My First Visit to The Isle of Man TT Races
Long before moving to Ireland, I had written a bucket list. Bucket lists are nothing new and many people have them, but not everyone attempts to check items off that list, instead often planning to do it “someday.” One item on my list was The Isle of Man TT Races. As a lifelong lover of two-wheeled travel, although not owning a motorcycle myself until my early 30s, The Isle of Man was one of those things I intended to check off that list. For the uninitiated, the Isle of Man is a island between England and Ireland. It is the home of a long and dangerous road race that circles the Island. The 37-mile-long course is a series of straights and turns that has claimed the life of 270 riders in the 100 plus years it has been going on.
My first year in Ireland I went to the website to purchase tickets and found that most everything was sold out. The ferry was booked, flights were full and most hotels were booked as well. Acknowledging that my first year in Ireland would not be my first year to the races, I signed up for the email list planning to get tickets the following year. But, due to a scheduling conflict with another trip, my Isle of Man dream had to wait. After five years in Ireland, I finally booked a trip. The day that I received notice of tickets going on sale, the fall of 2018, my girlfriend and I went online to book flights, accommodations, etcetera. And I could finally put a check next to that item while enjoying watching guys do things on a motorcycle, I do not have the nerve.
It was raining as we left Dublin with a prediction of rain upon arrival and for the rest of the week on the Island, so we brought thick water-resistant boots and rain gear, a camera with a long lens and a rain cover for the camera.
After getting off our propeller-powered plane the taxi driver greeted us that IOMTT Travel arranged. He was friendly as we asked him for recommendations of places to visit on the island and the best locations to view the races.
“If you can get there Creg-ny-Baa is a good location, and it is close to Kate’s Cottage that you can walk to.”
“Can we get there by bus?”
“Yes, but you need to get there early. They close the roads before the races, and the buses won’t be able to travel.”
He went on to give us more information in the accent of islanders, that sounds across between someone from Liverpool and somewhere else in England. I don’t know I’m not an expert on accents.
“So, do you guys get annoyed each year around this time with all the tourist and road closures?” I asked as he drove us to Colby where our glamping site for the trip had been arranged.
“No, not at all. We love having people here for the races.”
This turned out to be a reoccurring theme as we spoke to locals. Generally, when traveling, I’ve found locals to be tolerant or outright annoyed at the tourist who brings revenue to their locality. But on the Isle people actually seemed to enjoy the visitors.
At the glamping site, located on a field of a local football club, we were greeted warmly by Eugene, Dave and, Oz. They checked our names off the list and handed us the welcome pack with our bus passes, schedule, and informed us of the camp layout. The main room was the cafeteria of the club. Through a door to the right were the bathrooms. The outside entrance to the bathrooms was open at all hours while access to the main room closed at 11:00. We found out during our stay that closing the cafeteria, didn’t necessarily mean everyone went to bed at 11:00. Off to the side on one wall was a table with power outlets and chargers for people’s phone. The Wi-Fi password and breakfast times were provided. They also mentioned we could ask them for suggestions on where to catch the races. Then Oz the youngest of the three walked us to #5 our tent for the week. A canvas teepee style tent with a single pole in the middle to hold it up. Inside was a bed with a mattress, two pillows, and thick blankets. There were two little wooden boxes for nightstands and a single battery-powered lamp for the nights, and a mirror hung with some rope to the pole for checking our hair if needed. The floor was covered in thick woven mesh. As glamping goes, this seemed fine to me as someone who prefers real camping.
After dropping our stuff off we walked into the village of Colby to the pub for a pint of warm beer and a meal of fish and chips. We spent the conversation discussing the plans for the next few days, such as ideas on where to watch the races as well as what to see on days with no racing. After that, it was a short walk in the rain back to the tent to relax.
Awake by 7:00 on our first morning after a restless night’s sleep primarily due to the large French contingent staying in our glamping site. They were up late having a good time and singing as a group. The 11:00 PM closing time of the cafeteria and meeting room, simply moved them outdoors. Mix the singing with the cold and the rain it was lucky I took half an Ambien or I wouldn’t have slept at all.
After a quick cold shower and some breakfast by the super friendly cafeteria lady who was kind enough to loan us a couple of towels, we walked to the bus stop in the village of Colby.
The lady at the bus stop said she was going to see her cousin who she hadn’t seen in a “donkeys age”.
For our first day of races, we had grandstand tickets. It was a nice sunny day as we walked through the town of Douglas after we got off the bus at the wrong stop. We took our time getting there as we watched the twitter feed to find that the race start times had been pushed back to 12:45. This gave us time to stop at the vendors to pick up a TT t-shirt and patch for my motorcycle jacket, while my travel partner looked at stuff for her nephew and niece.
After taking our grandstand seats they announced that the roads were wet in the mountain area and pushed the start back to 2:15. With more time to kill, we snapped a few selfies in front of the track before heading to the food stands for a late lunch of Bratwurst and Coke for me and a vegetarian pizza for her. We could hear the announcement from the food area behind the stands that even though the weather was beautiful at the grandstands where we were, the mountain portion of the course was receiving rain. I get nervous riding a motorcycle on a wet road at regular traffic speeds, so to ride a race bike on wet roads going over 130 miles per hour, I understood the reason for the postponements.
After receiving the latest notice that the race was pushed to 3:00 we headed to the park near the stands, put out a blanket and work on our tans because it was hot and sunny in Douglas. Eventually, they canceled the races for the day. So much for our grandstand tickets. But on the plus side, we had plenty of restaurants and pubs in Douglas to entertain us for the remainder of the evening before returning to camp.
The next day the weather was a bit better, so we managed to get some race time in. A late start got us into Douglas after the roads closed. So, we had to watch the first heat from the side of the grandstands, which mostly involved watching bikes race past and getting some blurry pics.
On the bus into town, one local started a conversation with us asking us what our plan was. After we told her where we wanted to go but since the roads were closed, we were going to just watch from Douglas. She then offered to run home after getting off the bus to drive us to a location near Union Mills. The very nice Tina dropped us off and told us of a path that we could walk down to a decent viewing point. However, like most places, we had not arrived early enough to get a good viewing spot. So, after that heat, we walked up to another spot on Union Mills.
The site was in a community center of some type, with grass to relax on, a stone wall to watch from as the bikes came down the hill, and a nice couple who watch the races every year and let me squeeze in next to them to snap some quality pictures. The guy like me was an aficionado of quality camera equipment and long lenses.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, hung out mostly in the grassy area chatting with one of the locals about whatever it was they chatted about. She would walk over occasionally during a race and watch, but mostly just enjoyed getting to know another one local who was happy to have visitors on the island watching the races.
After that heat ended the course was then opened up for traffic. During the opening, we walked up to the Railway Inn where we could order a beer and food. and grabbed a nice spot during the evening races to watch the bikes. A spot that would have been more enjoyable without the course marshals in the way.
Friday, the final day of races, started with concern over rain again. This was the day of the Senior TT. The big race day and everyone was worried about the weather. We decided to be smart and get a good spot in advance so we went to Bray Hill where there were already people waiting but plenty of space for us. We marked off our location, grabbed some food and came back to wait for the races while others arrived to watch as well. The race was a bit delayed but managed to happen and we are glad it did, as it was a fantastic day to watch the guys scream past at amazing speeds, doing amazing things on motorcycles that those of us without the guts can only dream of doing.
Here are some tips for Your Trip to the Isle of Man TT Races
- Sign up for the newsletter at iomtt.com to find out when tickets go on sale. They are also superb when it comes to packages and accommodations.
- Book your travel as soon as possible. If taking the ferry from the UK or Ireland, they will be full of motorcycle riders traveling to the island.
- Grandstand tickets are nice but you don’t need them. There are a lot of locations around the course to see the races for free.
- Be sure to arrive at the locations early, as they get crowded and the roads are closed before the races making transportation difficult.
- Bring a towel. This is most relevant for the campers and glampers. We thought towels were included in our glamping but they weren’t. Luckily one of the super friendly locals loaned us a couple.
- And finally! The people who live on the island are some of the friendliest people anywhere. So, don’t be a tourist asshole. Treat them well, clean up after yourselves, and enjoy the racing.