Touring the Track & More with Nigel
Knowing we had such a brief time to experience the Isle of Man, I knew we’d want to arrange a tour of the track. I found online that Albany Tea & Tours offered an evening TT practice track tour that included drop-off and pick-up from a different location to watch the races. My plans quickly escalated after contacting Nigel and inquiring about seeing a little bit more of the island. I ended up booking a longer, private tour that he customized to us, and The Kid and I are both really grateful we did.
Our only full day on the Isle of Man began with a self-guided tour of the local laundry facility and then an excursion down the promenade in search of coffee. Being early risers and having accomplished both these tasks quickly, we now had four hours before we met up with Nigel for our grand tour of the island.
We browsed the closed shop windows, which were packed full of motorcycle miscellanea. As we kept walking, we noticed one with doors wide open and The Kid went inside. I lingered outside for quite a while before my curiosity was piqued and I joined him. He had met the shop owner Paul and they were deep in conversation. Paul designs the limited-edition TT helmets that we see on eBay and is the owner of the online store Mann3. We spoke a bit about his design process, but it seems that he mostly loves having the riders come into his shop for fan signings. His knowledge was vast and his enthusiasm contagious. We left his shop wishing the hours would pass quickly, so we could watch some racing.
With three hours remaining before our tour time, we decided to run back up the hill to Nobles Park for one last pit walk. Inside the food truck area, we spotted Bruce Anstey (in disguise without a beard) with his wife and adorable pooch. This loveable little pup approached us, begging at the end of his leash for some of our breakfast, giving us the perfect opportunity to request a photo with both Bruce and Gorgeous George.
We’d also seen Michael Dunlop a handful of times, but each time he managed to expertly evade us. He did pass by on a scooter afterwards and quite genuinely smiled at me. Perhaps he just doesn’t have the time to be overwhelmed by fans, but I’ll admit, the riders that do take the time have won my admiration forever. Plus, I’ll buy their t-shirts.
The end of our personal pit party meant the beginning of the entire Isle of Man with Nigel. He scooped us up at our hotel and we were off to Murray’s Motorcycle Museum. I had thought that the promenade shops were packed full of desirable items, but they cannot compete with this man’s collection. Old race bikes, framed newspaper and magazine covers, autographed photos given to him by riders and an enormous assortment of nostalgia and bike parts organized and on display. I’m happy to say I made a trip to the ladies’ room and found it was also floor-to-ceiling motorcycle overload. It’s a must-visit museum that attracts motorcycle enthusiasts from everywhere, and we even met a woman that recognized The Kid’s shirt from Alice’s (one of our quintessential California motorcycle hang-outs.)
And how can I possibly describe Mr. Murray? He greeted us warmly, offering tea. He also held both my hands as he welcomed me to his museum and then gave me a tiny fairy in honor of our trip to fairy bridge. He shares his passion for the sport by filling every square inch of the building with motorcycle memorabilia, opening every single day of the year and extending this warm welcome to each one of his guests. His life’s work would take me a lifetime to explore, and I’ll bet Mr. Murray can recount the story behind each of his treasures.
But the island’s history began long before the motorcycles raced these roads and the caretakers at the folk village of Cregneash have lovingly preserved it, as well. Settled picturesquely in the grassy hills of southern Isle of Man, this little town is entirely unobstructed by modern architecture or technology and feels very much like the movie set of an old Irish movie. Tiny thatched-roof houses nestle into the landscape, where strange four-horned Loaghton sheep take their afternoon naps. As we walk the stone-walled roads, skilled artisans perform maintenance on these structures using only authentic tools and materials. Each building represents a different period of time, or a different owner’s occupation and trade. The docents proudly tell us the history of the village and share stories about former residents, which include Harry Kelly (who provided the last recording of the nearly-lost native Manx language) and Ned Beg (the poet known for preserving the Manx legends.)
Regretfully, I was unable to adapt to island time and began watching my clock, making our brief visit here feel hurried. In retrospect, Nigel had a perfect tempo for the entire day, and there is no way we would have managed to see and do everything we did if it weren’t for him.
Taking some time to relax and enjoy our environment, we were then treated to the ocean views of the Calf of Man before we headed North to Peel. A sightseeing joyride of this gorgeous seaside fishing town lead to an abrupt stop to see about some Kippers. We didn’t quite have time to partake in the kippers, but instead were brought directly inside one of the 15-foot tall kilns that smokes these famous herrings. We were immersed in the glorious smell of evaporative water mixed with slowly charred wood and it made me wish I had something a bit bigger than a Weber to smoke meat with at home.
And just like at home, any day that includes lovingly-cooked meat should also involve some motorcycle racing.
Nigel had selected the best spot for us at Ballaugh Bridge and we arrived before the others did. We placed our chairs, bought some beers and prepared for the roads to close. We weren’t there long before we were welcomed by a Marshall named John "Dog", who was an old friend of Nigel’s and is a known Manx poet, artist and local naturalist guide. His official vest showed years of dedicated service to the TT and was autographed by many. He told us that he had a gift for us, then pulled a bunch of copper wires from his bag. Instead of handing us a present, he proceeded to clip and twist these wires while everyone around us watched curiously. As he continued bending the wires, we could see the trademark Three Legs of Man begin to take shape. He handed it to The Kid, advising him to always keep it pointed towards Ireland, then hustled away to join the other Marshalls. We had no time to thank him for his expertly crafted gesture- there were bikes on track.
When I first heard the engines in the distance my stomach began to knot with anticipation. As the first bike flies across the bridge and disappears from sight, I realize that my year of research and attempt to memorize the rider’s livery had gone with it. I had no idea what was happening, who that was or what motorcycle they were on. And then comes another, and another, and they start to bunch up. I look right, then left, then right again and my eyes and brain can’t keep up.
And I can’t stop smiling. These bikes are so fast and so close to me that I can’t believe we’re allowed to be here, and I’m reminded again how lucky I am.
Moments like this really distinguish the riders from us spectators. Racers try to minimize stress on their bikes, but there’s nothing more spectacular than seeing these racers in mid-air, then landing hard and fast as their bikes seem to collapse from the force. I was mesmerized by the sight of their front ends compressing and struck by the sound of the impact and I even felt triumphant as each rider recovered from it.
If MotoGP is a well-played hand of poker, then road racing at the Isle of Man feels like 52 card pick-up, with the riders skillfully catching each card as it falls. The effect feels positively primal, having just a small glimpse of the track and only a second or so with each rider, I suspend all knowledge of points, times, turns or anything else in the world and replace it with pure appreciation for a motorcycle’s speed and the rider’s ability to master it. This is the passion that road racing creates for its spectators.
Throughout this time, Nigel is happily taking photos and grinning just like the rest of us. His enjoyment as a spectator is as genuine as ours, and he’s seen it all before. He asks me if we’d like to jump in the van and watch the second practice from a different spot. As we make our exit, others quickly take our coveted space and we’re off to Ramsay.
He’d parked on the outside of the circuit, driven the backroads and we now found ourselves in Parliament Square with The Swan just across the way. We grab a quick to-go pint to take out on the street and the racing resumes. Being TT practice week, the crowds were only two-deep at the barriers and the walkways are broad, so it was easy to move around and view from different angles. Things appear to slow down here, if only for a moment, as the riders approach this abrupt right turn then quickly chicane left before speeding off up the mountain. The Kid is maniacally taking photos as I wander off for a different glimpse of the track. I allow my excitement to get the better of me and I find myself in a crowd separated from The Kid, wondering how I’ve managed to lose my place again. I spot Nigel’s red jacket and see he has an eye on me, so I needn’t worry. He lets me know the racing is nearly over and he’ll be picking up some take-out for us from the Trawlerman.
As we wait for Nigel, The Kid and I watch as the crowds depart and the Marshalls remove road blocks and begin putting the road signs back in their usual places.
Nigel had asked if we’d wanted a proper sit-down meal, but I’d told him we didn’t care. He then took us to partake in the most romantic fish and chips dinner I’ve ever had, and they were the tastiest, too (although I had chicken). We stood in the ocean air with our brown paper bags perched on top of a stone wall, watching the water in the moonlight. We visited with Nigel as though we’d been friends forever, made plans for future camping trips and contentedly recounted our day. I was truly filled with joy and if our trip had ended in that moment, I would have been one happy girl.
But we still needed to finish our tour of the track. Our approach up the mountain pass began crisp and clear, but as Nigel expertly navigated the dark roads the fog thickened and completely obscured our view. With visibility limited to merely feet ahead of us, we slowly made our way while quietly thinking about the mountain. Long, cold and lonely, this part of the track feels entirely isolated and I wonder how the riders gather the courage to face it, not knowing when the weather will turn.
The fog disperses with our descent and I gaze longingly at the lit windows of the Creg Ny Baa. Nigel asks if we’d like to stop in, but I know that I can’t. I’ll only want one more pint, one more race at this island that I’ve fallen in love with. I need this drive along the track to say goodbye.
This is a true and legit endorsement of Nigel and his touring services.
We have chosen to make an entire page about our day with him, because he made our day- and our trip, to the Isle of Man.