Sure, the Isle of Man is quirky. Locals greet fairies. Cats are born with no tails. The word "rat" is banned out of superstition. Some even consider the flag a tad disturbing (I think it looks terrific). Yet to me the Isle of Man is more than just quirky. Here's why.
The earliest traces of people on the Isle of Man date back to the Middle Stone Age, when men were all but hunter-gatherers. They braved the sea and fought for it ever since. A lot had already happened when wars eventually opposed the Norse, Scotland and England.
The legacy of such history manifests itself into fascinating artifacts. On the Isle of Man, you will stumble upon Celtic vestiges, explore Viking castles, and marvel at Victorian engineering. The more I explore the Isle of Man, the more I realize how much it stands out. In this piece, I focus on its "world records" to demonstrate how unique and intriguing the island is. If you think they're not much, keep this in mind: it's a tiny place most humans barely ever heard of. So here are 10 world records resulting from the Island's exceptional heritage, the Manx pioneering spirit, and its natural beauty.
1. WORLD'S LARGEST WORKING WATER WHEEL.
The Laxey Wheel (also known as Lady Isabella) sits on the hillside above the village of Laxey. Built in 1854, it's a brilliant example of Victorian engineering. In the early 19th century, the Laxey mines were rich in lead, zinc, copper, and other metals. Miners had one problem though: as they followed the richest veins deeper underground, water accumulated in the mine shafts and hampered their efforts.
So a means of pumping out the water to get at these deeper deposits was needed. With the industrial age in full swing, the obvious answer was the use of a coal-fired steam engine. But coal was scarce on the Isle of Man. Water, however, was abundant... A brilliant engineer built this giant water wheel that served the mine for 70 years and later became one of the Island’s most iconic attractions. The Laxey Wheel is powerful enough to remove 250 gallons of water per minute from mine shafts 200 yards away and 1,500 feet below ground! Michael Barratt wrote a comprehensive article for the University of Houston about the wheel and its world-class engineering.
2. FIRST UNESCO BIOSPHERE NATION.
Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems. They usually host plants and animals of scientific interest. When responsible of a biosphere reserve, local authorities must work toward finding new ways of balancing the relationship between mankind and nature - which sounds sensible nowadays.
On the Isle of Man, this translates into marine conservation, flora and fauna safeguarding, energy-saving measures, supporting local produce, minimizing waste etc.
The Manx Wildlife Trust plays a key part in working towards these goals. That's why at Royale Maps, we decided to partner with the Trust. The Isle of Man is the first and only entire nation to become a member of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
3. WORLD'S FASTEST ROAD RACE.
The Isle of Man TT is controversial because it is extremely rare when nobody dies. That's why the race is considered the most dangerous - an assumption backed by the following record: it's officially the world's fastest road race. Peter Hickman became the world’s fastest rider during Senior TT in 2018 with a final lap of 135.492mph (217.989km/h) in average speed - while riding a BMW S 1000 RR. It was the pioneering spirit of the Isle of Man that brought the original TT competition.
Because racing on the highways of Britain was forbidden by the Act of Parliament, a chap named Sir Julian Order had a brilliant idea. He was the secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland.
In February 1904 he set off for the Isle of Man because he had a fairly shrewd idea that the Manx authorities would adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward automobile racing on public roads.
Julian Order said something along the lines of: "Guys, how would you feel about racing on your public highways? It's illegal in most places, dangerous and everyone will think you're nuts." To which the Manx replied: "Yessir! Sounds fun!"
4. WORLD'S OLDEST TRAMCARS.
The Manx Electric Railway (MER) has been running since 1893. The majority of Victorian & Edwardian era infrastructure is still in use. The railway is home to the two oldest working tramcars in the world: trams number 1 and 2. This is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. That's the two tramcars you need to be photographed with!
The 17-mile electric railway boasts some of the most scenic stretches in the British Isles. Tucked between the beautiful Manx countryside on one side, and far-reaching views out to sea on the other, this interurban tramway connects Douglas, Laxey, and Ramsey.
There are more than 60 official stations or stops on the Manx Electric Railway network which provides a perfect opportunity to hop off and explore the Island.
5. WORLD SMALLEST PRODUCTION CAR.
The Peel P50 is listed in the Guinness book of World Records as the smallest production car ever. Built on the Isle of Man in the early '60s, the original P50 cost £199. In 2016, one immaculate P50 car sold for $176,000 at an auction in Florida. Then in 2018, another one sold for £49,500 at a UK auction. This P50 needed some restoration, hence the bargain price...
The car is so light that it can be picked up and dragged around like a wheelbarrow - an essential feature since the car has no reverse gear. The P50 has three wheels, three gears and one headlight.
This city car is designed to carry one adult and one shopping bag. Being 52 inches long and 39 inches wide, it fits in doorways, meaning you can drive it to your office... literally! The P50 is road-legal and you can buy brand-new reproductions.
6. WORLD'S OLDEST SCHOONER.
George Quayle was an extravagant politician, inventor, and rich bank owner from Castletown. His famous house overlooks the town's harbor. George had a private armed schooner yacht named Peggy built for him in 1789.
He built a boathouse for the vessel next to his property. In 2014, further archaeological excavations also revealed a hidden dock for Peggy, under his main house! After his death, Peggy was locked away for almost 120 years until she was rediscovered in 1935. She is now the oldest surviving schooner in the world. A schooner is a specific type of sailing ship with two or more masts, typically with the foremast smaller than the mainmast.
Peggy is a unique surviving example of a small well built wooden vessel from an era when plans were seldom, if ever, drawn of such vessels. This makes her existence even more valuable in a maritime technology context.
Christopher Weeks is the Manx National Heritage Objects Conservator. He runs a blog dedicated to Peggy's conservation project. More on Peggy's historic significance here. George Quayle's house is now a museum which you can visit.
7. WORLD'S OLDEST OPERATING HORSE-DRAWN TRAMWAY.
This is another prime example of brilliant Victorian engineering. The Douglas Horse Trams have been in existence on the Isle of Man since 1876. It runs along the seafront promenade for approximately 1.6 miles (2.6 km).
The trams were first introduced to take advantage of the booming tourist trade in Victorian times. The Horse Trams still carry tourists and locals along the promenade in the summer.
With many original cars still in use, this makes the service the world’s oldest surviving of its kind. Once the horses (or trammers) retire, they go to a tranquil sanctuary for elderly horses. It's simply called "Home Of Rest For Old Horses".
8. WORLD'S OLDEST CONTINUOUS PARLIAMENT.
The High Court of Tynwald is of Norse origin and over 1,000 years old. As such, it's considered the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence. Tynwald consists of two Chambers: the House of Keys originating most legislation, and the Legislative Council acting as a revising chamber.
The name of the parliament is derived from the old Norse word Þingvǫllr. It means "assembly field". Tynwald is also represented by a sword. You will find it in the Legislative Chambers, displayed on a table. It's called the "Manx Sword of State", and it must be present before any sitting can take place.
Tynwald is also represented by a sword. You will find it in the Legislative Chambers, displayed on a table. It's called the "Manx Sword of State", and it must be present before any sitting can take place.
The Sword is carved with the earliest known depiction of the famous ‘three legs of Man’ - the Manx triskelion. The current Sword Bearer is Mrs Bernadette McCabe, who happens to be the first woman to hold the position. Recent discoveries suggest that Tynwald, though bearing a Scandinavian name, may be even older than previously thought.
Available evidence suggests that the roots of this parliament may be found in early societal practices that may extend as far back as the Bronze Age, or even the Neolithic period...! George Broderick, Ph.D. produced a paper on what might be the parliament's true origins.
9. WORLD'S LARGEST THREE-LEGGED RACE.
This one is about the Manx community's bond - quite literally. A three-legged race involves two participants completing a race with the left ankle of one runner strapped to the right ankle of another runner.
You're missing out if you never tried it! The aim is for the partners to run together without falling over and beat the other contestants to the finish line. There are 2 notable world records in the realm of three-legged races. The longest distance ever run, and the largest race with the most pairs. The world record for the most pairs in a three-legged race is 649, set in 2013. There have been attempts to beat the record since but they failed.
The Manx are proud of their symbol, the three legs of Mann. They can also rely on a strong community. Who else is going to ever beat them? My money stays in the Isle of Man! The event was held on Douglas Beach and is said to have been a "magnificent community effort".
10. FIRST NATION TO GIVE WOMEN THE VOTE.
Even Google is confused about this. Search "first women in the world to be given the vote" and you will likely be told that it's New Zealand in 1893. This is incorrect as in 1881 Tynwald became the first national parliament to give women the vote in a general election. There was just one condition.
The vote was given to women who owned property in their own right. Criteria was added by the governor because at the time, the reform probably felt too radical. Still, that was nearly 40 years before the UK got around to it, and anyway, there were some criteria for men as well. New Zealand deserves a special mention though. In 1893, it was the first country to grant full universal suffrage, giving every woman the right to vote, not just those who owned property.
Back to the Isle of Man, giving the vote to women in 1881 was mind-blowing, yet typical of the Manx pioneering spirit. Across the world, protests, riots or hunger strikes were often necessary to get things to change.
On the Isle of Man, things were always more casual. Women first expressed a strong desire for change. So during a debate in 1880, the idea of extending the vote to women was suggested by Richard Sherwood, MHK for Glenfaba. His idea was to make one change to the legislation: to swap the word male for the word person. He made a good point, saying that ‘as a principle of justice, taxation and representation should go together’. One thing led to another, the women got the vote the following year. No drama. A revolution nonetheless. Historically, the Isle of Man led the way for millions of women worldwide.
A FEW HONORABLE MENTIONS.
There are a few facts that I wanted to include, but they didn't quite fit in the list of Manx world records. The below section allows me to update the article whenever something new comes up. Behold, more facts proving how special the Isle of Man is.
YOU CAN SPOT THE 7 KINGDOMS FROM THE ISLE OF MAN.
The Isle of Man is not part of the UK, yet this is the only place in the British Isles from which you can see all the UK’s constituent parts and more...
Some of these 7 kingdoms share one thing with those of the Game of Thrones: they're fantastic. The first 5 are England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man itself. So far so good.
The last 2 are the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the sea, which belong to Manannán (mythical protector of the Isle of Man). To marvel at the 7 kingdoms, you need to get to Snaefell summit, the highest mountain on the Island. Its nominal height is generally given as 2034 ft above sea level. From up there you will see it all... hopefully.
Carole Rowe, from packthesuitcases.com, says it best in her brilliant article 60 things to do in the Isle of Man: "My one warning to you is to try to pick a very clear day to do this, because on an overcast one it’s pointless. Assuming you have a sunny day, you’re in for a treat. Hopefully. It sort of has its own microclimate so you might still end up in fog…" The Snaefell Mountain Railway has a seasonal electric tram service, typically from April to October, which climbs the 4 miles (6.4 km) from Laxey to the summit.
Be prepared for high winds. One of the highest wind speed ever recorded in the British Isles occurred right there on Snaefell summit - a 150 mph gust.
THE ISLE OF MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LARGEST JACKPOT PAYOUT IN AN ONLINE SLOT MACHINE GAME.
This is a real-world record, but I'm not keen on promoting online gambling, so I'm keeping this one for the honorable mentions. This world record highlights another area where the Isle of Man stands out: it is one of the most dynamic and reputable jurisdictions in the e-gaming industry. Not much to be proud of you might think.
But because of it's favorable legislation and taxation system, the Isle of Man attracts businesses and helps entrepreneurs get started. This means more jobs and competitive salaries.
Microgaming, a large company based on the Island, develops and sells online gaming software. On 6th October 2015, Microgaming’s Mega Moolah slot made history when UK player Jon Heywood hit the mega jackpot: £13,213,838.68. The Cheshire soldier became an instant millionaire from a bet of...25p.
THE LARGEST CONCENTRATION OF "DARK SKY SITES" IN THE BRITISH ISLES.
The purpose of a Dark Sky site is to promote astronomy.
Dark Sky Discovery Sites are places that:
- Are away from the worst of any local light pollution.
- Provide good sightlines of the sky.
- Have good public access, including firm ground for wheelchairs.
- The sites are generally freely accessible at all times.
The Isle of Man has now become the best place to stargaze in the British Isles as the Dark Sky Discovery Network has announced that the Island now has a total of twenty-six designated “Dark Sky Discovery Sites”.
Did you know that over 85% of the British population has never seen a truly dark sky because of light pollution?
With a low population density and few built-up areas, the Isle of Man provides no less than 26 perfect spots for stargazing!
You don't need any gear: many astronomical sights can be seen through the naked eye including the Orion Nebula –over 1500 light years away, the Milky Way Galaxy, and one of the Milky Way’s companion galaxies the Great Andromeda Galaxy whose light has been on its way to us for about 2.5 million years. And let's not forget shooting stars.
Of course, even more can be discovered through a telescope or binoculars.
AMONGST THE CLEANEST BEACHES IN EUROPE.
This one is down to the beach buddies. This amazing group of volunteers has created a simple, low-cost, and effective method to keep beaches clean. A method that can be used anywhere in the world.
All it takes is a few people to get together for a 1 to 2-hour session and to pick up the litter. Having set up weekly cleaning events since 2006, Beach Buddies is the most efficient beach cleaning organization in the world. Private companies, Scouts, Guides, schools, clubs, sports clubs... Everyone gets involved in cleaning the Manx coast. Because they have got so many volunteers, cleaning sessions are not long or strenuous anymore. They are friendly and efficient.
In 2016, the work of the Beach Buddies was recognized by UNESCO Biosphere as an excellent example of how to tackle the problem of marine litter on the world’s beaches. Since it's creation, the association won numerous awards, including an honor from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for “Services to the Marine Environment”.
The Beach Buddies have been asked to speak about their achievements at Universities across the world. Invitations have come from Ohio, California, New York, Washington, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and across the United Kingdom...! The Beach Buddies made cleaning the Manx beaches a habit. Not a chore, just a habit. It's not something that you do once in a while to feel good about yourself. Instead, it has become a routine, part of a lifestyle.
Do you know of another world record held by the Isle of Man? Leave a comment so I can add it to the list.