The Isle of Man TT 2015 Trip
In early summer of 2015 Fanny and I decided to join the tens of thousands of spectators at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy road race that is held every year during the last week of May and first week of June. I have followed this race for years and been fascinated by the ridiculous speed and sheer bravery of the “Kings of the Road” as they red line their motorcycles at nearly 200 mph around the public roads on the beautiful Isle of Man. Each lap of this “time trial” is 373⁄4 miles (60.7 km) long, taking in 200 bends along the Snaefell mountain course as it weaves around the island, through the towns and villages, and over the mountain. It is the oldest motorcycle racing circuit still in use in the world… and by far the most exciting.
An idea of what the racing is like can be seen at this brilliant video:
As we both have full time jobs working on various forensic and investigation projects in China and tight schedules this was going to prove to be a difficult trip to plan, and of course we left the booking of ferries and accommodation far too late, and so like much of our “Big Bike Trip” some logistical juggling was going to be needed… AND we were going to have to live in a tent again.
We flew from Hong Kong via Dubai to Gatwick airport in Surrey, England, and took the ridiculously slow train down to the south coast to pick up our KTM 990 SMT from my friend Nick Dobson’s house in Bexhill on Sea. After a day of idling about with Nick and packing everything in our new panniers we rode to the Isle of Man via the scenic route, taking in the south coast of England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Afterwards we made our way back down south to Sussex via the Lake District, and my mother’s house in Staffordshire where I was brought.
Nick and I managed to arrange a day’s off-road riding with the “Yamaha Offroad Experience” in Llanidloes in mid-Wales. As Fanny was still recovering from ACL knee surgery she thought it wasn’t a great idea to spend the day hanging onto an enduro motorcycle as it hurtled up and down the valleys, mountain trails and forests… or risk coming off which really wouldn’t do her recovery any good.
The day on the bikes in Wales was terrific fun, quite physically demanding, and also really good training for riding on larger adventure bikes. The Yamaha center also provided large engined 660cc Tenere and 1200cc Super Teneres if you wanted, but I have done enough big bike wrangling over the years, and so I much preferred the opportunity to ride the much lighter and nimble WR250 or WR450 enduro bikes.
Details at : http://yamaha-offroad-experience.co.uk/
Me (2nd in video with green kit and orange helmet) coming back to the farm after a fantastic day
After a full on and extremely satisfying day charging about in the Welsh Hills, Fanny and I packed up and got on our KTM 990 SMT and took the almost perfect biking road, the A470 from Lllanidloes to Betws-y-coed and then the A5 through Caernarfon to Holyhead in Angelsey. Due to the long daylight hours at that particular time of year in the UK it remained sunny and bright until after 9:00 pm and so the ride through Snowdonia and north Wales was glorious, despite being somewhat tired from all the offroad riding during the day. Nick told me he drove the 5 hours all the way back through the Brecon Beacons, Cotswolds and New Forest back home to Bexhill in Sussex. Hardcore, ain’t we? we middle aged laotouzi!
It was a long ride and after searching the not so pretty Holyhead (by normal Welsh high standards) we found an “OK” bed and breakfast and the next day took a very early ferry to Dublin in Ireland.
I had never been to Ireland before and we were both really impressed with Dublin when we got there. A very cosmopolitan city, so it is, on the estuary of the River Liffey, mixing medieval architecture with ultra modern Bauhaus style buildings financed during the early “European Union” hayday. Sadly, we had no time to stay longer than a quick lunch, and certainly no chance to see if Guinness really is nicer in Dublin than elsewhere in the world, and so continued west into the centre of the “Emerald Isle” to Athlone where were stayed with our good buddies from our Shanghai Gaelic football days, Declan, Michelle and family at their very lovely home. From here on the Guinness drought ceased and we wasted no time getting involved in Ireland’s number one activity, going to the pub.
Well fed and watered by our kind hosts we then headed further west along almost deserted roads to Gallway where we rode a few classic motorcycle routes, along the rugged coastline and around the bogs and lakes. Similar in a way to the west coast of Scotland in appearance, but with ferocious winds that threw us about all over the road. There were no dogs on chains, they had clearly all blown away.
Like all tourist spots, and Gallway City is definitely one of them, there were Chinese tourists everywhere buying up Shawn the Sheep paraphernalia and eating anything that stood still long enough to be piled into their faces. Although it was the end of May it was incredibly cold and extremely blowy. However, the friendliness and good humour of the Irish people is legendary and there are few places in the world where you are treated with such warmth and hospitality. I want to go again… perhaps later in the summer when the sun shines. The weather also probably explains why there are so many pubs in Ireland… they are warm boozy hideaways from the harsh elements outside.
We stayed at a very decent bed and breakfast, of which there were many in Gallway, and then took a scenic route via Limerick back to Declan and Michelle’s place in Athlone from where the next day, after a massive breakfast cooked by Michelle, we set a route along very pretty country lanes to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Ireland has left a deep impression and I want to go back one day and explore it even more. Its quiet, pretty, seems to go at a slower pace than the rest of the world, the people are friendly, and it really is very green.
We were surprised to go in and out of Ireland and Northern Ireland several times as we followed the most direct route. This was particularly strange as the road signs of Northern Ireland and Ireland are very different, one being a fully paid up member of Metric EU and the other Imperial British.
Although Fanny seemed oblivious to the violent history in the areas we were traveling, I was a bit daunted as we entered cities like Armagh, as it was an infamous IRA stronghold during the “troubles” and had seen some terrible violence from both sides of the conflict. I have a particular nagging concern as my brother, Simon was blown up by the IRA in Hyde Park in London in 1982 as he was riding a “Queen’s Life Guard” when he was with the Household Calvary Division of the Blues and Royals. It was a very bad time, especially him as he was badly injured and his soldier colleagues were brutally murdered. I was immersed myself, to a lesser extent, in the fight against IRA bombings in the 1980s when I served with the Metropolitan Police in London as the terrorist campaign against the British mainland, sponsored by Americans by the way, was in full swing. Hard to believe the yanks were involved given how much they harp on nowadays about the fight against terrorism, but that was the way it was.
Anyway, it all looked quite peaceful and pretty now and a far cry from the images etched in my mind of kids throwing stones at British troops and angry 70s housewives in flowery pinnies banging bin lids on the pavement and screaming obscenities. The reality was that all the towns and cities we rode through, Armagh and Belfast included, looked rather charming and a damned sight nicer than cities like Luton and Bradford in my own country, England.
After arriving in Belfast, rather too late to visit the Titanic museum as intended, we searched around for the Steam Packet ferry port, along with many other motorcyclist who were heading in the same direction. In fact, the locals were being very helpful and were gathering bewildered bikers and herding us towards the Isle of Man ferry port like lost sheep.
Unlike our other ferry crossings we have made on our Big Bike Trip where motorcycles were in the minority, this time there were thousands of amazing looking bikes being carefully processed onto the ferry. I had never seen so many bikes in one place, and it was a joy to see all the latest machines. When we got on the ferry the bikes were packed together like sardines in a tin and the riders crammed into the seats, with brisk business being done at the buffet and bar. After a couple of hours sailing we arrived at Douglas port and piled off, joining approximately 50,000 bikes on the island.
The weather was great when we arrived and so we headed off towards Ramsey, but within no time I was in a gaggle of sports bikes heading for the mountain course which was open in one direction for bikers like me to have a blast along. The KTM 990 SMT is a good bike and I had very good tyres fitted, but fully loaded with corporate sized Fanny and me, all our gear, and my general lack of skill, I wasn’t going to set any respectable lap times. In fact my average speed around the course was less than a quarter of the 130 mph that the TT racers achieve. I could see many of the young lads on their Fireblades, R1, SS1000Rs, Ninjas and GSXRs going considerably faster than me, but getting nowhere near the speeds of the TT racers. That said it was a bit of a guilty pleasure as we all sped past the static police posts, who in all fair play allowed us to give it some beans … within limits. Great fun.
Fanny I camped at “Silly Moos” http://sillymooscampsite.co.uk/ which for two weeks of the year turns its farm and barns into a huge camp site and catering facility. After being greeted by the very friendly owner, we quickly settled into things and found out where best to explore and more importantly, where to sit and watch the racing. When the racing wasn’t on and roads closed, which was most of the time, we explored the back roads and enjoyed the carnival atmosphere.
As usual the TT was not without drama and nearly every year someone crashes and dies and this year was no exception. Sadly, there were deaths and injury, and even a helicopter crashed in strong winds. However, the racer know what they are letting themselves in for and wouldn’t have it any other way. For me the racing and atmosphere was even better than I expected it to be with the famous names like John McGuinness, Ian Hutchinson, Bruce Anstey, Guy Martin, Michael and William Dunlop, and the other amazing riders speeding by with inches to spare from hedges, letterboxes, dry stone walls and lampposts. Unbelievable.
The motorcycle and sidecars seemed to defy physics as the passengers performed contortions on the rear platforms to keep the three wheels on the ground as they speed round corners at incredible speeds. The electric bikes in the TT Zero class were an unexpected surprise as they whirred by at incredible speeds in relative silence… maybe the future of biking. Ian Hutchinson had a storming 2015 TT winning several of the classes, but Fanny’s favourite, Guy Martin missed out again against stiff, and as always determined and ultra brave competition.
We got a chance to get up close and personal with the stars, their bikes and the mechanics in the paddocks in Douglas, and Fanny got a selfie with John McGuinness who always has time for his fans. We also got to see my friend and fellow fraud buster, Andrew Durant who was marshaling up high up on the mountain course throughout the event.
A funny incident happened when Fanny and I were riding through Douglas one evening. We were riding along the promenade next to all the pubs, seafront hostels and the funfair when suddenly a black van pulled out of a side road in front of us causing me to perform an emergency stop. I peered angrily into the van hoping to get an apology, or at least an acknowledgement that the driver was driving like a twat when I realized it was Charlie Boorman in the driving seat. As well as it being a big coincidence, as the last time I bumped into him was in Zambia while he was doing his Long Way Down TV expedition, you would think he would know better. What a luvvie.
(a bit of video which fanny took…. slowed down to see bikes otherwise they flash by)
Our bike trip to the TT was one of the best holidays I have had, Fanny loved it, the weather was perfect, my KTM 990 SMT was flawless and super fun, and we both want to go again.