Island of Mist and Fables

Waterfall IOMThe Isle of Man has no need for Trevi Fountains and tourists clutching three coins: Its spell, despite – or perhaps because of? – the Islands intangibility, is more complex and potent.

Many have tried to analyse Ellan Vannin (the Manx-language name) nestled in the Irish Sea, but its very diversity defeats any such exercise.

This small Island is many faceted, with appeal for every taste and level of intellect – and who can say which sight is more memorable?

Eairy Dam Reservoir, its silky surface ribbed only by a baby breath of wind, mirroring the opalescent hues of sky? May noon at the Sunset City, where the mossy stone walls of a castle stand silent and greedy of secrets? The humming of the T.T (Tourist Trophy) motorbikes that race through the shreds of billowing mist ‘round the edges of Snaefell Mountain? An evening walk among the undulating countryside and onto a pebbled beach suddenly bathed in gold? Saint Patrick's Isle Beach in the Isle of Man.

Or are the sounds on this spit of land an ever-repeating echo in the absent ear?

Try, if you can, to forget, once heard, the moment the sheep cry across the purple hills of Heather a joyful aubade to the awakening howl of a blowing wind; the sudden squawking of low-flying gulls across a small coastal village that hugs an eroding cliff; the stillness inside an ancient ruin where the quiet is so thick you can almost touch it, and you whisper, as if in an alien church.

In virgin beauty the Isle of Man had been created around 8000 BC, from rising water that separated it from the other Islands. And unmarred it remained to a large extent, while England, Ireland and even Scotland were filling up with humanity.

The first inhabitants lived in small huts, gathering their food by fishing and hunting, and eventually utilizing the land for agriculture. However, these peaceful dwellers were soon to be invaded by Viking warriors.

Old village of Cregneash in the Isle of ManThe Vikings traveled across the turbulent seas from Scandinavian countries in search of land and riches. Their history, daubed with blood.

Captivated by the Island – its isolation, central location and fertile soil – the Vikings carved their stories, legends and myths across the land. The Isle of Man became a Viking conquest and settlement.

Today, littered across the landscape are Norse remains – a farmstead at the Braaid and a tenth century AD Viking boat burial site at Balladoole – with more runic inscriptions than anywhere else in the British Isles, and drawings as vivid as it was in the mind’s eye of that long-dead artist.

Not even time or invasion could falter the Viking legacy – with the Isle of Man becoming the backdrop to their politics, economy and settlement – and for over 1,000 years the Island has kept this independent identity.

Tynwald, meaning open assembly in Norse, is celebrated usually on July 5. It’s the oldest surviving and still continuous parliament in the world, with an unlimited, but not necessarily exclusive, legislative competence.

Thousands of people gather in St. Johns to celebrate the open-air ceremony of Tynwald. Here new laws are created and introduced to the public. It’s also an opportunity for the locals to gather and sell authentic products, while Ancient Isle of Manparticipating in the festival activities – a tradition since Celtic and Norse societies.

There’s a vibrant and distinctive local character on the Island that is maintained and celebrated. Even a resurrection of the Manx language is underway after it almost became lost and buried – like the crumbling ruins scattered across the land.

Isle of ManA few local folk believe that Manannán mac Lir (a mythical Celtic Sea God) is protecting this emerald Isle with his coat of mist from the intensively competitive outside world, enabling it to grow old gracefully and wisely.

Towns are widely spaced apart, so that within minutes of leaving the outskirts of one, there are many kilometers of unspoiled land before the next is reached.

Winter Isle of ManTravelling is thus an endless delight, each season having its own appeal: the meadows are thick with buttercups, daffodils and spotted orchids that contrast against the blue spring sky; crimson poppies and yellow gorse make a show of colour in the warm summer months; kaleidoscopes of fiery reds, burning oranges and golden yellow leaves transform the landscape in autumn; a dusting of snow covers the green-velvet hills in winter. And despite the changes that befall on this rugged and magnificent Island – like the changing seasons – the beauty will live on, especially in the myriad hearts and minds of those who have loved this land, the Isle of Man.

 

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