On Wednesday we both got the train to Heysham and boarded the ferry to Douglas, there was a Great Rail Journeys group on the ferry so we spoke to the TM, Yvonne Cox, who was very helpful and knew lots about the Isle of Man. On arrival in Douglas we were met by representatives from IOM Transport, given welcome packs and transferred to our hotel. We were staying at the Ascot and checked into our huge rooms, a superior room at the back of the hotel and a sea view room at the front. In the evening we ate a lovely meal at the Ascot and went into Douglas to explore what the Isle of Man has to offer.
Today we got up and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Ascot, where there was a wide selection of all you would expect for breakfast, with a special toaster area for gluten free guests.
We then met the Isle of Man Transport representatives and enjoyed running commentary from a lovely blue badge guide called Jane We set off on a day of exploring, we crossed the fairy bridge on the way and had to say good morning to the fairies before visiting Rushen Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that turned into a nightclub before being bought by the Manx National Heritage in the early 2000s.
We then went to Castletown, the ancient capital of the Isle of Man and a lovely little town to explore. We visited the Old House of Keys and Castle Rushen, one of the best preserved Medieval castles in Europe! Then we went on to the Cregneash Folk Museum, the first of its kind in the world, and saw the resident Manx cat, Bonnie.
Then it was time for lunch so we made our way to the Sound Cafe, which looks over the Calf of Man, a lovely little island from which we saw a lot of seals. The view from the Sound Cafe is breath-taking. After refuelling we began the scenic drive back to Douglas - learning along the way that the island doesn't have foxes or squirrels, but they do have wild wallabies!?!? Blind wallabies too, as they escaped from the zoo and bred. Another interesting fact is that the island has no national speed limit, and of course you cannot drive around the Isle of Man without seeing evidence of the TT races.
Our evening was very enjoyably spent aboard the Pie and Mash Dining steam train, travelling from Douglas to Port Erin whilst we had our main course, indulging with a pudding on the return journey. This was a great experience with six choices of pies, three choices for desert and very efficient service. We had half an hour of free time in Port Erin so we had a quick look in the Isle of Man Railway Museum, went to the port and had a quick drink in the local pub.
We woke up to a damp and rainy day in Douglas, but that wasn't going to stop another day packed with excursions!
After saying a warm goodbye to Sandy at the Ascot hotel, we made our way to the promenade to be picked up and transferred to bungalow station where we were catching the electric tram to Snaefell summit. Located in the north of the island, Snaefell is the Island's only mountain. Standing at 2036 feet above sea level, you are able to see England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales from the top on a clear day... unfortunately for us... the weather was very foggy.
The tram was made in the 1890s and the interior still boasts traditional with wooden features. Once comfy in our seats we started our ascent which took approximately 10 minutes. A pre-recorded commentary played to tell passengers what they were able to view; the reservoir, the air fields, Castletown, the TT race track, again... due to the weather conditions we couldn't see past the tracks, after admiring a misty haze we went into the coffee shop to warm up.
Next we took the tram to Ramsey via Laxey. (We just managed to see Laxey wheel at a distance from the tram) the journey took about 25 minutes to get to Laxey from Snaefell summit and then a further 40 minutes from Laxey to Ramsey. Once off the tram we transferred to Milntown, which is a stately home set in over fifteen acres of beautiful gardens in the North of the island. This is one of the Island's most historic houses and we toured the gardens with umbrellas at the ready! As well as the gardens they had a collection of classic cars and motorbikes. We also had a quick guided tour of the house and we were advised of some ghostly going ons, with it being Friday 13th we decided to get out of there as quickly as possible!
After lunch at Milntown, we visited the Grove museum as well as the House of Mannanan museum. Then it was onward to the horse and tram stables in Douglas. The stables are still housed in the original Victorian structure, tucked away on the promenade, complete with smithy, feedstock rolling machinery, hay loft and cobbled wash yard. Guided tours of the stables are available on selected dates throughout the season or visitors can explore the stables independently for free. Meet and feed the Shire and Clydesdale horses and learn about their lives, our personal favourite was a horse called Steve - the largest horse at 19 hands. There is also a small exhibition room and gift shop within the stables.
We said farewell to Steve and continued to the Manx Museum for a guided tour to learn more about the history of the Isle of Man before transferring back to the ferry port following our whistle-stop experience on the Isle of Man.