By Rhonda Carrier
The boys are buzzing: grinning ear-to-ear, in fact. I haven’t seen them so excited by an activity in ages. I must confess that my husband and I were slightly dreading donning a wetsuit and clambering through a section of chilly fresh-water gorge in the Ballaglass Glen in the north-east of the Isle of Man. But as we all progress upstream, climbing up rocks and under small waterfalls and whizzing down natural slides, we all agree that it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done together as a family.
I wasn’t expecting the Isle of Man to be such an outdoor playground, but there’s more to do here than you can fit into a week’s holiday. We choose gorge-scrambling because it was completely new to us, but local firm Adventurous Experiences also runs sea-kayaking and coasteering sorties around this green island just a two-hour 45-minute ferry journey from Liverpool or three-and-a-half hours from Heysham in Lancashire.
'The kids are even more excited when our farm host invites us to take the goats out for a walk with her.'
Pulling into the seaside town of Douglas, it’s such a relief to all of us to know that our accommodation, Kionslieu Farm Cottages, is only a 20-minute drive away. Arriving there, the kids are in heaven, barely stopping to check out our cosy converted stone barn when there are so many animals to meet, pet and help feed, including chickens, rabbits, horses and goats. They’re even more excited when our host, the charming Fiona, invites us to take the goats out for a walk with her.
Kionslieu’s fairly central location makes it the perfect for choice for those exploring this tiny island – no point is more than a 40-minute drive away from our cottage. One of the main attractions of the Isle of Man for us, though, is just a couple of minutes’ drive or a 10-minute cycle ride from the farm: South Barrule Plantation with its mountain-bike trails. High-quality bikes for this can pre-ordered and delivered to the farm, along with helmets, from Simpsons & Pedal Power Cycle (01624 842472) in nearby Peel.
Perhaps the best thing about this hilly area planted with conifers is the mountain-biking skills zone. Here we have great fun – and all for free – on brilliant wooden features including a wall-ride and a skinny, and over different grades of jumps and drops. We also try out the popular Ape Mann Adventure Park with its two treetop rope courses for different ages from five up.
Other activities beckon – snorkel safaris, horse-riding, sea-fishing trips and stargazing are just some of the things you can do on the Isle of Man with kids. But there’s history in spades too. We venture to the coast 15 minutes north-west of Kionslieu to explore dramatic ruined Peel Castle, originally constructed by the wonderfully named Viking king Magnus Barefoot and offering spectacular ramparts walks and steps down to a sandy Fenella Beach with its colourful scallop shells.
These scallops are one of the culinary highlights of the Isle of Man. One of the best and most family-friendly places to sample them is Café at the Sound at the south-west tip of the island, just past ridiculously scenic Cregneash with its thatched crofters’ cottages. The stone-and-glass café was built in a circular shape to take full advantage of the glorious views of both the sunsets and the local seal population. We watch in wonder while feasting on local seafood including Queenies Old School – Manx queen scallops cooked with bacon, garlic and lashings of butter, served with crusty bread. Another favourite during our stay is Ballacregga Corn Mill, beside the island’s iconic Great Laxey waterwheel, where scallops come as part of a divine fish chowder.
Heading back to the ferry at Douglas, we also discover hip North Quay, where we have a last treat of peri-peri chicken and milkshakes at The Barbary Coast and stock up on fresh-from-the-oven sourdough bread at the Noa Bakehouse. Driving aboard the ferry, we all agree that we’ve only scratched the service of what the Isle of Man has to offer, and that it’s only a matter of time before we’re back.
See more of our favourite active family holidays in the UK.