BMW Club Oxford Section visit to the Isle of Man in July 2018
Fifteen brave souls left the shores of Blighty crossing the Irish Sea by Ship or by Catamaran to meet up in Douglas on the Isle of Man. We arrived at differing times and stayed for a week or thereabouts at the Empress Hotel on the promenade with views over Douglas bay. The food was excellent. The rooms tastefully refurbished and very comfortable.
Our visit coincided with the Southern 100 Races at Castletown. These are known as the friendly races and held over the Billown Course of about 4.25 miles. There were a good number of visitors to the Island on bikes of all shapes and sizes. The good thing about these races is that they don’t use any part of the TT circuit, so this was available for us to ride. The road into Ramsay was closed, however so we couldn’t ride the exact course. We were certainly not expecting to emulate the new lap record of over 135mph average speed, since the roads were subject to speed limits and two-way traffic.
There is no national speed limit on the Isle of Man so when you pass the derestriction sign you can legally ride as fast as you like. The local constabulary are always on the lookout for dangerous riding or speeding in a racing like manner and they would intervene as necessary so not too many liberties taken!
We usually split into two or more groups depending on our interests. Our first full day on the Island involved a ride on the preserved steam railway to Castletown initially, and then on to Port Erin on the west coast. The weather was hot and sunny and thankfully stayed much the same throughout our visit. Due to its position in the Irish Sea and being further north than Oxford, temperatures were thankfully about 5 degrees cooler than at home.
Port Erin and Friends
Port Erin is a delightful place with a sandy beach and headlands stretching seawards to enclose the bay. Apparently basking sharks can be seen nearby – but none of us could confirm this. The location has been used many times for TV and films and looked very familiar. After a snack and a cool beverage, we wandered along the bay, had an ice cream and a quick visit to the Railway Museum we then headed home on the train. Some of us were a bit weary by the time we had walked in from Douglas Station, so we took the Horse Drawn Tram back to the hotel
Horse Drawn Tram
The next day promised clear skies and a suitable opportunity for views from the top of Snaefell. Six of us wandered along to the Electric Railway and bought explorer tickets which covered all forms of transport on the Island. We caught the Electric Railway to Laxey, changing there for the Snaefell Mountain Railway. Having just missed a train, we relaxed in the sunshine before embarking on the mountain expedition. The rolling stock and track systems are Victorian dating from 1893 for the Electric Railway and 1895 for the Mountain Railway. There is a rolling program of refurbishment ensuring the modern-day travelers are provided with safe and well decorated carriages.
Sadly, the sunshine on the way up the mountain gave way to the “Cloak of Manannan”. This cloud sitting atop Snaefell is a common occurrence and prevented the views of the seven Kingdoms. Manannan is a legendary God probably imported by the Vikings who colonized the Island during the dark ages.
Snaefell Summit with Manannan’s Cloak
After safely negotiating the return to Laxey, we caught the Electric Railway to Ramsay. The views of the sea on this part of the route were spectacular. We found that most eating establishments were closed in Ramsay as it was a Monday. We did find a great café though, so all was not lost! After a wander around we rode the train back to Douglas, the hotel, a shower and a beer (in roughly that order!).
Having already had two days off the bikes, we felt it was time to ride once more. (We are a bike Club after all!) We rode up to Laxey loosely following the railway lines to visit the Laxey Wheel (or the Lady Isabella as she is known). This remarkable water wheel is one of the major visitor sites on the Island. Operated now by Manx Heritage, it is still a working waterwheel and the largest of its kind in Europe if not the world! Its function last century was to provide the power to pump water out of the local mines. A small part of a mine is preserved for visitors (preferably under 5ft 6in) to see. Having been on an earlier visit and at 6ft 3in I declined the invitation to reinspect!
When paying for our admission we were delighted to be offered a special TT badge for £10 which gave us free access to all Manx Heritage sites for the week. Bargain!!!
Joey Dunlop Memorial with Friends
We then rode to Ramsay, joined the TT circuit and rode up the mountain course stopping at the Bungalow. Joey Dunlop’s memorial duly patted and photographed, we then travelled down the valley to the Sulby Hotel for a quick snack and to view the beer engine on the bar (based on a 4-cylinder Japanese bike engine). We just about caught the end of the RAF Centenary display over Buckingham Palace on the hotels TV before it was off on two wheels to find another route up to Hailwood Height and a return to Douglas by way of Creg-ny-Baa. An exhilarating downhill part of the circuit with larger than normal numbers appearing on my speedo.
Dean Harrison on a Mission
The Chasing Pack
On Thursday we all went to the races as this was a full day of racing with road closures. Previous evenings had been for practice and some racing, but the England v Croatia football batch on Wednesday evening took precedence for most of us.
The racing was exciting, spectacular, noisy, exhilarating and very entertaining. The guys (and gals) racing inches away from solid stone walls deserve great credit for their bravery. How the Sidecar teams managed to steer their machines through the tight twisty corners at almost 100mph average speed is beyond me. It was also possible to wander more or less at will through the paddock to view the bikes and talk to their riders.
We saw several riders who were prominent in the TT such as Dean Harrison and Ivan Lintin among others. Michael Dunlop was listed in the program but absent due his brother William’s funeral. The racing crowds were very knowledgeable and very friendly despite (or because of) the wide variety of regional and international accents. Sadly, the last race of the day (which many of us missed as we had already left for the hotel) was marred by a tragic accident.
Castle Rushen and the House of Keys
Other places visited during the week included Castletown for the House of Keys and Castle Rushen. The House of Keys is the old Manx Parliament (now meeting in Douglas). The meeting room is opened and a guide (Mr Secretary) runs an adapted agenda spanning a variety of periods covered by the Parliament. Audience participation is encouraged. The items debated were all chosen from real events and covered such things as the introduction of democracy by enfranchising all citizens (firstly menfolk and subsequently women) to vote. The Manx suffrage movement was successful way before its counterpart in the UK. The closure of roads for racing (based on the need for Gordon Bennett racing to come to Britain); the freedom of the press; the need to keep independent of the UK and such like.
Castle Rushen was the home in the past of the Kings and subsequently the Lords of Man. Her Majesty the Queen is the current Lord of Man. The Castle is in good repair (the builders were still working on it!) and a tour is advised.
Seals at The Sound
The Sound. Not a booming speaker but a narrow stretch of fast flowing tidal water at the south west tip of the island between the Isle of Man and the Calf of Man. There is a good visitor centre café, car park and toilets. The main attraction is the wildlife. We saw seals basking in the sunshine or wallowing in the waves. There are a large variety of breeds of bird for the “twitchers” to gaze upon.
Returning via Port Erin and the A36 we enjoyed a real treat on the newly resurfaced road as we swooped over the hills on our way back to Douglas.
Peel via Tynwald Hill is a good destination. The House of Mananan in Peel is a great museum on three floors giving a dramatic representation of the social history of the Island from Ancient to modern times. This was once again operated by Manx Heritage, so free entry with our TT badges. Other attractions include the Leece Museum (largely motorbikes), Peel Castle (a ruin but quite spectacular) and the smokery where Manx Kippers are produced. These were well received at breakfast by the devotees (but not me!)
The TT Musem at Jurby was well worth a visit. The nearby Guard House Café provided welcome refreshment. After that some of us rode up to the most northerly part of the Island – The Point of Ayre. We could see the coast of Scotland across the Irish Sea albeit a murky strip of land in the hazy distance.
Lighthouse at Point of Ayre
On the day we were there it appeared that the TT Mountain Course had been closed for the benefit of an AUDI event, so we returned to Douglas via the coast road and Laxey.
A great week. The weather certainly contributed significantly to our enjoyment.
Words by Geoff Clough; Photos courtesy of Tim Read