CASTLES AND KIPPERS
By Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall
Think of the Isle of Man and you probably think of the TT Races, and quite rightly so as they’ve been a major feature on the island for more than 100 years. Back in 1904 the Manx Parliament was a lot more lenient regarding road racing than the British authorities were with their 20 mph speed limit in those days.
But motorbike racing isn’t the only thing this little island located in the middle of the Irish Sea is famous for. It’s an island of myths and magic, fairies and giants. Folklore talks of Manannan, a mythical Celtic sea god who could magic up a cloak of fog to hide the island from marauding invaders. And it has to be said, this vale of mist still shrouds the island from time to time as it drifts in from the sea.
The island’s Viking heritage still defines the island and you’ll see large stone crosses marking Viking-Age graves on your travels. The Scandinavian invaders brought with them their traditions and myths that combined with Celtic and Christian cultures creating an island that is seeped in history.
The rocky islet off the west coast of the island reached by a walkway, is known as St Patrick’s island. According to legend, Saint Patrick brought Christianity here from Ireland and he built a church on this spot. Peel Castle was also built here as a place of worship before it became the fort of Magnus Barefoot, an 11th century Viking King of Man. You’ll find the remains of this early church within the castle ruins. The Round Tower dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries, and there’s a underground crypt of the 13th century Cathedral of St German. But watch out for the Moddeu Dhoo – a ghostly apparition of a black dog said to haunt the castle!
Another of the Isle of Man’s famous castles is Castle Rushen, one of Europe’s most finely preserved medieval castles. Situated in the ancient capital of the island and aptly named Castletown it was built in 1265 for a Norse king and has been well used and developed ever since. It’s been a royal residence, a fortress, a mint and even a prison. Today you get a real feel for what life was like as you explore room after room, with mannequins dressed in period costume. There’s plenty of steps but the breathtaking views for the top of the keep are worth the effort.
The national symbol of the Isle of Man is the Three Legs, thought to have been introduced by Alexander III of Scotland in 1265 after he gained control of Manx territory. The legs are usually seen to run clockwise and carry the Latin motto ‘Quocunque Jeceris Stabit’ meaning ‘it will stand whichever way you throw it’ – a reference to the independence and resilience of the Manx people.
To discover the full 10,000 year history of the island, the perfect place to start is the Manx Museum in Douglas with its National Art Gallery and National History Gallery. You’ll be able to find out more about the Viking hoards of silver and gold; discover the story of Tynwald, the oldest continuous Parliament in the world; get to understand the Manx landscape its wildlife and habitats in the Natural History Gallery and find out what life was like here during the war. And for those visiting the island for the TT races, you’ll find the history of these world-famous races and its legendary riders and their motorbikes.
The Isle of Man is something of a tax haven with its own Parliament, language and currency, and for those who love the great outdoors this is a tiny piece of heaven. You don’t have to be a marine biologist to spot whales, basking sharks, dolphins and seals around the coastline plus there’s a rich diversity of wildlife and birdlife that inhabit this unspoilt piece of land that measures just 32 by 15 miles.
You can’t visit the Isle of Man without tasting Manx kippers. Since around 1770 Manx kippers have been smoked in the traditional long red herring houses on the island. Moores Traditional Curers at Peel is the last of the old style curing yards and is now a living museum, where visitors can take a tour to see this culinary art in action.
When I visited, Glenys and Paul Desmond ran the business with a handful of staff. Glenys explained how the herrings are hung from racks inside the original chimneys. Bonfires made from oak and wood chips are lit and the fish are smoked for about four hours, moved strategically higher or lower to ensure each fish gets the right amount of smoke to give it that perfect Manx kipper taste.
However there’s something else that the Isle of Man is perhaps not so well known for – and that’s its queenies. Isle of Man queenies are small scallops which have been fished for generations around the coastline and eaten locally or exported abroad to be sold in top restaurants. They are held in such high esteem amongst the locals that they hold an annual queenie festival in their honour.
During my visit to the island, I chatted with Manx fisherman Ian Skelly who explained: “Unlike king scallops which can only be fished from the end of November 1 to the end of May, queenies can be fished all year round. You fish for queenies with nets. Boats can’t dredge for them as queenies are very susceptible to vibration. The feel the vibration of the dredgers and will fly like butterflies over the top of the dredgers.”
The queenies are unloaded into the Carick Bay Sea Foods factory on the quay where they are shelled, cleaned and packed. Ian explained that the shells are used either by farmers for irrigating the land, or restaurants re-use them as serving dishes.
There’s just so much to see around the island whether you’re into fresh air and nature, history and tradition, or enjoying the local cuisine. The Isle of Man is the place to visit.
The Isle of Man Food & Drink Festival is held in the Villa Marina Gardens, Douglas. It will take place on the 19th and 20th September 2015 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
For more information go to: www.visitisleofman.com