My Isle of Man host John and I watched the Royal Wedding, toasted the happy couple in Sauvignon Blanc (because the island – or at least the island’s co-op – had apparently run out of champagne) and wondered what else to do for the afternoon, rather than watch Huw Edwards busking while waiting for something to happen.
We caught the steam train one stop, from Port St Mary to the end of the line at Port Erin, and went for tea at the utterly seaside Cosy Nook Café [http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g616277-d1863309-Reviews-Cosy_nook_cafe-Port_Erin_Isle_of_Man.html], walked back up the hill and took the same train back an hour later. For £4.00 return, rather than £3.20 on the bus.
It is of course a delight to travel, even for a few minutes, in a wooden railway compartment with windows that let down on leather straps.
Even more, it’s satisfying to be able to use a Victorian heritage line as practical transport.
As we watched the red locomotive and carriages chug off towards Douglas, I remarked that this railway wasn’t designed to be cute.
When it opened in the 1870s this was practical modern transport, scaled down to the geography of the island. It opened up towns like Port St Mary and Port Erin, and enabled people to travel across the island quickly and relatively cheaply for the first time.
The system of four lines, run by two companies, survived because it worked, and because the manager between the wars surreptitiously subsidised the steam trains from the revenues of the bus routes.
The routes to Peel and Ramsey eventually expired in the 1960s, and the remaining Douglas-Port Erin line was in effect nationalised in 1977.
It’s now heavily marketed as a tourist attraction, which rivals the bus-service in speed though not in frequency. When the TT annually blocks the island’s road-system, it provides a much-needed commuter service.
Meanwhile the Peel and Ramsey trackbeds remain substantially intact as footpaths [see Walking the Manx Northern Railway].
Details of the Isle of Man Railway services services appear at http://www.iombusandrail.info/imr-steamrailway.html.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.