Friday 24 March 2017

Isle of Man: Magic Man is sure to delight and charm

Thrill at the Isle of Man's beauty from a quad bike, wine and dine in style or seek out ghosts. . . just don't forget to greet the fairies, warns Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

This is no ordinary form of sightseeing, I think, as I follow Hubert Kermeen over the hills and through the puddles that make up the quad bike trail on his Ballacraine Farm, on the Isle of Man.

All at once I am struck by the beauty of the surrounding countryside and my new-found need for speed.

The only distraction is my companion, travelling behind, who insists on shouting about my "builder's bum" in an attempt to catch up. Within moments my initial fears are replaced with a wide grin, which I just cannot shake.

The reassuring sight of Hubert plodding ahead, in his little John Deere Gator truck, dispels any nerves as I fling myself over rocks, through streams and up the side of a steep hill. The trail takes us up to more than 1,000ft to a spot from where we stop to gaze at the sea on either side of the island, and where on a clear day, Hubert says, you can see Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

When we eventually descend back to the farm yard, we are met under a pretty gazebo by Hubert's wife Doreen with tea, gingerbread, shortcake, flapjacks and sausage rolls, all fresh out of the oven.

Their daughter Christine, a skincare and holistic therapist, then shows me around her idyllic aromaspa cottage, a facility which many female tourists opt for over the quad biking.

Quad biking at Ballacraine farm is £40 per person, £20 extra per passenger, and you definitely get your money's worth.

We based ourselves not too far from Ballacraine in the capital Douglas, which has all of the allure of a Victorian seaside town without the usual tacky souvenir shops and beachfront amusement arcades.

Our base, The Regency hotel on the seafront in Douglas, is preserved as a very comfortable Victorian getaway, complete with an antique lift, with shutter gates that creep steadily from floor to floor. We hired a car and the fact that everywhere on the island is but a short drive, made the prospect of going without a sat-nav a little less daunting.

Nevertheless, getting lost in the Isle of Man is a good idea. There are some great driving roads; the infamous TT track in particular is well worth a spin. At least one journey on the island's electric railway, which has been in operation since 1893, is also a must.

Food-wise, 14North, located on Douglas' North Quay in a former 19th-Century timber merchant's dwelling, is not to be missed. The menu in this family-owned-and-run restaurant showcases the produce of Manx farmers, fishermen and artisans.

I had the most amazing Queenies on the shell, a local shellfish, from Paddy's market, followed by their ice-cream sandwich dessert, with homemade chocolate-chip cookies served with little jug of chocolate sauce -- all strictly for research purposes. Their flatbreads and all of their focaccia is homemade using Laxey Glen flour and even the bottled water available in 14North is from the local Green Mann Spring.

Be sure to book ahead and avoid disappointment, as this is a very popular spot -- once you eat there you will understand why.

We also tried Chapters Restaurant, the hottest new restaurant in Douglas with great chefs, a central location, and relaxing atmosphere aided by a live pianist.

However, their 10-course tasting menu is not for the faint-hearted. It is a lot of food.

I did, however, manage to save some space along the way for my favourite course -- dessert, both of them in fact; the double-baked meringue and bitter-chocolate mousse, served with strawberry and balsamic vinegar soup, was my favourite. The feast, for those brave or hungry enough, will set you back £45, or £70 with accompanying recommended wines for each course.

The Isle of Man is a great place for wildlife lovers and one might even be lucky enough to spot a basking shark, whale or seal.

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

For those who, like me, are by nature unable to stay away from shops, Douglas has a wide selection of both high-street and local retailers, including River Island, Marks & Spencer and WH Smith.

My favourite shop was the Chocolate Box on Regent Street, which stocks every type of chocolate and fudge sweet you could possible think of.

If you like to take a walk on the dark side, a ghost tour around Douglas, Peel, Ramsey or Castletown might be just up your street.

We spent one chilling summer's evening with Alan Shaw, ghost hunter and director of Isle of Man Ghost tours, in Peel, an old fishing town on the west of the island. Tours last for approximately two hours and cost £4 per person.

For the superstitious, the Fairy Bridge on the way from Ronaldsway airport to Douglas might also hold some allure. Here, I met a couple with their young daughter pinning a thank-you card to an already elaborately decorated nearby tree.

It was a thank-you note for the fairies who had recently taken their baby's first tooth from beneath her pillow.

They informed me that I must say "good morning or good afternoon little people" while crossing the bridge to avoid bad luck.

As I got back into the car, I implored my fellow traveller to respect the fairies' wishes, but he refused. As we drove away we heard the distinctive sound of a flat tyre.

That's the Isle of Man for you, a small island with a certain magic to it.

GETTING THERE

Car hire with Mylchreests Car Rental starts from £26.50-£47 per day for a minimum of two days at the weekend, www.mylchreests.com. Aer Arann operates flights from Dublin to the Isle of Man twice daily (Monday-Friday) and once daily on Saturdays and Sundays. Flights start from €34 one way, including taxes. www.aerarann.com. Room rates at The Regency hotel in Douglas range from £80 to £210 sterling http://www.regency.im/

Isle of Man Ghost Tours www.iomghosttours.com

www.visitisleofman.com. WHEEL DEAL: The Isle of Man's monuments to the past mix easily with modern fads as quad-biking fan Joanna, above, discovered

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