Getting about (or not) in the Isle of Man May 3-10, 2008


Some of the transport that Sara and her husband saw - or not - during their visit to the Island during May 2008.
IMR loco 13 KISSACK prepares to leave Douglas, where it will stop at Ronaldsway Halt if passenergs request so.
(All photos this page Richard Dodge)

Saturday, May 3

The plane emerges out of the cloud, the undercarriage brushes the flag on the top of Castle Rushen and we're here again. Usual routine; collect the bags, go to the information desk, collect a public transport timetable and buy a seven-day travel pass. (Why on earth aren't they eight-day passes to cover the day we leave too? Always such a bother fiddling about finding coins for the odd day's travel.)

The walk down to Ronaldsway Halt stretches legs cramped from the plane. New bench on the platform! Excellent; now we won't have to sit on the steps of the stile. The sign's been taken down - perhaps it's being painted? No timetable, and still no shelter. Still it's not raining so we won't have to huddle under a bush. We could catch the bus of course but it's not nearly so much fun.

Ronaldsway must be the only international airport served by a narrow gauge steam train. Bunker first Hutchinson rounds the uphill curve from Castletown. Hand out to indicate that it should stop; the driver whistles an acknowledgement. Boarding the train at Ronaldsway is like starring in a very short film. Everyone leans out and stares as though passengers with luggage are a rarity. (Perhaps they are.) Transport enthusiasts eagerly point cameras. The guard bustles down the platform to help with the suitcases and we have known the fireman to help as well. A family kindly squeeze up to let us into their compartment. We have to sit with suitcases on our laps, but we expected that; no headroom for luggage racks and the space under the seat is filled with the family's folding pushchair.

On arriving at the terminus in Douglas we pay for the journey we've just had and then the disappointment starts. No horse trams. What do you mean they're not running? What are we to do for transport? We can't carry cases for two miles along the front to Derby Castle and the idea of being taken to our self-catering cottage in Laxey via anything other than the MER is unthinkable. It'll have to be the No. 26 bus along the prom. The driver, kindly, tells us where to get off - he doesn't know we've been here lots of times before and the information would certainly be helpful to those who don't know; there's no sign saying 'Derby Castle'.

Watch car 22 and trailer 41 arrive and the crew turn it before putting the cases on the back of the trailer and pulling down the shutters to keep them safe. We're off; our holiday's really begun.

Sunday, May 4

Overnight we've studied the timetable. Hope no-one reading it believes the times given in the official timetable for the MER; it's closed beyond Laxey for trackwork. Why the work hasn't been done over the winter when the railway was scheduled to be closed, is one of the mysteries of bureaucracy. (And an utter bane for travellers, visitors and locals alike.)

All the years we've been visiting the Isle of Man and we've never visited the Curraghs Wildlife Park. We particularly want to see the Orchid Line - the model railway which only runs on Sundays - and it's difficult to get to by public transport on Sunday as there are very few buses each way along that road. Still, this year we've decided to give it a whirl. No trams to Ramsey so it has to be the bus. On the way up to the bus stop we admire the Laxey mines railway with its section of subterranean ride. Having watched it being re-built over the years, we finally got to ride on it a couple of years ago. Its a real experience with its cleverly-enclosed carriages and tiny engines, Ant and Bee (all the jokes about Ant and Dec have already been made).

Wave at Snaefell Mountain Railway car 4 coming down from its shed into Laxey Station and then board the No. 3 bus. Nice old-fashioned bus garage in Ramsey where we change to the No. 5 for Peel. The rain starts while we're on the bus, but you don't visit the Isle of Man for the weather; we get out our macs. According to the timetable we have 2½ or 4½ hours at the park, so we'll see how good it is before we decide which bus to catch back.

The wildlife park is much better than we expected, with lots to look at and good use made of the wetland habitat, but this is a travel diary so we'll leave rhapsodies about penguin, lynx and capybara to another time. The Orchid Line is fantastic. The best 50p each we've spent for a long time. It runs for half a mile winding through the 'Amazon Rainforest' and round the children's farm, over small bridges and even has a tunnel. Wonderful fun.

Could have spent longer at the park, but must keep an eye on the time. We'll look very silly if we miss the bus. Back on the No. 5 bus to Douglas via Peel, no horse trams so walk along the promenade, MER car 22 and trailer 41 home.

Manx Electric Railway Winter Saloon 21 turns at Laxey, there being no onward service to Ramsey.

Monday, May 5 (bank holiday)

Stunning weather. Let's go to Cregneash, we haven't been there for ages. MER car 19 and trailer 40 into Douglas. Coming down Port Jack we see the No. 23 bus. We're on time, so hope the bus waits for two minutes… No, there it goes. Damn; you'd think they could shift the timetable by five minutes to make the trams and buses connect wouldn't you? No horse trams running so we have a half-hour wait for the next bus or a two-mile walk along the front. Nice weather so we opt for the walk. We're good walkers but this delay means that we'll have less time in Cregneash.

No. 1 bus from Lord Street. A real shame they knocked down the old bus station. It could have been done up to look stylish and was much more passenger friendly then this huddle of bus shelters. For a start, passengers with luggage could wait under cover without either them or their cases getting wet. Can't do it now; we've tried.

Anyway, bus to Cregneash. Waved to the fairies at Fairy Bridge of course, and tried to spot the steam train. It's running, but it's away in front of us, so we don't see it. Over an hour's bus journey to Cregneash, but with interesting things to look at from the top of the double decker. Last time we went there we caught the train to Port Erin and walked up the hill, but we didn't get much time there doing it that way.

Glorious weather, really interesting exhibits and demonstrations and tantalising cloud effects so an excellent day for photography. But! - this is a travel diary so, once again, we resume on the bus. The No. 1 bus turns round at Calf Sound so we decided to take it down the hill and back up again, just for the ride. Good job we hadn't factored in a visit to the Sound; the fog was so dense that we could barely see the café.

Unscheduled stop at Port St Mary where, despite the timetable listing it as through to Douglas, we had to change onto another No. 1 bus. No wait, but we didn't get such good seats. Deposited safely in Douglas but, no horse trams and no bus, so another two-mile route march along the front to get back to the MER. Car 22 and trailer 41 home.

Tuesday, May 6

Peel today. No tram to Ramsey so have to catch the No. 3 bus, changing onto the No. 5. Would normally have walked through the town from the tram station to the bus garage. However the bus connexion times were a little tight so we didn't visit Ramsey town at all this year and we usually do our shopping there.

Bus to Peel watching out for signs of the old Manx Northern Railway on the way. Much of the track is still walkable and the viaduct piers in Glen Mooar still stand like sentinels forty years after the line closed. The views are tremendous.

Spent the day at Peel, visiting the castle and wandering about the town. Have seen the House of Manannan and the smokeries before so gave them a miss this year. Bumped into a couple of visitors whom we'd met on the flight over. They were seething about the public transport timetable. Unlike us they didn't know there was no MER service from Ramsey, no-one at the information desk had told them and there was no errata slip in the timetable they'd been given. They'd sat on Ramsey station for an hour the previous evening, waiting for something to happen. Then they'd given up and called a taxi. Not a lot we could say really; they had a valid point - lots of valid points in fact.

The bus stop has been moved further out of town, away from the bus garage - another splendid purpose-built building still going strong - which means a bit more of a puff up the hill when we're tired from wandering around the castle. Still, it's not too far. Decided to catch the No. 4 bus to Douglas via Foxdale which we haven't seen for ages. School bus, so full and noisy, but the pupils are not the hooligans they would be across.

Perhaps they've started the horse trams early? No. Sigh. Another two-mile plod along Douglas front to the MER. Car 22 and trailer 41 home.

Horse car 36 with a good load of passengers passes the Villa Marina en route to the Sea Terminal

Wednesday, May 7

Another stunning day. The island is certainly showing off its best weather this week. Caught Snaefell Mountain Railway car 1 up the mountain today. They've introduced commentary since the last time we rode on the cars, and it was excellent. Pitched exactly right; enough information to be interesting with pauses to give passengers time to chat. Very good indeed.

Walked down. Should have liked to do the splendid walk along the spine to North Barrule and down into Ramsey, or to have taken the footpath down to Glen Mona but… no trams from Ramsey, so it'll have to be the miners' trail back through Agneash. From the summit of Snaefell to the sea - a lovely walk, although I'm not sure I could do it the other way around!

As we had some of the day left, and had not yet been on the MER - one ride a day is essential for holiday enjoyment - decided to walk up to South Cape, take the penultimate Douglas car (car 22 and trailer 41) to Eskadale, and the last Laxey car (car 19 and trailer 40) back. Lovely ride, as usual. There's nothing to beat sitting on the trailer in the fresh air watching the world go by (and saving your feet).

Thursday, May 8

Another boiling hot day and we wanted to visit some of our favourite walks: round Maughold Head for example, or down to Port Cornaa, or the short walk from Crowcreen to Ballajora, or even Cashtel yn Ard, but we couldn't do any of them. No trams from Ramsey and the bus goes nowhere near them.

Did the best we could with the Douglas to Laxey section; there are some nice walks there too, if fewer because it's more suburban. Caught the first car, No. 22 with trailer 41, out and alighted at Baldromma to walk over the hill. Crossed the road at Ballagawne, waving at car 19 and trailer 40 as it passed, and walked down to Garwick for a picnic lunch. Puffed back up to Ballagawne and caught car 22 and trailer 41 to Howstrake. There's very little left of the camp, but the view from the pavement is better than that from either the road or the railway.

Walked down the road, through Groudle village and back up to Lime Kiln Halt on the Groudle Glen Railway; 'the only line which goes Up to the sea'. Another good ride, but another railway which is only open on Sunday. If you're on holiday from Saturday to Saturday you have to choose between the GGR and the Orchid Line, who both only run on Sunday and you can't see the Saturday-running Laxey Mines Railway at all. Understandable if they're relying on volunteers, but a pity from the visitors' point of view. They do open bank holidays too though, which is useful.

Continued the walk to look around Lonan Old Church - anyone with any liking at all for historic sites would like it - and then picked up car 22 at Ballameanagh. Too hot for walking really, so cooled down in the breeze on trailer 41.

Passengers climb aboard Snaefell Mountain Railway car 2 in readiness for their journey up the Island's only mountain

Friday, May 9

Raining this morning so decided to visit the Manx Museum in Douglas. Again we're on time and see the No. 23 bus when car 19 - no trailer today - is coming down Port Jack. And we also see the bus disappear seconds before we arrive at Derby Castle. Still no horse trams so we have a half-hour wait for the next bus or a two-mile walk along the front, this time in the pouring rain. Could have waited in the tram shelter provided - shame they pulled down the wonderful iron canopy - but there's no shelter at the bus stop at all.

Unwilling to hang around Derby Castle in the rain for half an hour, we don macs and walk. Would have alighted from the horse trams at the Gaiety Theatre to cut inland, but shank's pony did the distance more slowly. We get soaked.

Try not to drip and steam too much in shops and probably finish drying off when walking round the museum. Not raining now, and can't be bothered to sort out the vagaries of the buses so another lengthy walk back to Derby Castle for car 22 home. Pity really; both cars 9 and 6 had been in use, but car 22 was brought out again for the final run.

Saturday, May 10

Last day. Haul the cases the mile from the self-catering cottage in Laxey to the tram station. Buses 3C and 13 used to run through Old Laxey, which was really convenient, but now only run on school/week days. Even with cases on wheels, it's heavy going uphill along Glen Road.

Caught the first tram, car 22 and trailer 41, to Douglas with the luggage once again loaded onto the back of the trailer. The driver knows we can't walk the length of the front with cases and there are still no horse trams so does the best he can to arrive on time. People waiting at the bus stop at Port Jack - yes!, we haven't missed it! Dive across the road, narrowly avoiding getting squashed by a car - would a pedestrian crossing be a good idea here? - and wave our thanks to the MER crew. The No. 23 bus arrives and we stagger aboard. A ride on the horse tram is our usual farewell to Douglas front, but at least we're not sitting on our cases at Derby Castle for half an hour.

Off at the railway station - the bus driver helps with the cases, which is nice of him - and then we sit in the sun and wait for the train. There used to be a good travel gift shop on the station (next to the loos!) but it closed some years ago. Pity.

Eventually the platform opens and we load everything in to one of the compartments. The guard is extremely helpful, although at first rather confused that we want to go to Port Erin and then back to Ronaldsway. We explain that our flight is in the evening and we have to vacate our cottage by ten o'clock in the morning, so a ride on the vintage transport is one of the few enjoyable things we can do while lugging luggage around.

Lovely ride again hauled by Hutchinson and, too soon, arrive at Port Erin. We have an hour here and had intended to split it into two half hours while we took it in turns to watch the cases. No need. Again the guard came to our rescue and locked the cases in 'our' compartment on the train. Had a wander around Port Erin and a very quick look in the Railway Museum at the end of the platform; made a mental note to come back and look more thoroughly at the museum next time.

Back to the train and, like royalty, 'our' compartment is unlocked for us. The guard also unlocks the other side or, as he said, we won't be able to get out at Ronaldsway. (I hadn't thought of that!) Compartment fills up at Castletown, but only a squash for a short way before willing hands help us down at Ronaldsway Halt. As the trains pass at Ballasalla we wait to see the down train, Loch, and wave it through before towing the cases the half mile to the airport.


A wonderful holiday, but we'll make sure the MER is running to Ramsey and the horse trams are out before booking again.

On its way back to Derby Castle, Manx Electric Railway Winter Saloon 21 and trailer 47 pass the roofless ediface of Laxey depot.