A time of extreme highs and lows on the Isle of Man….
The good news first – we’ve had a fabulous day today exploring the area around Maughold on the East coast of the island. Accompanied by Mark’s pal Derek, we toured round looking at a neolithic burial site, some Manx crosses, and a bit of wildlife. There was some mist in the morning, but the Sun came through in the afternoon and it was another beautiful day in the Paradise that is Dosserdom.
Our first stop was Maughold church which has the largest collection of Manx crosses on the island. The village car park sports the most fabulous public toilets we’ve seen in a long time, complete with tiles designed by local schoolkids:
We LOVED Kizzy’s Manx Loaghtan sheep (a breed native to the Isle of Man with dark brown wool and four horns; hopefully we’ll see some during our stay):
Christianity came to the Isle of Man in the 5th century with the arrival of missionaries from Ireland. The early Christians left intricately carved stone slabs (“Manx crosses”) bearing a range of what we would recognise as typically Celtic designs.
When the Vikings came along and began to be assimilated into the local population, more Norse designs and inscriptions in runes started to appear, often on the same slab as Celtic motifs. Truly two traditions coming together…. This one has a depiction of a viking ship and an inscription in runes:
A Norse-style depiction of a boar’s head:
There was a monastery on the site of the churchyard at Maughold from the 7th century onwards, and it was a place of pilgrimage for early Christians. A church at Maughold was commissioned in the 12th century by the Viking King Olaf 1 (the son of Godred Crovan and grandfather of Rognvaldr / Reginald; we met both in the previous post).
The graveyard contains the remains of three keeills, which were tiny rectangular Celtic chapels built on the Isle of Man between the 8th and the 12th centuries AD. The modern-day church is built on the site of a fourth keeill. These were typically spread pretty sparsely across the island; no-one really knows why there are the remains of so many keeils so close together at Maughold.
The interior of Maughold church is attractive and contains the 14th century parish cross. Each parish on the Isle of Man originally had a cross placed near the church gate. The Maughold parish cross is the only one that remains (and is now kept inside the church to protect it from the elements). The carving on the North face of the cross is the earliest known representation of the Three Legs of Man, as depicted on the island’s Coat of Arms (Mark reckons instead that it’s an early fidget spinner).
From Maughold we rewound another 3,000 years or so. The nearby Cashtal yn Ard (“Castle of the Heights”) is one of the largest neolithic long barrows in Britain and dates back to around 1800 BC.
The structure has a semi-circular open courtyard (above) and, behind the central stones in the semi-circle, five burial chambers in a row (below). These would originally have been covered with a large flat stone slab and an earth mound constructed on top, estimated to have been around 120 feet long and 45 feet wide.
SOK had to negotiate his first ford on the way to Cashtal yn Ard. Thankfully, the water was hardly a raging torrent:
To finish the afternoon off we drove back to Maughold village and walked up to Maughold Head:
Time for the chaps to get their bins out and have a look at some birdlife – choughs, fulmars, nesting cormorants, guillemots, and some peregrine falcons including a very cute chick.
We’re now well into TT practice week, and I’m terribly sorry, but there’s just no way that anyone can write a blog post from the Isle of Man at this time of year without talking at least a little bit about bikes…… I realised after our last posts that many readers might not have any real idea of what the Isle of Man TT involves. With the best will in the world, photos are unlikely to convey a true sense of it. I’ve found a couple of videos online that will give you a bit of an introduction.
First up, here’s a short video featuring Milky Quayle, a former racer (and 2002 TT winner) who nowadays uses his vast experience to train newcomers to the course. Filmed earlier this year, he’s driving round part of the course in a minivan with a couple of the experienced riders (Dean Harrison and Dan Kneen) discussing the various twists and turns from a rider’s perspective, and interspersed with on-board footage from a real lap so you can see what it looks like at race speed. “You’ve seen his crash haven’t you?” said Mark on mention of Milky Quayle, “the one that stopped his racing career?”. Erm no. Pretty much ALL of the TT riders seem to have had horrific crashes at one time or another.
If you want to see a complete lap (around 17 minutes) from an on-board camera, here’s the footage from Michael Dunlop’s bike during his record lap in the the 2016 TT. A few seconds will, of course, give you the general idea. At least you can watch a video like this in the safe knowledge that he DOES make it back OK to the finish line…
We spent yesterday (Wednesday) in Douglas having a look round the paddock. This is no amateur affair; the big teams show up with huge team lorries and rig up very professional-looking marquee-like workshops.
The fronts are all open, so you can wander around watching the technicians working on the very bikes that will be out on the circuit later that day. I didn’t take many ‘photos but I took this one (below) of the Tyco BMW team at work as Mark had pointed out a chap called Hector Neill (the older guy) who is apparently a racing legend having run his racing team for decades now. Mark says that every year, he says he’s going to retire, but he never does.
The Dunlop tyres lorry was there and had the side open. We were very pleased to get a photo of Michael Dunlop’s Dunlops:
The early part of practice week was all about Dean Harrison, who has been flying. He went faster than the TT lap record in Tuesday night’s practice session (as it was done in practice, it won’t count as a new record, but going that fast early in practice bodes well for next week). Here’s “Deano” coming down Bray Hill in Douglas at the start of Wednesday evening’s practice session:
I can only apologise for the blurriness in the photos. These bikes really are fast!
After ten minutes of the practice session, the red flags were raised and the session was stopped due to an incident at Churchtown (on the approach to Ramsey). Normally, whatever has happened will be sorted out and the practice session restarted, but this time it was soon cancelled altogether. It was announced later that top rider Dan Kneen had been killed. He was a Manx lad, a local hero, and the immediate shock was palpable.
Then things got Truly Ugly…… When a session (practice or a race) is stopped, it is only ever restarted back at the grandstand in Douglas. The riders stop as soon as they see a red flag and then wait until the course marshals give them further instructions. On Wednesday night, Dan Kneen had been the first bike out so all of the other riders were behind him on the course. They were instructed by the marshals (following instructions radioed to them from Douglas) to turn around and follow the course route “the wrong way” back to Douglas.
Unknown to the riders or marshals, a course car was racing the “right way” along the course towards the incident that had just happened. Course cars are stationed around the course with trained high-speed drivers ready to respond as required and ferry medics, police etc to where they are needed. As far as the course car driver would have known, he was driving on an empty closed road in an emergency….
Truly a cock-up beyond all imagination. An accident did result, and another top rider is in a critical condition in hospital. The first incident was tragic, but I don’t think there are any adequate words for the second…
The TT is, to mere mortals like me, another World. We watched the TT practice session this evening from Parliament Square in the centre of Ramsey. Here’s another local hero, Conor Cummins, coming through Parliament Square earlier this evening:
All the riders were back out on the course, trying to get their bikes set up perfectly before the start of racing proper on Saturday. There was no sense that anyone was riding more cautiously as a result of yesterday’s events. To really give you an idea of just how nuts the TT is like, consider that number 34 was out on the course tonight. Number 34 is Ryan Kneen, the younger brother of Dan Kneen. This place really is something else…..