Skip to Content

James Franklin: Your Local Insighter for the Isle of Man

We may receive a commission if you make purchases through affiliate links (at no extra cost to you). Read why our approach to travel is different.

Share This Article

1 month ago

Meet James Franklin, a born and raised citizen of the Isle of Man, Manx language learner and speaker, and the author of ‘A Guide to the Folklore Sites of the Isle of Man.

James works at Culture Vannin, a remarkable organization created to support, promote and celebrate the unique culture of the Isle of Man.

Today, we are gaining exclusive access to James’s local insights from across the Isle of Man – with a particular focus on experiencing the stories, legends and culture of the island.

If you are planning a trip to the Isle of Man, you will not want to miss James’s tips to get under the skin of one of the best hidden gems of the British Isles.

James Franklin

I was born and raised in Maughold (pronounced MAG-eld), in the northeast of the Island, but today I live in Peel on the west coast. In between, I’ve lived, studied or worked in Cumbria, Manchester, London, Romania, Ohio and Melbourne.

My twenties were full of traveling, everywhere from China to Mexico, India to Slovenia. But I realized that it was the culture and identity of these places I was interested in, which led me back to my own island home.

Having been born and raised in the Isle of Man, like many young people, I left for university and it took over a decade to find a way back. Luckily, eight years ago the role of Online & Educational Officer arose at Culture Vannin, a charity which promotes, supports and celebrates Manx culture.

Since then, I have been exploring the infinitely varied Island and its unique culture and trying to communicate that to others in various ways.

Why should visitors travel to the Isle of Man

Culture.

The Isle of Man is beautiful, in a way often compared to the rugged coastlines of Ireland or the Scottish Islands, but beauty is shallow when compared to the people and their histories, language, music and stories which root us in a place. I feel privileged to live in a place where these stories are so abundant and so close to the surface, if you know where to be looking.

Must-visit places in the Isle of Man

Peel Castle is an obvious one. Dating back to Viking times, the ruins are on its own island off the coast from the picturesque fishing village of Peel. It is at its most beautiful at sunset, ideally viewed from the sandy beach with friends and a beer.

The far side of the castle walls are beautiful and so remote – a perfect place to look at the stars.

Though watch out for the Moddey Dhoo (black dog) which haunts the castle.

Meayll Circle is a beautiful place few people know about. A neolithic burial site dating back at least 4,000 years, it sits on a remote hillside in the south overlooking the sea and off to Ireland in the hazy distance.

The circular arrangement of six pairs of exposed stone burial tombs around a single central quartz stone is unique in the British Isles and offers more questions than answers. A perfect place to sit and ponder.

Best landmark on the Isle of Man

A place close to many Manx people’s hearts, including my own, is South Barrule. A beautiful hill that defines much of the landscape of the south, it is connected to the Island’s Celtic god, Manannan.

Around the top of the hill are remains of the enormous wall around a hill fort dating back to the Bronze Age. But in Manx belief, it goes back to our first ruler, Manannan, who is still popularly spoken of, especially when it is misty, with his cloak keeping the island safe from unwanted invaders.

Each year, on the 4th of July, many Manx people still take a handful of rushes up to the top of the hill in continuation of the ancient custom of paying Manannan’s rent for living in his beautiful land. It is an amazing experience to do this, offering an important chance to reflect on our connections to history, place, folklore and community.

Hidden gems of the Isle of Man

The parish of Maughold, on the northeast coast, has a reputation for being a place where even Manx people get lost once they go off the main road. But in the beautiful village of Maughold itself, beyond the village green, is the church and its unrivalled collection of unique Early Celtic Christian and Norse crosses.

Carvings of Norse heroes and gods sit alongside Christian saints, lined with Viking runes and Celtic knotwork, showing the wonderful melting pot of cultures co-existing back then – it is staggering that such an amazing collection exists outside of Scandinavia.

But, for me, the real hidden gem lies beyond, on the far side of Maughold Head. A hidden path leads off through the ferns to a dry-stone wall, beyond which the path leads out along the exposed hillside to the holy well of St Maughold.

This was once visited religiously by pilgrims, but today is a place of tranquillity, with only the sounds of the waves and the seabirds to accompany your solitude.

Food and Drink in the Isle of Man

Best cafe

There are lots of great places to eat around the island, but one of the most interesting is Victory Café at the Bungalow, half way up the Island’s highest peak, Snaefell (from the Old Norse for “Snow Mountain”). Miles from any other building, in probably the most inhospitable location on the island, the welcome is always warm.

Built in a former Cold War radar station, the cafe is already legendary as a destination for food and a good time, and is accessible via the Mountain Road. Some go for their connections to the TT motorbike races (which runs just by them in June each year), but I particularly enjoy being able to chat to many of the staff in Manx, the Gaelic language unique to the island.

Best coffee

The question of the island’s best coffee will definitely spark a good argument among Manx people, but always in contention is the mighty Noa Bakehouse. Noa’s food, coffee, and now beer, is something which the island can be proud of, and their venues are also a great place to look out for the more unusual or interesting events that are going on.

During Yn Chruinnaght

A favorite for me is to go to Noa’s venues during the festival Yn Chruinnaght (meaning “the Gathering”), when lunchtime traditional music sessions fill the space with sounds you wouldn’t be hearing anywhere but the Isle of Man. Yn Chruinnaght runs for a week at the end of July each year and is well worth visiting the island for.

Best dessert

A great place to go for a snack would be The Shed in Laxey. At the beach itself in the old mining village of Laxey, it is a great place to wander to grab something nice as you relax. Manx Davidson’s ice cream is probably a good option in summer, but I always like to play it by ear and see what catches my fancy.

Going out in the Isle of Man after dark

Black Dog Pizza is one of my own favorite places to go in the evening. As well as their amazing food, local beers and irresistible cocktails, it’s a great place to find some of the best live music in the Isle of Man.

Summer evenings with the sounds of the boats in the harbor over the road is idyllic, but it isn’t half as much fun as during winter when Ny Guillyn Baney, the Manx mummers’ play (named for their colorful costumes), visits and causes mayhem as saints murder each other, get resurrected and then dance and sing for money!

Celebrations in the Isle of Man

Tynwald Day

The Isle of Man boasts the oldest form of government that dates back to Viking times. Indeed, its name, Tynwald, even derives from Old Norse. Once a year, in a tradition continuous since then, we hold Tynwald Day on July 5.

Centered around the outdoor meeting of parliament on the ancient Tynwald Hill in St John’s, Tynwald Day is our National Day, with local activities abundant throughout the day and late into the night.

It is a place to see Manx dancing, hear Manx spoken, enjoy Manx music, buy local food and products, and, for most people, the annual gathering where you will bump into and chat to pretty much every Manx person you’ve ever known!

St Stephen’s Day

St Stephen’s Day is one of the most Manx days of the year. Whoever you are, or wherever you’re from, you will end up a part of the Manx community if you are game for taking part in the intriguing activities on December 26.

Hunt the Wren (a type of bird) happens in the morning, with 100s of people heading out to dance in the streets around a stick decorated with greenery (without an actual wren on it these days!) all over the island. The practice dates back to ancient times but the key thing today is the communities that come together all over the island for it.

hunt the wren festivities in port st mary

Hunt the Wren stops at midday, generally for a drink and some Manx music in a pub, but then you’re off to the ancient Viking mound of Tynwald Hill for the annual game of cammag.

An anarchic version of hockey or hurling takes place in the field at St John’s, with the North playing the South in a game without any formal rules or limits on the numbers of people taking part. Few injuries occur and the field is full of smiles, especially if you’re playing with a stick you crafted yourself from the hedgerows.

Then it is over the road to the pub for one of the best Manx music sessions of the year – not to be missed!

Unique shopping

Many shops have the usual array of tourist gifts, but there are some more unique options.

Laxey Woollen Mills has some beautiful items made from loaghtan wool, the many-horned, rare breed of sheep unique to the Isle of Man. Manx Loaghtan are beautiful (if slightly demonic) to see, and the clothes or gifts created from their wool make things truly unique.

Local insights

TT Races

The TT races is one of the most amazing motorsport events you might wish to ever experience. If motorbikes are your thing, this is where you need to be.

However, the Island is a very different place for those two weeks in May/June. The population swells enormously with visitors, with many having to stay in tents or people’s homes, because the demand for accommodation is so great.

If you can handle the inflated prices and closed roads, visit during TT for an amazing experience – or visit either side of it to see the Isle of Man in its more natural state.

Folklore sites

It is a quirk of mine to search for obscure folklore sites around the Isle of Man with friends. A favorite which many people around the world dream of visiting is Doarlish Cashen, the former home of the talking mongoose named Gef.

In the 1930s this mysterious spirit/creature captured the world’s attention and the hairy poltergeist remains in the popular imagination of many all over the world today, including Hollywood film makers in recent years.

For some, a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage would be an afternoon’s walk up a perilously steep track into the hills, to emerge at the site of what was once Doarlish Cashen. It’s a place that will always feel special to the initiated, perhaps even more so for the absence of anyone or anything but a muddy path, some sheep and a beautiful view!

Be careful with your words

R-a-ts

Some would call it superstitious, but there’s no humor for a Manx person in how you refer to the rodent spoken of elsewhere as a r-a-t. Popular alternative names here include ‘long-tail’ or ‘ringie,’ but never call it by the actual name!

The long-tail practice comes from beliefs about luck at sea in the days of fishing.

‘The Adjacent Isle’

Another no-no, which is entirely political, is that the UK is never to be referred to as the ‘mainland’.

The Isle of Man is a proud nation of its own; we are the mainland!

If you want to speak about the UK, ‘the adjacent isle’ will win favors with the locals.

The fairies

Finally – and this isn’t a joke – you absolutely must wave and say hello to the fairies when crossing the Fairy Bridge on the way to the airport from Douglas. The Lil’ Fellas exist. You’d be a fool to do anything that might set them against you!

Where to next for James

Probably my next trip away will be to my in-laws in the USA.

I’m also slowly planning a trip to Ireland. As well as the obvious links in language and music, folklore is another fascinating cultural link to our western neighbors. Having been immersed in Manx folklore for years, I’m interested in comparisons with Ireland and so I have been marking out particular holy wells and fairy hills which will perhaps form into a trip later in the year.

Get in touch with James and Manx culture

The Isle of Man is hard to really understand without some local knowledge – and that’s what Travel Insighter is all about. A Blue Badge Guide would be a great way to get this as well, but books like ‘A Guide to the Folklore Sites of the Isle of Man’ or the similarly titled one of Archaeological Sites would be a good alternative way in.

There are Culture Vannin books available from the island’s bookshops. But www.culturevannin.im or our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, X or Youtube) would be a great way to find out more about Manx culture and how to make a meaningful connection to the island when visiting.


Share This Article

Looking for the best comprehensive travel insurance? SafetyWing has you covered.
And for your eSIM in every country, there is only one option we recommend: Airalo.


Read more of our best insights from around the world