Isle of Man

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Some facts

  • 33 X 13 miles
  • 221 sq. miles and 100M coastline
  • Capital city Douglas
  • Highest point Snaefell, (Snow Mountain in Norse) at 2,036ft - 621m
  • Longest river Sulby at 10 and a half miles.
  • Population 75,000
  • Island's symbol The Three Legs of Man, a symbol of the Island's independence "Quocunque Jeceris Stabit" means "Whichever way you throw me I stand".
  • IOM natives are called Manxmen/women and the native tongue is Manx Gaelic. Not part of the UK it is a Crown Protectorate with the Queen being the Lord of Man, and represented by the Lieutenant Governor.
  • Parliament is known as Tynwald, and is the oldest continuously running parliament in the world dating back over 1000 yrs. It may be older than the Icelandic one which dates back to 930AD but has not been continuous.
  • IOM issues its own notes & coins which has equal value to sterling, but while not legal tender outside the island is accepted at UK banks at sterling face value - no commission or fee. IOM issue their own stamps for mail sent from the island.
  • Caravans are not permitted without a permit, because of the roads but motorhomes are.
  • Two curiosities are the Manx Cat which is born with no tail at all (it grows up the same) and the native sheep, a Loughtan which looks like a goat and has four horns believe it or not.

There you have it in a nutshell; but what a nutshell as we were to find out. But first a sedate drive around the 38 mile TT circuit. The circuit starts in Glencrutchery Rd., Douglas outside the Vagabonds Rugby Club, down Bray Hill, normally a 30mph zone and steep enough you need your brakes to observe it. Remember these speed zones are in miles per hour and do not apply when they are closed for the races. Bray Hill is still suburban and closed in on both sides by houses & brick walls. Most walls on IOM are of local basalt or limestone brick, and so are pretty solid.

After Bray Hill the road bends a little and then drops into a downhill again in Quarter Bridge Rd., right at the roundabout (painted only) into Peel Rd. You notice that the kerbs are painted black and white like raceway ripple strips so the riders can see them easily at speed. Hay bales, only one deep are placed over most of the posts and facing sections of walls, but still there are many dangers.

A sharp right & left bend at Old Kirk Bradden Cemetery, a 40 zone where a synod was held by Bishop Symon in 1229 will no doubt give riders pause to think of the big decisions made there as they trundle past at about 90mph. The church was rebuilt in 1774, with little thought about the safety of TT riders. Into Union Mills a 30 zone before heading off up the hill into the derestricted zone at Glen Vine and into slightly hilly rural country to Ballacraine, where, in the middle of town you take the 90deg right hander at about 45mph,and where some sick bastard has erected a 6' X 4' Ferrari flag.

Past the white painted brick Glen Mooar Restaurant and up Balla Spur, an uphill winding track to Cronk Y Voddy, a climb of about 300 metres in 2 miles. Past the 11 mile post at about 160mph downhill to Kirk Michael with a longs weeping triple apex right hander entering town. Through town with stonewalls & houses both sides blistering past you at 100mph or so, a 30 zone of course, past the 16 mile post and into Ballaugh with its hump back bridge which most of the woosies hit at about 30mph because it has a slight left as you reach it, and then right/left pretty quick afterwards. You can actually pick out the blokes who learnt to ride on trail bikes as they take the jump with ease, while the bitumen boys are a bit un-comfy. Through Ballaugh, again houses on both sides with kerbs, and out into Quarry Bends, right left right left right left and into Sulby and the 19 mile post. Down a 1000yard straight and hard braking for the 90 deg. right hand bend at about 40 to 50mph & over the bridge, past the Ginger Hill pub.

Driving over Kerrow Moar and its triple 'S' bends needs concentration as we are passing the 23 mile post and heading into Ramsey, the Island's second town. Through the narrow suburban street into the town square and the hairpin right hander where they are so near and going so slow you can see the looks of concentration on the riders' faces. This is real seat of the pants stuff, and because of the layout you could almost reach out and touch them. Accelerating out of the hairpin the noise from some classic bikes is earth shattering, but with the new regulations the newer bikes are only deafening. Through the streets of Ramsey to May Hill and the big climb up the steep winding mountain track begins, with a few fast bends before the tight hairpin where speeds would be about 30mph. Steady climbing through Joey's corner named for the greatest road racer of them all; Joey Dunlop.

Past the Verandah then 4 sweeping bends before Bungalow Bridge and then a long sweeping right hander, our first downhill for 4 or 5 miles back, then sharp left and right before flattening out at the Verandah with the Bungalow Museum on the right and on the slopes of 621metre Snaefell. Now a long uphill straight with slight bends to Brandywell, the highest point of the track at 410m where they pass us at about 150mph before the long sweeping left hander down the mountain spur. Gently downhill now (the road not the bikes) through Windy Corner where the wind comes in off the Atlantic and is funnelled up a wide valley by the hills to buffet the traffic from the right as you are negotiating the right hander. If you're falling asleep here the wind will wake you up pretty quickly.

At Keppel Gate we enter a steeper incline, still rural but can't admire the magnificent views, a 600yd straight, downhill with a 90deg right hander at the end at Creg Ny Baa (The eating house) Pub then 800yd straight past 35mile post, a 500yd straight into a sharp lefty at Brandish, a 700yd straight into a sharpish right hander, a longs weeping lefty then a double apex left and then we are in the suburbs of Douglas again with its series of bends & roundabouts before pit straight and the finish line.

Phew!! If you are lucky, and good enough to have negotiated the white lines, manhole covers, potholes, water main stopcock covers, bridges, corrugations, walls, light poles, kerbs and houses in 20 odd minutes, four to six times depending on the race, at an average speed of120mph you might come in second or third because the winner usually comes in at 122 and better Ellan Vannin; the Isle of Mannanan Mac Lir, the sea god reputed to live here.

The Story of Mann is one of ten thousand years of heritage & intrigue, and can only be properly seen with a visit here, but we will try to give you an idea of it's rich heritage and beauty with a cursory tale of our tour of duty here.

Monday 2/6/03 was overcast, and with mist (the Cloak of Mannanan) shrouding the mountain, the Tourist Trophy races were postponed. Our B&B host Geoff escorted us through the twists and turns to the slip road which is one of only two ways to traverse from outside the circular course to the inside &vice versa while the track is closed. Driving around Douglas, it was wall to wall bikes, mainly sports models. While they were fairly well behaved, a lot of them tend to overtake in the stupidest of places, so driving around you are particularly alert, or you get lots of frights.

The Esplanade has tramlines, but the trams are single carriages for about twelve or so people and are drawn by Clydesdales. The car drivers are generally patient, and the horses seem to take no notice whatsoever of cars nor bikes, even the occasional loud exhaust. It gives an old world general atmosphere, and layback style which rubs off on everybody until they get onto the country roads. The other Douglas rail systems consist of the electric railroad which goes north from Douglas to Ramsay, an electric service(c 1895) to the summit of Snaefell from Laxey, a 2 foot gauge Groudle Glen line and a steam train from Douglas, south to Castletown and Port Erin. The roads are generally in excellent condition, although winding, and usually very narrow necessitating one car stopping and pulling over to let the other pass. To facilitate this there are no special pulling over spots, you just trust one or the other driver to use a bit of nouse and use whatever grassed area is available. Sometimes of course someone has to back up a bit, particularly when you have a section with brick walls and/or blackthorn hedges. Most drivers are pretty well on the ball, and while I felt most of them were too fast for the circumstances, most were very alert.

With the race delayed, we drove north on the A2 to Baldrine and Laxey (Norse for Salmon River), both quaint villages with old limestone brick houses built right up to the roadway on very narrow streets, sometimes with a footpath one side, both sides, or not at all. The farmland fields were divided by dry stone walls, again of local granite and/or limestone. Driving through Dhoon Glen and Corr any we turned off the highway (for such it is termed) onto the A15 at Ballagilley, southeast to Ballaskeig, Ballajora and Maughold (pronounced mackled as in pickled). Even though an 'A' road, which in the UK is a major one, this road was just a country lane. Excellent bitumen surface, but about as wide as the car complete with mirrors. Back up and find a wide bit if you met anybody. Of course 5 & 6 foot hedges and bendy bits mean you get about half a second warning, again thankfully the locals are on their mettle. We got out the nose bags at Maughold Church, and then headed north to Porte Vullen, an old fishing village, before driving into Ramsey to see the first race which was now starting. Two races in one, the 400's & 125's which have similar race times were released at 10 second intervals.

The idea for spectators is to find the best place around the course for viewing. Because it is all public road, most viewing is free. Of course you have to pay for grandstands etc. We picked the sharp right hander in the town square at Ramsey, and while they were going pretty slow past us so you could basically see the whites of their eyes, they were under full brakes then acceleration, and as well as a couple of overshoots down the escape road, we saw a couple of close calls with the kerb coming out of the corner and negotiating the first slight lefty. And of course, bikes parked, rather abandoned, everywhere. Saw a couple of Africa Twins and one new Trans Alp, a Triumph Tiger or two, and a number of BMW GS1150's and Dakars, but in the main they were sports bikes with the odd cruiser thrown in. One bike/sidecar outfit, which looked like a full race job with sleek fibreglass styling, was actually road registered.

The 400'swere released first, ten second intervals, which made for good racing, as they were mostly overtaken by the 125's before the end of the four laps (151miles). Racing over, we headed into downtown Ramsey for a look. The harbour entrance is crossed by a 30m swing bridge which swivels on a central pedestal to allow larger craft to enter harbour. Like the swing bridge at Sale, but in working nick and still in use. Trying to get a bit of a look around proved fruitless due to some hapless yachtie who had not the faintest idea of what he had to do to avoid being blown into the harbour wall and the mud bank on a falling tide. It took a while for him to trust me (tee hee) but eventually the second rope he threw me (the first went to Davy Jones' Den when he threw it short by a yard or so and didn't have hold of his end)did the trick and I managed to pull him round against a fairly stiff breeze, although he had no idea where to tie his end off and I am amazed we didn't chafe through it on his rigging.

Good Samaritan routine over we ran out of R&R time and had to hightail it pretty smart like to our next vantage point at St. Judes, Sulby. This was a sharp right hander over the bridge, and for the 1000cc class was a reasonable spot. 3 Kiwis and an Aussie racing gave us a bit of incentive to pay attention, and with only one or two over runs into the escape road and a dozen near misses on the bridge wall, we cheered as Kiwi Shaun Harris put in the best times to win. No casualties as far as we knew.

Wed 4/6/03 dawned as Wednesdays have a habit of doing. Today the Junior600 TT, followed by the sidecars, or outfits as they are known in Oz, and maybe over here too. Three Kiwis and Aussie Damien Brady on a 600 Yamaha gave us a focal point.

We had discussed the best point to watch from, and in consultation with our host Geoff we decided on Brandywell, the highest point of the race and near the side of Snaefell. The races were interesting enough once they got underway at 10 second intervals, with the bikes coming into sight about a mile and a bit away as they rounded the right hander after Bungalow Bridge. We were on the inside of the clockwise circuit, on the west of the road, and looking north past the east side of Snaefell to get the first glimpse as they rounded this bend on the eastern spur. In the distance, over the Irish Sea we could see past Snaefell to the hills of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. Unfortunately due to cloud we couldn't see England, but the mountains of Mourne in Ireland were visible. What a place Manannan Mac Lir owns!

Like a handicap race the riders are released slowest first (I think) so first round the bend isn't the leader, nor necessarily the fastest. The hard right hander round the spur of Snaefell sees the bikes hard over until straightening up for a quick run to a hard lefty in the gully out to the next right around the next spur and then 400yds or so to the Bungalow bend where the Snaefell museum is. This long lefthander leads under a temporary looking but probably permanent footbridge, and a straightish ¾ mile bit uphill to our position where they reach probably 140mph before braking for along lefty at about 80mph, then a half mile downhill straight as they dropdown over the crest out of sight. This is a pretty good spot, as even though well spread out, we are able to see many overtaking manouevers by the riders, and at pretty high speeds. Once the first rider passes, there are usually at least a couple of riders in sight until the tailender passes, then a five or so minute gap until the first bike, not necessarily the leader, passes.

The winner is decided on time taken to complete the 4 (or whatever) laps and is not usually the first over the line. Of course with computerisation they can keep you up with the leader all the way on Manx Radio, and we are told by the commentators that the good race callers could do the calculations in their heads. While watching the races, we could watch the electric trams ascending and descending Snaefell through Bungalow, with passengers using the foot bridge to walk between trams. More of that later.

One of the Kiwis won again, and after watching the sidecars, which was pretty riveting stuff, we headed back down the mountain, just as Manannan's Cloak came down, enclosing the mountains in a white cold veil.

After tea with Geoff and Jill I decided it was time to wet a line, and with the long drawn out dusk of summer at this latitude, I was in the water until 10pm before light became too poor for my fifty odd year old eyes.

I fished a small white moth, as I had seen some flying around and had seen a couple of rises. This proved unsuccessful, so I tied on a Mrs Simpson. Instant success! As the fly had only just hit the water I was unprepared for this sudden interruption to my evening sojourn, but recovered quickly to find myself on the opposite end of the string to a brown of about 2lb, who stepped out of the water a couple of times to see what was stopping him from swallowing this morsel. So many lovely fishing spots had I seen in Canada and the US with no chance to give it a whirl, that this sudden thrill had me all a flutter. Well, I thought it was pretty good anyway. Man against beast the basest of animal instincts emerging from me, the hunter! Of course within twenty-five or thirty seconds he had spat it out and I was left wondering if I would still get bacon and eggs for brekky. I beat the hell out of this 10 acre or so puddle to no avail until I lost the plot in the dark.

Friday 6th June dawned as a miserable rainy day with low mist. The radio bore news of the visit to the TT of Prince William. Either nobody knew he was coming, or they had just kept it quiet as this lad likes to have things pretty quiet. Geoff reminded us that the cloak of Manannen comes down when Mann is threatened, or when royalty visits. In fact the rain persisted so long that the 600 Production race was delayed until finally getting underway at 3pm, and it had been shortened from 3 to 2 laps. On the way to the track it was not unusual to pass people on horseback, but on this occasion we were surprised to find a sign on the rider's back - "Caution young horse".

The race we watched from Brandywell again, the track's highest point. As production races go, it was quite competitive, incident free, and was won by Kiwi Bruce Anstee I think. The Kiwis have a showing of three or four riders in this sport, and two of them are doing very well at it. In fact several teams have Kiwi mechanics and team members/leaders.

That night we decided the night life was for us, so we headed to Castle Mona on downtown Douglas seafront. We chose this venue because we had sat in on a jam session with some musos on the ferry from Liverpool, and they had told us where they were playing. They weren't too bad either, and when they saw us a couple of them kept coming over for a chat during breaks. Good lads, but they surprised us with some great brass playing, as they had only mucked around with guitars on the ferry.

Later that night around the campfire with Geoff and Jill, Geoff told us that a local man had been killed when his bike had a head on with a campervan. Contrary to radio appeals and police advisory signs some idiot had driven his campervan in an anticlockwise direction on the opened TT track. Now I might be prejudiced, but any idiot should know that if you open a racetrack to the public, they are going to race around it the same way as the racers did, granted, some beyond their abilities, but any one with a modicum of common sense would notice the direction everybody else is going in. Anyway some 41 year old paid for it with his life, and his wife and kids will be paying for it for some time to come.

Just leading up to TT week apparently the Manx hospitals are emptied of all except the ICU patients to make way for the expected influx of casualties. Due to the number of Germans coming over for the races there are signs on posts everywhere saying "immer links" - always left, as it is pretty common for them to go the wrong side. Of course this expression covers numerous Germanic languages. Another snippet from Geoff, whose wife is Manx, but he is from the midlands. "Isle of Man = 20,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock". I'll leave that one alone.

Tomorrow the Senior TT hopefully.

Saturday 7th June 2003 and Manannan's cloak was down. Now I don't know whether somebody woke up and threw Willy off the rock, but although delayed, the Senior TT did eventually get underway a few hours late. But before that we managed to get in a visit to Peel, a harbour on the west coast.

The tide was out and the boats left high and dry, with most bilge keelers, so they sat upright. Like Castletown, Peel is an ancient port with the usual Manx cottages and narrow streets. No we aren't getting blase about old stuff, but you can only say so much before repetition creeps in. This place is absolutely fascinating, with intriguing history around every corner. The number of cottages in rural areas with thatched roofs is quite staggering, with many of them being very picturesque, Chris being so impressed with a couple near Peel that we had to do a "U"ey to go back for pics.

On the hard at Peel harbour were a number of replica Viking longboats, used for racing regattas. About thirty foot long these were rigged with sail and oars, and definitely looked right out of Hagar. A shame we are going to miss that.

A visit to the Transport Museum revealed a pictorial history of the trains and trams of IOM. Actually I thought they were still using the old ones. There was also a pictorial history of the TT motorcycles and riders. While it was only a two room building, we were impressed by the amount of memorabilia and information they fitted into their limited room.

Being lunch time we had lunch at the pub at quayside in Peel. Can't remember the name but the food was great. During lunch we learned the roads were to close at 1.15pm for a race start at 2.15pm. Plenty of time. Finishing lunch we headed off to watch the race sat our favoured spot at Brandywell. At 1.10pm we drove up to the penultimate intersection for us to turn off when we were redirected by the police who had closed the road five minutes early. Bloody coppers! Never there when you want 'em, and there when you don't! Why didn't this bloke just go out and catch a crook instead of harassing innocent race fans? Anyway we had to be content with watching the race from Ballaugh where we watched the bikes leap from the hump back bridge. No spills, but a few exciting moments with tangled landings, and muddled exits. The race was won by Adrian Archibold on a Suzuki. In their return to TT racing Triumph had put in a good show all week, winning one race and with some good placings, and they placed well this time, with one of the Kiwis riding his Trumpy to a podium finish. The race being over we continued our sticky beaking by visiting St.Pat's Church, Jurby. This white painted rock building had a magnificent view over the sea to Ireland, and as with the other churches here, was surrounded by ancient graves.

As you may or may not know, the Vikings, no longer rapists & pillagers, but politically correct migrants, often buried their beloved leaders with the ship(usually after death), and as one was marked on our map we thought we would seek it out. It was located on private land so we didn't get to see it, and the round house which was supposed to be beside the road, we couldn't locate. No worries mate! Off to the far north of the isle, where we inspected the Ayres National Nature Reserve. Because of the generally northward flow of the currents in the Irish Sea, and the prevailing west to south westerly winds, silt builds up at the northern tip of the island. Over eons this has resulted in a few thousand acres of sandy soiled flatlands at the northern tip of the rock, covered in grasses, sedge and heath. Nesting seabirds favour this territory too, and due to its remote position, eight miles or so from Ramsey is rarely disturbed. For you Aussies it is a bit hard to fathom, but eight miles here is a long way.

The roads are so narrow and winding, and you have to constantly give way to enable passing, that average speeds can be as low as 20mph or even less. Back to the Reserve. We found a little pink flower at the head of a 5 inch stem among the grasses, and later identified it as a Burnet Rose. Beautiful pink petals graduating to yellow at the centre. Other little wildflowers were evident, and no doubt there would be others at various times of the year. At the point of Ayre, the far northern tip we found a lighthouse which had been built by Robert Stevenson (R.L.'s granddad).

There was also a white painted brick tower on which was mounted a huge foghorn. Having had a full day again, we headed back to Abbey lands where during another discussion with Geoff around the campfire he told us that on the IOM behaviour scale the bikers were better behaved than the lawn bowlers, and the worst behaved were the Young Farmers. He based this on many years working in hotels of an evening during these fixed events, and said that during one event, of 66 arrests by police, 51 were locals. The general feeling of Island residents was that bike racing events were more than welcome, and the only complaints were about road closures which occur for the TT, numerous other motorbike races, IOM Car Rally and bicycle races.

Next? - The House of Manannan.