Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Peel high street.Quote from the Ward Lock Red Guide - Isle of Man - 1970(ish)

Peel, the "Sunset City" as it is sometimes called by its admirers, has managed to combine many of the attractions of a modern holiday resort - good bathing, boating, golf and fishing etc. - with the romantic ruins of an ancient castle and cathedral, and to add to them the sights and sounds of a fishing port - always of interest to people unaccustomed to such a mode of life as that led by the fisherman.

Sunset city is a pretty good description of Peel. It's a town that makes me sad.

Of all the places on the Isle of Man, Peel is the one I have visited most often. Some days I used to go several times. Not in person but virtually through the medium of it's excellent webcam ( which shows the harbour with the aforementioned fishing boats. Sometimes the sun shines, sometimes the rain comes down but from the perspective of my desk it was always a view I wanted to be part of.

The fishing boats, castle and cathedral have all survived from that 1970s guide as have the bathing, boating and golf. For the sun worshipers the beach is excellent and sheltered. It's not Costa-del-Peel hot but in the good weather you'll be happy on it's sands. There is excellent ice cream for sale a few feet away too, watch the gulls though as they begrudge you every bite ! If sand isn't your thing, a quick walk around the harbour will bring you to a beach made up entirely of broken shells. Pretty as long as you have something on your feet.

The harbour itself is reasonably busy. I suspect the number of working trawlers has dropped slightly but other boats have taken their place. If you fancy going to see basking sharks, several boats can oblige. Likewise the aspiring sea fisherman can find something small and plastic to sit on while dangling his rod. Yachts take shelter in the inner harbour and if your visit is timed well there is a traditional boat festival for the lover of all things wooden and floaty. At the time I was there a couple of RNLI tractordredgers were working away clearing the bottom. The kind of investment shows that this isn't just a tourist attraction but a proper working quayside. The RNLI has a a boathouse for it's Mersey class boat, an all weather craft capable to rescues in deep water. With nothing between Peel and Ireland if you are out on the water you are glad that don't just have a dingy ! With no slipway a couple of huge tractors are positioned to pull the boat in and out of the sea on its carriage.

Should smelly fish turn you on, tours of kipper smokeries can be arranged, although why anyone wants to see herring hanging in a chimney is beyond me much less eat the results. You can get even more history from the museum if you want it or you need to shelter from the rain.

With all this going on, what is there to be sad about. Why is it that as I sat on the harbour in the warm early evening sunshine, eating bonnag from the excellent food hut you can see on the webcam, did I feel that that the sunset city was a fitting description ?

Well Peel is lovely. But it's dieing. Wander down the lovely atmospheric narrow windy streets and what greets you are closed shops. Some have no occupant, some (mostly antique/gift emporia) are fitted and stocked but simply haven't bothered to open or don't feel it's worth the effort. The two adjacent supermarkets seem to do reasonable business so there is local trade but with the bright lights of Douglas a short drive or bus ride away even that isn't much. You can buy furniture from Paradise & Gell's grand and beautiful store that has pride of place in the middle of the street. The frontage is so good it makes the rest of the town look even shabbier by comparison. It's not that there aren't business's or shoppers, it's just that the town appears to have lost heart and simply given up.

Nearer the water things are improving. Regeneration is setting in with new paving and apartments. An effort is being made to brighten up and modernise the area. In some places it works too with a couple of fantastic art and craft shops with very reasonably priced and tempting locally produced items. Just the sort of thing the better off holiday maker wants to take away as a souvenir.

Peel is lovely. If you've never been it would make a pleasant day trip but I suspect you'll come away wanting more. Maybe, one day, you will get it.

More photos in Flickr including the evil seagull.

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