Towards the centre of the Irish Sea, like a ship ploughing though the water, lies the Isle of Man. Tall cliffs and rocky shores at the southern end of the island lead into upland heaths and hills, dropping away to a flat plain in the north before sliding into the sea.
Surrounded by Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man is at the heart of the British Isles, but not a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; of which the Manx are fiercely proud. The island has its own parliament, the Tynwald, claimed to be the oldest continuous parliament the world, celebrating its millennium in 1979.
Peel, on the rugged west coast, is the island’s only “city” (on account of the Cathedral), and was the arrival point for many raiders, invaders and settlers, including the Norse who brought their system of laws with them.
The harbour is dominated by the imposing Peel Castle, piled on top of rocky St Patrick’s Isle. Celtic Christian monastic buildings were built on by the Norse, under command of King Magnus Barelegs, and the castle took shape. Centuries of Manx history lie within the castle walls; defences against raids from the sea; pagan Vikings buried in Christian graveyards; the first cathedral; the artillery positions and garrisons from the Napoleonic wars.
The best views of the castle are from the outer harbour at water level, ideally towards the bottom of a spring tide, when the high arched window of the chancel looms above the bay. But if you haven’t arrived in Peel on a Viking longship, then the view from the carpark at the end of the causeway is just as impressive, especially with waves washing up Fenella Beach.
Entry into the Castle is £5 for an adult, or there is a combination ticket with entry to the House of Manannan, including an audio guide to the history of the site. There is also a walk around the outside of the Castle walls, accessible through an archway at the top of the breakwater.
After walking round the Castle walls, I hiked up Peel Hill to a strange tower on the heath high over the cliffs. Nothing whatsoever to do with the Castle, it was a built as a folly by a local eccentric, in a spot where he enjoyed the view. The castle was completely hidden by the hill, however, the clear skies meant I could see the coasts of Ireland and Scotland off in the distance.