Laxey Wheel – just one of many great sights on the Isle of Man
Yes, I know that it’s quite a while since Caroline and I visited Isle of Man, but there’s been quite a few adverts and programmes on television over the last couple of weeks here in the UK highlighting the island and its many charms.
As well as coverage of the iconic TT Races over the last fortnight – the build-up, the classic races of recent and not-so-recent years, profiles of current riders and legends such as Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop, there’s been segments shot on the island in programmes fronted by bike nut Henry Cole – Find It, Fix It, Drive It on More 4 and The Motorbike Show on ITV4.
It’s been a while since I last rode a motorbike (1975 to be exact, around the back lanes near Glenridding in the Lake District), but I suspect that now would not be a good time to give it another go thanks to some small balance problems after having that stroke in 2004…
Our journey to Isle of Man started with a train ride to Liverpool and a wander down to the Hampton By Hilton hotel once we arrived. After checking in, we headed out to explore the area surrounding the hotel.
There had been a small festival taking place on that Sunday, but it was winding down as it was nearing 6pm, so we contented ourselves by just strolling around and seeing what was out there. As we’d not had lunch we were on a mission as we were beginning to feel the need – the need to feed!
The pub we’d spotted earlier in the day had already stopped serving food, so a nearby group of restaurants looked very, very tempting. Yes, they were chains, but by that time we were passed caring…
No tables were available at our preferred choice, so we ended up going to another pizza place a few metres away. Calamari was tried for the first time, but after polishing off the bowl, Caroline and I came to the same conclusion – what was all the fuss about?
Our respective pasta and pizza courses were more impressive, as were the desserts and the coffee that rounded the meal off. Yes, it was a budget busting bill, but hey, we were hungry and that’s all that counted at the time we ordered the food, wine and beer.
After a good night’s sleep, breakfast really set us up for the day, but not in the way we expected. Yes, Caroline went for the light option and I opted for the full English, but we ended up making different coffee choices.
I’m not a fan of machine coffee, but I tried a black coffee with some cold milk and it didn’t impress. The next cup though did hit the spot, largely because I hit the Espresso button three times before adding a smidgen of milk. Not perfection, but a distinct improvement on that first cup!
As we were getting ready to head back upstairs for our bags before checking out, one of the restaurant staff invited us to help ourselves to croissants to take away with us. Whilst we grasped a couple each for lunch, the lady offered us a couple of paper bags and napkins to stash the croissants in.
So there is something to the concept of getting a free lunch!
Once we’d retrieved our bags and checked out, it was time to head towards the sea cat Manannan for our shortish hop across the Irish Sea.
One of the first things we noticed after landing at Douglas was the friendliness on Isle Of Man, starting at the aptly named Welcome Centre when we sought and bought our travel and heritage smart cards.
This friendliness continued as people stopped to ask whether they could help us as we made our way to our hotel, searched for eating places and started to use those smart cards. It was our own politeness though that bagged us the last two seats on the Manx Electric Railway between Douglas and Laxey the following morning.
We’d normally leave such an impressive sight such as Laxey Wheel until near the end of our trip, but we had seen the ten day weather forecast for the island and it did not look good. So Laxey it was for the first part of the day out and the summit of Snaefell the rest.
Caroline had seen Laxey Wheel before on a previous visit to the island thirty years before our visit, but I’d only seen it on Coast, World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides (that man Henry Cole again…) or in photographs.
Once seen, Caroline’s insistence we head there was fully justified.
You can see the wheel just from the entrance gate and there were many people who did just that, but got not further than the gate. Once inside the gate, you get the feeling for the scale of the wheel known as Lady Isabella and for the site beyond the impressive water feature.
After a coffee in a nearby cafe and lunch in the Laxey station cafe, the next phase of the day kicked in – a ride to the summit of Snaefell and back on the Snaefell Mountain Railway via The Bungalow, just one of the many notable places on the TT Mountain Course.
Walking around on the summit brought some impressive views as were luckier with the weather than Julia Bradbury and a film crew had been whilst filming a programme segment on Snaefell for ITV.
We had been lucky with the weather, but had come prepared with mountain jackets in our day sacks and by wearing fleeces and walking trousers rather than the t-shirts and shorts favoured by some fellow explorers.
We weren’t that lucky the following day though when we visited Peel – those waterproofs did come out of the packs. Caroline made good use of the heritage aspect of those smart cards whilst I hit the motorcycle museum, had a kipper bap for lunch and sheltered in cafes so I could rest my left leg that was complaining after being cramped on the trams the previous day.
Thursday’s visit to Port Erin on the steam railway was a delight. Fine weather, a good lunch next to the beach and plenty of fresh air made the day, which was just as well as the weather closed in for the rest of the week.
We did make it to Castletown and Ramsey, but the rain gods had the final word on those days. Saving grace? Crossing the TT finishing line – on a service bus to Douglas rather than on a high powered motorcycle!
This is just a taster about Isle Of Man. There will be more over the next couple of weeks when I have days off. We will be returning to Isle Of Man, but in the summer months and we will take the car so we can do the whole of the Mountain Course and explore the parts we didn’t get to…
It won’t be over the TT weeks or when there’s other racing taking place. These will be watched at home if for no other reason than we’ve seen what the hotel rates are for those particular times when fans head to Isle Of Man to watch the racing and their heroes at play…
It’s a while since I had a long session on my own computer – too long in fact.
But today was the day when it was booted up, the latest version of the system installed and one or two apps that are good to have around.
So, it’s back to the future with more words and more pictures too.
Here’s a few pics that I’ve looked at in readiness for the next few weeks…
September on Isle of Man
Isle of Man once more
One from Dumfries & Galloway
The bridge at Ronda, Andalusia
Sunset at Cadiz
Indoor market, Seville
Flamenco in Seville
Seville once more
No fog on the Tyne
No prizes for guessing the country or the resort…
Taormina in the foreground, Mt Etna in the background
Teatro Greco, Taormina
View towards Letojanni from Teatro Greco, Taormina
More coming your way soon!
Yes, still working..
The above pics from the wisepacking archive may give you a hint as to recent travels.
There’s still the Isle of Man pieces to come along with items on Dumfries and Galloway and Suffolk too.
Plans for further afield are being made, but flight prices are high for our dates at the moment, so there is both a Plan A and a Plan B being put together.
In the meantime there’s a busy time coming up at the day job, but writing sessions are being rostered to clear the log jam that’s occurred in recent weeks.
And besides, Caroline and I have both had one of those money can’t buy impromptu experiences.
Something to do with being invited to sit in the driver’s seat of an iconic British steam engine!
No sunloungers here! Thank goodness…
One of the main news stories here in the UK today is about a holiday company that is bringing in a £22 charge that allows you to reserve a sunlounger by the pool at selected hotels.
The story has been run on news websites and on TV news bulletins too.
We won’t be paying the charges though as the photos and news footage I’ve seen on said stories appear to be suggesting the type of holiday experience that Caroline and I would go out of our way to avoid.
There are a few suggestions in the melting pot for our trips in 2018 and none of them come even close to this kind of holiday venture!
A very fine day on Isle of Man, but we were heading home!
The packing for our visit to Isle of Man was definitely a last minute affair.
I’d been tracking the 10 day forecast for Douglas and surrounding area for a week or so and as the departure date loomed, so did the prospect of rain (and plenty of it!).
Things did look good for the first three days of the nine day break, so we had to balance the packing between clothes for sunny days, clothes for overcast days and clothes for days when there was the potential for heavy rain.
We’d also caught the tail end of a TV programme about walking on Isle of Man and had seen Julia Bradbury sheltering besides the trig point on the summit of Snaefell and trying to do a piece to camera about the weather conditions being experienced.
Words weren’t actually needed, because the visuals provided enough evidence of what she and the television crew were experiencing!
Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if we were pointing the car towards Liverpool or Heysham to catch the ferry to Douglas, but we weren’t.
We’d booked rail tickets to Liverpool, seats on the Manannan sea cat to Douglas and were then heading around the island using a mix of a five day Heritage Travel Card and feet.
We were also using a hotel/guest house mix of accommodation and were eating out rather than using hostels and self catering facilities, so there was a need to take some smarter clothes as well of those that could be used as a layering system during the more inclement weather conditions.
There was also one more thing to consider – after reading up on the reviews of the guest house we were using as our base in Douglas, the potential for washing and wearing was going to be restricted to undies rather than shirts, t-shirts or fleeces.
The main bags were our usual weapons of choice – 2013 vintage Osprey Farpoint 40 travel packs, but as these were packed to capacity, second bags were brought into play.
In Caroline’s case the second bag was her handbag for the trip, a brightly coloured small size Healthy Back Bag. In my case, it was my Rohan Stowaway 20, a packable day sack that normally is packed into the Osprey and brought into play as and when it’s needed.
We did get creative with our choice of clothing and footwear for the trip and whilst we would have busted any size and weight restrictions on a budget airline for instance, we took a good look at our travel and outdoor clothing and kit and put together a mix that covered all eventualities.
Both my jacket and my windproof fleece gilet came from The North Face. The jacket is a longer length HyVent waterproof one with a hood that goes into the collar, has pit zips for ventilation and the kind of pockets that will take guidebooks, bus timetables, camera, iPad Mini and my reading specs too.
The gilet is a ten year old TNF Windwall with a chest pocket for the phone and handwarmer pockets that will take the camera and specs case.
Tops came from a couple of sources. Crew neck fleeces and zip necks came from Rohan, as did a couple of Core Silver t-shirts, Stratum long sleeved polo shirts and a couple of merino wool based t-shirts.
These, coupled with a Peter Storm merino wool long sleeved zip neck formed the basis of the layering system employed on the trip to combat the expected bad weather.
A Rohan Stronghold shirt also came into play as a wind shirt and a secure place for my passport that may have been required for ID purposes.
Two out of the four pairs of trousers were the usual suspects – Rohan Goas – and these were complemented by a couple of pairs of Craghoppers Kiwi style cargo pants.
Socks and underwear were largely Rohan, but sock choices also included a couple of pairs of M&S trainer socks with a silver content and a couple of pairs of Bridgedale Light Hikers for the days when boots were needed rather than trainers.
And footwear? One pair of Merrell Mesa Ventilator shoes were packed whilst a five year old pair of Hi Tec casual/hiking boots were worn en-route and on various days out.
Whilst the mix of clothing and footwear was much more than I would normally pack for a week to ten days away, it worked and coped with all that was thrown at it – sunshine, wind, rain, squalls and downright filthy weather.
The wash kit and meds combo was the usual one with Lush shower gel, tea tree oil (good as a shaving oil IMHO), sample size toothpaste (courtesy of the help yourself boxes in my dentist’s) along with a disposable razor and my ViaSonic battery powered toothbrush.
With a Sanex roll-on anti-perspirant thrown in for good measure, all I needed to buy locally was a can of Lynx body spray and some baby wipes.
Not convinced about the need for the baby wipes? Trying eating a freshly cooked kipper bap from the kiosk down by the pier in Peel or a bacon buttie down by the beach in Port Erin and you will be convinced about how useful these things can be!
My main bag also had the paperwork – rail tickets, ferry tickets, hotel booking info, the paper only guidebook and travel insurance documents.
Why travel insurance documents for Isle of Man?
Although there’s an agreement regarding health care between the Isle of Man and mainland Britain, there’s no repatriation agreement between the two, so any repatriation after a medical emergency or an accident, has to be covered by travel insurance.
The other thing that needs to be taken into account is that the EHIC card isn’t valid on Isle of Man. Why? Because the Isle of Man isn’t in the EU…
But what about Caroline’s bag? By and large, the contents of her bag reflected my choices, even though we hadn’t really talked about what should be taken.
Her Nike Pac-Lite Gore-tex came into play along with her TNF Windwall jacket, a recently purchases lightweight Rohan hoodie, a zip neck fleece from the same brand and another zip neck fleece from Craghoppers.
A couple of Rohan Stria tops were also packed along with merino base layers, Ultra Silver camisoles, a few pairs of M&S socks,two pairs of Endura cycling socks, her Rohan Trailblazer trousers and a pair of their travel jeans. Footwear? Merrell trainers and two pairs of Ecco Biom shoes.
Did everything work? Yes, is the answer to that one.
We both had more clothing than we would normally have on a break when we’re not using the car to get around, but that was down to the potential weather conditions we were due to face. Out of the six full days we had on the island, only two were rain free.
Was everything used? Just about…
I had one t-shirt that wasn’t worn and a bit of washing to do once we got home, but that was a thankfully minimal task given the properties of the items taken with us and the decision to stick with a couple of colour pallets in the clothing choices.
We did forget one thing though. Weighing those bags!
Standby for action…
The sea and the slipway…
Life’s a beach – when the tide’s out, not in!
When the chance for a five day break in June came up, it was grabbed with both hands.
There was a temptation to pitch a tent, but as Caroline has had some bother with her back and has been on the receiving end of physiotherapy for it, a hostel beckoned.
Our usual port of call in North Norfolk – Deepdale Backpackers has changed since our last visit and that’s down to new management, new staff and an improvement programme.
We managed to get a room at short notice as it wasn’t school holiday time and we were heading out on a Sunday and returning home on a Thursday.
Although we had a leisurely lunch on the way down, we still had time to kill when we entered the village of Burnham Deepdale, home of Deepdale Backpackers and our temporary home for the next few nights.
So we carried on, passed the entrance to Holkham Hall and carried on to Wells-next-the-Sea on a mission – to find locally produced cider…
Whilst I parked the car, Caroline headed into Whin Hill Cider to do some tasting and some buying too.
With a few bottles stashed in the boot, we then stretched our legs in search of ice cream given that this was a rather warm day and we’d been in the car for a few hours with the stereo playing and the air conditioning set to cool.
Once done, it was almost checking in time. We’d paid in advance, so all we had to do was get the electronic keys to access our room and the kitchen/common room area.
Changes were obvious in the Office and Tourist Information area and more subtle in Samphire, the ensuite room we’d been allocated.
The results of building work on the campsite were in evidence and as we noticed later in the week, the Deepdale team are investing heavily in changes to the group hostel and the areas we were using.
Changes had also occurred in the supermarket next door too – it’s not part of the Deepdale set-up, but it had been upgraded.
It’s okay, but we only bought a bare minimum of supplies there during our stay, and ended up spending more at the Co-Op and Leftley’s in Wells-next-the-Sea instead.
If it’s a Monday morning and the temperatures were rising, it was time to head out in search of some high quality confectionary from Baker & Larner’s in Holt and then head to the sea at Sheringham.
Baker and Larner’s didn’t get as much business as usual as they’d dropped a few things that we used to buy and we’d forgotten to pack any freezer blocks to keep any food purchases cool to have on the beach later. The local greengrocers got some cash, as did Mountain Warehouse, but that was it.
By the time we got to Sheringham, it was busy. Still got a place in the car park next to the heritage railway though and ended up finding lunch and then somewhere to eat it. As luck would have it, the tide was in and the areas of the pebble beach that were still exposed were rather full with deck chairs, tables and windbreaks.
We did find a place to sit and sprawl out though, but we were aware that we’d have to shift PDQ if there was a lifeboat call-out. We’d wandered into the lifeboat station, taken a look at the rescue craft pictured above and bought a couple of bags of RNLI fudge too.
Next stop was the slipway as nobody had staked a claim to it. And there we stayed for an hour or so, chewing the fat and slapping on the SPF 30 to prevent burning. Dogs came down the slipway, entered the sea and then shook themselves off, but other than that, everything was calm and peaceful.
We had to move eventually though and whilst we did call in at the main RNLI shop to get more fudge and a 2018 A5 desk diary, that was about it apart from an ice cream each at Sheringham Railway Station.
A quick call into the Co-Op in Wells saw us exiting with food and wine in readiness for a very rare event for us in the UK. An evening meal with wine at a table in the open air during a British Summer…
Wine and food went down well and in relative peace and quiet too after the previous night when a group had been playing in the barn next to the hostel courtyard. Not my cup of RNLI tea at all, especially on a first night away…
More on Monday!
On the beach…
Where were we?
Ah yes, heading into Alnwick for some fodder for an evening meal.
I’ve made quite a few visits to the town over the years. Some for work, but most have been for pleasure. My best friend from University lived a few miles away and even had her wedding reception at Alnwick Castle, but there were quite a few nights out on pub crawls or single bar nights, usually at Oscars.
Which appeared to have closed down when I drove past it a couple of times. Parking in the town centre was a problem, but a bit of local knowledge came in handy as I headed out of town in the direction of Barter Books and turned right into Lidl’s car park.
With shopping for a couple of meals and breakfasts done, it was time to head back to Calico Barn for coffee, food and a snooze before catching up with email and then switching the iPad to Kindle mode for the rest of the night.
Wednesday wasn’t quite a repeat of Tuesday’s meanderings. Yes, I did some more work and then tried to get into Amble again afterwards, but that mission failed thanks to parking issues once more, so I just ended up mooching towards Alnmouth again and then headed to Newbiggin-by-the Sea.
After getting back to Cresswell, I drove past the hostel and turned onto a side track that led to the car park at Druridge Bay. It was busy and there had been a load of builder’s waste dumped near the footpath to the beach.
Although I’ve visited Northumberland many times, this was the first time I’d been to Druridge Bay. It may have been half term, but the beach itself was pretty empty.
The above photo doesn’t do it justice, because it is a great beach and I’d only wished that the lighting conditions had been better from a photographer’s point of view.
One thing was blindingly obvious. I’m pleased that environmentalists stood up to the powers that be over thirty years ago and fought a successful campaign against plans to build a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay.
Little did I know that there was a public enquiry taking place down the road which was discussing plans for opencast coal mining near Cresswell. BBC’s Look North covered it in their 6.30pm news bulletin that night and whilst the public enquiry is over, the verdict isn’t due to be released just yet…
After a while on the beach, it was back to Calico Barn to freshen up, have a meal and relax for a while. I was due to be the only one staying in the hostel for a couple of nights, so I could spread out, take the best seat in front of the TV and have a beer or two.
There was a knock on the door though as two Dutch cyclists who were heading onto the adjacent campsite were wanting somewhere to buy food or get a meal. Caroline and Luke rode past and whilst I shouted to them in the hope of catching their attention, the wind took my words elsewhere and they didn’t hear me hollering!
I suggested that they try Cresswell village to see what was available in the pub or indeed at the caravan site shop, so off they went. When Caroline and I spoke later on, it transpired that she had heard something, but had dismissed it as she rode back after another long bike ride.
Thursday saw a bit more work going on until about lunchtime so lunch was taken at The Drift cafe just along the road from Calico Barn.
Which was rather busy. A bacon and haggis roll was ordered along with a Coke Zero and both went down well, especially that bacon and haggis combo… The two Dutch cyclists were also in there and the steady stream of customers suggested that The Drift is a rather popular feeding station.
After a drive around, I ended up in a couple of places I remembered the names of from news bulletins during my days of living in both mining communities and towns or cities in the North East of England.
Ellington and Lynemouth had been proud mining communities, but those days were over. When I asked locally what had happened to those people who had worked at the collieries, I didn’t get that much information apart from the mention of a mental health facility opening up in the area.
On returning to Calico Barn, it was time for an early meal and a plan for another relaxing evening. Then a couple of large cars pulled up containing two families who had booking in at the last minute. Peace and quiet did go out of the window, so I retreated to my room and promptly fell asleep.
When I woke up, all was quieter than New Year’s Day. After a snack, a beer and a phone conversation with Caroline, I turned in for the night, only to be woken up by those two families returning at 11.30pm. I was not amused…
Friday was departure day, so my stuff was packed up and left until I headed up to the caravan park to pick up Caroline, her bike and her couple of bags. Once done, it was time to get my bags and then let Caroline look around Calico Barn for a potential weekend base for her cycling club.
Calico Barn Independent Hostel, near Cresswell, Northumberland
After that, it was time to go home. On relatively quiet roads and motorways for once!
Next week – North Norfolk in June…
Tractor on a very sunny day
Northumberland is a place that Caroline and I keep returning to.
We’ve spent weeks up there before and made fleeting unsuccessful visits to try and see those pesky Northern Lights too.
This time was a little different though as we were staying about a mile away from each other – Caroline in a caravan with her son, daughter, son-in-law and her two grandsons while I was occupying a bunk in Calico Barn, an independent hostel a smidgen nearer the Northumberland coast.
The original plan was for Caroline to head up there on her own to spend time with her family whilst I stayed home to sort out some bits and pieces. That plan was soon ditched when Caroline tried to book herself and her bike onto the trains needed to get her there and back again.
Booking the tickets for herself was easy, but for the bike? Er, no…
A phone call was made to the railway company to find out what the actual procedure was. Despite Caroline specifying a very Yorkshire point of departure, the chap on the other end of the line insisted that she had to get the train from there and then change at Vauxhall Bridge station.
When she pointed out that she was departing from Yorkshire and that Vauxhall Bridge is in London, the guy didn’t budge, so she thanked him politely, put the phone down, saw my face and we both burst into fits of laughter at the same time.
Which is why I was in Northumberland. Plan B was for me to take Caroline up to Cresswell, head back home and then go back for her.
We then went for Plan C – I would take her up there, find somewhere to stay, do the stuff I needed to do and then pick her up and head home…
Our paths did cross a couple of times during the week. I spent most mornings doing what I had to do in the way of paperwork and research using books and iPad and then headed off with my camera to explore and take some shots along the way.
The first foray out saw me trying to get into and park up in Amble – no chance as it was half term with fine weather and the car parks were full.
So I headed up to Alnmouth instead. Now I’ve been heading going up to Alnmouth for over forty years and know my way around the place well. Or so I thought, because someone, somewhere has decided to implement a one way system around the village.
With no parking there either, I headed off in the direction of Seahouses and Bamburgh. As I was about to head towards North Sunderland, I spotted familiar figures on bikes heading in a different direction.
Caroline and Luke were also heading to Seahouses to meet up with the other family members who were using Mazda power rather than bikes. After a quick chat, Caroline and Luke headed off one way and me in another.
Seahouses was packed, so I wasn’t even going to try and find a parking space. Bamburgh beckoned and as I headed up to where I thought I could get parked, Caroline and Luke came down the road I was heading up…
Parking turned out to be dead easy as it was on the road near the hotel Caroline and I had used on our last visit to the village. And it was free too, handy as it was lunchtime and I was getting hungry.
Pub and hotel food in Bamburgh is rather good, but that wasn’t the food I was looking for. A couple of Scotch pies hit the spot, as did an unexpected find – pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) – and good ones too!
With most of the village taken up by fellow day trippers, there was a place to go in one of the quieter parts of Bambugh. The Grace Darling Museum, which has a very good RNLI shop on the ground floor level.
The RNLI’s 2018 diary wasn’t available as it was still May, but five bags of the RNLI fudge did leap off the display and were duly purchased. It’s good stuff, but it gets rationed now to having a few pieces at a time rather than downing a whole bag in one go (been there, done that!).
Once back in the car, there was more food shopping to be done, but of the supermarket kind as I needed to get some milk, bread, butter and something to go with rice for an evening meal.
More from Spain…
Five days in Northumberland
Five days in North Norfolk
More thoughts on packing
Bits of news
Some silly stuff
Books, films and television programmes
And links such as the one below…
We’ve used and mentioned Osprey Farpoint packs a few times on wisepacking, so we’re pleased to see that there’s a new variation on the theme – the Osprey Fairview range.
They’re ladies packs and more info can be found here…