diamond geezer

 Monday, July 14, 2014


• The Isle of Man is one of those exotic bits of the British Isles where lots of people live, but that most others never visit.
Getting there requires a boat or a flight (the latter about an hour from London), which can be expensive.
Administratively and financially it's quite like Guernsey and Jersey - a Crown Dependency - and has a similar population (although the climate's not so good).
Geographically, the north of the island is very flat, while a hilly mountainous swathe runs across the centre before falling away to a coastal plain to the south, where the airport is.
• The island's emblem is the triskelion - three armoured legs with golden spurs. It's everywhere - on buildings, on banknotes, and flapping on banners and flags in several gardens - which gives a unified sense of national pride across the island.
• The Isle of Man is famed for the TT races that take place annually around the end of May. A 37 mile circuit of roads is appropriated for competitive use, and motorcyclists career round at speed trying not to crash into bends, stone walls, spectators and each other. The circuit is marked by black and white kerb tiles, by empty scaffolding located around the route (used for camera positions and spectator seating) and by thick crashbags tied to walls to protect life and property. It's an astonishing course, in part for the mundane way it passes through villages and built up areas, but also for the moorland stretch that rises up along a vertiginous ridge to cross a mountain pass. The views on the ascent can be spectacular, although in low cloud and mist must be considerably less so. Various points, including the highest part of the course, have high footbridges solely for use by spectators and local residents while the racing is taking place. Having (been) driven around the entire course, I am amazed that any bike can complete the circuit in under 20 minutes.
• The island is just over 30 miles from tip to tail, and about half that from side to side, so there's a lot of land to explore, but getting around by car is really quite manageable.
• Getting around by public transport is also fairly easy, with a comprehensive bus service and two heritage rail services along the east coast linking most of the main towns (except in the winter).
• Motorbikes and holidaying bikers are everywhere, not just throbbing around the TT course, and certain pubs overflow with late-middle-aged blokes in bike leathers at the end of the day.
• The Isle of Man is very much a wheeled-traveller's island, not just for the racing but because of the network of twisty car-commercial-friendly roads. Listening to the local radio news at the weekend, the whole of one bulletin was devoted to car racing, bike racing and damaged mountain bikes. It's no surprise to discover that Jeremy Clarkson has a house here, presumably with a very large garage.
• Roads are numbered in a familiar way, from the A1 upwards, although the A2 gets a bit hairy in places, and by the time you reach the A10 you might want to slow down a bit. Only a couple of hundred yards of dual carriageway exist, immediately outside the airport.
• Car numberplates all contain the letters MN or MAN. A lot of people have hung onto prized plates that are solely MAN and a number.
• The Isle of Man is also very much a Daily Mail island - there are huge piles in every newsagent, to be read in conservatories, retirement apartments and on patios in trim detached gardens.
• Seafood is a speciality, not least the Manx kipper (I had them for breakfast two days running). Another local delicacy are Queenies - small sustainably-fished scallops - a bowl of which (with bacon and sauce) unexpectedly proved my favourite dish of the weekend.
• If you like walking, a network of well signed footpaths covers the island, and encircles it along the 90 mile coastal path.
• They use our coins but have their own banknotes, which you're likely to get back in change (and which aren't legal tender over here).
• Contrary to expectations the IoM isn't all full of tax exiles, with about half of the population having been born here, and just as long a queue at the Iceland supermarket as you'd find on the mainland.
• The island has its own internet domain (.im), which is begging for creative use.
• There is a surprising amount to see and do on the island, so much that I could easily go back for another long weekend to fill in the gaps.
• And no, you don't need a passport to get here.

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