Cycling the Isle of Man – Three Peaks of Mann route

Well, I’m getting a bit tired of the same ol’ route each time I want to ride an Audax. Soooooo, getting another ride sorted out. This one is going to be hilly, as hilly as I can get it to be without repeating roads. Its going to ride in a figure 8 and will feature three peaks, South Barrule, Sartfel and Snaefell.

Snaefell being the only mountain bit, but don’t underestimate the other two hills, cos the roads on them are long, winding and steep. Enough to sort out ya legs thats for sure. I am hoping this ride will be awarded at least 2 AAA points, therefore it will have at least 2,000m of ascents.

Planning such a route takes a lot of time, although this bit is every enjoyable, and at the moment I am on holiday from work. Once the actual map route is organised, I need to sort out information controls these are done in the form of questions that are asked of the rider, to ensure they pass certain locations, which ensures the rider doesn’t take a shorter route. Cash point or receipt controls are the preferred choice, but on this ride, information controls plus a cafe stop (receipt) will have to suffice as the ride avoids the towns except Douglas. I use my island OS map to decide where the information controls are to be.

Once set out, the next task is measuring the distance between junctions, and a route distance – done by using my cateye cycle computer. (Route has to be at least 100km for a populaire perm). So, on Tuesday 16th Feb, I started this. I only cycled 40 odd miles of the route, but this took me from 9.30am to 6.30pm to complete. The route was broken up into two days, to ensure I got a good rest in between, route marking and recording takes ages, no way could I do this in one day for the entire ride. Once the route sheet is complete, I then finish off with cycling the entire route at some point, collecting receipts and stopping at the info controls to see how it all fits together. The final part of course, is to take along my SATMAP GPS system with me, to track log the entire route for Steve at Audax UK for verification of height profile.

I am so far rather pleased with this route. More interesting than Celts, Trams and Castles, as it by-passes the busy towns. The only traffic full part was the final few miles back to the Sea Terminal which takes you though Douglas, cannot be helped sadly, but the rest of the route is very scenic and a lot of it is on single tracked lanes.

Here is one of the info stops. Its of Pooil Vaaish. This is a particular favourite place of mine, very quiet and secluded. Ideal picnic spot and is right down at sea level. This beach is full of fossils. In fact Pooil Vaaish quarry isn’t far away where they quarry out black limestone rock for kitchen flooring and for fire places. We have a big slab of it in our front room beneath our fireplace.

On one of the beaches near Castletown, (Scarlet Beach) you can find yourself standing on a bed of fallen crinoids, they are huge and as thick as your leg. All fossilised – very amazing when you think about it. The fossilised sand entombing them is a dark terricotta red colour, an indication of our once very much warmer climate when the Island was joined to Cumbria (or was it Wales?) and was a lot nearer the equator.

The cycle ride took me out of Pooil Vaaish, where my attention was drawn towards a very stunning Manx tom cat. He was a beautiful marmalade and white. I must of taken about 20 pictures to get this clearer shot of him scurrying off, as I had got a bit close for his comfort zone. His markings were superb and looked like he had been painted with a big brush.

I think I must of disturbed his hunting for the morning.

Off towards Port St Mary, as this ride directs you to the Sound (another info control), which is the furthest point of the island. On the way you pass Cregneish village, and if ever you pass this way, do call into the tea room there, its one of the best, but is only open during the summer months, and on this day, it was shut. Cregneish village is a museum village and worth a look when its open as well. So onward, I cycled down the long hill to the Sound. The Sound is the gully between the tail of the Isle of Man, and the Calf, a huge once-inhabited rock of several acres. On the island side there is a visitor centre. It has a cafe at the end, and a viewing point, which is under cover. Nice loos too, but the tea room at Cregneish is better. I ended up leaving my ordered food, as I waited and waited, twice reminded staff, and in the end left it in the kitchen having paid for it, but ate none of it, as I was on a mission, and they were simply too slow to serve. I shall remember to bring my own food when I do this run again.

Its a long haul back to the top of the hill, then the route takes you to Port Erin, and past this house. I really love it. Totally out of character from the very square shaped traditional Manx Cottage, this house hardly had a straight line on it just beautiful swooping curves and arches. It also had what look like chinese dragons on its roof. But I do wonder how difficult it must be getting furniture fitting on round walls!

Isn’t it fab!

The cycling round the town of Port Erin is over with soon enough. As the route now passes up a local road called the Sloc road, this shoulders the first of the peaks you will meet. Having wet your cycling appetite from the coast, now comes the peaks. The first one is South Barrule. Not a mountain, but it will feel steep enough, highest road ascent is over 340m, its a very steady long climb from the peaceful beach front in Port Erin.

And it is a long way up, get set into a low gear, and grind, grind, grind.

At the top of the Sloc, the road starts to travel downwards again towards St John’s, it takes you past the old workings of the Foxdale mines. Once-a-pon-a-time, the island was famous for its ore mining. In Laxey it was silver, but in Foxdale, it was lead. Here is a snatch of history about it, if you are interested.

The old ghostly mine shafts and engine housing looked bleak and barren on the cold but sunny day that I was passing. Here is a picture of it.

If, you have good eyesight, you can read about Snuff the Wind on this plaque.

Those old Manx men and women must of had a tough old life, this was situated miles from anywhere. I’m sure they must of lived nearby, but they would of had a good walking trek each day and night.

Once passed Snuff the Wind, it was a fast spiral downward to the valley floor again, care had to be taken as some of the road surface was badly roughed up in places due to the ice and snow we had this winter. This part of the ride took you into St Johns. Home of Tynwald, our outdoor parliament meeting place. On the 5th of July most islanders go to St Johns to hear the reading of the new laws and to pass on grievances to members of our parliament. At Tynwald craft centre, just a few yards off the route, there are nice clean loos and a nice cafe (fast service!). Ate some home made cake and had some tea. (Open all year round)

Re-fuelled and onward once more, and again going upward. This time the route took you along a single tracked lane to Cronk y Voddy, and up towards Sartfell. The road junctions and continues towards Snaefell, but today, I was only going as far as Brandywell cottage. Brandywell is the highest cottage on the island. No electricity serves it, but they run a generator and have a wind mill whizzing round, so they must be a bit self-sufficient. Its a lovely location. Totally alone up there. I took note of the OS map number, so I can re-trace my route to this exact spot on Thursday.

Today for now, this is where my ride must end, its getting dark, I have done the route sheet planning for the first 40 odd miles and its time to go home. The route leads down towards Ballaugh, should you be following that, but for today, I need to get to Snaefell and the Mountain road home. But a dilemma faces me…..

During my ride today in sunshine, and a bit of rain, it has snowed on the white mountain. Snaefell is Manx for ‘Snow Mountain’. It seems the road home is shut…

So, do I go home another way… that means adding at least 9 miles to my home route, or … sneaking across the road closed signage and hoping I dont get noticed… Took the latter. I dimmed my front light just in case… If the road was shut to snow, I would walk, if it was shut to road works, I would climb over them… My phone was out of battery life and dead, so no help of a lift home. Four miles later, just as I arrived at the final cattle grid to the main Mountain road, I heard a large lorry behind me… Oh, oh, gonna get in trouble here… But thankfully, he over took me, stopped by the road closed sign at the other end of my trail and removed the road closed signage to the Mountain, thus opening the road to traffic! Thank goodness, I wasn’t going to get my collar felt by the traffic police, and I was now just 4 miles from home and all downhill to boot.

I got back to the cottage at 6.30pm. Cold and dark it was. Had the next day off cycling for a rest, and will continue this journey on Thursday. (On holidays for half term).

Thursday 18th February 2010.

Awoke to to find the weather much colder than Tuesday, and so I had to wait until 10am before setting off to let a thaw take place. I am getting the hang now of marking out a route as I go with the SATMAP GPS, this was going to tracklog my route. Cycled back the 9 miles or so to Brandywell Cottage where I had ended the route previously. Fresh snow had fallen on the west side of Snaefell but the road was still open and the gritters had done a fine job keeping the roads clear and most importantly, the roads were dry. Ice and small frozen rivers lay along the gutters, so I had to watch where the wheels went.

I have tried very hard to avoid the A18. This is the Mountain Road, and part of the famous TT race course. I hate cycling along it, it is winding and the traffic on it is always in a hurry. There is no speed limit up there and you need your wits about you, and to stay in the gutter to live a long and happy life. This new route of mine, does use the A18, but just for about half a mile or so, and thankfully its a straight bit with good line of sight. The right turn off it, being the only part needing more care as its on a bend.

Reaching Brandywell Cottage where I left off yesterday, I took a rest as its a bit of a pull up – just over 340m, and drank some coffee before embarking on the Druidale road back to the bottom again.

The Druidale road is one of my favourite roads to cycle on. Its almost a track, but is tarmac ed, and its single tracked. Cars do use it, but they are far between, normally tourists in the summer or the occassional farmer getting to and fro stock. There is just 2 maybe 3 cottages along the upper flanks of this road. It panned out at 6 miles back to civilisation and I had to stop to do my jacket back up, as the moisture in my fleece began to really chill me.

In Ballaugh village the route gets you to a good stopping point for a rest as there is loos and a nice wee Postoffice that serves tea and coffee to go, the bus shelter opposite has a bench to rest wearly legs on. Though to be honest, the ride from Brandywell is a hair raising fast decent. (I have as yet not been able to cycle up this without walking, no matter how low those gears will go, they do not go low enough!) From Ballaugh, the route goes through Sulby village, and ever upward and onward back up to the Mountain road. By sheer luck, I discovered that the small tea shop in the glen was open. Amazingly, as its normally shut for winter. I had to go in, it was under new management, and had the very bestest bowl of homemade soup ever, the homemade bread was onion bread and was so good there was no need for butter, so it really made up for the food disaster at the Sound on Tuesday.

This is a picture of the bike of course, on its way towards the tea stop at Tholt-y-will, its just around the corner up the hill.

Feeling full of tea and soup, I set off for the 14% hill that travels upwards for nearly 5 miles to the Mountain road. Bike ended up in gear 1. Which is very low on a Rohloff, but I’m a grinder. Very pleased not to get off and walk.

The road rejoins the Mountain road on the TT course for about a mile, then turns right, and returns to Brandywell cottage where the junction takes a sharp upward spike towards Injebreck. This part of the ride is now returning the rider back to the start, but not before some exhilarating downhill cycling along beautiful car-free lanes amongst the trees and past the reservoir, eventually rejoining the main routes into Douglas.

Sadly, it gets a bit busy back to the Sea Terminal, and over those many many mini roundabouts that our road experts love so much. But in all, the entire route is 108km long, and according to the two days worth of GPS I have recorded, it covers over 3,000m of climbing… But this needs further verification of course.

So, over the next few days, I have to type up the route properly, and then cycle the lot in one go. This will give me the GPS info I need and will also give me a chance to fine tune any bits and to ensure all the info controls work. Unfortunately there are about 8 of these at the moment, but its difficult to cut these down without the cyclist able to nip across and avoid parts and they really would miss out if they did! I will ask my mentor to check everything again, and then send it off to John Ward. If it is accepted as a perm ride, the elevation profile needs to be looked at, before sending off to Steve Snook.

Between the two rides I have put together, this one will be my favourite, it uses the most beautiful aspects of the island, keeps off the worst of the roads, although there are some busy parts that are unavoidable. Makes use of the best tea shops and stops and looks over some of the best scenery to boot. It will also keep those legs all muscled up and raring to go.

Hopefully, someone other than me will get a go at riding this for an Audax ride some time in the future.

As far as another route goes, I do have one other in the pipeline, but Im running fast out of roads now, so this one will be the best in my opinion.

You never know, you just might enjoy it yourself one day.