Bannaghtyn (that’s ‘greetings’ in Manx) from the beautiful Isle of Man. This island in the Irish Sea is a law unto itself (quite literally – it may be British but it’s not part of the United Kingdom), and it has a culture, a history and language, Manx Gaelic, all of its own. Come to Man and you’ll find pretty seaside towns that give way to dramatic rolling hills and lush hidden glens home to waterfalls (and, legend has it, a fairy or two). Adventurous types can explore mountain trails and forest paths on foot or on mountain bikes. The island is perhaps best known as the home of the world-famous annual TT motorbike race, and whether or not you’re an adrenaline-seeker, getting to drive the same mountainous route that the bikes follow is a real thrill, and makes road-tripping around the island great fun. There’s even a mini version of Man to hop over to if you’re a keen wildlife spotter – the tiny Calf of Man is a haven for local fauna.
The Isle of Man has been attracting visitors since the Celts first settled here and the Vikings turned up 1,000 years ago (and established Tynwald, the world’s oldest continuous parliament). These days, UNESCO obviously reckon it’s a special spot too, deeming the entire island a UNESCO Biosphere in 2016. But what surprised me most about visiting Man is that it still seems to fly under the radar as an adventurous place to visit – I think that this storied land smack in the middle of the Irish Sea makes the perfect destination for outdoor lovers. Here are some of my favourite places to explore as well as lovely spots to eat and stay at from my time on the island – go now, before the whole world finds out.
Autumn adventures on the Isle of Man
Do go chasing waterfalls – the Isle of Man is home to some seriously stunning cascades. One local I met looked at the stormy sky and said “We love rain on Man, it makes the water run”. Glen Maye makes for a rewarding walk, and Glen Helen is said to be Man’s most beautiful fall. But my favourite was Dhoon Glen, where the Inneen Vooar waterfall rushes down from a height of 130ft into a fairytale gully where we spotted Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, met a surprised wild goat and walked down to the wild shores of Dhoon Bay, which we had completely to ourselves (if you don’t count one inquisitive seal).
The heart of the Isle of Man may be mountainous, but the island is also home to miles of shady forest plantations home to tall pines and criss-crossed with mountain biking trails suitable for all levels. They’re brilliant explored by hike with a local guide – beginners and kids will love Gravity’s E-scooters, and more experienced cyclists can go on a mud-splatteringly exhilarating cycle on a mountain bike or E-mountain bike with the knowledgeable guides at Adventureology.
Take a hike
Over 40% of the Isle of Man is made up of wild landscapes – and the island is criss-crossed with epic hiking trails to follow. Ocean lovers can tackle a section of Raad ny Foillan, the 100-mile footpath that encircles the island -keep your eyes peeled for seals and bottlenose dolphins. Prefer hill walking? Head up Snaefell, the island’s only mountain at 621 metres, and the adjoining peak of Carraghyn for sweeping views of Man (you can even see Mull in Scotland and Scafell Pike in England on a clear day). For a shorter stroll, go lighthouse-hunting on the Langness Peninsula or walk among Neolithic tombs at Cashtal yn Ard.
Jump aboard an electric train
One of the island’s most unique and charming highlights is the Manx Electric Railway, first constructed in the late 1800s and still going strong today, connecting the Island’s capital, Douglas, with Laxey in the east and Ramsey in the north. Just riding along on any of these original Victorian and Edwardian trains is a Instagram-friendly delight, but the Snaefell Mountain Railway also takes passengers up to the summit of Man’s only mountain, Snaefell, via epic views across the island, so you get a sightseeing journey and a mountain adventure in one. The Go Explore Card from Isle of Man Transport are ideal for hopping on the trains – the card offers unlimited travel on any scheduled bus and rail services for 1, 3, 5 or 7 consecutive days. You can also get a Go Explore Heritage Card which includes unlimited travel and unlimited access to Manx National Heritage attractions.
Go wild swimming
With 99 miles of coastline to explore, the Isle of Man is a dream destination for sea swimmers. Laxey Beach is an ever-popular spot (and you can warm up at beachfront café The Shed afterwards). Or head to Fenella Beach to swim alongside the dramatic walls of Peel Castle, Langness, where you might spot seals, Port Cornaa, which is a favourite with locals, and Garwick, which boasts a rope swing. Inland, if you’re feeling brave and fancy a refreshing natural shower, go hunting for some of the island’s hidden waterfalls to dip in.
WHERE TO EAT
The Shed: Get beachfront views with your cuppa at this cute little cafe-in-a-shed, dishing up great fresh coffee and homemade pies and cakes. The perfect spot for warming up and watching the waves roll in after a dip at Laxey Beach.
Laxey Kitchen: Veggies and vegans should make a beeline for Laxey Kitchen’s delicious plant-based brunch offerings – the veggie naan breakfast bread is a big highlight of this cafe’s ‘happy, healthy’ food menu.
Versa: If it’s not locally sourced, it’s not on the menu at Versa, an intimate restaurant with a supper club vibe and an ever-changing menu that champions the best homegrown and foraged Manx ingredients.
Wine Down: What do you get when you match up a chef with a wine expert? A very nice dining experience indeed. Over 100 wines are paired to match the menu at Wine Down, and the food is fabulous too – I’ll be dreaming about their goats cheese soufflé for a long time.
Filbey’s Bistro: Nab a table in the window at this friendly bistro for views of boats bobbing in Peel Harbour while you eat your fill of the best fresh fish and seafood sourced from the island.
WHERE TO STAY
Yn Thie Thooit: This charming Manx thatched cottage is traditional on the outside and rather luxurious on the inside, with a wood-burning stove for nippy nights. This rural spot is ideal for stargazing – and on winter evenings you might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Close Vark Farmhouse: This pretty, modern apartment has big country views from the balcony and is ideal for exploring Ramsey and the north of the island. Don’t forget to say hi to the friendly resident ponies.
Silly Moos Campsite: Named for the other residents of this working dairy farm, Silly Moos is a relaxed campsite complete with a big covered barn to hang out in if the weather is looking less than lovely.
Calf of Man Bunkhouse: The Calf of Man (pop: 2) is a tiny island off the southwest coast of Man that acts as a haven for local wildlife. Pack your sleeping bag, catch the boat over and cosy up at this bunkhouse after a day of exploring and birdwatching.
Surfside: Want to wake up and hit the waves? Dinky Surfside Cottage is just steps away from Port Erin Beach, a sheltered sandy beach ideal for swimming and kayaking and there’s a log burner for warming up next to after a sea session.