(It’s not just a Bee Gees song!)
Actually, the song Ellan Vannin is often referred to as the “alternative Manx National Anthem”. The lyrics were written by Eliza Craven Green in 1854, and later set to music by J. Townsend. The Bee Gees recorded the song in aid of Isle of Man charities, in 1997. In fact, the Bee Gees were born on the Isle of Man, and they lived in Douglas until the eldest brother, Barry, was eight years old. How’s that for a bunch of fun facts?
Here is a photo where they lived in Douglas when they were children:
Why the sudden interest in all things (well, at least Bee Gees things) related to Ellan Vannin? Because I’m here, on the Isle of Man 🇮🇲 ! Right now! On vacation!
But just as an aside, immediately before this vacation was the Canmore Highland Games, always a highlight of Alberta’s piping season, in what must be one of the most stunning locations for a Highland games anywhere. Just a few pictures from the games – one of the Alberta Firefighters Pipe Band marching up to the line for their competition, and one of Robyn and me with the mountains and the beer tent in the background:
And now back to my vacation story.
I’ve wanted to come here to the Isle of Man for a long time – not only because of my love of islands, but also because Manx is a Celtic language closely related to Scottish Gaelic and to Irish. (At least that’s what I remember from some of my Celtic Studies classes back at St. F. X. – not that I ever studied the Manx language! Scottish Gaelic, Old Irish – very useful – and Welsh, but not Manx)
(“Ellan Vannin” means “Isle of Man” in Manx – but you had probably figured that one out already)
Plus they have their own breed of cats here called Manx cats (sometimes things are just a bit too obvious). They have no tails, or else very short tails. I haven’t seen one up close yet, but I did see some sheep with very short tails the other day. Probably unrelated.
Anyway, now I’m here, in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, for a holiday. I’m here to do some hiking, and also to be a tourist. In other words, there will be no scary hiking like there was in Ireland a few years ago, although that was certainly an adventure! (I refer you back to Full Moon Over Dingle and Out of her Shoes ).
No, this is more of a vacation with a few days of hiking thrown in. It’s called a “highlights” walking holiday. The idea is to do some sections of the Raad ny Foillan (“The Way of the Gull”), which is the coastal walking path all around the Isle of Man, but not the entire path, which generally takes 8 – 9 full days of walking. The Highlights itinerary is comprised of 5 sections of the path, plus a day of touristing, which may or may not include some walking. The holiday also incorporates the island’s train system, which includes a steam train which runs from Douglas to the south, an electric train which runs from Douglas to the north, and a mountain tram which runs from Laxey up to the summit of Snaefell, which is the highest point on the Isle of Man.
I left Calgary just after noon on Tuesday, September 4th, flying to Toronto, and then on to Dublin, and then from Dublin to Douglas. It was a long journey! From the time I left my house in Calgary until I arrived at my Guesthouse in Douglas, it had been 26 hours of travel.
I took a taxi from the Isle of Man airport to my Guesthouse, and the taxi driver was probably the friendliest taxi driver I have ever encountered. In fact, it was he who took me past the Bee Gees’ house, at his own suggestion. I’m quite certain it didn’t have anything to do with my age, and the fact that I look like I would have been listening to Bee Gees disco music in the mid- to late-70s.
My Guesthouse is almost right on the Promenade in Douglas. What a fabulous area! Here’s a picture that I took the evening I arrived:
I found a restaurant just down the road from my Guesthouse, had some supper and a pint, then settled into my room for the night. I think I crashed at about 8:00 that night (but don’t tell anyone. 8:00 bedtime on vacation is just downright embarrassing).
Waking up bright and early (well, the day was getting bright, and it was early – but that’s not to say I was feeling super bright. Truth be told, I was just a little groggy…), I went downstairs for breakfast, to be presented with a menu of amazing options. I chose the breakfast panini, thinking it would be a breakfast sandwich – which it was, but it was massive! The size of a full submarine sandwich, toasted, with scrambled eggs, melted cheese, tomato slices, and mushrooms, served with a side dish (literally, a dish) full of mushrooms doused in melted Manx cheddar cheese. I was pretty sure I would need to go back to bed for a morning nap if I ate it all! So I ate as much as I could, leaving the top slice of bread from the sandwich, but eating most of the filling and the bottom slice of bread. (A reasonable compromise, I figured.)
Check out the breakfast menu – it’s amazing! I just wish I was here for long enough to sample every option:
I had decided that I would be a rebel right from Day 1, and walk in a clockwise direction from Douglas, contrary to what the Highlights itinerary suggested on the website for Let’s Go Walking, the outfit through whom I booked this holiday.
I had the option of walking 5 miles, 10 miles, or 15 miles – either Douglas to Port Soderick, Douglas to Santon, or Douglas to Ballasalla, respectively. I went for the 10 mile option, much like Goldilocks would have done.
Walking clockwise meant I would leave Douglas on foot, and walk to Santon and then catch the steam train back to Douglas. Armed with my trusty hiking gear (the usual stuff – hiking poles, rain coat, snacks, water bottle, phone/camera, guidebook, and maps), plus a train timetable which hadn’t been included in the information packet sent to me by Let’s Go Walking (surprisingly, I thought, given the nature of the itinerary which they had put together), I set off on my new adventure.
I was to leave Douglas by heading from my Guesthouse toward the ferry terminal, and then crossing the bridge, and then locating the first waymark. No problem – it took me about 15 minutes to walk to the other side of the bridge, and there was the waymark. Hooray! Off to a great start.
But then I looked to my right, and realized this wasn’t going to be all that easy after all…
There sure was a lot of uphill for the first 40 minutes or so of my walk.
But of course it made for some spectacular views, which the sunshine certainly helped.
This is looking back and down over the town of Douglas
And this is looking out away from Douglas:
I’m not sure why the wall builders thought they needed to put the pointy rocks on top of the wall. Perhaps as a deterrent, so people wouldn’t climb over the wall and jump off, just in case the cliffs and ocean below didn’t do the trick…?
Regardless, up to this point, I was feeling pretty good about my hiking abilities. Until this runner absolutely BLEW by me. If I had heard her coming, I might have even stuck out my foot to trip her. (Not really)
But never mind. She probably can’t play piobaireachd.
Here are a few more pictures from the walk:
Here are the aforementioned Manx sheep:
Yes, that’s heather on the hill in the photo above! And a selfie, to prove I was really there 🙂
I left the coast and walked through some countryside, still following the waymarkers…
Under a train bridge, and then past a sign that warned me of DANGER OF DEATH (you can bet I stayed off of that pole!!!)
But then somewhere in between the DANGER OF DEATH pole and the lovely countryside with the sea in the distance,
I somehow lost the way markers, after having followed the Raad ny Foillan for about 10 kilometres, or 6 miles. I knew I wasn’t that far from the main road, so I went with that and followed the main road the rest of the way to Santon, and (after a bit of difficulty, actually, I even had to ask for directions!) I found the Santon Railway Station.
According to my train timetable, it seemed as though I had just missed the train, but luckily for me, the train was a little late so I caught it back to Douglas after all.
I absolutely loved the ride on the Manx Steam Train! I’m sure it’s nothing like the Harry Potter train, also known as the Jacobite Train, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland (and, incidentally, and of course of interest to all of my piper friends, also known as the “Steam Train to Mallaig”), but it was fun and brought a great big smile to my face.
Below are photos of my private compartment, the engine switching tracks so the train can start heading back in the other direction, and the station back in Douglas.
After arriving back in Douglas, I found the Tesco store and bought a few supplies, then headed back to my Guesthouse. The late afternoon was just as beautiful on the waterfront as the morning had been!
I found myself a pub called “The Prospect” where I was able to enjoy some supper and a pint of the local O’Kell’s bitter – it was all excellent, as was the sunset on the promenade.
On my first day, I managed to walk 18.3 kilometres – not bad, considering the only really strenuous part was the uphill climb at the beginning of the walk. (which obviously not everyone found strenuous – I refer you back to the runner, whom I actually swore at as she ran past me. Not with my outside voice though)
Day 2 dawned a little cooler, but I was determined to continue according to my itinerary. This would involve walking from Castletown to Port St. Mary, a distance of about 7 miles. Before I left, though, I decided on the “Full Breakfast”. I bet I’m the only hiker on the planet who actually gains weight while on a hike, and I intend to hold the Devonian Guesthouse entirely responsible. So. Much. Food.
This day would involve taking the steam train from Douglas to Castletown, and you just know I was excited about that! I arrived bright and early, well on time for a 9:50 departure. Actually I think I was about 40 minutes early. A little over-eager! One doesn’t want to be late for these things, of course.
The morning sun on the promenade made everything look so pretty! And I walked past the Douglas yacht club, which also looked lovely.
And then when I arrived at the train station, I noticed something I had missed the day before –
What a cool way to start the day!
Castletown is another beautiful harbour town, which looked lovely in the morning sun.
I found the waymark for the path without any trouble, and was soon happily rambling, following my guidebook, and the waymarks, and feeling pretty pleased with how far I’d come as a pathfinder since Girl Guides.
(Also grateful that I’m not thinking about taking up motorsport as a hobby) (And that may seem a very random thing to say, but in fact the Isle of Man is home to one of the – if not THE – most famous motorcycle races in the world, the TT Race, which is apparently the Greatest Show on Earth. Not to be confused of course with the Calgary stampede, which is the Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth)
Happy to see I was still on the trail…
In fact, I was feeling so confident that I even took a selfie!
And then all of a sudden BOOM – I realized I had lost the path again. My options were to carry on into a private farm (which looked a little scary, to be honest!) or go back to where I had spotted the marker for the public footpath which would take me cross country, over fences and through fields. I opted for the latter, being ever mindful of what can happen on scary looking farms.
I crossed a fence by climbing over a stile (nothing new to me – lots of experience doing this in Ireland!), then went through a field that had a cow in it. I looked as closely as I dared at the cow to make sure that it was indeed a cow, which it was. Whew. She seemed to have no interest in me whatsoever. Then I came to another fence, another stile… and another field, this time with at least 10 – 12 cows!! I did a quick check again and sure enough these were all cows of the bagpipe variety, so I wasn’t too frightened.
Although I did wonder, as I was passing through the field full of cows, whether a peace officer cow might come through that same field moments later, asking the cows whether any of them had seen a stray human passing by?
There’s only one person who *may* read this who will find that cow vs stray human thing funny, but if she does happen to be reading, she has probably just fallen out of her chair, knitting and all, laughing uproariously.
Regardless, once again I found the main road, although only after walking the cross country/field route halfway back to Castletown. I ended up walking the last hour on the main road, and eventually finding the Port St. Mary train station, and once again taking the train back to Douglas.
Given that I was feeling a bit down on my hiking/pathfinding skills, I decided to take myself out for supper to cheer myself up. And it worked! I went to a place called the Little Fish Cafe and had a scallop dish that was amazing,
a dessert that was amazing,
and not one but TWO glasses of wine. And decided right then and there (after checking the next day’s weather forecast) that I would take the next day off from hiking.
The walk back from the restaurant to my guesthouse was beautiful, and I enjoyed it immensely, in spite of feeling sheepish about losing the path while hiking.
My walking statistics for Day 2 are as follows:
And that is the story of my first few days of this vacation.
However, before I finish this post, I have a rather embarrassing confession to make. You remember how when we were in school, and were handed a test, and the first item/instruction said “read all of the instructions first”? And then there were about 6 or 7 ludicrous tasks, and then the very last item on the page said “don’t do any of the above except for item 1”? Well, after I got back to my room after day 2 of hiking, I decided to read through the guidebook a bit more carefully to see where I had gone wrong, and discovered this (just read the underlined passage…):
Guess I failed miserably in ignoring the footpath marker, and should have gone straight into the (scary) farm!
Thanks for reading! I’ll update you more over the next week of my adventure. Till then, have good days, and stay tuned.
Please feel free to follow my adventures on Instagram as piperannie.