Motorbike races, Celtic crosses and Viking history – 27 days on the Isle of Man

I love my job. Well, okay, not all of the time, but most of the time. Here I am on the Isle of Man for nearly a month, during the infamous TT motorbike races, hosting a glamping village for bikers from all over Europe (and some from Australia).

I’m lucky enough to work for a glamping company, travelling all over England and Wales, to put up boutique camping villages for music and sporting events. I’m in my third year now and can’t really imagine doing anything else. Of course it helps that I have every winter off – check out my backpacking blog Tor Goes Travelling Again to see how many countries I’ve been to.

I’ve only been here a week but I’m getting to know the island. Here’s the highlights so far…

Kipper Baps in historic Peel

Peel Castle, Isle of Man
A fine looking castle

The dramatic seafront castle in Peel dates to the 10th century and was supposedly the place where Christianity was first introduced to the island. I climbed up the massive hill next to the castle and enjoyed great views to the North. Apparently the sunsets from here are great too. I’ll definitely be coming back on a less cloudy day. Most importantly though, Peel is the place to have a kipper bap. I found a fish van on the seafront, who also do Queenies (scallops to you and me). The local smokehouse has a shop and courtyard cafe and they were doing a kipper bap and hot cuppa offer for £4.50. Hard to resist!

Manx Museum and the Douglas Promenade

Douglas is the main town of the island, a sprawling urban mass, spread along a never-ending promenade. When the TT race week kicks off, apparently the promenade becomes a mini festival ground, with a fair and lots of street food places, and sometimes drag races. I visited briefly as I needed some supplies and had a quick look around the musuem while there. It’s a great introduction to Manx life. I learnt that the island was originally under Scandinavian rule until the last Viking king died and the British got involved. The Earl of Wiltshire bought it first, then it passed to the Atholl family. Later in 1765, the British Government bought it, after getting annoyed about all the lost revenue taxes from ‘smuggling’ – goods imported into the island from foreign lands then sold to England and Scotland without any tariffs paid.

Burial chambers and the Calf of Man

Meayll Hill, accessed along a single track lane, was very atmospheric when I visited it at 7am, after dropping my boss off for the early ferry departure. There are twelve burial chambers in an 18 foot ring. The chambers are clearly visible and I toyed with the idea of laying down inside one! The site is over a thousand years old, with the Neolithic tombs made from large slabs of rock, with doorways at each end.

The nearby village of Cregneash was very picturesque with the bright red telephone box (you don’t see them so often in the UK now) offset perfectly by the green fields. Less than a mile away is the southern most point of the island, with the Calf of Man, a nature reserve, just off the coast. Boat trips leave from the Sound Cafe, overlooking the Calf, but not a single soul was around when I visited.

Climbing up to lock-shaped Milners Tower, above Port Erin

After a quick look at the seafront in Port Erin, I tackled the twenty minute walk along the coast path to Milners Tower. This was built in honour of a local man and safe maker (hence the shape of the tower) and is open to the public to climb up. Which of course I did, giving me great views back towards Port Erin with Port St Mary behind it. Afterwards, I was in definite need of a coffee so I found a lovely cafe in Port St Mary and resisted the temptation to have one their lovely looking cakes.

The TT Races

The Tourist Trophy has been going since 1907 and is often hailed as the most dangerous road race in the world. It’s held on normal roads (potholes and all) and is a 37.73 mile course circumventing the island. The ‘mountain road’ which snakes back to Douglas from the north of the island becomes one way only during the event and the island is disrupted by road closures – once the races or qualifiers are on, nobody can cross the track or drive or walk on the track. Apart from that, you can stand pretty much anywhere you like along the course to watch the riders – people own houses along the route and sit in their front garden as the bikes whizz past.

The island goes TT mad, with a massive influx of tourists, many staying at one of the fifty odd pop-up campsites and glamping sites, and every shop, cafe and bar offers TT specials. Being a biker myself I’m keen to see the races, but I’m also loving the atmosphere here, as well as being over excited to be somewhere new and do some exploring. Actually, I think I need to add the Isle of Man to my blog post on When is Country Not a Country? over at Tor Goes Travelling Again, seeing as it is classified as a self-governing British Crown Dependency, with its own parliament, government and laws.

Now I just need another day off so I can do some more exploring…

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