Isle Of Man as great a place for a quick getaway as I remember from childhood
Barbara Collins took her family to the Isle of Man where a trip down memory lane contained some unexpected twists and turns, though the accommodation was top notch and the ice cream as sweet as ever
SOME of my best memories of childhood holidays are from various trips to the Isle of Man. I remember going there at least four times between the ages of eight and 13. I can recall lots of sticks of rock, candy floss, amusement arcades and trams. Now with two children aged eight and five, I wanted to see if the magic was still there.
We flew from Dublin to Douglas in just 45 minutes. The island is small, with just 80,000 inhabitants occupying 221 square miles. We got to our accommodation and a hire car in the same amount of time as the flight.
Groudle Glen Cottages near the village of Onchan looked promising online. They didn't disappoint in real life. Ours was an airy two-bedroom open-plan house. It was as good an example of self-catering as I have ever come across. The beds were super-comfy as were the sofas in front of the smart TV. The shower was powerful.
The kitchen had every utensil you might need and there was an ample dining table. There was milk, tea and coffee to start us off and we got some essentials in the local supermarket in Onchan but I didn't plan on cooking much. We were on holiday after all.
First stop was a blast from the past – the chocolate-box village of Laxey, with its famous red water wheel called the Lady Isabella. It is definitely worth going to see. The wheel was built in 1854 to pump water from the Laxey mines.
We could have taken the Victorian electric railway but the little one was a bit dubious about going up Snaefell Mountain so we had a bite in a very good nearby café before heading back to the cottage to explore the beach down the path. It is a fairly steep descent and the beach is pebbly, not sandy, but it was lovely all the same.
That evening we discovered a real gem back in Laxey – the Mona Lisa Italian restaurant. The riverside location is lovely and the warm atmosphere hits you as you walk in. They do a tomato chilli dipping sauce for their garlic bread and pizza crusts which I think should be bottled and sold. The pizzas are made with local Manx flour milled down the road and were honestly among the best I have tasted.
The service was excellent and the little ones were enchanted with the “magic” waiter who could produce lollies from behind their ears. The place was so good, we went back the next night. Leftover pizza for breakfast, anyone?
Next day was wet. We had breakfast in The Nutty Chef café in Onchan. It was lovely. We had heard the indoor pool in Douglas was great so we all headed in for a family splash about for a mere £10. Top marks for the Clotted Cream Tea in the upstairs café afterwards.
That afternoon was spent at the Manx Fun Farm indoor play area with John and his dad playing Laser Quest for the first time next door. All good clean fun before a trip back to the Mona Lisa for dinner.
Wednesday was Tynwald Day, the Isle of Man's National Day. It was a bank holiday. I had been to the charming village of Ramsey as a child and I remembered a pleasure lake there. We went back and I was so glad we did. I didn't remember that it was called Mooragh Park. For a couple of pounds, we hired a pedalo and had a jolly time going around the lake before having some of the island's famous Davison's Ice Cream. Mine was banana flavour and I have been craving it since.
For just £1.20 each, we got little fishing nets for the kids and watched them try to catch tiddlers in the lake before a round of Crazy Golf. Clara, who had just turned five, got a hole in one. A treasured family memory was made right there as we jumped up and down with delight. It's the simple things.
That's was the thing about the holiday – it was completely, and refreshingly low-tech. We just had fun times together doing things that have been done for centuries.
That evening, we went to another pleasure park for dinner, this time in Onchan where the Views restaurant had a good name. It was lovely to overlook the bowling greens, pleasure lake and tennis courts as we dined. The food was hearty and good value. The children loved the homemade spaghetti and meatballs and the Funny Face Ice Cream for dessert.
The next day we left the cottage and went to spend a night in Douglas. We booked into an apartment belonging to the long-established Welbeck Hotel. These are Victorian buildings which have been refurbished. There were two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and spacious sitting room. It was very comfortable. It was a short walk to the beach where those fishing nets got another outing. We also took a ride on the Douglas horse tram which ticked another childhood memory box.
I was disappointed that the amusements had gone, though. I suppose the place has moved on a bit and people tend to travel abroad much more now. It's a pity because I used to love those machines where you could win a whole 20p if the coins hanging over the edges fell down. Not much of a profit in them, I'd imagine, which is possibly why the place is now an apartment block.
Many of the old hotels I remember from the prom are gone. The marina is where a lot of the action is these days. There are new restaurants such as the Barbary Coast, and the Courthouse on Athol Street is well known in foodie circles nationwide.
We didn't get to Castletown, Port St Mary or St John's because we didn't want to spend too much time in the car. The Isle of Man is fairly compact and there are buses, trains and trams but this holiday was also about relaxing as well as sightseeing. Next time, we will definitely check out Castle Rushen, which is one of the best preserved medieval castles in the world, and the House of Mannanan Museum at Peel – it's all about the island's Celtic and Viking heritage.
A word to the wise; if you are driving and if you don't have sat nav; you will more than likely get lost. The road signs could do with some work. I suggest that the roundabouts have signs on them pointing the way as well as 100m beforehand. I'm sure I'm not the only driver who forgets what they saw when I reach the roundabout.
The island-wide disc parking scheme is good but there are a lot of cars and the roads and streets can be steep and narrow. Once you know that, you'll be fine. Also, get a Go Explore card which gets you into lots of attractions.
All in all, we had a super time. The children adored it and apart from the disappointment of the amusement park, there was magic in spades.