Sunday, June 3, 2018

To Be Cold

We are approaching the months of Italian vacations.  I've written about them before.  
And as you know from previous posts, July and August are miserably hot months in Rome. No wonder residents get away to their coastal beach houses or mountain retreats.

This doesn't sound nearly far enough away for my taste, honestly. 

I need to feel cold.  COLD, I tell you.

And so for that, I book a little time on the Isle of Man.


People who know me well already know why I go here. 
My paternal ancestor came from here (a small island in the middle of the Irish sea) to what at the time was still a small set of colonies in North America - some time just after 1700.  He brought several children - some already grown - and his wife to Philadelphia.  
He then proceeded to travel south, along the 'spine' that is the Appalachians and into the western territories of Virginia.  And he then assumed occupation of a sizable land grant from the King of England, in an area that at the time was known as Botetourt (and if you want to sound proper to the area, you say 'BAHT-eh-taht'). Plenty of distant relatives fanned out over the United States, with bigger clumps in states like Ohio and Texas.  My branch, descended from the fourth son named John, almost never left the western side of Virginia. 

Like many people who share my unusual last name, I made a trek to the Isle of Man about 10 years ago to see what I could learn about it and the people I (in part, at any rate) come from.

And what a delightfully unusual and great place this is.

After our first visit on our honeymoon, The Spouse declared that it was one of the few places in the world he'd visited in which he felt truly relaxed. 
So we've been back a few times. 


This is Tynwald Day - the annual Manx celebration of its unique status as a self-governing (and it claims to have the oldest continually operating parliament in the world) entity of long standing. While it is a crown dependency (regarding external and defense affairs), it is by law *not* a part of the United Kingdom.

The event is held at...Tynwald.  New laws are read aloud in both English and Manx Gaelic.  A folk festival is held nearby.

A festival that includes folk dancing.


Another unique characteristic of the island is its fascination with and multi-facted exploitation of transit, with both steam and electric rails. Here is The Spouse, enjoying high tea on one of our rides on a train (thanks again, Nigel). 


I think that he likes the way he can get on one of these trains and slowly make his way across parts of the island.


On a beautiful day like this, you can catch great views on train rides along the coast.


Inside an Victorian electric rail car, catching the scenery.  Yep - he looks pretty relaxed.


A good place to go in Peel, our favorite town on the island (and a favorite beverage on tap).

The spouse enjoying some fresh razor clams.

Anyone who might remember the film Waking Ned Devine may recall seeing a house like this as Ned's.  Lots of films have been shot on this island. 

A small cluster of those homes overlook the beautiful Niarbyl Bay.


On our last visit to the Isle of Man, we arrived on the day of the big agricultural show for the whole island.  Our lovely B&B owners invited us to go with them.  


The indigenous Loughtan sheep.  Yes, those are four horns.  The wool is prized for its density.  

They do look rather otherworldly, don't they?



And with a big ag fair, you get the livestock show of course.



I believe that this beast was a big ribbon earner.  Look at the happy team crowded around him, taking selfies.

The next day, we took a bespoke walking tour of the island, with Andrew Foxon of GoMann Adventures.


We first followed what was an old rail path. 

past an old mill


Arrived at a church and adjoining cemetary (and the landscaping 'crew').

Andrew took us back to the same area we'd been in the day before, where the festival was held.  Across the street is the church and cemetery you've already seen.  
What's most interesting about the area is that it was once the site an internment camp during World War I.  
Some more information about that part of the island's history can be found here.
A wide variety of people  - not just German citizens - stayed here in the camps. Some have been retroactively honored with more elaborate headstones, such as these citizens of Turkey. 






Very few churches on this island are large. 


The low wall that lines one end of the property, made by camp residents.  Note the variety of building materials included here.
When you're not allowed to officially work, and have a lot of time on your hands, you can be innovative. It is said that Josef Pilates was a camp resident. And it was here that he created his famous exercise regimen for people who needed to stay fit despite having little to do and nowhere to go.



And as we walked away from this memorable site, the more agricultural nature of a good bit of the island comes more into focus.  The rolling hills, patches of acreage, the different shades of green.  
It was such a pretty day.

And BOOM, just over the crest of a hill, we're at an edge of the island.



And through a stile we go. 


Lots of visitors to the Isle of Man come expressly for the hiking.  The coastal footpath is clearly marked at many intervals. We passed a few people on our 2-3 hour walk.


Andrew's not a long-winded talker (not that I really could talk back, after a climb over one hill or another).  He stops at various points to highlight interesting features, historical or natural bits of information....

And to make sure that you stop and turn around, if necessary, to catch a great view.


Walking the hills of Rome is helping me get into shape, but this was a long climb.  I was happy to let the guys take the lead.



But once over the crest of that hill, I asked Andrew to shoot this for us. 
Such scenery! (Handsome guy, too)


And as we descended the hill into Peel, we could see Peel Castle, just ahead.


Tea, up next.  With yummy, fat slices of cake.
Sorry, no food porn here (HUNGRY).  But in another post some time in the future, I could highlight Manx kippers and Queenie scallops.  In the meantime, know that if you buy white cheddar at Publix grocery stores in the U.S., you are actually buying Manx cheddar.  It will be labeled 'English cheddar,' but it is actually from the Isle of Man. And take it from a person who is not a fan of most cheddars:  it's really good.


We didn't seek out Italian food, for obvious reasons, but we were thrilled to find a man from Naples running a brand new brick oven in Peel.
We practiced our Italian with him, and he rewarded us with the reason he lives so far from home:

"I don't like the hot temperatures there."

Aha!  There is at least one Italian on this planet who feels the same way I do.

The Spouse planned another short hike for us on another day.  Back onto the Victorian electric train we went.


A ride to Ramsay, and then back to a little stop.


And we were dropped off here:


As we tightened hiking boot laces and fixed our itinerary on a map, a car approached and stopped a few yards from us. As we crossed the road, the car came closer and the driver asked:  are you alright?  Do you need a ride anywhere?

No, we said, we're going for a hike.

Ah right, said the driver.  Have a good one.

And he drove away. 

Good people, here. (and no, there was no nefariousness in the exchange.  the query was sincere)


As we followed the footpath signs and the map we carried, we found ourselves approaching a working cattle farm.  We asked a guy on a tractor if it was o.k. to go through his gate.
The answer:  sure.  Just close it after you've gone through.

And bit further on and...

...here is what we came to see. 



The largest Celtic cross on the island.  It is one of 26 such pieces on this little land mass.  For a kind of reference, there are 33 in all of Norway. 
If I took one of those mail-in DNA test kits, my results would mostly paint the picture of a Celt crossed with a Viking.  


Obviously, the oldest part of the structure is made of the roughly hewn stone walls (and no roof). 


And in we went.


If you could seat more than 25 people here, it would be a squeeze.


We left the place as we'd found it, after making a small donation, walked back to the nearest train stop (which amounts to a tiny shed), and waved down the conductor of the next train, as is customary.



We and two other passengers looked out at the scenery. 





Passed an open car. 


And then boarded a horse-drawn tram (these are sometimes called 'toast racks') to cross the breadth of the Douglas (the capital city) promenade. 

Not all days on the Island are sunny. 
But we brave every day we have here, regardless of the forecast.
You just have to dress appropriately, right?

Off to Laxey Mill.



They make several tartans, but the most favored is of course the Manx tartan, with various colors for the environment of the island.  Go back to the picture of me and The Spouse on our walking tour, and tell me how many of those colors you see. 


We met a master weaver and learned about a kit of devices for altering the size of a kilt.  The Spouse ordered one right away. 


And we walked to the Laxey Wheel, the largest working wheel in the world.


There's no conveying the scale of it, here.  But note that the Legs of Man are running in the wrong direction.  They should run clockwise. 
Below this emblem, in most cases, is the (usually Latin) motto:  Wherever you throw it, it will stand.

But as this post proves, you can hop on other means of conveyance, too!


Back on the train! 



And upon our arrival in Douglas, where we caught another toast rack, we learned the following things:

1.  Our last evening meal, booked for the summit of Snaefell Mountain, was cancelled due to high winds. 
2. It was COLD.  Wind blew rain sideways onto us.  My stowaway jacket was laughably inadequate.



No matter!  A pint of cider at a local pub and a Thai dinner easily substituted for our cancelled plans. 



And as we left the next day, we talked of 'next time.'  Because as long as it's possible, there will always be one. 

While I sweat on yet another hot Roman bus in these next few months, I will daydream of being cold.