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star struck; Daisy Fox and family discover a wild and wonderful island shrouded in sea fog and steeped in tradition.

aS we rounded the corner high up on Snaefell, it was as if Celtic sea god Mannan had turned his infamous Irish Sea mist up to 11.

"Stop! There it is!" I shouted, and we screeched to a halt outside Bungalow Station. Somewhere on the way we'd taken a wrong turn, thanks to our scant knowledge of the area - and the fog - and had ended up winding our way towards the summit of a mountain, from which, ironically, on a clear day you can see seven kingdoms: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, heaven, the deep blue sea and the Isle of Man, of course, which we had chosen to come on a family break.

We pulled up next to the station house, which serves a 120-year-old electric railway which is still in perfect working order today. The Victorian railway runs from Derby Castle in the capital, Douglas - with its high street shops, hotels and restaurants - for nearly 18 miles to Ramsey, the island's second largest town, on the north coast.

We caught the tram from Bungalow up to the summit of Snaefell and then back down the mountain to Laxey, home of Lady Isabella, or the Laxey Wheel. Built in 1854 and measuring 22m across, graceful Isabella is the world's largest working water wheel.

The Isle of Man is, of course, famed for the TT - the Tourist Trophy motorbike race - an annual pilgrimage for thousands of bikers, during which the island's roads ring with the roar of motorbikes. At any other time you wouldn't know you were on a racetrack apart from the occasional banks of stadium seating and telltale black-and-white striped kerbs.

Getting to Man was straightforward. We used Liverpool John Lennon Airport's new Family Fast Track service, which allows you to park outside the terminal and enter through your own private door. Brilliant when you have bags and small children to contend with.

It's a self-park service, which means you keep your keys and there is a 24-hour patrol and cctv monitoring so you know your vehicle is safe while you are away.

A 30-minute hop on a prop plane and we landed at Ronaldsway, and picked up our hire car which, again, was parked right outside the airport. The public transport on Man is great, but a car makes getting around with children a lot easier, particularly in the off-season. If you prefer, you can take your own car over by ferry from Liverpool or Heysham.

We stopped for lunch at The Sound Cafe which overlooks the Calf of Man, a rocky islet that looks like it is following the main island around like a clingy child.

The Calf, like Man itself, was in autumn/winter wardrobe, carpeted in rust-coloured bracken with trees in red and gold. Contrasted against the bright blue sky and deep blue-green sea - breathtaking.

The Isle of Man was recently awarded UNESCO biosphere status, in celebration of its diverse wildlife and habitats. That afternoon we joined the Gemini catamaran for a wildlife cruise around the Calf, hoping to spot porpoises that had visited recently. The cetaceans eluded us, but Captain Bob and his crew could name every seabird and we gasped at sheep teetering on cliffs, seals lolling on rocks and tales of whales, smugglers and drinking dragons.

At dusk we arrived at our accommodation, a spacious and well-equipped cottage at the beautiful Groudle Glen. We watched and listened from our balcony as the blue-green sea lapped the little pebble beach below. The island is celebrated for its dark nights, and that night the black sky put on a magnificent display of twinkling stars.

In the morning sunlight we headed out to Ballagh Curragh to meet John and Shirley, islanders who are passionate about the flora and fauna of Man. They established walkways through their local wetland and we hit the trail with great excitement at the prospect of seeing one of the island's more unusual wild inhabitants, the wallaby. Rumour has it they escaped the island's wildlife park about 50 years ago, and have been doing nicely in the wild ever since.

It wasn't long before we saw one of the small brown marsupials, peeping through the Royal ferns.

That evening we ventured into Douglas to The Alpine cafe, for a pop-up vegan night. The event was sold-out, and rightly so - it was great to be able to choose without worrying about ingredients.

All the restaurants we visited were happy to cater for our vegan diet, proving that with a little notice for the chef, you can experience great food wherever you go. The Abbey restaurant at Ballasalla served up a delicious vegan Wellington for sunday dinner after which we explored Rushen Abbey itself, where there are lots of brilliant activities for children.

Our visit to the island coincided with Celtic festival Hop tu Naa and we pitched in with the celebrations at Cregneash, a traditional Manx village. Our son joined a crowd of local kids, screaming with laughter as pieces of turnip flew everywhere as a man with a drill bored out the fleshy middles to make lanterns.

We watched traditional dancing, petted a tailless Manx cat, made herbal charms and peg doll witches.

As we flew back to the mainland, stinky turnip lanterns double bagged out of consideration for our fellow passengers, we imagined hundreds more tiny lantern faces shining out below us into the black Manx sky.

The night after they would be joined by two flames flickering on our side of the water, bringing just a touch of Manx magic to our home.

CAPTION(S):

The Laxey Wheel, right and Snaefell Mountain Railway

Starry skies over Langness, Isle of Man Photographer: Ron Strathdee
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 16, 2017
Words:944
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