The view of Douglas from our ship in the middle of the harbor is not what we had expected to see. A long promenade was lined with buildings from maybe the late 1800s, a crescent of very fancy hotels and boarding houses which once hosted their vacationing guests. These structures were in shades of white, pink, and other pale colors and looked very appealing. Behind them, we could see other buildings, and beyond them were the green mountains of the island. Altogether, it was a charming scene, not the barren wasteland that we had anticipated. Actually, I don’t know why we had this negative expectation. I told Denise that I cannot ever remember reading anything at all about the Isle of Man in all of the reading that I’ve done about English history and culture. I knew about Manx cats and about the Manx language, but nothing about the country. I didn’t even know that the Bee Gees were born there.
Since our excursion wasn’t until the afternoon, we thought we’d spend some time just wandering about the city. That was a great idea, because the parts of Douglas near us were easily navigable on foot. Our entrance to the city was via the very wonderful shipping terminal, which had good internet, sparkling bathrooms, many comfortable chairs, a Costa café, a W.H. Smith shop, and very helpful purveyors of tourist information. The space was crowded, because regular ferry passengers also used the terminal, but nothing about it was oppressive. We stayed there a while to download our emails but then started out to explore.
With our tourist office map, we found the main pedestrian street, Strand Street. It was lined with two and three story buildings, with shops at street level for pastry, books, kitchenware, clothing, shoes, everything that one would expect. Both locals and tourists were walking back and forth, and we helped the local economy by making a few purchases. Gradually, the overcast sky turned to drizzle and then into a light rain as we continued our walk. We eventually came to the Gaiety Theater and Opera House, which is a delightful old theater complete with stained glass decorations, fancy columns, and an ornate façade. Not wishing to continue exploring in the rain, we turned around there and started walking back towards the shipping terminal along the promenade. We had the ocean on our left (tide was out), the fancy hotels across the street on our right, and within the promenade a lovely set of gardens, with lots of blooming flowers and a gardener whom we complemented on his work. I especially liked the masses of pink hydrangeas, dusty miller being used as a border for flowers, and a large bed of many-colored gazanias. Back in the terminal, we sat and watched the people until it was time for our tour to begin.
We wanted this excursion to be about the countryside of the island and were not disappointed. When we boarded the bus, we left Douglas straightaway and headed for the hills – very green and lush they were. Everything we saw – the fields, animals, forested areas, dwellings, pathways – were all moist and beautiful because of the rain. Our route followed a coastal road south from Douglas through a number of small towns and villages until we reached Castletown, so named because of a large and imposing castle which dominates the town. We drove through town on its narrow streets and then turned north toward our main stop of the day, the Village of Cregneash, an open air museum. This is a typical Manx village which was the residence of the last speaker of the Manx language, who died in 1935. Several buildings were open to us, and we visited a couple of cottages, one of which was attended by a woman who was demonstrating a patchwork pattern which may or may not be unique to this island. She was very interested in explaining to me how the design is done and how doing this kind of hand patchwork is addictive. I could see how that might be. One of the main attractions for the tourists coming to this village was the presence of Manx cats. We saw two, who looked contented and happy.
After we left Cregneash, we drove again through beautiful long views of stone-walled fields, thick forests, and attractive villages showing off wonderful displays of flowers. At one point, the bus had to stop as we waited for a large herd of milk cows to enter the roadway and walk along in front of us for several hundred yards. They were attended by a man and child riding on a four-wheeler and a couple of very busy work dogs. This is not the kind of action we get to see every day. Once we were underway again, the guide warned us that we were going up a mountain into the clouds; and sure enough, we were soon riding along with zero visibility. We had to trust that the driver knew what he was doing. After the fog, we were soon back in civilization, actually in the part of Douglas which we had not visited on foot, so we did get a little bit of city tour as well. This three-hour tour took us to only a small part of this island, but we very much liked what we saw. Somehow, neither we nor anyone we know is acquainted with anyone who has been to the Isle of Man. So we feel very special that we have been there.