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A trip to the Isle of Man

Tuesday 19th May 2020

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The Isle of Man is a treasure trove of transport delight. An efficient bus network; an electric tramway including to a mountain top; a steam railway; and a seafront horse tram. And they’re all included on an integrated visitor ‘Go Explore’ smartcard available for 1, 3, 5 or 7 days from a number of outlets including the arrivals hall at the island’s airport; and there’s a comprehensive timetable book with handy network and town maps. Brilliant.

I last visited four years ago in May 2016 and back last October thought it was high time to make a return trip so booked flights and a hotel for a visit this coming bank holiday weekend. A shout out and thanks to Premier Inn for already refunding my booking, and fingers crossed EasyJet will get round to refunding the air fares at some point. I thought I’d implement a disappointment containment and mitigation strategy by digging out the timetables and visitor information leaflets from 2016 and browse through a few photographs taken last time.

The Isle of Man population is 84,000 about the same size as Guildford, Aylesbury or Stockton-on-Tees and about 60% of the Isle of Wight’s 142,000. It’s around 30 miles long and roughly 10 miles wide with an area of 221 square miles – about a third bigger than the Isle of Wight.

There’ve been 335 cases of coronavirus and 24 deaths on the island, 20 of which are linked to one  nursing home in Ballasalla which has since had its licence suspended. The island has been sealed off since 27th March with only those having prior approval from the Manx government allowed to travel to the island with 300 residents repatriated after being stranded abroad via weekly sailings from Liverpool since mid April. Buses are running for essential journeys but the trams and railway have been suspended.

The island capital, Douglas, is located two-thirds of the way down the east coast with Ramsey, the second biggest town towards the north on the east coast. Peel lies midway on the west coast with Port Erin in the extreme south west coastal corner.

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Main bus routes from Douglas (and much simplified for the purpose of this summary – they love complicated number and letter route variations on the island) are the 1 and 2 south to Port Erin every 20 minutes; the 3 north to Ramsey every 30 minutes and the 5 half hourly east to Peel then hourly north to Ramsey. Half hourly or hourly local routes serve the environs of Douglas and Ramsey. and there’s an hourly route from Douglas via Peel to Port Erin. There’s a main terminal point in Douglas town centre comprising a string of shelters.

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It’s a tidy network offering great views of the island operated by a mixture of single and double deck buses. The former are mainly Mercedes Citaros with a handful of StreetLites and the latter are Wright bodied Volvos. Oldest buses in regular service date from 2009.

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The interiors are bright with cloth covered comfortable seating but the exterior livery is a rather uninspiring plain silvery grey.

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Ticket prices for longer staying visitors offer reasonable value – the 7 day GoExplore card is £50 whereas a one-day card is a bit pricey at £17 but it does include all travel modes. There are cheaper fares for residents with a Go Card. Cash payments have ceased and passengers either use the Go Card or contactless bank cards.

The ‘bus station’ at Ramsey is a blast from the past. I thought at first it might be a museum….

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.. but it turned out to be a fully working garage and enquiry office.

The electric trams – they’re called Manx Electric Railway – run up to every 30 minutes in peak season between Douglas and Ramsey.

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The almost 18 mile route hugs the east coast offering some great scenery along the way. There are sixty nine ‘tram’ stops/stations on the seventy-five minute end-to-end journey.

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In Douglas trams depart from the Derby Castle terminus at the northern (Onchan) end of the Promenade. Closed and open carriages are often linked together so passengers can choose the level of exposure to Manx air. Mostly a motor car pulls a single trailer. The interiors of the closed carriages are rather luxurious….

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… compared to the rather spartan open carriages.

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Half an hour north of Douglas is Laxey where there’s an interchange with the Snaefell Mountain Railway.

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This is a must-ride tram taking you up 2,000 feet to the top of Snaefall offering truly spectacular views. At the mountain top, there’s enough time for a quick drink in the cafe and take in the sights including views of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – providing it’s a clear day.

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The weather on Snaefall is as famous as the railway – it might be sunny and clear in Douglas but a completely different story on the maintain top. The day I visited it was foggy on arrival, but then almost instantly cleared as I took photographs ….

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… offering spectacular views.

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In peak season trams run every half an hour and the journey time is half an hour. Handy connections in Laxey are available with the Manx Electric Railway. There’s a ‘halt’ station halfway up the mountain called Bungalow Station.

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I was a bit taken about to spot RM 1152 on a 12 to Shepherds Bush passing by just as the tram went through on the day I visited.

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You never know what you might see on the Isle of Man.

The island’s steam railway runs south from Douglas via Castletown to Port Erin.

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It’s less frequent at six journeys a day in the peak season as well as extra ‘dining experience’ trains in the evening. Journey time is an hour. The day I travelled I found it very busy with coach parties reserving many of the carriages so it was quite a squeeze to get on; in the days before social distancing obviously.

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It’s a great ride and also offers some spectacular views of the southern end of the island, however, I found I enjoyed the views better on the double deck ride on bus route 1 covering much of the same territory.

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My favourite journey experieince during the visit was a couple of round trips on the seafront horse tram.

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It’s the oldest horse-drawn passenger tramway remaining in service anywhere in the world. It first began in 1876 and until 2015 was operated by Douglas Borough Council but in 2016 passed over to the island’s transport department. In 2019 a shortened route had to operate due to works on the seafront Promenade road.

Back in 2016 when I visited it was the first year after the Council had given up and the tram cars still operated from the old garages on the seafront which I understand have now closed. The horses are stabled elsewhere and I was fascinated to turn up first thing to see the first tram car being hauled, literally, out of the garage…

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…as the horse was walked up from the stables, located elsewhere, to commence its duty.

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It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of old propulsion technology, albeit the most environmentally friendly available, and modern technology issuing ticket machines.

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It was a lovely touch to see the horse name on the ticket rather than a fleet number.

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The duties of the conductors and conductresses involve a rather precarious system of walking along the outside ledge of the tramcar to collect fares….

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… which I’m sure has been risked assessed as she wore a high-viz jacket!

The interiors aren’t the most comfortable with swing back seats so they can be forward facing in both directions.

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On one of the journeys I made we encountered some inconvenient parking by a coach alongside the tram tracks…

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but our driver and horse skilfully got the tramcar to pass by successfully.

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The island’s quirky mix of transport modes also includes The Great Laxey Mine Railway.

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This uses replicas of the former tramway which once ran deep into the Great Laxey Mine.

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It’s a quarter of mile in length through the longest railway tunnel on the island and passengers clamber into tiny carriages to travel along the line.

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At the Valley gardens end of the line it’s a short walk to the amazing Laxey Wheel …

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… which you can climb up to enjoy more spectacular views.

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A visit to the Isle of Man is highly recommended. In fact, I’d say two visits to the Isle of Man are highly recommended, except I’ll only be able to vouch for that when Covid-19 has been sent packing and I can rebook.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

13 thoughts on “A trip to the Isle of Man Leave a comment

  1. New DRM type Services called fflecsi have been launched in Newport South Wales at short notice. They replace a number of conventional service . The routes concerned are the 1/1b, 11a/11c and the 25a/26c , It is stated that this is a 3 month trial

    One service the 6o which had been suspended will have one journey a say restored other than that there are no plans yo increase services at present

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  2. Very interesting. I haven’t picked this up on local media. It seems that Transport for Wales is behind this as Ken Skates, the Minster for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said:

    “The pilot scheme we will be trialling in Newport over the next 3 months could shape the bus services of the future. While we are living with the restrictions on our every-day lives, this demand responsive transport system could be the answer to some problems faced by our key workers trying to get to and from work at a time that suits their shifts. We are also looking to expand this pilot and are working with several other companies to implement a demand responsive transport service.

    “We will be working closely with the local authorities, TfW and our partners to monitor its success.”

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  3. As someone who visited 3 times between 2012 and 2017 I would say many many visits to the Isle Of Man are recommended. Love the place. Definitely high on my “return to normality to do list” to get back over there.

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  4. As a regular visitor to the Isle of Man, I too would like to recommend it. Missing from your write-up are:
    The Groudle Glen Railway run entirely by volunteers (as is the Great Laxey Mines Railway) which can be reached from the Groudle Electric Tram stop (a bit of a hike) usually steam operated which takes you to a nice cafe where once there was a zoo.
    Also the “Orchid Line” miniature railway at the Curraghs Wild Life Park reached by Bus from Ramsey, Douglas or Peel.
    Transport Museums at Port Erin (Steam Railway), Peel (P50 cars), Jurby Transport Museum and Derby Castle (Electric Trams).
    There are a number of special events including all modes of transport during the year which also present the opportunity to ride on one of the preserved buses and to enjoy unusual train and tram operations. My particular favourite is the Manx Heritage Transport Festival at the end of July (unfortunately cancelled for this year).
    Thanks for your regular column Roger, I always find it interesting.

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  5. Many thanks Geoff; and yes, the Groudle Glen Railway was on my itinerary for this weekend’s visit – it sounds a great railway and thanks also for mentioning the Orchid Line and the museums. I visited the Port Erin one last time and will add the others to the ‘to do’ list. Again, many thanks.

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  6. Just Announced that Shearing has collapsed and gone into administration. Probably one of the largest UK coach tour operators

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  7. Furlough Payments

    Some what appears to be leaked information suggest the cut in August will be between 20% and 30% which the companies are expected to pick up. I doubt that most bus and coach companies can afford to particularly with the reduced capacity due to social spacing and the fact there will be fewer passengers in any case with more people working from home. more people shopping on the Internet rather than going to town and almost no passengers travelling to airports

    It does not sound like good news for anyone working in public transport . It will be interesting times over the next few weeks. It could all but wipe out bus services in many parts of the UK without some government intervention.

    The favourite of local council to cut costs is of putting a token Dial A Ride Service on. Besides these not being popular the vehicles used will no longer be suitable and many are run as community services but my understanding is most of the drivers are not licensed to drive anything bigger than a 16 seater

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    • The councils are currently making a significant saving by not having to pay the Concessionary card payments to operators due to far fewer buses and patronage. The service level required to provide the services needed will still be less than the norm. As the local authorities are legally obliged to provide some rural services, there are very few left now which cannot be met by demand responsive services. Monitoring of these to optimise the most appropriate vehicles has been ongoing for sometime and whilsts costs and budgets are very closely monitored I doubt there will be any changes in the current financial year where the budgets have been fixed.

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  8. The councils are still paying out the concessionary reimbursement based on average usage in the previous . What I am not clear on is whether it is based on the full service levels or the reduced service levels

    Most Dial a Ride services use 16 seaters under government guidance on social spacing this would only carry about 4 passengers
    In most cases using larger buses i not an option as they are registered as Community service in most cases and the drivers are only licenced to drive 16 seaters

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