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The Man Who Went to Man
Ducks That Drink and Cats With No Tail
August 29, 2002
Written by Oakes
<P>While on the <a hrefhttp://www.netcom.ca/~jdoakes/iluk1.html>Iron Liver Tour III, I was able to visit the Isle of Man. This was the first time I’d ever sampled a new country while actually in that country, so that was a bit of a beer geek landmark I suppose (previously, I’d tasted my first Finnish beer while on the ferry between Stockholm and Finland). The Isle of Man, I should clarify, is in fact a country of its own. Contrary to popular belief, it is not part of the United Kingdom, but rather a dependency of the British crown, with a parliament dating back over 1000 years.
<P>The ferry from Liverpool to Douglas was a catamaran, and the Irish Sea was dead calm, so we arrived quickly in just 2 ½ hours. Douglas is the capital “city” of Man, known as Vannin in the local Manx language, an ancient Celtic tongue. There are 79,000 on the island, with 20,000 of those in Douglas. The main industry in Douglas is tax evasion, and it did not take long to run into swarms of offshore bankers enjoying their lunches in the sunken gardens that line the expansive crescent beach around which the town is built. Across the road is a seemingly neverending row of Victorian hotels, but there were few tourists about as I was there on a Monday. My destination was at the other end of the beach, so I simply walked across the sand, enjoying the warm sun and fresh sea air.
<P>The destination I alluded to was the Manx Electric Railway, one of the historical railways that serve as public transportation around the island. There is a steam railway that heads to the southern tip of the island, a small tram the shuffles tourists to the top of the Snaefell, the island’s highest point, and the electric railway that heads to the northern tip of the island. It was the latter I needed, as I had to go ten miles up the coast to Laxey.
<P>Manx Electric Railway
<P>Sitting outside on the wooden railcar was certainly an interesting experience, and a great way to relax as we wound our way up the coast, taking in glens, meadows, rolling hills, country pubs (conductor, can we please stop five minutes?), and pastures perched on cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea. Laxey itself is a bucolic vacation spot – a cluster of a thousand or so small cottages along the banks of the Laxey River (what we in Canada would call a creek), leading towards another expansive, and relatively empty, beach. Each cottage has a name, and all are architecturally distinct from one another. A perfect spot to unwind for a day, though the very lack of amenities that makes it an ideal retreat also might make long-term stays difficult.
<P>My first order of business was to pick up a pile of Manx stamps for my father, and once that was done it was time to head for the Shore Hotel, home of the Old Laxey Brewing Company.
Shore Hotel, Laxey, Isle of Man
Old Laxey Brewing Company
<P>I had decided to make the house brew, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/ShowBeer.asp?BeerID=15258>Bosun’s Bitter, my first ever Manx beer. Although I was starving at this point, the hotel’s kitchen had closed since lunch was over. So I simply took my pint over to the picnic tables at the edge of the river and soaked up the sun. Before long, a duck popped up from the river to make the rounds of all the tables. I think she must have been a CAMRA member in a past life, because she was very curious as to what everybody was drinking.
Drinking with the ducks at the Shore Hotel
<p>I spent some time on the near-deserted beach before heading back to Douglas, to scope out the scene and try some beers from the island’s other two breweries. At the end of the railway platform in Laxey, there is a pub whose name eludes me, but they were a free house with four Manx ales on handpump, so needless to say I was glad I’d arrived at the station a little bit early. While I was enjoying my Okells Summer Storm on the vine-covered patio, a cat wandered by. This was the first cat I’d seen on the island, and he had a tail! I was not impressed. I explained to this old-timer that I did not come to the Isle of Man to see regular cats, I wanted a Manx cat. He explained that they are a historical relic - an inferior breed with short lifespans - and that the island authorities were actually sterilizing all Manx strays to weed them out. Curious way to treat something that they put on their postcards.
<P>Back in Douglas, I discovered just how boring a government and banking town can be. I had returned just after 5pm and the entire town has shut down and gone home. Given that Laxey’s two restaurants were both closed while I was there in the mid-afternoon, I was still starving, but at dinnertime in Douglas, the only restaurant still open was the KFC. So much for enjoying some of the seafood most islands are known to specialize in!
<P>I did a tour of pubs around Douglas nonetheless, and found that they all carried the same selection – Okells Bitter and Okells Mild. Finally, I found Rover’s Return, a Bushy’s pub hidden down a side alley. Like most pubs in Douglas, it was rough and ready – I guess the bankers don’t drink because there were few pubs you’d find a suit in, at least downtown. I needed a bottled Manx beer to take home with me and quickly discovered that finding something that wasn’t Okells Bitter, or came in a bottle, was going to require all of my beerhunting skills.
<P>I scoured all of the Okells pubs on my list, and on the fifth try I found a new beer. The pub was the Albert, a CAMRA-approved, old-school boozer by the water, populated with a scattering of well-worn individuals. Forget being the only person under forty, I was also the only person there who doesn’t perform manual labour for a living (or chain smoke, for that matter). But they had a beer specially brewed for them by Okells, called Jough Manx Ale, and it did prove to be the second-best Manx beer I had.
<P>A few more pubs and a grocery store later I was no closer to finding a bottled Manx beer. At the Saddle Inn, which at three handpumps boasted the best real ale selection in Douglas, the helpful barkeep explained that Okells hasn’t bottled a beer in a couple of years, and Bushy’s is also averse to bottling, as it has to be done at Cain’s in Liverpool, which makes it cost prohibitive. Nonetheless I returned to the Rover’s Return (which I guess makes me Rover), and coaxed the last bottle of Bushy’s Manx Ale out of their cellar. Problem solved.
<P>My last mission was to see a Manx cat. No luck. I resigned myself that if I couldn’t get a picture of a cat with no tail, I could at least get a picture of the pub Cat With No Tail. But at the Saddle Inn they explained that was a few miles out of town, and since by this point I had a ferry to catch, I was SOL. Disappointed, I headed off to the ferry terminal where I found Cooil Pils, another Okells beer, but one which surprisingly I hadn’t seen in any of the ten Okells pubs I visited. One half-pint later I was less surprised. Oh well, that’s how it goes when you’re beerhunting.
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