On stepping off the ferry in the quaint port of Douglas, my phone sent me a nice message telling me I was now data roaming. At first I thought that this was because I was in a different country, but it wasn't. It was because I was now in a different century. The 1800s to be exact.
The Isle of Man is a lovely idyllic jewel in the middle of the Irish Sea, which, a few times a year, becomes home to petrol heads intent on tearing around the island as fast as inhumanely possible. Outside of the race weeks though, the island is much, much quieter.
Douglas is much like any other seaside town, hotels restaurants and promenade. It has one subtle difference. The trams are pulled by horses. This is not an affectation for the tourists, they have just never been updated since they were put in during the eighteenth century, and given the look of some of the horses pulling the trams, neither were the horses. Locals use the horse-drawn trams much as London commuters use the underground. On any given tram there will be more locals commuting from the train station as there are tourists marvelling at the quaintness.
Various centuries are represented on the Isle of Man. Our first destination on arriving was to head to the train station and board one of the oldest continuously running train lines in the country. Our train was called Thomas, and our carriage was called Claribel. This actual honest-to-goodness steam train took us across the island to Peel. Peel is a fishing village. It has such modern conveniences as a bus stop and pavements. It being a Saturday, the next bus would be Monday. Fortunately, although all uphill from the train station, it was not far. The self-catering accommodation was from the nineteen-fifties, which came as a relief. Electricity! No internet, though. There was a place on the island where a phone signal could be received, but we were not there.
We made several trips during our stay there. We visited the Loxley Wheel, which took us back to the 1700s, and a time before health and safety was a thing, being allowed right to the top of the wheel, where there was a low fence that was more of a trip hazard than a safety feature. We visited the 1500s at Cregneash, a still lived in village where the inhabitants welcome visitors freely, although photos are forbidden, for those magical picture boxes steal souls. Manx is the only language spoken here. We spent a day in the 400s with a quick trip to Peel Castle, before discovering St Trinian’s is not a school for naughty young ladies, but instead a dilapidated chapel without a roof. We went to a transport museum, there were two parts. Part one was full of cars and bikes, the other part was a history of transport on the island, with old buses, old trains and the like. To be fair, in order to get there, we had been on several of the exhibits that were still in working order.
The trains on the island crisscross it, going over Snaefell. We got off here, somewhat surprised the train had made it to the top, given the sides of the carriage were no longer connected to the chassis and locals used it as a handy way of travelling a few hundred yards by hopping on and off as it trundled along. From the top of Snaefell it is reputed on a clear day that you can see England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. I say reputed, as not once during our week did we have a clear enough day. They technically claim you can see seven kingdoms, but as they include sea, sky and the ground you’re standing on, this is a stretch.
Food was varied. We had Italian in Laxley, seafood in Peel, a curry in Douglas and TexMex in Ramsay. We ate out a lot as the restaurants are the only places on the island with a reliable internet connection.
To sum up: if you would like to time travel through the entire occupation of the British Isles over the past four thousand years, then the Isle of Man is for you. However, if you like reliable internet, deliberate excitement (instead of the accidental variety found when wondering if your bus will make it up the hill), running water and twenty-four hour electricity then perhaps head for somewhere else.