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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Manx-imum thrills and adventure - Isle of Man travel review

IN search of a challenge fell runner LEE PROCTER heads across the Irish Sea to be put through his paces on the Isle of Man.

I CANNOT begin to count the number of times I have stood high above Barrow on a clear day and gazed longingly at the Isle of Man.

As a fell runner and outdoor enthusiast, the island’s mountainous profile – sitting just 50 miles across the Irish Sea from the south-west tip of Cumbria – has always captured my imagination.

And so it seemed almost meant-to-be when I received an invitation to sample the Isle of Man’s ‘astonishing portfolio of outdoor activities’.

Given its close proximity, the easyJet flight from Liverpool took less than 25 minutes.

Chief navigator and girlfriend, Emma, then directed us to our base in Peel, on the west coast of the Manx island.

Driving through the rolling green hills, I could barely keep the grin off my face. We had been on the island only half-an-hour but I had already seen enough to know this was going to be an outstanding playground for outdoor fun.

Arriving at Albany House Bed and Breakfast we were greeted with a warm smile by owners Nikki and Nigel, who throughout our three-night stay were the perfect hosts.

Every day Nikki, going beyond the call of duty, washed and dried our activity-battered clothes, while in the mornings, culinary ace Nigel – who is close friends with Barrow’s Dave Myers of Hairy Bikers fame – whipped up a five-star locally-sourced breakfast.

Our en-suite room had everything we needed, including arguably the biggest, comfiest bed I have ever slept in.

Leaving Emma to enjoy a soak in the bath, I donned my running shoes and headed out to explore Peel.

The fourth largest settlement on the Isle of Man after Douglas, Onchan and Ramsey, the charming Peel – complete with its narrow winding streets and sandy beaches – is the island’s main fishing port and home to both a cathedral and castle.

To its south stands Peel Hill, and having run to its summit I enjoyed spectacular sunset views across to the Mourne Mountains on Northern Ireland’s east coast.

That night, following a bite to eat in Peel, we made the short journey to St John’s, where, upon Tynwald Hill, we joined proud locals in celebrating their national day. Traditional music and a fire show entertained the crowds.

The next day the heavens opened. Undeterred, and kitted out in waterproofs, we set about exploring Peel Castle – one of the island’s principal historic monuments. Built in the 11th century by the Vikings, the beautiful castle stands on St Patrick’s Isle, which is connected to the town by a causeway.

And it was down that very causeway that we next walked, heading indoors to visit the House of Manannan – an award-winning heritage centre that traces Manx history from Celtic times.

With the rain still belting down, I rang Keirron, the owner of Adventurous Experiences, expecting the plug to be pulled on that afternoon’s coasteering session. “Of course we’re still going, it’s just a bit of rain,” came his reply.

An hour later we were kitted out in wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets, both of us ready to try coasteering for the first time. Nervously following Keirron’s every step, we scrambled our way over the Peel coastline’s wet and slippery rocks.

As confidence grew, we climbed higher, knowing full well that soon we would be jumping off the rocks into the sea below.

When that time came, it was an exhilarating adrenaline-rush. Leaving my stomach behind at the top of the rock, I followed Keirron and Emma in hitting the water far below.

Bobbing in the waves, I looked at Emma to make sure she was fine. She was more than fine. Like me, she wanted to do it again!

And that’s exactly what we did – but off different coastline rocks, all of which required a scramble to get up.

We also swam deep into two caves and were later joined in the increasingly-rough water by an inquisitive seal pup.

Saturday started with a gentle stroll through nearby Glen Maye, an area known for its spectacular waterfall.

We then drove over to the east of the island, reading off one by one the signposted names on every corner, all made famous in their own right by the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races. Arriving at a tranquil Glen Roy, the sun shining bright, it was every-inch as beautiful as many of the quieter areas of the Lake District.

I was there to take part in the Laxey Fell Race – an eight-mile event organised by Manx Fell Runners.

Joined by 44 other competitors, we set off on a tour of the surrounding fells. Map in hand, I began with the intention of navigating my way around the course, but once the race got going I ended up following those in front who clearly knew more about the area than me.

We made an exit soon after and drove to Port Erin, a stunning village cutaway into a cove on the south-west coast of the island.

There we met John, from Adventurous Experiences, who took us sea kayaking.

With the sun falling on a clear summer’s day, we gently paddled out of the bay towards Bradda Head, checking out the wildlife and manoeuvring our way through narrow channels between the rocks as we went. It was, without a doubt, the most peaceful Saturday night I have ever spent out!

We finished off a memorable day by sitting on the beach eating fish and chips.

The rain returned on our final day but this only made our morning mountain bike ride even more fun. Splashing through the mud and puddles on the trails between Peel and St John’s – pretending we were as fast as the Isle of Man’s most famous cycling son Mark Cavendish – gave us an insight into the abundance of treats the island holds for mountain bike enthusiasts.

Suitably cleaned up, we drove south along the breathtaking coastal road to the Sound Visitor Centre.

The Sound is a small stretch of water separating the main island from the Calf of Man, a small island where ornithological research is carried out.

We sipped hot chocolate and savoured the views before heading out to the coastline edge to watch scores of seals at play in the water.

Unfortunately that brought an end to our stay on an enchanting, friendly and stunning island that, when it comes to sport and outdoor fun, offers so much more than the TT stereotype.

Next time I gaze longingly across the Irish Sea at our island neighbour I’ll not be daydreaming about what it’s like. Instead I’ll be thinking about how soon my next visit can be.

TRAVEL FACTS

Visiting the Isle of Man: A good place to find out what there is to see and do on the Island is at www.visitisleofman.com, which provides detailed information about travel, accommodation, activities and attractions, both man-made and natural.

Getting there: easyJet flies to the Isle of Man from Liverpool. Flight prices start from £25.49 per person (one-way, including taxes based on two people travelling on the same booking). Visit www.easyJet.com to book. Other routes to the Isle of Man are offered by British Airways, Flybe and Aer Arann. Ferry crossings are also available year round with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (www.steam-packet.com 08722 992992) which operates year-round services to the Isle of Man from Heysham and Liverpool and seasonal services from Belfast and Dublin. Fares start from £65 each way for a car plus two passengers in autumn 2012. Ferry and accommodation deals are available through Steam Packet Holidays (www.steampacketholidays.com).

Staying over: Lee stayed in the heart of Peel at Albany House (www.manxbedandbreakfast.com/ 01624 845623), in the Yellow Room. Sitting imperially above the majestic promenade in Peel, stays in the Yellow Room at Albany House cost from £35 per person per night and include breakfast (based on two sharing).

Other:

Adventurous Experiences (www.adventurousexperiences.com 01624 843034) is an adventure sports centre specialising in sea kayaking and coasteering, with prices starting from £40 per person.

Isle of Man Cycle Hire (www.iomcyclehire.co.uk 01624 897573) one day hire from £14 per person.

Mylchreests Car Rental (www.mylchreests.com 01624 623481) car hire from £40.50 per day.

Manx Fell Runners (www.manxfellrunners.org/) organises races throughout the year.

 

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