Our genial host, Mark, described it as ‘a stroll with TT’.
I was somewhat dubious at this proposal, since the Isle of Man (IOM) is famous for an invasion of super-powerful racing motorbikes during the famous TT road races in June; and the thought of somehow ‘strolling’ with several hundred motorcycles whizzing past at anything up to two-hundred miles per hour was a little unsettling, so soon after breakfast…
The traditional races are held in early June, which had come and gone, but the TT season lingers in the shape of the Classic TT. This hosts older and classic bikes, and is a gentler affair. Nonetheless, the steel and fibreglass monsters still race around the thirty-eight mile circuit at astonishing speeds.
He had, though, conceived a more subtle plan…
Like me, Mark loves the idea of a full or half day out in which the return journey is via a different route or mechanism than the outbound leg. In this case the enabling technology was going to be the electric railway that connects the Isle of Man’s capital, Douglas, with town of Ramsey – the second-most populous place on the island, and the area on the edge of which Deborah and Mark live.
Our good ladies had been dropped off in Ramsey to do some present shopping, and the plan was to meet up for a pub lunch at one of the traditional hostelries on the quayside – at the end of our walk. The Victorian electric railway would provide the transport home – Mark and Deborah live a short distance from one of the small stations.
Our walk was to take us over the last section of a ridge of hills that run from Laxey- the site of the famous industrial ‘wheel’ – to Ramsey in the north. The ridge includes the North Barrule (561metres) and Snaefell peaks, the latter being the island’s highest point, at 620 metres.
Tess, our collie, was with us, and we set off, following the line of the railway until we could cross the main road and begin the steeper climb up to the Ballure reservoir, at the base of the North Barrule peak.
The first part of the steeper climb was a ‘bit of a grunter’ as Mark says, until we emerged onto the plateau, half way up, that holds the Ballure reservoir and nature reserve.
From here, the paths diverge; the most direct, for our purposes, following the sodden incline of a shallow stream, which saw us emerge, several hundred metres later, onto the mountain section of the TT course!
When we booked the trip we had no idea that we would be sharing both boat and island with hundreds of my leather-clad, two-wheeled brethren – I am a biker, though of a much more gentle persuasion that those who want to do the ‘double-ton’ – as 200 mph is named, here.
There are constant reminders of the fragility of life on that edge… Helicopter-based paramedics are on hand for the most serious injuries, but each year at the full TT, several people are killed.
The bikers we met on the outbound ferry crossing were friendly and pleasant. Now, a few days later, we were encountering them at a slightly faster rate, as bike after bike howled past us on a road that had no pedestrian pavements and few pedestrians…
During the actual races, stepping onto the course would be illegal and deadly; but, during the practice week, the official high-speed laps are during the evening, when the roads are closed and revert to one-way flow (clockwise). This doesn’t stop many of those here for subsequent competition from opening their throttles wide on the mountain sections during the daytime, as we found…
My host watched, concerned, as a cluster of shining and snarling monsters flew past us, and Tess, securely on her lead, clung, bemused, to my right leg. Eager to minimise the dog’s exposure, we spotted a long gap and darted across to the safety of the ‘tower footpath’ – the way to our final destination before our descent into the gentle streets of Ramsey.
The tower is known as The Albert Tower, in commemoration of the only visit by Victoria’s husband, who arrived in the royal yacht on the 20th September 1847. The prince was rowed ashore at Ballure and he then walked up the hill and into the glen. From there he spent some time studying the view from the top of the hill. The hill was renamed in his honour. In 1848, a year later, the foundations of a commemorative tower were laid. It is made of granite and is forty-five feet high. It is considered a royal monument to both Ramsey’s subsequent development and the Island ongoing success.
Ironically, The Albert Tower is also known for another feature. From below, and almost any angle, it appears to be a round tower, not a square one… which did prompt much Roald Dhal-based humour on our part, based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the scene about ‘Square towers that look round’.
Our climb was complete. All that remained was to descend through the wide paths of the forest below us.
At the end of the descent, the outskirts of Ramsey enveloped us, with one final reminer – at one of the most dangerous ‘Z’ bends, of the extreme nature of all aspects of TT riding.
Soon, we passed the terminus for the electric railway – also an ever-present gift from the Victorian era (est. 1893). It was our good fortune that a train from Douglas, the island’s capital, was just arriving. We were able to watch as the train’s two carriages were split, allowing the powered car to have its overhead armature moved across its length – permitting reverse travel without being turned around. In the second stage, the other carriage was allowed to roll down the terminus slope, coming to a final halt in its correct position for the return journey to Douglas. Simple, space-saving and resilient – as its longevity has proved.
Our route to the quayside took us through Ramsey’s main streets.
And finally along the quay…
Our destination lay ahead – the Trafalgar, where we would, an hour later, meet up with Bernie and Deborah. It had been a wonderful walk – and a vivid reminder of the dual nature of the wonderfully vivid and world-famous TT.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com
Images: taken by the author and copyright.