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Just Back: Isle of Man

Nat Geo travel books editor Larry Porges crossed a destination off his bucket list this summer when he traveled to the Isle of Man, located smack-dab between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain in the middle of the Irish Sea. The co-author of the London Book of Lists has had a long fascination with the self-governing British Crown dependency and its Celtic, English, and Viking roots. Here’s why.

A few highlights from Larry’s trip, in his own words:

Biggest selling point: It’s fourfold. 

1) The beautiful scenery—rich green hills peppered with bright yellow gorse, dramatic cliffside vistas, thatched-roof villages, tumbling waterfalls, and the 2,000-foot Snaefell mountain overlooking it all.

2) Unusual wildlife, including tailless Manx cats, four-horned Loaghtan sheep, and a small population of feral wallabies in the north.

3) Sincerely friendly residents. I was only on the island four days and have been in touch, via email, with six different people since my return.

4) A storied history and heritage. Three highlights: remnants of medieval Viking castles, 1,000-year-old Tynwald Hill (site of the oldest continuous parliament in the world), and a charming Victorian-era narrow-gauge steam railway that chugs around the island’s south.

Authentic souvenir: Kippers. For centuries, the Isle of Man has been a major player in the production of these delicious oak-smoked herrings (a common breakfast staple there). A word of warning: Kippers are somewhat odoriferous, in a salty, tasty, and—yes—fishy kind of way. I quadruple-wrapped the packages I bought from Devereau’s in sealable plastic bags, which did wonders keeping my luggage from reeking. My worries about getting them past customs were unfounded; I was waved through quickly and easily—with only a slight eye-roll from the agent, who evidently has yet to develop a taste.

Favorite local quirk: There’s a small bridge between the airport and Douglas, the island’s capital and largest town, called the Fairy Bridge and local custom dictates you wave to the fairies as you cross for good luck. Also, I was cautioned more than once that if I saw the ghost of a black dog near the ruins of the 11th-century Norse castle in the town of Peel to the west, I shouldn’t mock it or else I’d die a horrible, painful death. (Luckily, I almost always give ghost dogs wide berth, so I felt safe on this one.)

Must-attend event: I feel a bit dishonest describing this as a must-attend event, because I actually missed it…by a few days. The island is renowned for its world championship motorcycle-racing event—the Isle of Man TT—when the main roads of Mann (an alternative name for the isle) are taken over by high-speed racers averaging more than 100 miles per hour around the 37.5-mile circuits. It’s two weeks of high-octane hoopla and celebration each June…or so I hear.

Outdoor oasis: I loved nearly every square inch of the island, but my favorite spot was The Sound, a scenic narrow straight in the southwest that separates mainland Mann from a small(er) offshore island, the Calf of Man. At least a dozen seals lounged on the rocks or swam in the waters, peeking their heads just above the waterline to keep a watchful eye on the photo-snapping humans.

Standout museum: The particularly well-appointed Manx Museum covers the story of Mann from its ancient past to its more recent iteration as a holiday resort.

I was especially interested in the archives section, home to original documents from the “enemy alien” prison camps that the island maintained during both world wars. I was checking for records of my grandfather, who was held in one of these camps during WWII, a stay that was full of irony, as he had escaped the Nazis in Austria only to find himself detained in the United Kingdom for simply being Austrian. (It is, however, important to note that, of all the possible detention camps my grandfather could have ended up in as a Jew during WWII, the comfortable accommodations on Mann were about the best anyone could have wished for.)

Practical tip: Try to spend your Isle of Man-issued currency (Manx pounds) while on the island. While the British pound is accepted on the island, Manx money is not always recognized or especially welcome in the U.K.

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