28th August 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 74 Isle of Man
My postponed trip to the Isle of Man takes place this week and this fascinating island exceeds all my expectations.
My journey to the Isle of Man is very easy as having had two vaccinations I am exempt from taking any tests or spending any time in self-isolation. The formalities are very straightforward and I have completed my Landing Form which I have to show on arrival at Ronaldsway Airport. I may still be in the British Isles but it feels as though I have journeyed to a very different place. Four days in not long enough to do it justice.
Monday 16 August 2021
Today I have an appointment in London Bolsover Street outpatients, part of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. It is the annual review of my knee replacements although due to the coronavirus pandemic it is now two years since my last review. Fortunately, I gave myself plenty of time to get up to London as I went to the wrong train station in Watford and had to work out a route on the Overground and Underground. I arrived five minutes before the appointed time and was sent straight to the X-ray department to have my knees X-rayed. My appointment goes well and I am very happy to discover that despite my best efforts to wear my knees out during lockdown with lots of walking, cycling and even some jogging there is no sign of any wear or loosening of the artificial joints. I take a different route back home and have time to wander along a section of the riverside walk in Oxhey Park which is next to Bushey Station.
No quarantine for double-jabbed and under- 18s who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus in England.
Iceland is proof that COVID-19 vaccines work, a leading US expert said because, although infections are at record highs, the nation hasn't recorded a single virus death since May.
In the News Today
War is over in Afghanistan, say Taliban after months of capturing territory, the Taliban has claimed victory in Afghanistan. They began seizing more and more power as provincial capitals fell to the group following US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops earlier this year.
Haiti earthquake death toll rises to nearly 1,300 after Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake reduced thousands of structures to rubble and set off frantic rescue efforts ahead of a potential deluge from an approaching storm.
Tuesday 17 August 2021
Some sad news this morning. My friend called to say her mother had died. She did not die from COVID-19 but it certainly affected her final few months as she had found it very difficult to be in self-isolation when she went into a home a few months earlier. My day is full of preparations for my Isle of Man trip tomorrow. I start by filling in my Landing Card but it keeps auto-filling the wrong date so I have to contact the Isle of Man government office. My heart sinks when I get an auto-response saying they will attempt to contact me within 3 days. However, they call me two hours later but I miss the call as my iPhone does not ring. I dropped it yesterday and it went into Do Not Disturb mode. I sorted that out and called them back. I was informed an email was being sent. When the email arrived it suggested I add 0 to the reference number I had been given. That did not work either so I sent another email. This time I receive an apology and the correct reference number. All plain sailing after that and my documentation is complete and Landing Card on iPhone. I finalise arrangements for my flat to go on the market – I will miss the early morning sun flooding through the patio door into my kitchen but nothing else about the impersonal block on a main road. Now I am all set and ready for a new adventure.
Tui cancels flights to Spain, Malta and Italy and holidays to locations all over the world, due to the “ongoing uncertainty around travel”. The UK’s biggest tour operator will not offer flights to Malta, or Sardinia, Sicily and Calabria in Italy until at least October 31.
In the News Today
Afghanistan 'emancipated' and 'everyone is forgiven' Taliban says in first news conference from Kabul and it seeks no revenge after regaining control of the country.
Wednesday 18 August 2021
As soon as I get up I do a rapid lateral flow test – for my own peace of mind as I am travelling to the Isle of Man today. I leave at midday and take the train to Gatwick. I moved to this area as it is on the Brighton to Bedford line making both Gatwick and Luton airports easily accessible. As flights are only operating from the North Terminal at Gatwick the South Terminal, where the mainline trains arrive, is eerily empty.
I am flying with EasyJet to the Isle of Man and, according to the airline’s regulations, I have to wear a face mask throughout my journey, including my time in the airport. It is comforting to see that most people in the airport are wearing face masks. And so is everyone on the flight. My flight departs on time and it is exactly one hour before we touch down at Ronaldsway Airport on the Isle of Man. There is a queue to have my Landing Form and ID checked but it does not take long. I find the stop for buses into Douglas and I am soon on my way to my hotel. The bus is very busy and I wear my face mask but none of the other passengers are wearing them. Restrictions were relaxed on the island some time ago. I am not sure which stop I need but when I spot my hotel from the bus the driver stops and lets me get off.
I am staying at The Penta, an annexe of the much grander Regency Hotel further down the Promenade in Douglas. It is a weird check in as there is no-one in reception I have to pick up a phone and press the yellow button. A disembodied voice tells me to look to my right where I will see 4 boxes he directs me to the top right box and gives me the code to open it. My key is inside. I go to my room and leave my case there and then I go out for a walk. It is raining lightly. The whole promenade is being re-surfaced and most of the businesses are closed. It has been like this for two years now. I walk down to Derby Castle the Manx Electric Railway station and then back along the promenade looking for somewhere to eat. Finally, I settle for fish and chips at Mojos and sit at a table outside to eat them.
PCR tests could be replaced with new 10-minute tests at airports following the development of a new Covid-19 test that is designed to provide results in less than 10 minutes, a breakthrough that could transform the current testing process for international travel.
Mental health referrals hit highest point It’s been widely reported that NHS waiting list times have gone up, treatments have been delayed and fewer people have been contacting doctors due to the pandemic.
In the News Today
UK to welcome 20,000 Afghan refugees as foreign countries scramble to evacuate their nationals and those Afghans who supported US-led forces over 20 years. The plan, which will allow 5,000 eligible refugees to set up home in the UK in the first year.
Haiti earthquake: Death toll reaches nearly 2,000 a rise of more than 500 on the previous figures. Nearly 10,000 people have been injured, and many are still missing after the 7.2-magnitude tremor.
Thursday 19 August 2021
When I wake at 6 am I find I am half-way down the bed as the mattress (or the floor) slopes. It looks nice outside but I can’t see much due to the net curtains at all the windows – there are four windows in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. I loop one set of net curtains over the pelmet and let some daylight into the room. I go down to breakfast at 7 am when it starts. It is described as a continental breakfast but is basically tea, coffee, fruit juice, bread to toast and cereal. But, at least there is some muesli so I have that, two cups of coffee and a glass of water. I sit in the bay window overlooking the sea front. The walls of the breakfast room are covered with posters and comments relating to wine which are quite amusing.
I leave the hotel just after 8am and start walking towards the steam train station intending to get the first train at 09:50 am. I walk through a series of gardens in the middle of the road that stretches along the promenade. I also find a few other memorials. There are information boards along the way so I know I am heading in the right direction. I go into the ferry terminal to visit the tourist information office to collect some maps and get directions to the train station. I am told I can board 15 minutes before departure time. But when I get to the station there is a long queue so I join it. When the queue starts moving it is a bit haphazard and it is only when I get to the front that I realise I am in amongst a large tour group booked on the train. I step aside. Once they have boarded that group they board two more groups by which time the train is very nearly full. They manage to squeeze on 10 more and I am one of them. But I have to stand in the Guards van. There are only two windows and two other passengers in the van monopolise them so I just get off occasionally when the train stops to take some photos. I stay on the train until the end of the line at Port Erin.
At Port Erin I start by visiting the Port Erin Railway Museum which charts the history of the steam powered railway from its creation in 1873 to the present day. It includes the history of the lines that served Peel, Ramsey and Foxdale but have since been closed.
Next I go down to the beach and have a Davison’s salted caramel ice cream. Davison’s is the Isle of Man brand of ice cream and comes highly recommended. I walk along the beach to the Port Erin Arts Centre. After admiring the splendid door into the converted Methodist Church that houses the Arts Centre I take the cliff path through Bradda Glen towards Milner’s Tower. This monument is dedicated to William Milner acknowledging his many donations to the poor of Port Erin and Manx fishermen. It is said that this tower represents the shape of the key that opened Milner’s first safe. I don’t have time to walk all the way to the tower as I want to visit Castletown today as well.
When I reach Castletown I have a walk around the town centre where I find the old House of Keys. I meet a local as I am taking photos of the Old Grammar School. It is the second time we have met that day. I ask him where I might get a good afternoon tea and he directs me to The Bowling Green Café. I make my way there and indulge in a pot of tea and a fruit scone with jam and cream – not the Dorset way with jam and cream served separately but with jam and whipped cream inside the scone like a sandwich.
Making my way back into town I pass the Nautical Museum. This museum, the old House of Keys and the Old Grammar School can only be visited by appointment or through Castle Rushen. I arrive at the castle just in time to have a quick look around before it closes. I am advised to go straight to the top and I do that visiting each of the four turrets to enjoy different aspects of the town below. Then I make my way down stopping at each floor each of which has a tableau showing the use that was made of that floor. It is all very interesting but I can sense the castle shutting down behind me so I cannot linger long. I have to get back to Douglas soon anyway for my Pie and Mash supper on the steam train.
I take the bus back to Douglas as the last steam train from Castletown has already departed. It is a double decker bus so a chance to enjoy the countryside of this very green island from the top deck. I ask the bus driver which stop I need for the steam train station and he tells me. As I get off he shows me the route I need to take to get to the station. I arrive at the station in plenty of time to collect my ticket for the event this evening. Finally, the sun has come out and the sky is blue so it promises to be a lovely evening. The carriages are ready for the diners in tables of two or four. And the locomotive is shunting to and fro ready to couple up to the carriages – I love to hear the sigh of the steam and whoop of the whistle. As we make our way to Port Erin we are invited to order drinks and to choose our pie. I had intended to order the steak and ale pie but then opt for the Manx fish crumble which is delicious.
The train goes all the way to Port Erin where we are invited to get off and stretch our legs. We have half an hour before we have to be back on the train. I walk to the sea front and watch the sun go down. I buy some bananas (for my muesli in the morning) and plum tomatoes (because I like them) from the Co-op as I walk back to the station. When the train set off again dessert is served and drinks orders are taken. We do not arrive back in Douglas until 10.30 pm. Now I have the challenge of getting back to the hotel which is at least 2 miles away and I have rubbed up a blister on my left foot as I have brought the wrong walking shoes with me. I do find a bus stop but the next bus is not until 11.20 pm so I can walk it in that time. I set off through the town and then make my way down to the sea front. Here I meet crowds of people start coming towards me – no-one wearing face masks and no question of anyone social distancing – they just brush past me. I am surprised at how uncomfortable this makes me feel. But, once they are gone it is very peaceful and I amble along munching plum tomatoes and listening to the waves crashing on the beach.
British study shows COVID-19 vaccine efficacy wanes against Delta variant within three months and those who get infected after receiving two shots of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine may be of greater risk to others than under previous variants of the coronavirus.
Friday 20 August 2021
It is raining when I set off for the Manx Electric Railway station this morning so I am wearing my waterproof jacket and stuff a pashmina in my rucksack as an afterthought. When I get to the station, which is also the terminus of the horse drawn trams the doors of the tram store are open so I go inside to have a look and take some photos. The horse drawn trams are currently suspended but the horses are kept in trim by pulling sleds along the beach. When the electric tram arrives it is fascinating watching the driver take the lead carriage around to the front of the second carriage. He has to move the runner on the overhead lines by hand. When we are invited to board I go in the second, open carriage whereas everyone else opts for the first covered carriage. This carriage has narrow wooden seats and its history is displayed on the wall.
I get off at Laxey and get on the Snaefell Mountain Railway train even though the guard has warned me there is nothing to see at the top. The rain has stopped but the mist is coming in. This train is just one covered carriage with narrow wooden seats. On the way up the mountain we pause to look at the Laxey Waterwheel – the largest waterwheel in the world. After that we plunge into a thick mist and we don’t see anything else. At the top it is very windy and so misty I can hardly make out the café on the summit. I do a circuit of the café before retreating inside.
A larger carriage with padded seats takes me back down Snaefell. The commentary going down is very interesting. It includes information about the middle braking rail known as the Fell centre-rail system. This is a safety feature that will slow the train down on steep gradients. It also referred to a wall that had to be built in one area when the track was laid in 1895 to carry the rail across a narrow section. This little mountain railway is also a part of the public transport system and when I spoke to the driver, Colin, he told me he remembered travelling to school on this railway. He also pointed out the station building, now housing the Whistle Stop Café, which is the original one although it has been dragged from its original position to the place it is standing now. I pop into the café to buy a homemade Bakewell slice to sustain me on my journey to Ramsey.
When I get to Ramsey I have a walk around the town and then along the harbour. Ramsey is the second largest town on the island and is a busy working port. But it does have an extensive beach. And, after crossing the swing bridge I find a lovely park, Mooragh Park, surrounding a large lake. When I make my way back into the centre of town I head for Conrods Coffee Shop – established by Conor Cummins a famous Manx motorcycle road racer. It had been recommended as serving the best coffee on the island and I was not disappointed. The sun made a brief appearance while I was inside but was gone again by the time I emerged and headed for the Manx Electric Railway station. I had a very enjoyable journey back to Douglas chatting to a local resident. They love their island and are very happy to talk about it.
Covid boosters for all over-50s could be shelved according to a report that sources close to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation say there is limited evidence to support such an approach and a “far more restricted” group, focused on the most vulnerable, may be targeted. However, an Israeli scientist has urged the UK to stick with a wider programme, saying: “Don't make our costly mistake.”
In the News Today
Haiti ‘on its knees’ says its PM after more than 2,000 people were killed in Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake. More than 12,000 people were injured, 332 are still missing and officials estimate that 600,000 need emergency assistance.
Taliban carries out ‘door-to-door’ search The UN has been warned that Taliban fighters are going door-to-door to find people who worked for NATO forces or the previous Afghan government.
Saturday 21 August 2021
It has been raining all night and it is still raining when I get up early this morning. But I am not going to let it interfere with my plans and I set off for the Manx Electric Railway station. I am distracted by the sight of some herons on the rocky part of the beach and the carriages have already boarded when I get there. But I still find a space at the front of the open carriage. I get off at Laxey and head for the Valley Gardens where I find the little waterwheel, Lady Evelyn. The Great Laxey Mine Railway station is also situated in the gardens which were once the site of the Great Laxey Mine’s Washing Floors. As I have time before the first train at 11 am I chat with Tanya one of the volunteers who runs this little railway. She was the driver today and it was fascinating to watch her driving the miniature locomotive, Ant, standing on the footplate at the front. Ant is one of two replicas of the original steam trains that hauled cart loads of lead ore through the only tunnel on the island. Today, Ant hauls the tiny carriage that holds between 8 and 10 passengers to the Mines Yard terminus.
From the terminus it is just a short walk along a footpath through the trees to the Great Laxey Wheel, Lady Isabella. It was built in 1854 to pump floodwater from the mine. And it is the largest operational waterwheel in the world. I climb to the top of the tower beside the wheel, grateful that the rain has eased off and I can enjoy the views across the surrounding countryside. But, as I start to follow the Miners’ Trail the rain sets in again and I plod along under my small, totally inadequate umbrella. At the end of the trail I don a hard hat and walk a short distance into an old mine shaft. Despite the weather it is a very enjoyable experience.
After wandering for two hours I am in need of sustenance so I go to the Ballacregga Corn Mill Tea Room nearby and have some tasty Manx kippers with brown bread and a pot of tea for my lunch. It also has a waterwheel which is churning just outside the window next to my table. Next stop PeeI, via Douglas or Ramsey. I decide to take the first bus that comes along and change buses in Douglas. It is raining again and very misty by the time I get to Peel so I stop at the Harbour Lights Café to shelter for a while and try some of Norma’s special tea bread made from a secret recipe. It is moist, fruity and delicious. I move on, but not far as I stop at Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour and decide to try their black cherry and kirsch ice cream. My afternoon is developing into a café crawl so I look for an inside venue to explore and head for Cathedral Isle of Man also known as Saint German’s Cathedral. This was an unexpectedly interesting experience as a garden is being developed around the building representing the history of the bible. I had plenty of time to appreciate the interior as I decided to stay for Evensong – half the congregation of two.
This evening I try an island speciality – the Manx queenies – scallops with bacon, peas and garlic in a white wine cream sauce. Absolutely delicious and eventually tracked down in the of the Savoy Hotel on the Promenade in Douglas.
UK travellers faced ‘rollercoaster’ of 50 changes to travel rules since lockdown, according to a new study. Many travellers have faced the difficult decision of cutting short their holidays to rush home ahead of new, tougher rules. The green, amber and red list have been updated every three weeks after the system was put in place in May.
Israel has one of the world's highest daily COVID-19 infection rates, despite high vaccine uptake and nearly one in every 150 people in Israel today has the virus. The new surge has Israeli leaders scrambling to bring back mask mandates and restrict gatherings.
Sunday 22 August 2021
It promises to be a lovely day when I set off to walk to the Manx Electric Railway station. A party of 35 are booked on the first tram but I manage to get an outside seat on the front row. I get off at Groudle Glen and, as the railway does not start operating until 11 am I have time for a walk through the Glen. Along the path I find a viaduct, some fairy homes, a waterwheel and a bandstand. This glen is not a natural forest it was planted artificially with a covered dance floor in the middle.
When I arrive at the Groudle Glen Railway station there is still time before the first train to have a chat with Tim. Today, he is doing one of his many roles as a volunteer on the railway – looking after the shop. I am curious about the name of the café at the end of the line, the Sea Lion on the Rocks Café. He tells me there was once a zoo here and the name reflects this. Most of the locomotives are named after animals. I take my place in the second of two wooden carriages pulled by the steam locomotive Otter. These carriages were built by a local furniture-maker in 2014 but the railway has acquired some of the original carriages which are currently being refurbished. At the end of the line I sit in the sun outside the Sea Lion on the Rocks Café enjoying a coffee and a muffin. When I get back to the station Alex, with great pride, shows me around the workshop where the original carriages are stored.
As it is Sunday there are no buses back to Laxey so I take the electric train. When I get to Laxey I ask about the weather at the top of Snaefell. I am told it was clear but is closing in again. I decide to risk it and get on the Snaefell tram. I am lucky today and it is clear at the top and I can see the amazing views across the island. But I don’t linger long as I also want to visit Peel today and it will take a while to get there.
The sun is still shining in a blue sky when I get to Peel. I stroll along the quay to the House of Manannan where the Island’s mythological sea god, Manannan guides me through a series of rooms illustrating the Celtic, Viking and maritime history of the Isle of Man. The exhibits include a full-size replica of the Viking ship Odin's Raven linked to the sculpture of sea men outside the building. It is a fascinating and beautifully put together exposition. I take a stroll around the ruins of Peel Castle and then feast on some fish and chips from Cod and Castle sitting at a table outside the shop enjoying sweeping views of the bay beyond. A lovely, last evening on this extraordinary island.
UK-wide antibody testing programme to be launched for Covid positive people which will offer tests to thousands of adults per day. It aims to improve understanding and gain “vital” data about antibody protection following Covid infection and vaccination.
Caribbean set for red list as travel experts warn of scramble home to avoid hotel quarantine as four Caribbean and African holiday destinations are at risk of UK travel bans being imposed this week.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on Monday 16 August, a total of 6,295,613 (total that day 28,438) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 130,979 including a daily total of 26. By the end of the week on Sunday 22 August, the total of positive cases had risen to 6,492,906 (total that day 32,253) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 131,640 including a daily total of 49. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 154,811, an increase this week of 609. (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis).
More next week
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.