All aboard for Port Erin! It is 150 years since the Isle of Man Steam Railway launched, in 1873. And in 1874, the line reached Port Erin, transforming this out-the-way fishing village in the island’s far south-west into a bustling beach resort. The high volumes of visitors have long been jetted off elsewhere; Port Erin feels like a bit of an outpost again. But in a good way. And, while many Victorian seaside spots lost their railways in the mid-20th century, that huff-puffing old train is still the best way to arrive.
How to get there
First, get to the Isle of Man. Ferries run to capital Douglas from Heysham, Liverpool (Birkenhead during winter), Belfast and Dublin (seasonal); Liverpool-to-Douglas foot-passenger returns cost from £45pp, taking two hours 45 minutes. A short bus ride from Douglas, the island’s airport is served by many UK cities.
The Steam Railway operates from mid-March to late October. Douglas-to-Port Erin takes one hour; returns £17pp. Buses 1, 2 and 12 also link Douglas and Port Erin. Buy a Go Card for unlimited island-wide bus, train and tram travel; one-day £19pp, three-day £39pp, five-day Go Explore Heritage card, including entrance to National Heritage attractions, £67pp.
Where to stay
Island Escapes manages self-catering properties island-wide. Sleeping four, Sea View is a fresh, modern apartment by Port Erin’s golf course, looking to Bradda Head; three nights from £407. Or try Riverside Cottage, a fine home sleeping six in magical Glen Chass, a 40-minute walk from Port Erin; three nights from £710.
Bradda Garden Room B&B is a secluded bolthole for two with a large bedroom and lounge, set in its own annexe. A continental breakfast is included, which you could eat in the private gazebo outside. B&B from £180 for two nights.
Up with the sun
Given that it is west-facing, Port Erin is more of a sunset place. Maybe that’s why the Cosy Nook Café doesn’t open until 10am. This 19th-century fisherman’s cottage, right on the beach, now serves as a pop-up for Douglas-based Noa Bakehouse, purveyors of local-roasted coffee and excellent baked goods. From noon, Foraging Vintners start serving wine, beer and cocktails here too (Thurs-Mon).
Most fun is the gift shop at the Railway Museum. After you’ve wandered the memorabilia displays – including the coach used by the Queen Mother in 1963 – you can buy everything from vintage train posters and tea towels to Laxey Woollen Mills rugs (museum £2, free with rail ticket). The Bridge Bookshop is a lovely independent selling a good range, including lots of local interest and Manx-language titles as well as art supplies.
The Raad ny Foillan (Way of the Gull) footpath circumnavigates the Isle of Man, but its most dramatic sections are around Port Erin. Follow the trail for two miles from the seafront to Milner’s Tower. Built in 1871, the wind-bashed tower stands on Bradda Head; climb the tight spiral staircase for huge views, keeping an eye out for basking sharks and dolphins. From here you could continue along the coast path to tiny Fleshwick Bay, using other paths to make a five-mile loop.
Time for a sundowner
With its large terrace on the south side of Port Erin Bay, Foraging Vintners is a great spot for watching the sun sink behind Bradda Head. It’s perfect for sampling local produce, too: the owners make their own classy rhubarb, elderflower and apple wines on site (Weds-Sun).
Versa – the restaurant behind Station Road’s “little green door” – isn’t like a regular restaurant at all. It’s like eating in Pippa Lovell’s front room, where she creates innovative, sustainable menus, different for every sitting. She uses entirely local ingredients, including foraged weeds and “waste” products. Her “curried” veg – the exotic curry flavour recreated using a combination of 12 local seeds – is a revelation. Reservations essential (Thurs-Sat, set menu £53).
Hit the beach
Port Erin has a lovely curve of soft, golden-white sand, popular with swimmers and surfers. In summer, beach volleyball nets and swimming rafts are installed. Hire a paddleboard at Port Erin Paddleboards (from £25pp) or explore the bay by aquabike from The Boat Park (from £25pp).
Time to relax
Sweat it out at Kishtey Çheh, a traditional wood-fired sauna by the beach; join a social session before taking a sea dip (from £8pp).
The Sound Café sits at the island’s southernmost tip, its terrace and floor-length glass walls affording views to the Calf of Man island reserve. It’s a lovely spot for homemade cake, sandwiches or Manx “Queenie” scallops. Walk there from Port Erin – it’s two-and-a-half miles along a spectacular stretch of coast path. Alternatively, Bus 28 runs hourly between Port Erin and Calf Sound, which separates the Calf of Man from the mainland on Saturdays and Sundays, mid-June to September.
A final treat
From The Sound Café it’s not far to Cregneash – Bus 28 stops here, or it’s a mile walk up the road, two miles via the coast path. This remote crofting community was one of the last bastions of Manx culture, and this wonderful open-air museum gives an insight into what life was once like here (Apr-Oct, £9).