The Isle Of Man

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The Isle Of Man Medium Route – pdf
Distance: 53.5km
Altitude Gain: 1,528m
Time: 4-6 hours

The Isle Of Man Hard Route – pdf
Distance: 53.5km
Altitude Gain: 1,528m
Time: 4-6 hours

There are some overseas places that as a mountain biker you are predetermined – and determined – to try to visit. Last time I checked the list on MTB-Wikipedia (no doubt you’ve bookmarked this site already) these were Moab, Chamonix, Whistler and Todmorden. I don’t recall the Isle Of Man ever appearing on anyone’s list of places to ride.

issue45pic2Even though I pride myself on ‘keeping it UK’ and exploring all the riding that this country has to offer, I must admit to never even contemplating sampling the Isle Of Man. It wasn’t until we were invited to cover the annual End-To-End Challenge enduro event that we decided we should probably investigate the island a bit more. To be honest even after accepting the invite I wasn’t getting my hopes up about the riding. For one thing, with it being rather a dinky little island I assumed that it would be flat. After getting hold of the solitary O.S. map that covers the Isle Of Man Landranger 95) it was immediately obvious that this lump in the middle of the Irish Sea was very far from being flat. Those telltale orange pinstripes are festooned all over the map.

Okay, so the highest peak – Snaefell – is only 621m high but when you think that it’s only about three miles from the sea you get some impression of the ‘gradient potential’.

A friend of mine had some experience of riding on the Isle Of Man but he hadn’t ridden there for quite some time (‘not since I had bar ends’ apparently) so the details and accuracy of his happy memories were to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Boats Rock, Aeroplanes Suck

So myself and my faithful photo-gimp Felix found ourselves waiting for the ferry from Liverpool on the Friday before the Sunday’s End-to-End Challenge with somewhat guarded enthusiasm. Travelling by boat is ace. When you look at it, flying should be an incredible experience – shooting through the sky in a metal tube with wings on. But it isn’t. It’s an exercise in boredom and annoyance. There’s something about sailing that feels more adventurous and (dare I say it?) romantic.

issue45pic3Sailing is a very British thing. We had the world’s first navy after all. It’s in our souls to mess about on water. The industrial revolution wouldn’t have been possible without the docks and the canal system. Nowhere is our great maritime past (and it most definitely has passed) better appreciated than Liverpool. As the ferry left the dockside, Felix and I stood on the deck watching the crew draw up the anchor and hauling rope on board as has been the way for centuries. The ferry moved along the Mersey and out into the Irish Sea. It cruised both slowly and too quickly. Too quickly to take in all the melancholic beauty of the once-busy now-crumbling dockworks. Maybe it was the strange, gorgeous evening sunlight that was making us get all philosophical and lyrically waxing. Whatever it was, it was a special feeling. Certainly better than taxi-ing along a runway anyway.

Abroad. But Not.

After a couple of hours we arrived at Douglas port. We drove out of the mouth of the ferry and on to dry land and found ourselves immediately on Douglas’ sea front. After finding our hotel and checking in we were in the pub. All within half an hour of docking. I never want to take a plane ever again.

The following morning we were greeted with something we hadn’t seen for months. Sunshine. Out of our hotel bedroom window basking in the rays was Douglas’ seafront ‘strip’, a gently curving two miles of wide promenade, blue railing, pebblestone beach, palm trees and slightly faded Art Deco architecture. Very British. Very cool. The itinerary for the day was blank until the evening (when the sign-on for the End-to-End Challenge was). We were due to be guided around some trails on the following Monday but there was no way we were going to miss the rare opportunity to ride under blue skies today. Luckily I had the foresight to purchase a map before we left the mainland and over breakfast – with a few vague clues from my ‘bar ends’ friend – I pieced together a rough route for a day’s worth of exploring. The main idea was to head for the general direction of Snaefell (a large and very handy navigational aid) and see what we
could find.

Lookalike Landscapes

issue45pic4We pedalled along the promenade, taking it steady. Soaking up the unusual environs. The sea air tasted brackish and the light was searingly clean and crisp. Although Britain itself is an island it’s still a thrilling and strangely beguiling sensation to ride so near the sea. After what must have only been a couple of miles at most we experienced the first of many ‘landscape lookalike’ moments. Fifteen minutes ago we were at a very British, Torquay-esque seaside but now we were clearly in the Yorkshire Dales. Dry-stone walls? Check. Windy singletrack roads? Check. Lots of grass with sheep on it? Check. Unintelligible 1950′s farmer? Check. Another 15 minutes later and we were climbing up heather- and gorse-lined singletrack. North York Moors anyone?

As the heather and gorse trail widened (leaving its itchy autograph scratched all over our shins and forearms) we were on an ancient drove road that was headed for some big round mounds that were clearly and undeniably the Scottish Borders.

Before we reached the mounds (that were doing the usual Borders trick of not getting any nearer anyway) we spied an intriguing little short-grassed track darting off down the flank of the hillside. The track was fast. It spat us around a sharp bend, the grass covering ceased and the trail metamorphasised into a rocky, slatey chute. Yes, we were now in North Wales.

As with most don’t-know-where-it-goes descents we were faced with a hideous climb. Ah well, you have to pay the price for pleasure. After a mile of ‘why isn’t this chevronned on the map?’ road climbing we were just about to reach the saddlepoint we’d been glaring at for the past 20 minutes. In front of us was a leatherclad man with a gun. As it happened it was a motorbiker with a speed radar gun recording just how fast his mate could ride around this bend (answer: insanely fast). A quick look at the map revealed that we were at ‘Windy Corner’ on the TT Course.

Time was getting on a bit and my rear brake was running on empty (brake pad) so somewhat reluctantly we opted to ride back down to Douglas on the road. As it turned out it was an ace way down. We basically followed the TT Course all the way. Doing our best Obree aerotucks on the straights, trying (and failing) to ‘get our knees down’ on the iconic Creg-Ny-Baa corner, zipping past black and white kerbstones, padded signposts and hay-baled laybys. So I guess you could call that bit Silverstone.

From One End To The Other. No, Really.

The next morning brought the day of the End-to-End Challenge. I won’t go into great detail about this here but suffice to say it had some genuinely tough climbs and – especially in the latter half – some extremely fun sections. The final five miles or so were an undoubted highlight; fast and unpredictably twisty moorland singletrack with jeyboy racers flying over the handlebars left, right and centre and once-a-year have-a-go-heroes strewn all over the verges cramping up in agony. Like war, but fun.

It was a shame the low cloud hung around for the whole day of the event. The views on a clearer day will be amazing. And we really hope we’ll be able to do this event under clear skies one day. The feeling of finishing this event was definitely markedly different to any other Enduro we’ve done. Partly it’s because it’s not just a big out-and-back loop. Partly it’s due to the incredibly varied terrain that it passes over – although the views around us were limited there was more than enough stuff going on at close quarters and under our tyres to keep us occupied. But I think it’s mainly the novelty (for want of a better word) of riding along the entire length of an island. That evening Felix must have remarked “I can’t believe we rode the whole length of the Isle Of Man” about 700 times. And each time I replied “I know, cool”.

Splish! Splash! Grin!

issue45pic5The following day we had arranged to meet up with a couple of local riders (Kale and Andrew) to be shown around some trails around the Ramsey area. The weather decided that we’d had enough of being dry. It was absolutely bucketing down. But like the plucky Brits that we are, we all agreed that the show must go on. Kale duly guided us around sheltered luscious woodland that alternated between the rocky technicalities of the Lake District and the dark, rooty slip ‘n’ sliding of Bristol. Great, sketchy fun. It was too wet and too dark to get any decent photographs I’m afraid. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

The three routes listed in this Route Guide are all very different from each other. If you were to do them all over the course of a long weekend away you’d experience a great lesson (or reminder) of how just how varied, and how great, the riding is in Great Britain.

Staying There:

Sleepwell Hotel in Douglas sponsor the E2E. They are bike friendly and will give a bit of discount if you book to stay for next year’s event. Their Chesterhouse Hotel has secure bike storage facilities. www.sleepwellhotels.com
There are countless B&B’s along the sea front in Douglas. Otherwise try the IOM tourist board website as the local B&B’s are very welcoming and many will take dirty bikers. There’s loads of self catering accommodation too. www.gov.im/tourism

Eating There:

Eating in Douglas is plentiful. Paparazzi in Douglas has good home made pizzas for around œ8. And the Taste Of India on the sea front is one of the best curry houses Singletrack has ever experienced. Bar Logo in Ramsey has regular bar meals from œ8 upwards. The best home made cakes on the island are at Barista cafe in Ramsey. Massive slices for œ2 and the local favorite is chocolate orange cake. A great eatery is the Neb Cafe at Tynwald Mills they don’t complain about muddy shorts and the cakes are seriously impressive. www.tynwaldmills.hostinguk.com

Bike Shop:

Eurocycles
8A Victoria Road
Douglas
IM2 4EY
Tel: 01624 62490

Getting There:

The Steam Packet Company don’t charge for bikes so you can make it a bit cheaper if you leave your car and just get on the ferry as a foot passenger (Adult return fares from œ35). www.steam-packet.com

Mapping:

Isle Of Man O.S. Landranger 95 (yes, it’s only 1:50,000 scale but it’s rather handy how the whole island fits on just the one map!)

The Isle Of Man End-to-End Challenge:

The 75km route incorporates 1500m of climbing with a thrilling mixture of fast fire roads, sweeping moorland paths, country lanes and forest singletrack. You’ll (hopefully) experience stunning views and great support from the local spectators whilst you gain a real sense of satisfaction as you make your way from the northernmost to southernmost points of the island.

Categorised as:

North West England