SO we just happened to be here in the UK at that time of year, and one of those events that we’d often thought of going to years ago, but just never got round to. It seemed an opportunity not to miss, despite the hassles of ferry and accommodation booking, given it’s the most touristy and busy time of year on the Isle of Man (IoM).
We were up pretty early with Lez and Elaine, had a cuppa and natter before they got ready to go off house bashing for the day. I checked the email, and found a lovely long letter from Lacey, telling us all what she and Sairha had been up to for the past week. I rang Caroline to tell her our plans. We’d head over to Liverpool, to try get standby on the earlier ferry ~5pm, and if we didn’t make it, we’d come over to Laura’s. So she gave me her address and telephone number. The morning was getting everything sorted for the IoM trip. Stew was putting a new switch on the handlebars, while I started getting all the camp and travel gear ready to load on the bike. Once the bike was packed we set off up to grandma and granddads around 2pm, and gave them pack of TimTams. We stayed for an hour, coffee and natter, and said we’d see them when we got back. Then we were off on the M62 to Liverpool around 3pm – the roads were choc-a-block! So much traffic; it took us ages. Amazingly we pulled into the ferry terminal a quarter hour before sailing, and incredibly managed to get on board on standby. It was wonderful – never seen so many bikes on a ferry.
The ferry was packed, but amazingly again, after walking round we did manage to get a seat – just being opened up. Did manage to get a quick txt of to Caroline, to let her know what was happening. It was less than 3 hrs crossing, and we even managed to doze off a bit. It was still daylight when we docked ~ 9.15pm, and were pulled along by the flow of bikes, off from Douglas to the other side of the Island (along the TT race track). We found the Peel FC camp; and were soon welcomed and told (Micky) to just put up the tent, and then come back to the club bar. Incredibly still light we managed to get set up with a decent pitch.
We could hardly believe we were waking up in the tent on the Isle of Man the next morning. So amazing we made it onto the 6.15pm sailing from Liverpool. We slept better than we expected despite all the camp noises; including very heavy snoring from at least 3 tents away! We had supplies to make a cuppa, and then headed walk about to find the local supermarket to get in some supplies for the next few days; bread, milk, cheese, fruit, yoghurt, and even some mark down curry supplies for dinner tonight. It was bright, but a bit cold and breezy, but should hopefully warm up.
We had a good brekkie, then went walk about Peel – a great little seaside town. Down on the waterfront, we went into the local OpShop, and amazingly bought a TT sweatshirt for Stew and T-shirt for me; great value a £5. We saw the beaches, Peel Castle (amazingly founded by the Vikings in the 11th century), and the TT museum (quite a history itself from the first ever race in 1906), and we stopped for cuppa on way back, via a stop off at local pool to check opening hours (Maybe tomorrow morning). We didn’t get back to tent till 1.30pm, and were ready for some lunch, then a siesta for an hour – it was definitely warming up.
At 6pm we set off to see the first practice session – and found a great spot, Cronk-y-voddy – heading a bit north up the coast road from camp, and then taking a small single track road to the dead-end, where the road was closed for the TT circuit. We really enjoyed the event. We were right in the verge side, with plenty of other spectators too, and marshalls, manning the road closure. We chatted with the guy next to us, asking how we found the viewing at the TT. He was a Manx man, lived on the island all his life, and been to so many TT’s he couldn’t remember, but this was the first time he’d actually found this spot for viewing the race! He was so surprised when we said it was our first time ever on the island, and that this was the first ever practice we’d watched – It really was an awesome spot. The sun was dropping slowly, but by the time the sidecars came round it was getting a tad cold. Funniest thing we saw through the night, was a rat ran across the road, managing not to get squished, then saw all the spectators on the other side and ran right back! A guy laying on the verge not 10 feet in front of us, got knocked into the ditch, with the force of a camera that flew off one of the bikes passing, and hit him on the head!!
We got back to camp by 9pm; it was still light and getting busier. We soon cooked up our dinner; a decent Thai red curry, rice, flat bread, and some bahjis with yoghurt/chilli sauce. By the time we’d cleared away we were ready to get snuggled in the tent as it was getting cool out. Camp was still lively and a bit noisy, so we were both prepared with earplugs and music tonight. It was chilly in the night, but the sleeping bags we so snuggly warm, and I didn’t want to put my arms out until the tent had warmed up with the morning sunshine. We opened up the tent around 8.30am, to a glorious, warm, blue-sky day. First job was the water on to boil for a cuppa, then we got our stuff ready for a walk to the local pool for a swim. By the time we got there it was after 9.30am, and we had a really nice swim – ending up with only us too in one of the lanes. I think it must have been built to the British imperial length, as it did seem longer then 25 m. Stew got out first, but I wanted to stay in and finish 1.5 km – and there was a nice poolside coffee shop, he could get a drink. There were good showers too, which meant we wouldn’t have to shower at camp today. We even saw a road legal outfit on the walk back to camp. The swim set us up with an appetite for brekkie, and we soon set about cooking sausage, egg and beans, with a few mushrooms – yum. We also got engrossed in conversation with a few other campers; one older Kiwi, in a tent a couple down from us with a bicycle. It turns out he was waiting for his KTM to be delivered from NZ to Bradford (of all places – And it was delayed by more than 3 weeks).
The plan for the day was to head down to the waterfront in Peel for an hour, and then have a drive into Douglas. It was another wonderful day – and I snapped a pic of a lovely old Bedford campervan, as we headed into town. We parked up by the lifeboat station with a load of other bikes, and ended up talking to a couple of Germans, who were well impressed by the bike and how far we had come. They were from near Munich, and staying at the FC grounds near Douglas.
From there we headed into Douglas, and parked up near the Steam Packet ferry. It’s a wonderful motorcycle festival, and great to see such a big biking community, enjoying the Island environment and the great weather we were having. Amazing to see the horse drawn trams on the promenade still in operation.
We headed off back to camp around 4.30pm, before they closed the roads, then relaxed an hour in the lovely afternoon sun, before getting ready to see some more of the racing. Stew was keeping an eye on the gearbox – the oil leak seemed to be getting worse; a definite drop once the engine was warmed up and the oil thinned. But the oil level seemed OK. But it really does need doing; we don’t want to be carrying gear oil with us all the time. It was another spectacular evening and viewing place, at Crank-y-voddy. There were 2-cylinder 4-stroke bikes out tonight, sounding so much more like ‘proper’ bikes. And there seemed to be even more sidecars out tonight, so we had a really good show, before heading back to camp ~9pm.
We had enough supplies for dinner again, with the curry we’d bought the first day. The old Kiwi came to join us on the bench, with his fish & chips, as we sat down to eat. So we sat and nattered more travelers tales, until it was actually getting dark, and we were getting really cold. Time to get snuggled down in the tent, with music in our ears – and soon drifting off to sleep. We woke to a rapidly warming tent around 8am. It seemed even hotter than yesterday, and unzipping to let some fresh cooler air in, we were greeted by another clear blue-sky day. Water was soon on the boil for our first cuppa, and with more hot water, I set about doing last nights dishes. There was no real rush to the day; we fancied going for a walk out up to Peel Hill today, and the tower you could see on the hillside from the campground, but there was plenty of time. So we lounged and read a while, and then set about making brekkie. Stew had an egg and mushroom sandwich, while I wanted fruit, yoghurt and muesli today. Then after clearing away again (can’t leave anything out, as the seagulls are on vigilant patrol!), we packed a bag to head out for the day. We even had to put on sunscreen before we set off, it was so bright and sunny – sunglasses and hats too.
We meandered the small streets into the village, stopping to take a couple of choice photos I’d been eyeing up for the last couple of days. There was a ‘V R’ post box still brightly painted and in daily use here. Old red telephone boxes still contained actual working payphones, and the gorgeous old police station had the traditional blue police light at the entrance. There was also a blue painted phone box, I thought to do with the police, but on going up for a look, it had a label on ‘The TARDIS’ and inside it was decked with shelves full of books.
The waterfront was so much calmer and warmer today, the tide was in, and there were so many people out enjoying the beach, and cafes. We headed across the estuary towards the castle and then headed up onto the Peel Hill and Corrin’s Tower walk. It took us about 3 hours all up, and really quite spectacular; we saw the old slate quarries, great views over the castle, harbour, and even our campsite. We did manage to lose our only water bottle, and Stew discovered he hadn’t picked up his wallet either – so we couldn’t even stop for a cuppa. We did wander round the old Corrin’s Tower, and small family burial ground, and sat on a high ground overlooking the town, both munching on an apple.
We managed to get a drink of water at a fountain on the beach promenade, and walked slowly looking at all the bikes parked up. Today we saw a souped up ‘Postie’, and a lovely old BMW with Stieb sidecar.
By the time we got back to camp we were both ready for a brew, and we made cheese and tom sandwiches for a late lunch. We then spent a nice couple of hours siesta, reading and me getting a bit done on the diary too. We were giving the race practice a miss this evening, and thought we’d wander the town and have a meal out (our first on this trip), but it was still early – so I checked the pool opening times, and found we could get another swim in before it closed at 5.30pm. We soon got ready, and walked round. The place was almost deserted so we pretty much had the pool to ourselves. It was so nice, a lovely swim, hot shower, and freshen up. Back at camp, we sat out in the later afternoon sun, reading a while, before we got ready for our night on the town. It was a lovely evening, the sun going down ever so slowly – so we managed a pint on the harbour side, looking over the castle and the evening ramblers walking the hillside.
We walked the full length of the bay, then up into town, for another pint before heading to the only Indian curry place in Peel. It wasn’t very big, and two tables were already occupied, and we ended up having a really decent meal (too much really, stuffing ourselves, as we didn’t want to take any left-overs away with us). Camp was getting lively as we got back, with everyone returning from the practice session again. It was almost dark and dropping quite cool, so we soon tucked up in the tent. We slept so well again, and didn’t even really come fully conscious till nearly 9am – mostly due to the tent warming up. The plan today was to drive to the south of the Island, Castletown, in the morning, and then get to the TT track around 1.30pm in time for the sidecar racing. So we dressed in only light riding gear, even though the sky was overcast it was still pretty warm. It was a really nice drive along the southern ocean road, quite hilly, with 17% hills up and down again, and some right corners; one was a hairpin right round a little cottage. Once we could see the southern coast, the town was obvious situated on a large flat plain. Its name certainly said it all, as we drove into town to park up, the huge Rushon castle dominated. It was a very sleepy village – even though it was Saturday lunchtime, yet there was hardly anyone around. We wandered the old harbour, and even helped pull in a local boat that was trying to moor up in a tight spot. There were so few shops in town; more pubs in fact I’m sure. But we did find the local OpShop and went in for a wander. IoM baseball caps were £1, so Stew said he’d get one (even though they were from 2006, but better than paying £10 for this years version!). There were quite a few interesting trinkets in the shop, and in the end we also bought a ‘silver’ serving dish holder (we think). It did have some markings on and not EPNS, so we weren’t sure of it was silver, but at £2, we thought it was worth it just to check it out.
It wasn’t a long stroll back to the bike, and still the gearbox oil was dripping. Stew checked it again, and said it was fine – so we headed back. We did a quick stop back at camp, and made up some scobbie snacks to take to the TT trackside. We headed to the Cronk-y Voddy viewing spot, and found quite a crowd leaving after the solo superbike race. The sidecars are just never as popular, but that’s fine by us, as we got a good parking spot. Even so there were still at least 3 times as many spectators than for the practice sessions, but we still managed to get a decent spot on the verge. Racing wouldn’t start for half an hour, so Stew went to get us a coffee from the tuck-van, and we had a sandwich, fruit and chewy bar snack lunch. There was decent tanoy with all the race coverage, and it wasn’t long before we heard them read out the starting order for the 50 sidecars! And not long after the event was on the way. It was promising to be quite an event, as we saw so many sidecars go past – but then suddenly the red flags came out, and the whole race was stopped. An ‘incident’ was reported (not of any deaths, but it did hold up the whole proceedings), and we had to wait ages to find out what was happening. There were marshall bikes going passed, and they escorted a load of sidecars back in the opposite direction to racing. Eventually it was announced that the incident had actually resulted the death of the sidecar driver (!), but that the race would re-start at 4pm – nearly another hour wait, which we didn’t really fancy.
Around 7.30pm Stew was getting a bit hungry, so we thought we’d go walk about the waterfront for the last time. It was a glorious early evening and we walked slowly round the harbour again, stopping off at the local chippy. Stew wanted fish, chips and mushy peas – but I didn’t really want anything much. The £7 portion with ‘small’ chips was quite huge, and I’d spotted ‘bits’ in the rack, so asked for some too (so scrummy, you don’t get them in Perth!). We sat on one of the outside benches and I managed to get us a cup of tea each too. The few mouthfuls were quite enough for me, and Stew really enjoyed the meal – after which we wandered back to camp.
It was getting on towards 9pm, so we thought we could set about packing up – we are still quite efficient at the whole process, so it didn’t take too long. We bade farewell to our ozzie neighbours, Brian and Michael (Kev), and the younger group from Albany. They came across to take our photo, and gave us a ‘JZ Approved’ sticker for the bike. (JZ is one of the lads of the group, and they like to give the stickers to things they approve of). We wished them well on their travels. It was only a half hour ride to Douglas, and when we got to the ferry terminal the gate was not yet open. But there was already a large group of other bikes and riders waiting too. So we had an hour wait – but there was plenty of entertainment on the promenade front, and even a live band playing very decent music.
And its amazing how news travels on the grapevine – a we were approached by another older guy, asking if we were the ‘famous Australians’ who had driven over from OZ. Apparently our deeds had been talked about round the race track…so we ensued in a half hour nattering while the docked ferry was starting to unload. We also saw Ash (the Kiwi) arrive on his bicycle, so he had made it all good, after we’d said goodbye to him at camp this morning. Incredibly the ferry took nearly an hour to unload – one of the crewmen said there were 460 motorbikes disembarking. It gives you an idea of just how many bikes there are on the island for TT, when one ferry load can carry so many. Fortunately there weren’t half as many going back (everyone was staying around for race week), and the ship was less than half full, so we soon found decent spot to stretch out for the 3 hr crossing. We had a quick drink, and I munched a cheese and vegemite roll I’d made earlier back at camp. Then we both made ourselves comfy, covering our eyes from the bright cabin lights, and I dozed off to some music over my headphones. We roused with the ships announcements just before we docked around 4.00am, when it was almost breaking dawn and getting light. It didn’t take long to disembark, and we passed a huge crowd of bikes waiting to get on, swept up with the event. We headed directly away from the docks and soon picked up signs for the M62, stopping at the first services, so Stew could do a last check on the gearbox – squeezing a bit more oil in. We tried to get a coffee in Starbucks, but they wouldn’t take the IoM bank notes !! – so decided not to bother and headed back onto the motorway. The biggest orange disc was just lifting over the horizon; cool sunrise before the blazing gold – it was quite a sight to behold. It was promising to be a good day – as we sped along a pretty quiet road at this time in the morning. The most traffic we saw were other bikes heading east that had come off the ferry too. As we rode along the glare from the sun was making the driving a bit tricky, but that turned out to be short lived, as over the Pennines in the distance, we could also see banks of fog clutching the hillsides. We were soon immersed in freezing fog, with visibility down to less than 20 m as we ascended the tops over Saddleworth Moor. And it didn’t clear as we descended into the West Yorkshire towns. Thankfully, the drive wasn’t too long and by 7am we were turning off Healds Road, back at Lez and Elaine’s. We tried to be quiet, letting ourselves in; first job getting the kettle on to make some tea and warm us up. But the noises had woken the household, and both Lez and Elaine soon descended in their dressing gowns to join us for a morning brew. Warm greetings all round, and we were soon catching up on everyone’s activities over the past week. My body was definitely fatigued, and needed some sleep, so I headed up to bed. Stew was fairing better, having had a couple extra hours sleep in the day, so he headed off with Lez to go to the Sunday morning car boot sales. I woke about 3 hours later, feeling so much better. I found Lez doing some house maintenance jobs in the bathroom and living room, and it looked like Elaine and Stew were out doing some grocery shopping. So we had a pretty lazy day just recuperating really and recharging the batteries; then after I got up Stew crashed out a couple of hours later. Lez and Elaine did some work at the other house, and then Elaine made us corned beef hash and Yorkshire puds for an early tea, which we all enjoyed sat out in the back yard. It was delicious.
For the next week we were preparing ourselves for the task of trying to submit all the paperwork to apply for Pakistani tourist visas, and from what we had read that was not going to be easy…….