Introducing the Isle of Man

With opportunities to travel drastically curtailed by the Covid-19 lockdown there’s both plenty of time and good reason to look back on happier, more innocent days. Exactly two years ago we were exploring the Isle of Man, enjoying its rugged coastline, rural landscapes, scenic glens and varied wildlife. It’s a great place to visit, but if you live outside the British Isles you most likely know very little about it. Having said that, even most Brits are a bit baffled!

The Isle of Man – or Mann, to give it its other name – lies in the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and Ireland. At 572 km² it’s less than three quarters the size of New York City, and has a population of around 82,000. Although its inhabitants are British citizens, the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom. The Brits are responsible for its defence, but it has its own governing administration and doesn’t have representation in the British parliament. It never formally joined the European Union, meaning that it was spared the turmoil of the Brexit debate.

The Laxey Wheel, the world’s largest waterwheel

Mann is a “crown dependency,” meaning that it technically belongs to the reigning British monarch. This arrangement dates from 1764, when King George III purchased feudal rights to the island from the Lord of Mann. He also bought the title, which passed to his descendants. As a result Queen Elizabeth is the Lord of Mann, even though she’s not a Lord in the way most people would understand the word. First Lady of Mann might be a more accurate description.

Confused? Me too! In my view the best description of Mann is “international oddball.” The Isle of Man is five-star anomaly.

10 more things you (maybe) didn’t know about the Isle of Man

#1 The island was first settled by the Celts, and although the Vikings, Scots and English followed later, their Manx Gaelic language predominated until the 19th century when English began to take over. The last native Manx speaker died in 1974, but efforts are underway to revive the language. In a 2015 survey, 1,800 people claimed some knowledge it.

#2 The Isle of Man parliament – the Tynwald – was established by Viking settlers in 979 AD. It claims to be the world’s oldest continuously operating parliament.

The Laxey Wheel, 22 metres in diameter

#3. In 1854 the largest waterwheel in the world was built on Mann. At 22 metres in diameter, the Laxey Wheel was constructed to pump water from the lead mines situated around 350 metres below ground.

#4 The Tynwald struck a blow for gender equality in 1881 when it became the first national parliament to give women the vote, albeit only women who were quite wealthy. New Zealand followed in 1893, and Finland in 1906. To its eternal shame, the UK did not approve (limited) female suffrage until 1918.

The volunteer-run narrow gauge railway is popular with tourists

#5 With its low rate of taxes the Isle of Man has long been regarded as a tax haven, where the idle rich can hide their wealth from the acquisitive eyes of their own governments. In recent years its administration has tried to shake off this reputation by signing tax information exchange deals with a number of countries. However the offshore financial sector remains the most important part of the island’s economy, while tourism also makes a significant contribution.

#6 The island is world famous for its population of cats with no tails. In fact, there are two varieties of Manx cat; the ‘rumpy’ has no tail at all, whilst the ‘stumpy’ has a very small tail.

Traditional house, with Manx cat in the foreground (looks like a “rumpy!”)

#7 Every summer the island’s roads play host to one of the world’s most dangerous and exciting motorcycle races. Between 1907 and 2019 the TT Races have resulted in 151 fatalities during races and official practices.

#8  According to local superstition the word “rat” is unlucky and should never be uttered on the Isle of Man. When necessary, locals refer to “longtails”. 

The Snaefell Mountain Railway takes tourists to the 620m high summit

#9 Mann’s highest mountain is Snaefell. Tourists are saved the discomfort of trekking to its 620m high summit by the narrow gauge Snaefell Mountain Railway. On reaching the end of the line you can see England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But as this is only possible on clear days, most visitors to the island don’t manage it (including us!) 

#10 Despite being over 15,000 km from Australia, the Isle of Man has a healthy, self-sustaining population of wild wallabies! I’ll tell you more about them, and some of my other Manx highlights, in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

When the cloud clears, the bleak peak of Snaefell dominates views of the island

17 comments

  1. nationalparkswitht · June 24

    What an interesting place!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · June 24

      Yes, it’s amazing how much scenery, history and wildlife is packed into such a small area.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I was all set to mention the famous rock and roll fest held there in 1970. But then I realized that it took place on the Isle Of Wight! Both isles are worth visiting I bet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · June 24

      For many years, when I was a kid, we took our annual holiday (vacation!) on the Isle of Wight. I loved that place. In 1969 (I think) we were on the island shortly before the festival started, and I remember lots of wild-looking young folk – not typical island holidaymakers – roaming the streets. I have a clear memory of an attractive young woman, (an archetypal flower-child) walking up to my father in the street and demanding a light for her cigarette. Isn’t it strange how apparently trivial things get buried in your brain, only to re-surface decades later?

      I’ve just checked out the 1970 Festival line-up with Professor Google. Wow, amazing! Legendary names and icons galore. I see that 600,000 people are reckoned to have attended parts of that festival, which is incredible when you compare it with the island’s population (currently a little less than 150,000). The whole place must have been creaking at the seams.

      A few weeks after the 1970 festival Jimi Hendrix was dead, so I guess it must been one of his last gigs. A day or two after he died I remember going into school in London (coincidentally just a few miles from where he took his overdose) to find someone had daubed the classroom walls with the message HENDRIX LIVES! That man had a huge impact, and died way too young.

      My god, all this reminiscing is making me feel old. I think I’ll have to go upstairs for a lie down! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ann Mackay · June 24

    I reckon I owe my existence to the Isle of Man, because my parents met there when my Dad was racing in the TT. 🙂 Someday I’ll get to visit, I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 25

      He must have been a good and brave rider; the route they take round the island must be very challenging when done at speed. Definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · June 26

        Dad once told me that he came of a bike right in front of a TV camera, but was disappointed to find that it wasn’t recording at the time. (Not absolutely sure whether that was the TT of one of the other courses he raced at though.) I know he really enjoyed his racing days – which were back in the days when anyone could race if they wanted to. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · June 26

        Ouch!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · June 27

        Somehow, pressing the ‘like’ button doesn’t seem quite right here… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · June 28

        I know what you mean. However I think some of the people watching the TT like to see riders come off. When we drove around the island there were several places where spectator viewing galleries were in place (I suspect they are permanent fixtures), and many of these are on tight corners where riders could easily come off. All seems a bit ghoulish to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · June 28

        Could be quite horrific! And there’s always a chance that spectators might get injured if a bike comes off the road too. Doesn’t appeal to me! (But I did like to see Dad enjoying his memories.)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · June 24

    Thank you for this informative excursion to one of the world’s oddballs. I knew I had heard Manx before, but did not actively recall the cats, and did not know about Manx Gaelic. I hope it won’t go the way of numerous other native languages.
    I regret not having made use of the opportunity to visit Mann by ferry from Liverpool many years ago! 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Geri Lawhon · August 21

    Thanks you for the history lesson on the Isle of Mann. I like the huge waterwheel photo too.

    Liked by 1 person

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