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Category: Big Trips

The Isle of Man: Mountains, Towers and Voyeurs

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Do you ever feel like you’re trapped inside your own life?

City living has a way of confining the mind over a long period of time.

I talked last time about the London ‘bubble’ and how it serves to limit your experiences to the very trendiest of places, rather than the dives that you might actually want to visit. It’s really more of a self-imposed imprisonment, composed of bars complete with exposed brick and bare light bulbs. If I spend longer than a month in London, continuously flitting around the streets of Camden and Brixton, I begin to become weighed down by a real sense of claustrophobia.

The streets begin to narrow and each bar seems to get busier with each passing minute.

When I find myself gasping for fresh air and a place to drink that isn’t painted with several layers of irony, I make my excuses and run back to my flat. In a darkened room with my favourite Bjork album playing, I calmly book myself tickets on a plane to a remote British island and sit back with a sigh of relief.

I’d not considered visiting the Isle of Man before this week. Call me a bigot, but it had always seemed like a distant (and Northern) cousin of the Isle of Wight. As far as I was aware this was a small island, surrounded by sea with seemingly very little do, at least in comparison with London. However, after my little panic attack in Camden, this sounded like just the thing that I needed. After a speedy session of booking through SkyScanner (return flights for the weekend for £180), Airbnb (Room in Douglas for £114 p/night) and Airport Parking Market (parking at London City Airport for £33) – I was ready to leave.

The flight from London took just over an hour. As it was an internal flight so the security was light so before I knew it I was stepping out of the wonderfully named Ronaldson Airport and breathing the fresh island air of Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man.

A few things to note about the Isle of Man, when considering it’s differences to London.

It has a population of just under 88,000 compared to London’s 8.674 million. It covers roughly 570 square kilometres, whereas London sprawls over 1,500 of them (you can do the mathematics on that one). But, what about crime? Surely such an isolated place must be filled with crack pot deviants and raving marauders, right? Wrong! There were 194 offences in the space of a year on the Isle of Man, compared to the thousands recorded in London. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be starting to consider how much you’d really miss having London on your doorstep.

The Isle of Man has been an established tourist destination for some time, as such it’s had a significant amount of financial investment from patrons over the past century. As the years have gone by, fuelled by it’s popularity during the Victorian era, the island has become populated with strange follies and quirky tourist attractions. Great Union Camera Obscura is probably the best example of this.

Sat on top of a hill at the edge of Douglas, this squat building has the look of an observatory, except the telescope isn’t pointed towards the stars. Fans of people watching will be hard to pull away from this lens which is set firmly on the town centre, allowing the voyeur to watch tourists as they go about their business.

Hopping into a hire car I drive over to Bradda Glen to get a look at Milner’s Tower.

The sun is shining and I can see the coast of Ireland looming massively on the horizon. Dedicated to the philanthropist William Milner, the tower cuts a striking shape in sharp contrast to the utterly rugged landscape all around it. I stand and stare for a while before remembering that I have a flight back to London in a day’s time – so it’s back to Douglas for a meal and sleep.

I wanted to spend the last day on the island absorbing as much of the place as possible without having to move too much so I elected to sit on the Snaefell Mountain Railway and idly munch on a meal deal. I’ve spoken before about the romance of train journeys and this one was no different. The railway climbs up 2,000-ft to reach the summit of Snaefell Mountain, the highest point on the Island. With the sun breaking through the clouds, the mountain breeze shook the fine layer of Dorito dust from my trousers as I stepped onto the platform.

Any thoughts of cramped London streets, gourmet bao buns or rooftop bars soon dissipated from my mind as I stared at the vast expanse of land and sea below me.

The Isle of Man is undoubtedly the ultimate British island retreat for any claustrophobic Londoner.

The Highlands: Pies, Miles and a Range Rover

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Don’t feel bad for Scotland.

They’ve done a damn good job of playing the sympathy card for the last couple of decades. Movies like Trainspotting and Under the Skin have done their best to portray Scotland as the grubby back end of English civilisation.

Towering concrete blocks housing drug addicts and boozers do little to put forward an impression of Scotland as a high-ticket holiday destination. But, don’t be fooled by these false images though, Scotland (and the Highlands especially) is home to a wealth of gorgeous vistas, comforting public houses and top-class restaurants.

If you’re thinking of ditching the annual holiday of sun, sea and sand, in favour of something a little more atmospheric, then Scotland might just be the place for you. Whereas you might not be guaranteed to get much of a tan whilst you’re out there, you’d be surprised how pleasant the weather can be at this time of the year. So nice in fact, that you might want to consider booking a 2-day driving tour of the Highlands, instead of a long stint at just one Hotel.

My recommendation?

If you’re travelling from London (as I did) then take the utterly mesmerising train up to Edinburgh. The journey will take you around 4 hours and 30 minutes, enough time to settle into a few of Robert Burns’ poems or even slam through Mel Gibson’s ever-so-slightly-broad Braveheart. Regardless of if you came to see it or not, schedule a couple of hours to enjoy this enduringly picturesque city. My top recommendations for a flying visit are, of course, the Castle as well as a bite to eat at The Piemaker – here’s a hint, try the pies…

Once I soaked up what Edinburgh had to offer in the way of cuisine and culture, I headed to Hertz and picked up the vehicle that would take me on my trek around Scotland. Here’s a piece of advice for anyone who’s nervous about renting a car for the first time: Don’t panic when you can’t find something exactly like your comfy little Kia parked at home. Take the opportunity to broaden your horizons, rent something completely different and have some fun!

I don’t own a car in the city, so I jumped at the opportunity to drive a brand new Range Rover.

I would never usually drive something like this, but as it was a holiday, I thought that I’d get into the spirit of the country (as well as ape a certain television show featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon). With the dust in my rear view mirror quickly rising to obscure the retreating vision of Edinburgh, I drove on to my bed for the night in Crieff.

Existing in the sweet spot halfway between luxury hotel and self-catered accommodation, Highland Heather Lodges provide lodges in perthshire with hot tubs in the form of 4 accommodation options that will suit most requirements. Although better suited for couples or families, the 1-bedroom lodge that I stayed in more than served my needs. Handsome hard floors, comfortable furnishings and a modern kitchen make this a great option for anyone looking to find themselves a cosy home away from home in the Highlands.

From Crieff you can easily access either the Highlands proper or Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, making it a perfect spot for any hikers eager to take advantage of both of these fantastic walking destinations. I was more eager to get the Range Rover back on to the road and drive through some seriously scenic territory. With the lease fast running out on my new found treasure, I pushed a little harder on the accelerator and allowed myself to drift into a James Bond influence fever dream of mist, green mountains, winding roads and burning rubber.

I knew I’d be blown away by the scenery on offer in the Scottish Highlands, I just didn’t think that I’d return so smitten for my rental car.

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