side trip to the Isle of Man. So, plans were made, tickets were purchased and although we were loathe to leave the gorgeous weather we were enjoying in Lancaster, we set off. Well, we sort of set off.
The last time Rachel and I lived in England, the running joke was that British Rail wouldn’t run train service if there were leaves on the line. Since then rail travel has been privatized and subsequently when we tried to get a train from Lancaster to the port at Heysham, we discovered there wasn’t one. This was problematic for a family reliant on public transit. Fortunately, while unable to provide a train, the train company provided a bus. Utilizing this marvelous arrangement we headed off to Heysham, the most unattractive port ever and boarded the ferry bound for the port of Douglas.
The crossing over the Irish sea was very pleasant (which is certainly not guaranteed) and most interesting in that on a clear day, you can actually see England clearly in the distance, along with the second largest wind turbine field in Europe. It happens to be right in the middle of the Irish Sea, or thereabouts. Sightseeing aside, as we drew closer to the island I felt increasingly excited at the prospect of being there once again. This time, we would spend a week with the relatives and get to know the Island a bit more. It turned out better than I had ever expected.
We had a lovely time with family, rode the trams and the steam train, visited museums, explored castles, went for walks and enjoyed some fabulous weather. We got to watch Rowan play his bagpipes in the ruins of Peel Castle and watch some of the World Cup games in a great pub called the Thirsty Pigeon. I’m still kicking myself for not getting the T-shirt! It was at one of those sessions where serendipity paid us a visit when Rachel struck up a conversation with a gentleman sharing our table. During the course of their chat, it came out that he was one of the Captains of the ferry that we had taken to get to the island. Better yet, he arranged for us to get a tour of the bridge when we took the ferry back to Heysham. It was the topping to a remarkable stay on an island so distinctive that it is a Unesco world heritage site. When we sailed out of Douglas Bay, I was sad to be leaving, but I was also looking through the eyes of the seven year old I once was and realised that the Isle of Man was still magical to me.