If I had been packed and ready to go, catching an 8pm train after my shift ended at 7pm would have worked perfectly.
Unfortunately I had picked the night before to go on one of my very very rare clubbing nights. *Sigh* (It was a great night, if you’re wondering). As it stood I got home and packed and ate and was out of the house in half an hour, biking down to Haymarket to catch my train to Lancaster.
Once there I collected my tickets and brought my bike down to the platform. I’ve never brought a bike on a train before and I had no idea where the cycle storage space on the train was. I also realized as the train was pulling up that I’d left my railcard in my other jacket pocket and could therefore be fined for booking the discounted tickets that you are entitled to with a railcard. So I pulled my bike onto the train (in what turned out to be the wrong spot, but who couldn’t have seen that coming) and stood at the door awkwardly, waiting for the conductor to come round. He did and amiably told me I wasn’t in anyone’s way and explained how to pull my bike into the proper spot at the next station. He also wasn’t bothered by my lack of railcard. I’m pretty sure if he’d given me trouble, I would have burst into tears… and I think he knew that. The time between the end of work that day and when I was safely buckled up with my bike in cycle storage was probably two of the most stressful hours of my life. I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from that amount of stress yet :p
Me and the Missus arrived in Lancaster around 10:30pm and biked off into the evening in the direction of the port. See, Heysham Port is a good while out of Lancaster, and I could have taken a bus, but had adventurously decided to bring my bike to the Isle and therefore it would have been a mess to get on a bus at that point. The bike paths in Lancaster were great—I was able to follow them through the city centre out along the River Lune. I crossed over the Millennium Bridge (a pedestrian/cyclist bridge) and continued along the well-lit and wide pedestrian/cycle paths which were similar in set-up to the Meadows in Edinburgh.
For directions I was using the Missus’ bell which doubles as a compass, and my phone. I knew I had an upcoming turnoff soon, but I almost missed it because it was so unnoticeable… it was absolutely pitch black.
The moment I turned off that well-lit and relatively well-peopled main thoroughfare onto that pitch-black dirt trail into the woods was an exhilarating one. I actually had a panic moment of “what about wild animals” but then I remembered that I’d in the UK and the angriest thing you’ll find is a nutless squirrel. Still, it went down in the direction of the river and it was dark, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
What a funny bike ride. Every piece of rubbish or leaf took on a life of its own and was an angry homeless person or a rabid animal. Despite, it was actually quite pretty, biking along the river, through the trees. I’ll never forget the drop in my stomach, though, when far out of the city towards the end of this bike path I turned my head to the right and my headlamp unexpectedly caught the eyes of horses that I hadn’t noticed, making them glow. They were standing in the alongside field silhouetted by the murky orange haze of the city’s light pollution and their eyes gleamed bright green in my light. I think we mutually startled and terrified each other because I moved off very quickly in one direction and they in another. I definitely had a case of the heebie-jeebies that night!
Anyway, as I said, that path was about at its end and I rejoined a road, though a very unused one that had “Danger, Regular Flooding” signs all over it. I dipped and doodled around a few hills there, passing an Inn with attached campsite. I don’t think I saw a single car, person, or bike this entire ride, since I’d left the Millennium path in Lancaster. Finally rejoined the highway, the A683, that the cyclepath in town had run beside. That was well-lit and had plenty of room on the side for cyclists beside the passing cars 🙂 biked along there for a good while, bats flying overhead. Finally came to the port and followed the signs for the Isle of Man Ferry!
I arrived at the terminal at about 11:30pm. I was quite early, boarding of the M.S. Ben-my-Cree wouldn’t start until about 1:30am, but this was how I’d predicted it to happen. I ate some snacks I’d brought and had a wee nap. At 1:30am I walked my bike down to the car decks of the ferry and parked it in a storage room (don’t worry—I was directed to do this. Remember how panicky and clueless I was putting my bike on a train? Yeah, I would have been worse with the ferry if they weren’t so damn helpful 🙂 ). Then I went upstairs to a lounge and fell asleep on the floor between the seat rows, wrapped in my coat.
Woke up at a painful 5:30am when our ferry arrived in the port of Douglas on the Isle of Man. ugh that morning tho. I hung around in the terminal, grabbed some coffee and a toastie, and walked about the pier outside a bit. This trip was to be my first experience using CouchSurfing, and my host Clare was going to drop off some of her other surfers at the terminal so I just had to kill time until she came.
We met up probably between 7:30am and 8am, and she fit the Missus in the back of her car and we drove off to her place. It is a lovely house, and I had my own little room 🙂 Clare is lovely as well. Such a generous and hospitable person. Once there, I hung out in her parlour for a while in a zombiefied state, swimming in a sea of maps and bus/train timetables. Clare gave me a few really key suggestions then ran off to do some errands.
I eventually decided that I would buy a day-pass for all transit back at the terminal (there’s a welcome centre there). My plan was to hit both the steam train and the electric railway, but by the time I got back to Douglas the electric railway was done for the day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
From the terminal I walked up to the Steam Railway Station where I grabbed a scone as I waited for the train to arrive. It did so and we left around 11:50am.
The train wasn’t like all the trains I’ve ever been on where there’s a middle corridor and you can hop between carriages, this was just a bunch of boxes with exterior side doors pulled along together. The windows open down and fasten with a leather belt. I got a carriage all to myself!
The steam train goes south along the coast from Douglas to Port Erin, stopping at several stations in between. It’s about an hour’s journey.
The views along the coast were wonderful, and I saw lots of birds. I saw these giant white geese with ugly little goslings, so darling. Oh, and my little engine that could was cute too 🙂
Once in Port Erin, I walked around for a bit and went down to the water, then started climbing.
I was determined to walk to Cregneash, a little village between Port Erin and the Calf of Man. I got to the top of the town, as in the point on the climb up the hill where people started thinking the hill is too inhospitable for homes, and it turned into a one-track road through gorse bushes that were my height.
I got to Cregneash eventually and could see the Calf of Man down along the coast. The village of Cregneash itself is very cute, just a quaint little collections of thatched-roof houses, Manx Heritage buildings, and a church. This church was used in the filming of Waking Ned Devine 🙂
At the heritage farm they had Manx Loaghtan, the sheep with four horns. From there, Clare had recommended I walk out to the coast through Cregneash to a place called the Chasms. I started that walk and went past a field where there were two giant Clydesdales all the way at the other side. I clicked my tongue and sure enough, a pair of ears pricked up and one curious big guy came sauntering over, right up to the fence.
He tried to pretend like he’s come all the way over here because the grass was reaaaally tasty here, but I wasn’t buying it.
I continued to the Chasms, down a hill to the coast. It’s funny, even if the day is sunny and windy, the Isle is surrounded by fog relatively far out from land (like, over the sea). Local myth says it is the Cloak of Mannanan—the sea god and namesake of the Isle of Man—protecting the Isle from unwanted ships.
Back to the chasms, basically, there are cliffs which go straight down to the rocky beach BUT they are riddled with vertical cracks. It’s just a whole lot of vertical. Mind the gap! Anyway, they were absolutely spectacular.
Not even a word of exaggeration, I was clambering around them for a good hour because I couldn’t leave, laughing nervously and saying “oh shit oh shit oh shit” out loud to myself.
It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was so windy as well, which just added to the exhilaration of the moment and the feeling of potential danger. I sat for a while with my feet hanging over one of the sheer drops straight down to the ocean. So cool.
Since I spent so much time there, I really had to hussle back to be able to catch a bus home to Douglas. I had been wanting to go out to the Sound which is where the Calf of Man approaches the mainland, but it was getting to that iffy time for buses. On my way back up to Cregneash, I met another Canadian obviously. We’re everywhere. She was from PEI and was on the Isle for the Walking Festival, so she was with a Manx tour guide. I wandered some more around the coastline then caught a bus back in Cregneash.
Got off in Port Erin where I caught another bus to Douglas, and promptly fell asleep. Woke up and got off near the ferry terminal, where I awaited the arrival of one of Douglas’ famous horse trams. One shortly arrived and I jumped on and was slowly pulled down the promenade like the royalty I am. I talked with a few of the people on board—mostly old English people—and one of the tram staff who was trying to tell me philosophy jokes and recommend bike shops to me.
Anyway, at this point it was too late to catch the electric train north to Laxey, look at the Laxey Wheel, and continue on the train up the largest peak on the Isle of Man, Snaefell, which had been my plan for the rest of the day. I just went home, thinking to find a Tesco or something. When I got in the door I met Clare’s housemate and his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s son. She offered to drive me down to the Quay on her way out, where I grabbed some takeaway pizza and walked home to eat it.
At this point I had a headache and was absolutely exhausted since I’d had a combined sleep of 6hrs total over two nights, so I went to bed around 8:30pm. I planned since I was going to bed so early to have an early start and get all the remaining sightseeing I wanted to done.
Turns out my body had other ideas. I spent the whole night feverish, getting up to vomit a few times (thankfully only into the toilet!!), and with a pounding headache that wouldn’t go away even as I slept into the late morning. Eventually I felt well enough to get up around noon and staggered out to the bus stop. My plan had been to bus to Peel with my bike (Clare said they take bikes on buses on the Isle) and bike to Niarbyl just south of it. That morning, I was way too fragile to even think about something like that. So I bused to Peel and walked around a bit, looking at the castle and beachfront, then bought a juice smoothie in a carton at a supermarket and drank it out of the bag like some drunk. It was the first thing I’d eaten all day, my stomach still wasn’t pleased with me (what is it with me and getting sick on trips??), and it was the best decision I’d ever made because it gave me sustenance without making me want to hurl.
Caught another bus to Niarbyl which was basically a school bus, it filled up with students aged approximately four to seventeen. Eventually I was the last on the bus and it pulled up on the coast at the dead end of a long road. “Is this Niarbyl?” I asked the bus driver. It was. I got off. It was literally just a turning place at the end of an empty road, with a little tiny restauraunt there. Niarbyl is the name of the rock formation in the sea just off the coast there, and it’s in Niarbyl bay which stretches south of where I was. I had thought it was a town name. But no matter, I walked around and went down the hill by the road at the other side of the restauraunt—I had thought it was a dead end but the dead end was just below at the sea.
This is where I found Ned Devine‘s Cottage!
I climbed some of the rock formations on the beach and looked out, then went back up the hill halfway and sat on the top of that grassy promontory over the bay, then went all the way back up to the restauraunt where I grabbed the trail that went south along Niarbyl Bay to a beach that was about 15mins walk away.
Did that, and explored the beach a bit before striking back for the Niarbyl bus stop.
Once again, I’d left it too late in the day and had to catch the last bus home. It was a minibus this time.
On the bus ride home to Douglas, I passed the Tynwald Hill, which is the location of the Manx Parliament which has been held once yearly every year since 1079CE. Yes, you read that right. It’s over a thousand years old.
When I got home I hung out for a good while with Clare’s friendly cat Mickey. He was all over my lap and very cute. That night, Clare was going to join her sister and friends for a charity quiz night at a church on the Quay, she invited me to come along. I heated up some leftover pizza—yay I could eat!!—and joined her. It was the weirdest quiz night, but all in good fun. I was pretty useless, except I saved their asses on an American sport question; see, I know that there is more than one sports team in America called the Giants, and if the city that they’re asking for is also the home of the 49ers then it’s definitely San Fran, not NYC 🙂 there were quite a lot of Manx-specific and even general knowledge ones I didn’t know though. They served us some cakes and brownies and stuff, and coffee. It was something to do, and everyone was very very kind.
Clare drove us home then I went out for a walk along the promenade at night. They had strung a bunch of wee lights around the beachfront, and it was adorable. I walked up on the sidewalk and back on the beach.
Then I went to sleep and slept well 🙂
The next morning I was up around 6:30am to pack, warm up the last of my pizza and eat it, say goodbye to Clare (I gave her some maple syrup, haha), and bike down to the terminal. Got there in plenty of time so bought a coffee and chatted to some safety authorities who were shirking :p at boarding time I walked my bike back down and parked her in another one of the M.S. Ben-my-Cree’s storage rooms and went up to one of the lounges. I knitted the whole journey, departed at around 8:15am and got in to Lancaster around noon.
As I was leaving the ferry with my bike, there was another gentleman with a bike so I thought maybe I’d say a quick hello and leave him to it—wasn’t too interested in much small talk but always want to be polite, like the typical Canadian I am—but he was obviously interested in small talk. Fine, whatever, BUT, the first thing out of his mouth after saying “it’s a lovely day for a bike ride” was “do you even need a lock for your bike?” and I was like EXCUSE ME this is the Missus you’re talking about, she may be an old clunker but that does not make her any less of a trusty steed. Of course he had a shiny new road bike. Oh, and apparently I don’t oil my chain properly. Piss right off, there, bud. So. He biked off and I stopped at the terminal to fill me water then struck out for Lancaster from Heysham Port. Got there no problem, and the bikeride was beautiful (and not scary at all!!) in the daytime :p
Locked my bike up at the train station then spent a few hours exploring Lancaster.
I went by the castle and priory, then into the shopping district and high street, where I stopped for lunch and a pint at the Penny Bank.
Then I hung out at the station until my train came just after 5pm, where I boarded (this time properly) with my bike (though to be fair the station master pointed to where the bike-compatible carriage would stop) and buckled the old Missus in. When the guy came by for tickets he didn’t even check for my railcard 🙂 I knitted the whole way home on this train too. The countryside we passed through was absolutely stunning; Lancaster is nice, and it’s also just south of the famous Lake District, which is wonderful. Arrived in Edinburgh before 8pm and biked home for some food and to cram for my Art History/Philosophy of Art exam today.
The Isle of Man was absolutely stunning in every way. I really regret not spending more time there, and I think I’ll be back at some point in the future to hike the whole coastline (apparently it only takes about 6-8 days). That was my last trip of the year before mum&dad and Travis come in less than two weeks, can’t wait! xx