Of all of the places we visited in the Isle of Man, we thought that Castletown was the nicest. We passed through it on the day we arrived when we were on our way to St Marys and we went back there the following day.
The town is a port, it is well kept and clean and tidy. What developments we saw in the centre have been in keeping with the original town design.
The harbour did not seem to be a fishing port (as at Peel) but was quiet and neat.
It does not take much imagination to remove the tarmac on the streets, replace them with cobbles and turn this scene back a few centuries.
Unmissable within the town is Castle Rushen which is said to be amongst the best examples of medieval castles in the British Isles. Construction probably started around the late 1100s and its history since then is fairly well documented.
Entrance is along the usual zigzagged passageway until you
come to the internal moat, where the drawbridge used to be and the portcullis.
they have taken great care to lay the inside out as if it were still (in part) a working castle
and above we have a privy (occupied).
We climbed to the very top of the battlements and got a good view over the town
and could see a small red car parked on the quayside.
Above is how the throne room might have looked
and this is the Banqueting Hall
and some distance away is the Kitchen (a distance to try to keep the danger of fire away from the main structure of the castle).
For a building nearly 1000 years old, it is in remarkable condition and gives a good understanding of how a castle worked.
The House of Keys
With a few hours to occupy on our last day, we went back to Castletown and stopped to look at
the original House of Keys which is open to the public for a few hours at various times during the week.
Inside the debating chamber is laid out with agenda as if it were awaiting the “Members of the House of Keys” to come and debate.
For the benefit of visitors such as ourselves, the agenda consisted of various motions of significance in the history of the island.
We were invited to sit at the table and vote on various motions which included:
- "To stop James Brown, editor of the Isle of Man Times from making demands for public elections in his newspaper and insulting the Keys” - as a result of this motion in 1864, public elections came about in 1866
- ‘this house shall move from its present building to a new location in Douglas” - this happened by 1874
- “to extend voting rights to every make person of full age” is to be amended to remove the world “male” - women were given the vote in 1880.
The significance of each motion was explained to us and a
realistic “animatronic chairman” at the top of the chamber commented on our voted decision. Participation in a “debate” was very unexpected and we can highly recommend a visit to "The House of Keys”.
St Mary’s Chapel / Old Grammar School
A few yards away is the Grammar School which was originally a chapel and dates from
the 13th Century and is the oldest roofed structure on the island.
It was extended and some stage
and became a school for boys in 1702.
Inside it is laid out as a Victorian School (the picture below looks into the blue early 18th c alcove shown in the plan above)
and it is said that these marks in the sandstone
were made by the boys sharpening their pen nibs on the sandstone arch.
Our flight back was easy and on time.
We can recommend the Isle of Man without reservation (except for Douglas promenade although the Manx Museum there is superb and is really child focused). We found it to be a lovely island with lots to do and very little hassle. The people who live there were exceptionally friendly - we judge this by the number of times we were said “hello” to as we walked about.
One question we never found the answer to was why the Isle of Mann symbol is three armoured legs with golden spurs upon a red background. This is seen most often on the official flag which dates from 1932. Whilst the three legs are related to the Manx Coat of arms (from the 13th Century), the leg symbol was also used by the Mycenaeans and the Lycians which date around 1600BC.
We did learn that Emmeline Pankhurst’s mother was born on the Isle of Mann and had she stayed there, then Emmeline would have gained the vote far earlier than she did on the mainland.
We also learnt that there is no difference between "The Isle of Man" and “The Isle of Mann”.
Feel free dear reader to tell us different.