A Manx Outing

The Isle of Man occupies quite a curious position within the British Isles. Constitutionally it has a high degree of independence in its own affairs - it has its own Parliament, the House of Keys which sets the standards and legislation in a great many spheres of life on the island. Most notable is the matter of finance and taxation which renders the island a hospitable haven for many of its more affluent citizens as well as tax exiles from elsewhere. The British government holds sway mainly in external affairs such as defence where plainly the island is hardly in a position to stand by itself. Although life looks and feels very much like elsewhere in the British Isles, yet in some significant respects the island feels as if a restraining hand has been kept on progress, and this innate conservatism has perhaps contributed to the preservation of some features which might well have disappeared elsewhere long ago. The island depends quite a lot on tourism too, one of the most famous annual events is the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race which attracts visitors and participants worldwide. I've never had the opportunity to take my own bike round the course; even so, it's not hard to see why it's such a challenge for many riders (though sadly every year, a few prove fatally less than equal to it.) The Manx transport systems also reflect this tendency to preserve and there are some unique features which are worth a detour.

Of special interest are on the one hand, the quite extensive preserved tramways; separately, there is the preserved narrow gauge railway which links the capital Douglas (roughly at the middle of the island) with Port Erin at the southern end. Both have declined from their once extensive state but there is still a lot preserved. The routes can be seen on murals within the Douglas rail terminus:

Steam railways Tramways The dashed line on the island map shows the extent of the narrow gauge railway as it once existed. The lines from Douglas to Peel together with that from Foxdale to Ramsey are long closed, but that from Douglas to Port Erin is still very functional.

The electric tramway (or railway as it is referred to here) still exists in its entirety, though the route from Laxey to the summit of Snaefell (the highest point of the island) is in fact unconnected to the Douglas to Ramsey route.

(Click on either to see a larger view)

At Laxey on sees one of the famous landmarks of the island - the Laxey Wheel. This is a huge water wheel constructed for the now abandoned mining and quarrying which took place nearby. It has been carefully restored and can be seen in action at close quarters with a fine view of the surroundings from the top.

Laxey Wheel 1 Laxey Wheel 2

In Laxey itself, is the terminus of the Snaefell Mountain Railway, adjacent to Laxey station on the Douglas - Ramsey route. The summit of Snaefell is at 621 metres above sea level, so this is quite a climb even for electric traction and takes around half an hour. The route follows Laxey Glen past the Wheel and climbs steeply up the side of the Glen. (The line can just be seen in the background in the picture above right). There is only one stop on the way at Bungalow station, conveniently located on the A14 route for the TT Course and not too far from the summit for walkers. The final part of the route spirals round the summit to keep gradients manageable, nevertheless, it feels quite some relief to arrive at the terminus.

Laxey Terminus Railcar 2 The railcars are essentially the same as those on the Douglas - Ramsey route. Unfortunately, the summit being where it is and IoM weather being what it is, the view (below right) from the terminus left something to be desired !

Railcar 2 Summit

Back in Douglas, the main tramway depot is at Derby Castle, at the northern end of the town, easily found day & night:

Derby Castle Shed Derby Castle Night

The journey from Douglas to Ramsey is quite a scenic one, particularly just north of Douglas and takes one past some well known beauty spots. Ramsey itself is a quiet little fishing port where it's easy to be at leisure and peace (weather permitting, of course.) Trams run back and forth reasonably frequently.

1993 was quite a significant year for the electric railway as it was the Centenary of its opening. To commemorate the occasion, a special journey was made using Tramcars Number 1 & 2 from Douglas to Ramsey leaving Douglas at 11:00 a.m. on the 9th. of September. The journey was initiated by the Governor of the island in Tramcar 1, not so very long restored to original condition.

Derby Castle Terminus Number 1


Needless to say, a large number of visitors, well-wishers together with local dignitaries (for many of whom riding in the open carriage probably was not a frequent experience) were there for the occasion.

Below, the Governor (centre, middle picture) gets ready to go...

Display Governor Departure

Driver View Plaque

Tramcar No. 1 was restored some time previous to the Centenary celebrations and doesn't make so very many outings - it's reckoned to be the oldest working tramcar in the world.

So what of the trains ? On the route from Douglas to Ramsey, the tramcar stops at Groudle Glen - a popular beauty spot. At one time, a small steam railway ran from here to Lehn Coen, itself a scenic spot on a rocky outcrop with swimming and diving pools. It all fell into disuse but more recently, the railway has been partly restored and open to visitors:

Sea Lion   Sea Lion with double bank

The Manx Steam Railway from Douglas to Port Erin is the subject of another Gallery but finally before leaving Isle of Man transport, for those in less of a hurry, there is an alternative...

Horse'n Carriage

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© Copyright - Stuart Hill. June, 2001