Startlingly halfway through my entire 2018 Summer Holiday, it was time to board an actual steam train and head for Port Erin. The original plan had been to go shark spotting but first the inclement weather meant that the trips were cancelled, then they were uncancelled and sold out immediately. But I went to Port Erin anyway, as there was at least one recommended pub on the cards.
On the steam train I shared a carriage with a very nice couple from Baltimore, and two brothers from Manchester who were out ‘on the pop’ in Port Erin and Castletown. I was pretty sure I would bump into them again as I had the same plan. More of that later.
In Port Erin, last stop on the steam railway, I decided to walk around the bay just in case a basking shark had wandered in. I thought I had spotted one, but it turned out to be a rock, no matter how long I stood there looking at it. Downhearted I headed back along the beach for some dinner at the Cosy Nook Cafe which came with a warning about the tendency of brazen seagulls to swoop down and take food right out of your hand. With time pressing on and the trains only going back towards Douglas once an hour I decided to visit the prominent Bay Hotel, a pink behemoth with a bottle car outside and a sign advertising Draught Bass.
Brace yourselves for an atrocity, there was no draught bass. There never was. I glanced across the bar and saw a Bushy’s weiss beer and got excited, but just like a basking shark which turns out to be a rock, on closer inspection there was a plastic cup on the pump, international symbol for ‘off’. I had a Bushy’s bitter and sulked in the corner watching the test match. The Bay Hotel is a very attractive building, plenty of tiled flooors, stained glass and fireplaces. But without the draught bass it may as well have been a Wetherspoons. The toilets were lovely too.
However I had one more pub to visit and only 30 minutes do it in, so I rushed to the Falcon Nest, which is in the Good Beer Guide. It’s a hotel bar, and looked promising until I stepped inside and heard the stony sound of silence. No music, no TV, no bandit bleeping away. “Didn’t realise I’d come on party night,” I quipped, to the complete indifference of the barman. I had a pint of Old Seadog by Bushy’s, and sat down. The order of service from a deceased customer’s funeral on the shelf over the fireplace was not out of place, there were three customers, each one silent and staring barwards. Then a man with a dog came in and I thought things were going to perk up but the place even sapped the life out of Bailey the Lurcher who sniffed around once then collapsed under the table with a humph. After the longest 20 minutes of my life I supped up and headed off to catch the train to Castletown, though I would have settled for the Gaza Strip or downtown Chernobyl.
In Castletown it was raining and so I just headed towards the two station pubs which were opposite each other, staring one another out. I opted for the Viking as the Mancunian brothers Paul and Kevin were going to hit the Sidings last before the last train back to Douglas and I thought I might bump into them there. The manager in the Viking was a thoroughly nice chap called Marcus. Apparently by August the tourist season on the Isle of Man has tailed off because they have a big month in June for the TT, when an additional 60,000 people come over. I had my most expensive pint yet, £3.50 for a Bushy’s bitter, but it was a very nice pub, strangely empty. His used to be the only pub at the station which served food but the Sidings had recently had their rent hiked and had been forced into starting food too. At that point I felt a bit guilty about going over there but I had sort of made a half-promise to two random strangers so off I went.
The Sidings really goes for the railway theme and had about 12 people in, but no Mancunian brothers. I went for the Ruby Mild which I had been so cruelly denied in the Rover’s Return and listened to the quite good Manx language station that was playing through the bar. Needless to say all the songs were in English but were linked by that completely unfamiliar Manx gaelic which has virtually no words or sounds in common with English. One of my notes says ‘toilet floors really slippy’ – they were like an ice skating rink, an accident waiting to happen. Though I was elated at seeing how far down the door they had placed the coat hook. It’s like the place was made for me.
With the last train to Douglas at 16.27 I was just about to gather my things when at 16.07 in walked Kevin and Paul, heading for the bar and cutting it about as fine as it can get. I had a quick half of Ruby Mild and then we were on the train to Douglas, and sat in the same carriage as Baltimore’s own Richard and Vicki. The Isle of Man is just that small, you meet a stranger, and then spend the rest of the week bumping into them.
Back in Douglas myself and my new best friends Kevin and Paul went to the Hooded Ram, which boasts a brewery and a bottle shop as well as a flagship pub. Retired Martin had raved about this pub, and call me contrary but it didn’t do it for me. I found it just the kind of sterile, drinks-after-work craft pub which I’m sick of finding in Liverpool. I had a Ram’s Head bitter which was fine if a little pedestrian. “Now if you want a proper pub, ” said Kevin, “you want the Saddle”.
Oh yes, the Saddle is a Proper Pub. ‘Good ale, good company’ says the sign, there’s a pool table where actual scores had been kept, there were foreign banknotes behind the bar, and a man in a fisherman’s hat. I had another Bushy’s Bitter and at this point my notes just say ‘Desiderata’, no idea why. It shall remain a mystery, like so many things which happen after I’ve drunk six pints.
And so, bidding my good friends a fond farewell I returned to Pub Bloggers Guest House of the Year, the Glenfaba. My ferry was at 3pm the following day and I spent much of that morning reading through the personal correspondence of Hall Caine, after bumping into Richard and Vicki in the Manx Museum gift shop. Licensing laws on the Isle of Man don’t allow boats t serve alcohol, so I knew we had officially left Manx waters when the ferry staff announced that we could now rush to the bar. With a sad Worthingtons in a plastic cup I bade goodbye to the Isle of Man. I will return.