Discovering Europe one train at a time
08/01/2020 · By Rashmi Guha Ray
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The pretty capital of the Isle of Man, Douglas is also the island's largest town and primary seaside resort. Originally settled by the Vikings, the town rose to prominence as a merchant trading post, aided by its large natural port. With the discovery of the New World, Douglas experienced great prosperity and soon became a popular holiday destination, both for Manx people and those from the British mainland. Douglas was recognised as the island's social and economic stronghold in 1874, when it became the capital.
Today Douglas has much to recommend it to visitors; many of these attractions are within easy reach of the sea front, lined by its grand two-mile promenade.
Opened in 1893, this beautiful building served as the Isle of Man's main theatre until its closure in the 1960s. Having been a cinema, it has now been lovingly restored to its original state and is a delight to explore.
As the world's oldest continuous parliament, the Tynwald boasts a fascinating history. Members of the public are welcome to view the proceedings from the public gallery of this grand building.
Designed by Robert Casement, the iconic Laxey Wheel was built in 1854 to pump water from the Laxey mineshafts and prevent flooding. A key feature of the wheel was that it was made to run on water power, as the Isle of Man has virtually no natural coal supply - which made it an early piece of environmentally-friendly machinery. The wheel was given the name 'Lady Isabella' in honour of the then-Governor's wife, Lady Isabella Hope, and it is often still called this by locals today. Lady Isabella is a staggering 72'6'' (22 metres) in diameter, and a huge circumference of 210'6'' (64 m). It can draw an impressive 1,140 litres of water every minute, from a depth of 1,804' (550 m). The Laxey Wheel was retired from regular use with the closure of the town's mines in 1929, but the government saved it for the nation, as tourists had already flocked to it when the mines were still open. Still one of the island's most popular tourist attractions today, the wheel has become a much-loved emblem of the Isle of Man - and even features on the reverse of the £20 note.
Idyllic Peel has a population of less than 5,000, yet is technically the Isle of Man's only 'city', as it boasts the island's cathedral. Norsemen ruled Peel for roughly four hundred years before ceding to the Scottish Monarchy in 1266. As an extra measure of defence, the castle on St Patrick's Isle overlooking the then-town was significantly enhanced. The castle then became known to English rulers as Peel Castle, and the settlement - until then known as Holmtown - ended up also being called Peel as a result. With the coming of the railway, Peel developed as a tourist resort, and today the city has an attractive promenade overlooking its sandy beach, along with a number of other highlights.
Perched on a tiny island connected to the town by a causeway, the imposing Peel Castle has had a turbulent history. Now a Manx National Heritage site, audio tours are available around the ruined grounds, detailing its everyday use and legend of how St Patrick introduced Christianity here.
This magnificent attraction was completed in 1997, and features a range of vivid displays on the island's Celtic and Viking past, including life-sized reconstructions of their homes.