We never did make it into Liverpool to sightsee. Just savoured the luxury of lazing around our apartment across the Mersey River doing absolutely nothing, except drinking dark ale and eating fish and chips.
And now we're about to depart the big island for a much smaller island!
The Steam Packet Ferry is a familiar fixture for Isle of Man visitors
The Steam Packet Company has a monopoly on all ferries going in and out of the Isle of Man. If you're coming in to see any of the motorcycle races on the island, you've got to book your tickets well in advance. We actually purchased ferry tickets online for last year's TT -- 8 months before the races! But, as usual, we couldn't predict where we'd be in 8 days (a week), much less 8 months! We ended up flying back to Toronto that summer, so in the end, we had to forfeit the tickets. :(
So this is our second attempt at the Isle of Man!
We got in!
Normally the hold is full to the brim with motorcycles, but the reason why it's empty and we were able to purchase tickets just the day before is that we are visiting the Isle of Man a couple of days after the Classic TT races. Even when we arrived in the UK a few weeks ago, I knew we'd be in the vicinity around this time, but there was absolutely no chance of securing a ferry reservation for the race days on such short notice.
No sour grapes at all, though. I've watched TT races on TV and I truly do not believe we could've dealt with all the crowds in our fragile, travel-exhausted state. Still, we've heard the island is really beautiful, so we're looking forward to just poking our heads around without loud motorcycles and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds everywhere.
It takes just under three hours to cross from Liverpool to Douglas, the eastern port on the Isle of Man. Not only are there few motorcycles on the ferry during our mid-week sailing, but there's not many cars or passengers either.
This is what the ferry normally looks like during race week, with several crossings per day! Picture from the Internet
We rolled off the ferry in the early afternoon and made a bee-line through the middle of the island to the other side. We've been told by many people that there's a good campsite just outside of Peel, on the west coast. Coast to coast on the Isle of Man is really not that far - 17 kms! The island is small! I can't imagine tens of thousands of motorcycle spectators on this tiny island on race weeks! Well, I can imagine it. I've seen the videos...
So glad we're not fighting all those crowds. And all those bikes.
Our campsite in Peel. This was the only other tent in sight
Numerous light patches of grass marked all the spots where campers had set up their tents last week. Feeling neighbourly, we unpacked our new home up beside a large RV and a German woman came out to greet us.
"You've just missed the races!", she exclaimed in absolute dismay. She said this in the same tone that you'd use to describe a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane.
"Yes, we know. We're just here to see the island."
She seemed not to hear me. "The races were just a couple of days ago. It was so good! We come every year. I cannot believe you just missed the races!" Now her fevered voice reached the pitch reserved for mourning the loss of a family pet.
This woman was getting annoying. I thought about moving the tent.
"Yes, that's too bad we missed the races. We're just going to continue setting up. Nice talking to you."
Her husband came out. She wailed to him: "They just arrived. They missed *ALL* the races!" It sounded like her entire family just disappeared in a plane crash.
Having an early supper at our campsite. Neda is making her single-pot stirfry specialty. Mmmmm!
After dinner, we walked into Peel to do some sight-seeing
Like most sea-side towns, Peel is a fishing port
The most popular tourist attraction is Peel Castle, in the background above. The town of Peel is a popular vacation spot not just for tourists, but local Isle of Man residents as well. However, the town is deserted. This is the first week of school and we wander around the streets and shores of Peel, devoid of people, cars and motorcycles. It's kind of nice having the place to ourselves, and not having to fight any crowds.
Most of the businesses here have also shuttered their doors for the season, with only some restaurants open during the weekends. Glad we had dinner at our campsite.
Peel Beach, one of two in the town
A statue of Fenella, a character in a book called "Peveril of the Peak"
Although the book was written in 1823, and the statue looks old, it was made just a few years ago by a local artist, Nick Barlow, who carves these sculptures out of wood. With a chainsaw! Parts of the book were set on the Isle of Man, hence the connection.
Apart from the motorcycle races, the Isle of Man is also notable for having a large community of artists.
The fortress of Peel Castle overlooks the harbour
Gingerly scootering up to the edge of the harbour
Fenella Beach, named after the character in the book. It's a sheltered cove right beside Peel Castle. Peel Beach in the background
After wandering through the castle, we climb around the rocks outside of it, braving the strong winds coming off the Irish Sea
Rocky landscape outside of Peel Castle
Town of Peel
We were told that there is an amazing view from the top of Peel Hill, beside the castle. We weren't the only ones walking up.
It's a long climb, so there are benches at various points along the way...
Neda's wind-swept look
Peel Castle from half-way up Peel Hill
Proof that I was there too
It was super-windy up on Peel Hill!
At the top of the hill: a marvelous view of the Irish Sea 500 feet below us!
Back down the hill, we ventured into town
None of the local vehicles have a UK plate. I did some research and while the Isle of Man is not technically a country, neither is it part of the UK. Nor is it part of the EU, pre or post-Brexit. It's a British Crown dependency, so it belongs to the Crown, but can pass its own laws.
Not sure what that means exactly, but if we're not in the UK, then to me we're in a new country!
The flag of the Isle of Man is a triskelion - three armored legs with golden spurs against a red background. It's very similar to the flag of Sicily, when we passed through a couple of years ago. Wow, this trip has legs.
The Isle of Man triskelion was first used in the 13th century around the time of the Scottish takeover of the island. You can see the symbol alongside the Royal Banner of Scotland on the back of a van in the top left. We saw the three-armored legs everywhere on the island, not just on flags.
The origin of the design is unknown, but the triskelion has traditionally been used to represent the spokes of a wheel. The flag was around long before the motorcycle races were held here, but it was a nice two-wheeled Segway.
The bottom right you'll see a blue British hovercraft. Actually, it's a three-wheeled car (one in the front, two in the back. Shocker!) called a Reliant Robin, built in England. The Peel Engineering Company put out its own three-wheeled car called the Peel Microcar back in the 60s, manufactured right here in the Isle of Man! That was a three-wheeled segue.
One of the buildings in town was a little museum dedicated to the TT races
Of course it was closed, since the races were over. We peered inside at all the motorcycle memorabilia. I thought back to all the videos I watched of the sound and fury of Superbikes hurtling at (literally) break-neck speed through the tiny villages of the island; defying death on every lap by zooming inches past buildings, curbs and spectators. The triumphs and spectacle. The horrific crashes and the heart-breaking defeats.
Vintage Honda two-stroke RC race-bike. #35!
35 just happens to be English MotoGP racer Cal Crutchlow's race number. Coincidentally, he currently rides a Honda in this year's championship. Slightly more power than this one above... Neda also informed me that he now lives on the Isle of Man. Another coincidence. We should try to find his house and ring the doorbell...
I love motorcycle racing!
We called it an evening and slowly wandered out of Peel. As we were walking back to our campsite, I mused out loud, "Maybe I am a little bummed that we missed the Classic TT..." When we arrived to our tent, I glanced at our motorcycles parked patiently on the patchwork grass.
I turned to Neda: "We're going to have to fix this."