In past issues he’s taken us on tours of Route 66 and South Africa’s Garden Route, now Chris Handy explains why for this issue’s instalment of UK roads you should head across to the Isle of Man.
Everyone knows about the Isle of Man TT but the island is a great biking destination in its own right. There are some fantastic roads, stunning scenery and the locals are bike-friendly. In addition, you can ride your own lap of the world-famous 37.73 mile TT course.
The Isle of Man is a small island located in the Irish Sea midway between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of which can be seen on a clear day from the top of the Island’s highest mountain, Snaefell. It has its own government (called Tynwald) and raises its own taxes. It is technically a Crown Dependency meaning that its defence is the responsibility of the British government.
The Island is just over 30 miles long and just under 15 miles wide at its widest point. The north of the Island is a flat plain and Snaefell is more or less in the middle. The scenery varies a great deal for such a small Island. There are a multitude of quiet, cool glens along with rugged coastline, cliffs, bays, hills and a mountain. Being in the middle of a sea rain and mist are quite frequent, giving rise to a verdant landscape.
There are no motorways on the Isle of Man, and only a short section of dual carriageway. The rest of the roads are all single carriageways; analogous to the UK’s ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ class roads. The geography dictates that there are a multitude of curves and bends, each one bringing a new delightful view and they are a joy to ride. Best of all is the fact that there is no maximum speed limit on the Island.
Where you see a national speed limit sign (black circle with black diagonal on a white background) you can go as fast as you like, however in the event of an accident your speed will be taken into account when assessing and apportioning blame for insurance and prosecution decisions. Whilst you can go fast in national speed limits the penalties for breaking other speed limits can be very severe (read expensive!) and a ban there applies to the rest of the UK too.
As a result of the TT and the other races held on the Island most locals are aware of, and are very tolerant of motorcycles. Many of them ride themselves and even old grannies can be heard discussing the merits of corner lines and different marques!
I’m sure that anyone visiting will make riding the course their first riding priority but there are many other roads worth exploring too. My favourites include the A4 south from Kirk Michael then onto the A27 south from Peel which leads onto the A36 finishing up in Port St Mary, detouring off to Niarbyl on the coast.
There are some lovely bends and great coastal views for the first three-quarters of the trip and then a climb over the mountains in the south of the Island. If you have more time this can become the start of an ‘around the Island’ ride following the coast road, giving you a great way of seeing the main towns of the Island and also a variety of views: cliffs, sandy bays, ports, glens, offshore islands and headlands.
Another good ride with some stunning views is to be found by taking the back road from Ballaugh (by the famous jump) to Brandywell, the highest point on the TT course. This is a small back road, so not a fast ride, but the views are stupendous. Turn off the course into the small road alongside the Raven pub and follow this minor road to the B10 and turn left. There are no long rides on the Isle of Man but the rides you do have are a total joy and there’s always a warm welcome at journeys’ end.
Across the world, the Isle of Man is famous for the TT races, but there are many more annual motorcycle competitions that most people are unaware of. Just before and just after the TT are the pre and post TT races on the Billown circuit, a circuit made up of 4.25 miles of public roads in the south of the Island that are closed off for racing like the more famous TT course to the north.
In addition to the pre and post TT races the ‘Southern 100’ races are held there every July. To the north of the Island is the disused Jurby airfield and this is used as a track for regular local races organised by the Andreas Racing Association.
At the end of August, beginning of September each year the TT course is once again converted from public roads to a racetrack for the Manx Grand Prix and the Classic TT Races. The ‘Manx’ is similar to the TT but the entry is made up mainly of privateers and is often used by riders to learn the course and gain experience before racing in the TT. The Classic TT is for older, classic bikes and brings a little nostalgia to the Island.
During the Manx\Classic period, there is also an annual trial, the Manx 2 Day Trial, held at a variety of off-road venues around the Island. Lastly of course is the TT itself, run at the end of May/beginning of June each year. The course is 37.73 miles long with over 200 corners and bends and goes through towns, villages and hamlets as well as going over Snaefell mountain. During race periods there are a multitude of motorcycle related events and shows to tempt every type of motorcycle rider.
The Island has a long history and was at one time populated by the Vikings. The Manx people are proud of their history and ‘Manx National Heritage’ maintain a variety of superb museums that focus on helping visitors to understand what life used to be like on the Isle of Man. The best of these in my opinion is Cregneash in the south of the Island. Here a village has been maintained as it would have been at the end of the 19th century.
One of the cottages is open to the public and has been kept as it was over 100 years ago. There is a guide dressed in period costume cooking bread and scones over an open fire for visitors to sample whilst hearing about the history of the cottage. It is well worth investing in a £20 Manx National Heritage Holiday Pass which gives you free entry to all Manx National Heritage sites for a 14 day period.
In addition to the museums, there are a large number of ancient monuments and archaeological sites dotted around. The best of which has to be The Braaid; an Iron Age roundhouse and two Norse longhouses near Mount Murray to the South of Douglas (the main town on the Island). Visiting any of these ancient sites is free.
If reading this has convinced you that visiting this wonderful Island is worthwhile, whether during race periods or at another time, you’ll want to know about the practicalities of visiting. Hopefully, this section will answer your questions.
Getting there: You can fly from 20 different UK airports and 6 European airports. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from either Liverpool, Haysham, Belfast or Dublin. During TT period there is also a service to and from Larne. All ferry services to and from the Island are operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Do bear in mind that sailings during TT period can be booked up over 11 months in advance, so it pays to book early to go to the TT!
Accommodation: The Island has the usual accommodation options: hotels, B&B, house / flat rental, camping etc. Details of which can all be found online. During TT and MGP periods you also have the option of ‘homestay’ where locals let out a spare room and you live in the family’s house. Free camping is available at Sulby Claddaghs. Facilities are minimal and you need to apply for a permit from the government.
Paperwork: There are no passport or visa requirements when travelling from the mainland UK (called the ‘adjacent Isle’ or simply ‘across’ by locals), however, airlines will want some form of photo identification for security purposes. Visitors from overseas need a passport and maybe, depending on country of origin, a UK visa.
Money: The local currency is Sterling and notes ‘from across’ are readily accepted. There are however more Manx produced notes in circulation there, as would be expected. Be aware that Manx notes are NOT legal tender ‘across’. They can be exchanged in a bank at a 1:1 exchange rate, but are not accepted in shops.
If you ask for your change “in notes from across” during the last few days of your stay you should be fine. All the locals are used to this. ATMs are readily available throughout the Island. Generally, things are a little more expensive than on the ‘adjacent Isle’, but there is no shortage of anything. If riding or driving it is worth filling your tank before boarding the ferry; they no longer pump your tank out as they did in days gone by.
Health: Healthcare is free to locals and UK nationals registered with a GP whilst visiting and the healthcare system is very good. Non-eligible visitors will be charged and so should have travel insurance. This is also a good idea for UK nationals as repatriation expenses will be covered if required. The main hospital is Nobles Hospital in Douglas and they’re world recognised experts at motorcycle accident trauma care!
Telephones: Mobile phones work fine in the IoM but be aware that most operators from off the Island charge exorbitant rates for calls and texts as the Island is not part of the EU. If you’re staying for more than a few days and have an unlocked phone it’s worth getting a local SIM.
What to see
Fairy Bridge: A small bridge on the A5 south of Douglas. Local superstition has it that you must greet the fairies when you cross the bridge to ensure good luck. Many visitors make it a first port of call after getting off the boat (it’s always the boat in the IoM, never a ferry!) to ensure good luck for their stay.
Laxey Wheel: The largest working waterwheel in the world at 72.5 feet in diameter. Called ‘Lady Isabella’ in honour of the then governor’s wife. Located in the village of Laxey to the north of Douglas near the terminus of the Manx Electric Railway and Snaefell Mountain Railway.
Snaefell Mountain Railway: This Victorian railway carries passengers to the summit of Snaefell, and is the only powered way of reaching the summit. There are great views of Laxey wheel when leaving Laxey and, as the line circles the mountain, superb views of the rest of the Island. On a clear day, it said that you can see seven kingdoms: Mann, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven and the kingdom of the sea.
Taking the Manx Electric Railway from Douglas to Laxey and then transferring to the Mountain Railway makes a great day out.
Castle Rushen: Located in Castletown in the south this is the best-preserved castle I’ve ever visited. All roofs, ceilings and floors are intact.
Murray’s Motorcycle Museum: Located in Santon this is an eclectic and disorderly private collection of old and unusual motorcycles and associated memorabilia.
The ARE Collection: A beautifully restored and displayed private motorcycle collection. The collection was put together and restored by Tony East, a retired businessman from the south of England. Located in Kirk Michael and open on Sundays and for the TT time viewing is by appointment only at other times.
Whether you go when there are races on, or when the Island is quiet you’re sure of a warm welcome from the Manx people who are generally a very friendly bunch. When you do go keep an eye out for the wild wallabies! There are now over 100 of them roaming free following an escape from a wildlife park. Not something you see every day in the northern hemisphere!
Off-Roading on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man has around 45 Green Lanes, some up to 5.2 miles long, linked together by normal tarmaced roads.
A good way of exploring them is to contact local company Enduro Isle of Man who from their website look to do guided tours from as little as £25 per person per day.
The company handpicks the trails to suit the group’s ability.
They can stop off somewhere nice for lunch or coffee/tea.
If you want to stop for a 2-hour lunch stop instead of riding, they can do that, too.
Another company is Enduro-Mann (www.enduromann.com) offering a similar service but able to book ferries and accommodation as well. Either way, it looks like there’s some good trail riding to be done on the island. See you over there.