Amanda goes to the Isle of Man for the enduro and stays for the ice cream.
Words & Photography Amanda
I find myself in a confused state of disorientation, having to wind the script back in my head to what brought me here, in order to remember where ‘here’ is, exactly. Endless coastlines, an abundance of forests, a floating castle, ancient woodlands, and so many wildflowers that I can set my eyes on a big fluffy bumble bee almost every waking moment. The friendly locals are so enthusiastic about visitors to the island they share all the important information without prompting. Did you know there are no squirrels, foxes or badgers on the Isle of Man? That makes for some happy chickens. What they lack in common wildlife, they gain with a population of wild wallabies on the north of the island.
This sunny oasis feels like a holiday I couldn’t possibly afford, so I revel in the fact that it’s a location I can access without using an airport and set out to make the most of my first trip here.
Rhys, Vicky, Aaron and I were tempted over the waters by a two-day stage race, the Manx MTB Enduro, and had our arses handed to us over ten stages of unbelievable natural trails. All averaging around four minutes in length at race-pace with plenty of technicalities to challenge even the strongest racers, we ended the weekend dazed and humbled. So naturally, pestering a Manxman for a local loop to stretch out the post-race aches and pains the day after, seemed the obvious move.
Robin Simpson-Green was our guide, though it’s worth noting that he doesn’t have any guiding qualifications. Or any experience with GPS, route plotting, or possibly even the internet. He’s also not originally from the Isle of Man. He sent me a copy of a newspaper article about last year’s race by post, so he’s not in my WhatsApp contacts and I found myself making arrangements by text message. This was fine, but didn’t allow for much route checking prior to meeting up for the ride. We really put our trust in him as we set off with absolutely no idea of how far we’d be riding…
Meeting at South Barrule car park in the south centre of the island, we load up on caffeine and breakfast at The Coffee Cottage just a stone’s throw away. Robin turns up and we’re all ready to go in record time as dry trails and the promise of all-day sunshine make for far less faffing. He guesstimates the ride will be around 30km in length and not take more than a few hours. He’s called ahead to a café to confirm it’ll be open today, so we pack a few snacks and set off.
The Arrassey plantation featured along the Isle of Man End 2 End Challenge route, a 75km cycle event running from the Point of Ayre to Port Erin which, after two decades, was cancelled for good in 2021. After a short stint on the road, Robin takes us through a section of the trail which feels very much like a trail centre blue/red run designed for the narrow bars of yesteryear; fast and flowing through the trees on a bed of pine needles, with plenty of rocks and roots to give you something to think about and keep you alert. Further down the trail, fallen trees and overgrown nettles are plentiful and keep us on our toes… or, in our case, off our bikes. It seems that only one year on from the End2End event being cancelled, a lack of traffic on the trails has let them run wild.
We return to tarmac and soon begin to query the route. It’s at this point Robin lets us know we could have entirely avoided roads, but he’s just making a beeline for the fun stuff. I ask to stick to the off-road option from here on, assuming there is one, but before the conversation ends we arrive at the Cringle plantation. Though only a small area of woodland, Cringle has a great selection of trails, mostly red and black runs. The trails are built and maintained, and there’s a great selection of classic woodland singletrack mixed up with jump lines, wooden features and plenty of technical sections to test your line choice. Rhys finds some jumps he considers to be safe enough to go full send on, while further up the track Vicky squeals with joy at how much air she’s getting – and how few nettle stings.
We play in Cringle for a while, finding it quite easy to navigate back up to the trailhead despite there not being much signage, then reluctantly head out with promises of a beautiful beach, a café stop, and the best ice cream on the island.
Where’s this ice cream?
I’m about to whinge about hitting more tarmac, but before I can get my breath to complain we find ourselves on a trail that runs alongside the A36. Touring motorbikes blast along the road to our left as we pick up speed along a narrow sandy ribbon of singletrack that contours around the hillside. I stop to take a photo of the view and spot Robin upside down in a cloud of dust in the distance. Fortunately he’s OK, though slightly bewildered as to what happened. A stray wallaby, maybe?
As we roll around the hillside enjoying the not-so-distant view of the coastline, Robin asks if we want to go and enjoy one of the best beaches on the island before our lunch stop. We fail to check if it’s actually on the route or via a tarmac detour, and all give the thumbs up. Following a short race between Vicky and Robin through a fun section that marks the end of our singletrack contour, we make tracks for Fleshwick Bay. To get to it, we blast down a road, and all realise before it’s too late that we’re going to have to pedal straight back up it to get to lunch.
Fleshwick Bay is a small, quiet stone and pebble beach with cliffs on either side that shelter it and calm the waters, making it an ideal spot for a swim. I spot what I believe is an ice cream van and get ready to settle for a break and discuss the rest of the route, only to realise it’s actually enduro racer Joe Barnes trying to enjoy a quiet day out with his family. Naturally, we get chatting about bikes before our stomachs interrupt us with some urgency to get to the café.
If not ice cream, then what?
To Robin’s credit, Port Erin is only a pebble’s throw from the beach detour, but our relief is short-lived when we’re informed the café he phoned earlier isn’t actually serving food today. Settling for a sandwich and a packet of crisps, we realise that we’re over 30km into the ride… and we’re at the furthest point from where we began. The weather has started to turn on us, so we get ice creams to delay the inevitable tarmac exit from Port Erin. We consider getting a train back, after Robin blows our minds with the fact that the steam train has an entire carriage for bikes, something you’re lucky to find outside of Copenhagen in my experience! But the times don’t suit, and we can’t get close enough to where we parked, so we suck it up and begin to take the most direct route back that we can, trying not to pay too much attention to the sixty shades of grey in the sky.
We end our excursion on a trail Robin is extremely excited about. The End 2 End Legacy Trail in South Barrule is a groomed hard-packed descent full of flow, jumps and many berms. It has all the characteristics of a trail centre run – flat corners, loose top surface, jumps you need a lot of speed for, no natural features. For many, this would no doubt be an absolute hoot. For those of us who prefer natural trails, we’re terrified of washing out in the loose corners. We safely make it back to the car park, and while Aaron cracks open a beer, Rhys gives Robin a brief overview of the Komoot app, 50km too late.
Don’t. Seriously, do not bother following this route. The Cringle plantation is great fun, but could be visited in isolation. Fleshwick Bay is a beautiful sight, but you don’t need a mountain bike for it. Almost everything off-road on this route is so unloved and overgrown, you’d need to take a gardener with you in the summer months, and potentially a tree surgeon in some areas. The End 2 End Legacy trail is (sorry, Robin…) not worth making a special trip for. But hear me out! The Isle of Man has some of the most technical, lengthy and grin-inducing descents we have ever ridden – Alps are included in that bold statement. The natural trails featured in the Manx Enduro are the best riding on this island; they are varied, long, challenging and will blow you away. We experienced so many emotions during the event – fear and adrenaline mixed with excitement, anticipation and disbelief of what the Isle of Man has to offer.
So I’d say, don’t bother figuring it out yourself – head to the Manx Enduro in July to experience the best riding paired with a great atmosphere. It’s hard to put into words just how good the riding is, but take my word for it, even if like me you don’t enjoy stage racing, you want this one on your list.
- Distance 47km
- Ascent 1,253m
- OS Map: Landranger 95 Isle of Man
Manx MTB Enduro
- 10 stages over 2 days. £35.00 Entry
- ~32km, +/-1,200m per day
The ferry terminal is located in the centre of the capital, Douglas. Ferries are operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and run daily between the island and the UK mainland (Heysham, Liverpool and Birkenhead). It is significantly cheaper to ride-on, so we considered taking one vehicle with all the tents and kit in, but in the end decided we wanted the freedom to explore and make a proper holiday of it, so we took the campervans. This is the biggest expense in visiting the Isle of Man, but if you plan in advance and make the most of your time there, you’ll soon forget about the cost.
Food and Drink
Port Erin has free water points throughout town and has plenty of small cafés. Scoop Ice Cream Parlour is very popular, and has a couple of vegan options among the extensive flavour menu. In Douglas, you’re spoiled for choice with restaurants. We ate at New Hong Kong by recommendation from local enduro racer Sapphire Ashcroft, and it was excellent.
If you head over for the Manx Enduro, camping is at St John’s Football Club and has everything you could hope for. Pan-flat camping field, charge points for campers, showers and toilets, a bar, and there’s even hairdryers. Outside of the Manx Enduro race, bookings are at the discretion of the Club.
While there are several bike shops on the island, Cycle360 is the biggie. The bike shop and café is open seven days a week, and they run fitness and gym classes along with events throughout the year.
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