I’m sitting writing this blog in Ronaldsway Airport on the Isle of Man, balancing my lap top on my knee while juggling a huge, sticky, Belgian bun and a hot cup of coffee. Dangerous I know, but at half past eight in the morning, it feels necessary.
The view out the window across the runway reminds me of the Scottish isles. Wild, remote and empty. I can see across the slate-grey water to St Michael’s Isle and Derby Fort (pictured below), a circular fortification built by Henry VIII and containing some rather impressive canons. (I don’t have bionic vision: I know this because I walked to the fort yesterday afternoon, enjoying watching the seals playing in the waves offshore.) It’s grey outside as the rain has just stopped, but there are cracks of light appearing in the clouds and it promises to be a nice day. Shame that I have to leave…
It’s been a wonderful four days here. It’s been a working visit, but it feels like I’ve had a holiday. The island is beautiful. It is constantly changing. You can find every kind of landscape here – rugged coasts; sandy beaches; moorland; mountains; green, tree-lined valleys; meadows and pastureland; small villages; fishing ports; towns… I could go on. And the people here are just so welcoming.
I have been here researching the history of the TT – the island’s famous road races. Before I came I knew that the event was important to the island, but it isn’t until you come here that you realise quite how much the TT is part of the Manx psyche. And what is particularly great is that everyone here seems so positive about it. Every year their tranquil island home gets invaded by tens of thousands of bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts, and yet the visitors are welcomed with open arms. And I am sure it is not all about income: the TT certainly is essential to the island, but from the people I have met it really does seem that the enthusiasm they feel for the TT springs from a genuine love of this crazy, scary but fantastic event. Yes, the Manx folk love their TT and are proud of it, from their heads right down to their toes.
I had quite a packed itinerary for my visit: a trip to Peel to the Manx Transport Heritage Museum; an afternoon with Tony East of the ARE Classic Bike Collection in Kirk Michael; a meeting with the curator of the Manx Museum and time spent in the museum archives and library. I also booked a trike tour of the island, to explore the TT circuit with the wind in my hair (and flies on the goggles). What fantastic fun that was! My guide pointed out all the key sights, including the Joey Dunlop memorial (see main blog photo), and explained what the TT riders would be doing – and looking out for – at various points on the circuit. (Thank you, H, for all the fascinating snippets of information.)
But luckily I had left some space between my appointments because what I could not have foreseen were all the spur of the minute visits I was to make. Everyone I spoke to on the island recommended something else I should go and see, or someone else I could talk to, such as Pete Murray with his amazing collection of bikes at Santon, and no one seemed to mind my popping by unannounced. What absolutely lovely, lovely people. Thank you all so much.
It was a happy coincidence that while I was on the Isle of Man, the Manx LitFest was also taking place. As a result I spent a happy evening in Douglas listening to fellow Bloomsbury author Samantha Shannon talking about her novel The Bone Season, and the series that will stem from it. What an amazing, young (yes, sickeningly young) lady she is! An inspiration to young writers everywhere. I am so looking forward to reading my (signed) copy of the book. It’s in my bag ready to entertain me on the plane.
Speaking of which, I have just seen my plane landing on its inward flight from Birmingham. Ten minutes late. Does that mean I can squeeze in another coffee…?
The Great Union Camera Obscura, Douglas Head, with Douglas in the background