Literally, what’s beyond Achill is Newfoundland and Labrador, assuming of course that you’re travelling in a westerly direction. If you were to go in a north-north-west direction, you’d run into Iceland (a lovely place, as I’ve been told, despite the name), or Greenland (not quite so lovely, and perhaps not quite as green as the name would imply). But since this story will start on the Isle of Man and then proceed west, we’re going to go with Newfoundland and Labrador as being what’s beyond Achill. At least in a literal sense.
Whew! Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s get back to the Isle of Man!
I had chosen the Isle of Man as a holiday destination a long time ago – definitely more than a year ago, for a few different reasons – first, I had an interest in the Manx language, as it is closely related to the Scottish Gaelic that I had studied while at St. F. X. University; and second, I feel a draw to the islands in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Europe (although not quite as far west from Europe as Newfoundland, at least for purpose of this story!). I’m not sure why that draw exists – perhaps because I grew up in Nova Scotia, and so many people in Canada’s Atlantic provinces, including my own family, have their roots in the islands in and around the UK and Ireland.
The Isle of Man is very small – only approximately 30 miles long and 15 miles wide. The picture below shows the Isle of Man in relation to the UK and Ireland. Don’t forget to notice Orkney and Shetland islands, right at the top of the map!
Given the island’s diminutive size, it wasn’t difficult to get to see most of its perimeter on foot and by train. I had arrived in Douglas, the island’s capital, on Thursday September 6th. After two days of hiking along the southwest coast, I woke to heavy rain, and decided to do a bit of exploring by train.
Ramsey, Laxey, and Snaefell
The island had three railway lines, one with a steam train, one being an Electric Railway, and the third being a mountain railway. I had ridden the steam train a few times, so decided to take the electric railway, which, from Douglas, heads in a north-easterly direction.
This is me, excited to be taking the train, in the (soft morning) rain… (hey, that sounds like it could be a song!)
I rode the electric railway as far north as it goes – all the way to Ramsey. The trip took about 90 minutes. And what a beautiful town Ramsey is! I only spent about 45 minutes walking around the town, but by then the rain had stopped and the sun was almost coming out. I visited the Bridge Bookshop, which was one of the pages I had started following on Instagram when I started planning my trip to visit the Isle of Man. It was fun to see the book shop up close and personal.
Here are a few images from my stop at Ramsey:
Not quite the same grandeur as the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park Colorado, of “The Shining” fame, but for some reason completely unknown to me, as I was standing across the street from the hotel, all of a sudden I started to get a strong wifi signal, so my phone started beeping like crazy with incoming texts and e-mails that I hadn’t seen, as my phone’s data and roaming had been turned off. Just a little creepy, don’t you think? Mind you, none of the texts said “Redrum”, so it was probably all good.
After roaming around the town for a bit, I got back on the train and headed south again, to have a stop in the town of Laxey. Laxey is quite famous for its fully-functional water wheel, and also for its woollen mill. Both sounded quite interesting, so off to Laxey I headed. Another really nice-looking town, and the wheel is massive! Apparently it’s the largest working waterwheel in the world. Also known as “Lady Isabella”, who was the wife of Lieutenant Governor Charles Hope, who was the Isle of Man’s governor at the time, the Laxey Wheel was build in 1854. Its purpose was to pump water from the Great Laxey mines industrial complex.
After visiting the wheel up close, I walked back toward the train station and then headed to the Woollen Mill. The Isle of Man tartan is beautiful – blues and browns:
Sorry for the poor quality of the above images – but you get the idea of the colours. The tartan on the left is the Isle of Man Hunting tartan, and on the right is the Isle of Man dress tartan. I sure had fun browsing their selection of souvenirs incorporating both tartan and tweed. I even made a few purchases!
My day’s next adventure was to take the mountain train up to the top of Snaefell, which is the highest point on the island. The day was becoming more clear as it went on, and it seemed as though some stunning views would indeed be visible from the top. The train up to the top of Snaefell was different from the electric railway, in that it was specially designed to have a braking system of cogs and such built right into the track to prevent the cars from slipping. A good thing, I thought.
The views going up the mountain on the train were spectacular, including some better views of the Laxey Wheel:
The trip up to the top of Snaefell took approximately 30 minutes. It was quite chilly and raining a bit at the top, but the train wasn’t due to go back down for about 40 minutes, so I took the opportunity to explore just a bit, while the majority of the other passengers enjoyed a cup of tea in the little restaurant. It seems that everywhere you go on the Isle of Man, there’s a tea room!
On a clear day, from the top of Snaefell you can see Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales. The cloud cover came and went while I was at the summit, so I think I may have seen Scotland, but for the most part there wasn’t great visibility. In fact, it was difficult even to read the metal plate in the rock that pointed the observer in the direction of the other countries because of the rain. But I took a photo of it anyway, as one would when one’s a proper tourist.
Regardless of the sometimes inclement weather, the trip up the mountain was definitely worthwhile. I got to see the highest sheep on the whole Isle of Man! “High” in an altitude sense, as opposed to a “let’s go to Canada because marijuana will be legal there in only a week” sense. 😉
And another from the train, this time heading back down the mountain:
My day off from hiking was indeed a lovely one, full of adventure. In fact, I think I was almost as tired after my Ramsey/Laxey/Snaefell day as I was from my second day of hiking. But I still managed to walk to Port Jack’s Chippy for a fish supper – and yes, it was everything I had been told it would be!
Castletown to Port St. Mary Take 2
The following day, I decided to have another go at the Castletown to Port St. Mary route, since I had failed somewhat on that route earlier in the week. If you read my previous post, you may recall how I didn’t want to go through the scary looking farmyard and headed cross-country instead, through many fields with many cows and ended up half-way back to where I had started, rather than getting any closer to Port St. Mary? (It’s okay if you don’t remember that part of my story – that was a pretty accurate summary, and there’s not much more to it than that, other than I hadn’t read the guidebook as closely as I should have…)
But first, a Manx kipper for breakfast! Isn’t that the most colourful breakfast ever? I don’t think I did the kipper justice, although it was very tasty. I can manoeuvre my way around a lobster without any difficulty, but the kipper proved a little trickier, no doubt due to my inexperience. (And of course it came garnished with the ever-present poached egg!)
It was a beauty of a day, and I was really glad I had made the decision to do that stretch of the Raad Ny Foillan again. The first 5 kilometres or so were familiar to me, but where I had gone astray a few days earlier, I went on through the (still scary) farmyard, and came out the other side unscathed, and in full view of the path I had been meant to follow. A few snaps from “Castletown to Port St. Mary, Take 2”:
The path led in to the town of Port St. Mary, visible from quite a distance, along the water, and then continued around the promenade, and the views and the sunshine were certainly well worth the second attempt at this part of the hike.
It was such a nice day, and I made it to the railway station in plenty of time for my train back to Douglas, that I decided to treat myself to a frosty pint at the Railway Pub (right beside the railway station, as the name would imply), and was even able to sit outside on the patio. Perfect!
A word to anyone considering doing some travelling on the Isle of Man not in peak summer tourist season – if you want supper on a Sunday, make sure you head out to find an open restaurant earlier than 7:30 p.m. That is all.
Port Erin to Port St. Mary
After my most enjoyable day of hiking, I decided I’d try another leg of the Raad Ny Foillan – this time from Port Erin back to Port St. Mary. I was feeling very fit and hiker-like after such a successful day, and headed out with high expectations, even though I would be attempting this leg of the hike in a counter-clockwise direction. That might have been an omen of sorts. (Of what sort I have no idea)
Turns out that the hike from Port Erin to Port St. Mary is uphill. Seriously, uphill all the way. The one exception is a steep downhill toward the Calf of Man, through mucky fields, because of course it was raining. And windy. (Goes along with the uphill-all-the-way theme).
A few images from the first section of the hike:
Actually, the photos make it look less uphill and windy and rainy than it actually was… or perhaps I’m remembering it as being much more difficult than it actually was, for the sake of some good old-fashioned hyperbole. 😉
The Calf of Man is a small island off the southwest tip of the main island, and there’s a tearoom (go figure!) and souvenir shop – but my boots were mucky and I thought I should continue on, as the hike was taking far longer than I had originally thought it would, due of course to all of the uphill hiking.
Only a few pictures from the second half of the day’s hike, as the weather was getting even more miserable, and the uphill was getting steeper:
The day’s hike finished with a wet, exhausted, and even borderline cranky Piperannie running to catch the train back from Port St. Mary to Douglas. No time for a frosty pint on a patio at the railway pub that day!
As an aside, I had spotted some Highland Cows earlier in the day on the way to Port Erin on the train, and reminded myself to watch for them again on the way back, to take a photo through the train window. Here they are:
I’ve circled them, because they’re a little hard to spot, due to the fact that it was pouring rain and my phone would only focus on the raindrops on the window. Probably something to do with the fact that I was trying to take a photo from a moving train. Through the rain. Did I mention it was raining?
After making it back to Douglas in one rather soggy piece, I headed out to the closest open restaurant I could find, which happened to be Chinese. I enjoyed my hot & sour soup and noodles, and washed it all down with a pint of Guinness, in eager anticipation of the upcoming next phase of my holiday.
Last Day in Douglas
I had one full more day to spend on the Isle of Man, and decided to spend it in and around Douglas, doing a bit of shopping, and making sure all my things were in an organized enough state to catch a relatively earning morning flight out the next day.
The storm from the day and evening before had tossed a great deal of seaweed onto the sidewalk on the harbour side of the promenade in Douglas, plus there was a large cruise ship anchored in the harbour. The combination of the two made for some interesting views on my meanderings.
I had supper at the same place where I had eaten on my first day in Douglas, then headed back to my room and finished packing up my things. I was sorry to be leaving the Isle of Man. It’s a really beautiful place. The people are very friendly and eager to please but without being aggressive, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting around the island on the trains. It was an easy, relaxing holiday (if you ignore the uphill-all-the-way part of my story!).
The next morning I was up bright and early, and it was a fabulous-looking day. I got tucked into another amazing breakfast, this time a “Black Pudding and Apple Stack”, with (of course) a poached egg, and toast and mushrooms on the side.
Doesn’t that look amazing?
After breakfast I caught my ride to the airport, and got ready to fly across to Dublin.
This was my plane – the green one. How appropriate!
And this was my baggage tag. There’s something very cool about the flight number from Douglas to Dublin, but I can’t tell you what it is, because it has the potential of being a privacy breach. Specifically my own privacy. But trust me, it’s very cool!
I landed in Dublin, and then made my way over to Achill, on the west coast of Ireland:
I had a much less organized plan for my few days in Ireland, only looking forward to some R & R, a bit of walking, some eating and drinking, and generally being lazy. And sure enough, that’s how it went! The trip across Ireland took a little longer than I was expecting. When I arrived, I had a meal and drink in what turned out to be the smallest pub I’d ever been in, and I managed to take a few late-afternoon/early evening photos:
(That’s it, that’s the whole pub)
Such a lovely place!
Over the course of the next few days, the weather was a mix of sun/cloud/rain, so I spent the two days doing some walking, lingering over meals (and pints) in great pubs and restaurants, and generally enjoying life. There are some amazing beaches in Ireland, that’s for sure – although I’m not sure I’d want to go swimming in September at any of them. Just a little chilly.
I also happened upon the “Forgotten Village”. Kind of sad, in a way, but fabulous that it’s being preserved as a historic site – and also great that it’s providing a feeding ground for some of the local wildlife.
And a very old church!
But the highlight of the trip over to Achill, even though the beaches, and the pubs, and the R & R were all first-class, was the final evening. I was at a pub/hostel called the “Valley House”, and a group of young men came in carrying a plethora of instruments, and started playing! You hear about these spontaneous sessions that happen in the pubs in Ireland, and while this wasn’t exactly spontaneous (at least on the part of the young men), it was great fun to be around! Speaking to them a little, it turned out that they’re a group of friends who live all over the place – although they’re all Irish – and get together when they’re able, usually not more than once a year, and take a holiday somewhere together. This year they came to Achill to surf the local waves, sample the local pubs, and play some music together – and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. They weren’t exactly brilliant musicians, but what they lacked in finesse, they made up for with their energy and enthusiasm.
It was all fun and games until one of them jumped up on the table and started playing his bodhran…
and then things were pretty much out of control!
It was a fun night indeed. And of course it would have been rude not to participate in the Guinness consumption, so participate I did, with as much energy and enthusiasm as the musicians had.
The next day I made my way back to Dublin and had a quiet evening as my flight back to Canada was fairly early the next morning. Dublin to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Calgary, and back to Calgary.
So, coming full circle, what is beyond Achill, in a figurative sense? It’s always just a bit difficult to get back to reality after a holiday. Work to start back at, unpacking to do, laundry to get done – all of that mundane stuff. But by the same token there’s something nice about settling back into one’s own space, catching up with one’s friends, dusting off the pipes and getting them back into shape, settling back into a routine – at least for a little while, until the draw for a new adventure becomes too tempting.
Thanks so much for reading! And until next time, have good days, and stay tuned.
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