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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Isle of Man

Last summer, my sister and I took a trip to the Isle of Man. Now you'll wonder how we came by it? After all, Man is not widely known as a holiday destination. But as we don't like to spend our entire days in a swimming pool or on a hot beach, we prefer to explore the world and see as much as we can.

Somewhere in a weekend newspaper we read an article about Man, and then sought out how to get there. It proved rather easy. We can take the Eurostar to London (only takes 2 hours) and from there it's another 2 hours by train to Liverpool, where you can take a ferry to Man. Quite cheap also. We paid the most for the Virgin train from London to Liverpool.

We arrived on the island in the evening, and it was raining. Of course, you know you'll get some rain when you visit the British Isles! But the next day it was already rather sunny. We stayed in Douglas, which is now the main town of the island. We took the first day to explore Douglas and make walks along the boardwalk, but the next days we set out to see more of the island.

Our first trip took us to Castletown, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Man. The Norse King Magnus built a fortress in the thirteenth century, Castle Rushen. It's one of the most complete castles in the British Isles and has been 'brought alive' by Manx National Heritage with lifelike figures and medieval-style furnishings. The oldest part of it is the lower keep, built in about 1250, the highest tower is eighty feet high and the walls are up to twelve feet thick. For many years the Castle was used as the seat of Government and as the Island's prison. It is still used for register office weddings and court proceedings.

The island has another castle, Peel. The ruin of this castle stands on St. Patrick's Isle. St Patrick's Isle is one of the smallest Islands in the Irish Sea and yet one of the most historic, with an extraordinary history stretching back over eight thousand years.
Already six thousand years before Christ, hunters found their way to it, attracted by the abundant fish. According to traditon, it was here that Saint Patrick stepped ashore to bring Christianity to the Isle of Man. A monastery was established there.
Lots of wars have been fought over this castle, as both English and Scottish powers wanted to have a keep there. In the 14th century, the castle was given to a certain Sir John Stanley. The Stanley's became Lords of Man and kept that position until the 17th century, with the Civil War.
The castle is a treasure trove for archeologists, as they've been digging around in the castle ruins and have come up with many artifacts, even discovered ancient burial grounds.

Did you also know that the Isle of Man still has a steam train running daily? There is also a 19th century tram riding from Douglas the north of the island. It was quite an atraction to ride in these ancient engines!

And also, the island has yearly car races, going through entire villages and towns, just like the F1 of Monte Carlo. And last but not least, the famous Bee Gees were born and bred on the isle. They lived in the center of Douglas, until the family moved to Australia.

We spent a very nice week in Man and learned a lot about its people and culture. An added attracted was the pungent sea air from the Irish Sea (which is in fact part of the Atlantic). I've never been near a sea or ocean which has that smell, a real afrodisiac!


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