A circumnavigatory cycle ride is something I’ve wanted to attempt for as long as I’ve been visiting the Isle of Man, and with another little project on the horizon this would be an ideal way to see how I’d cope with a full day in the saddle, dragging a laden bike up endless rolling hills.
The route would be fairly simple; picking the smallest roads around the coast to make a continuous loop, skipping the occasional fiddly bits and dead-ends such as the Point of Ayre in the north and the Sound in the south. I also missed out Maughold and Groudle since I thought I’d be struggling by that point and could still claim a full loop without too much shame, though next time I promise to include those extremities.
First climb after leaving home is the short hill leading to Douglas Head and then Marine Drive, with a great view of the bay framed by clouds and mountains. It’s a popular picnic spot with locals and BBQ equipment is provided – should you be one of those rare individuals not enjoying a McDonald’s from the comfort of your hot-hatch.
Marine Drive is always a treat with which to start or finish a ride. Originally a railway line from Victorian times, it’s now closed to traffic and quite well surfaced, giving cyclists and pedestrians access to sweeping seaside views.
After Marine Drive you have to join the busy Castletown Road, but it’s only for a short distance and once you’re past Ronaldsway International airport a short detour takes you to the centre of Castletown, ancient capital of Mann, and home to the annual Tin Bath World Championships.
After Castletown it’s just a short, flat ride along the south coast to Port Erin, and if you really want to claim the southernmost point of the island you can head up the hill to Cregneash village before dropping down to the Sound, where seals sunbathe on the rocks in front of a modern cafe with panoramic views of The Calf and Chicken Rock. I’m skipping this scenic cul-de-sac as it’s still early on in the day and I’m not looking forward to the looming climb out of Port Erin.
The Sloc is one of my favourite driving roads on the island, with stunning views, technical bends, and a good surface, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s also a killer climb. Once I’m out of Port Erin I’m surprised how quickly the gradient changes, and I’m already in the upper HR zones before the scenic parts have even started, but the verdant views soon help you forget about the physical hardship … as does the obligatory photo stop.
I don’t spend long at the giddy heights of 350m above sea level, the highest point on this ride, before dropping down and heading for the west coast near Dalby. Another dead-end is ignored in the name of progress, though geologists will no doubt delight in a visit to Niarbyl since it offers the opportunity of standing with both feet on different continents, thanks to the tectonic activity which created the Isle of Man. I console myself by pausing to take in fields of sheep and the Mountains of Morne, with Ireland just visible on the horizon.
From Dalby it’s just a short ride over undulating hills through Glen Maye and Patrick before Peel slides into view, first the power station then the marina and finally the stunning Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle. I’m almost halfway round the hilly part of the course and with all those calories burned I’ve no greasy guilt in ordering fish & chips for lunch, and spend the next 30 minutes defending it from the cheeky seagulls.
Heading north from Peel to Kirk Micheal I can already see the landscape flattening out and I’m looking forward to increasing the pace a little once I’m past Orrisdale and onto Jurby. For some reason this part of the island isn’t as popular with visitors, but I like the miles of empty, sandy beaches and windswept trees.
On a sunny day it’s beautiful up here, and I’m enjoying the relative quiet despite it being the start of August. A quick stop at the Isle of Man Motor Museum to replenish fluids and I’m off again, heading east now towards Bride before the final push for home. I’m missing out the Point of Ayre in the far north, again because it’s a dead-end and because I’m getting tired. Must do better next time.
Ramsey is the last big town on the way, and I’ve crossed a mental threshold now because my chosen route is already the fastest way home – it’s as easy to finish this ride as it is to abandon it. I’ve been riding just over 5 hours now, and my face is raw from a combination of sweat, wind, and sunburn. I decide not to include Maughold as it’s quite a detour and instead leave town on the Laxey road, which turns out to be the most brutal climb yet combined with traffic, bends, and narrow sections of road snaking in and out of shady corners. By the time I hit Glen Mona I’ve climbed nearly 200m in just 10km, and somehow it feels a lot more.
What goes up must come down, and it’s downhill all the way into Laxey. Just as I hadn’t expected the climb out of Ramsey to be as difficult as it was, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be able to freewheel for as far as I just did, anywhere on the Isle of Man. Even previous rides coming over the mountain into Hillberry haven’t felt as luxurious, though maybe it’s something to do with the overall distance covered and altitude gained today.
After Laxey it’s a fairly easy run along the coast through Lonan and back to Onchan, stopping the clock with a moving time of 6:53:46 and just over 8 hours in total. I gained 1,749m over 123.87km which somehow doesn’t sound very much, but I’m happy to have done it on something weighing as much as two carbon road bikes. Could I do this again tomorrow? No feckin’ chance. I’m glad I finally managed to scratch the itch and ride a full lap of the island in one hit, but I need a lot more conditioning before I take on a longer trip made up of days spent under similar conditions.