There’s a saying embroidered on many a souvenir T-shirt in the Isle of Man which goes: ‘Road racing is living, everything else is just waiting.’
I’m afraid I must disagree.
Yes, this 33 by 13-mile island in the middle of the Irish Sea is the road racing capital of the world - famous across the globe for its adrenaline-fuelled TT Races. Motorbikers blast around the TT course at speeds of more than 200mph while thrill-seeking spectators take in the nail-biting action from hedgerows and pavements. It’s incredible.
But for the 40-odd weeks of the year when the racers aren’t pelting it around the mountain course, visitors need not be ticking off the days on their calendars until the TT or Manx Grand Prix comes around again. There’s far more to the place than that.
I should come clean – I’m Manx-born and grew up in the island until I left for university in Sheffield in 2006. I visit as often as I can and have brought home a South Yorkshire friend or five with me on a number of occasions, always eager to show off the place they call the jewel of the Irish Sea.
The island offers plenty for the curious tourist to discover, with tales of the Celts and Vikings who made the place their home, the smugglers who made use of the coastline’s nooks and crannies, and the miners and crofters who made a living thanks to the fertile land and mineral-rich earth.
If the outdoors is more your thing, there’s mile upon mile of countryside and coastline screaming out to be enjoyed – think kayaking, coasteering, fell running, fishing, picnicking, golfing, hiking, rock climbing, diving, quad biking...you name it.
For such a small place, the Isle of Man is home to some extraordinary historical landmarks too – from the Lady Isabella, the world’s largest working waterwheel; to Castle Rushen, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortresses.
And you can’t forget the steam train, Victorian electric tram, and more top notch bars and restaurants than you can shake a stick at.
As you can imagine, there’s far too much to see and do to cram into just the one visit. Here I am able to feature just a couple of suggested activities for one of the many trips you’d have to take - until you can really say you’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt.
n Gael flew to the Isle of Man with LinksAir from Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport in under an hour. Return flights on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays - and additional ones around the TT - start from £129. Visit www.linksair.co.uk.
PEDEGO ISLE OF MAN
The Isle of Man may be the home turf of the fastest man on two wheels and an Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist.
But we can’t all have power thighs like Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh.
That’s where Pedego comes in - a new Manx venture which allows visitors to tour the island from the comfort of gorgeous, retro-looking bicycles.
And here’s the secret: they’re electric.
Pedego, run by Richard Cuthbert and his partner Shirley Townsend, is based at the Sea Terminal at the end of Douglas promenade.
I meet Richard one spring evening, as the sea glitters under the last of the day’s sunshine and the sky turns pink.
I haven’t told Richard that the last time I rode a bike was over a decade ago, as I’m worried he won’t let me have a go on one of his charming, multi-coloured machines.
But as soon as I climb on the saddle, it all comes rushing back. We do a few laps of the car park to get the hang of things, then we’re off.
The electric assistance is controlled via a small computer on your handlebars and can be set on a scale of one to five. One gives you a bit of a boost - and five will catapult you up a hill as if you’re sprinting with Cav towards a Tour de France stage finishing line.
We head out of town along the tree-lined Old Castletown Road and return via the spectacular Marine Drive - the Isle of Man’s answer to the Great Ocean Road.
All too soon, we’re back in the town centre for a final zip along the promenade.
I can’t keep the smile off my face for the duration of our outing. I’d recommend it to anyone - just don’t let Cav in on the secret.
n Visit www.pedegoisleofman.co.uk.
APE MANN ADVENTURE PARK
Release your inner Tarzan or Jane with a tree-swinging adventure in the Isle of Man’s magnificent South Barrule plantation.
The Ape-Mann Adventure Park offers adrenalin junkies plenty of heart-in-mouth activities including a high rope course, climbing wall, abseiling tree, go karts and 250-metre zip wire.
I rock up to the plantation ready for an adventure with my not-so-enthusiastic plus one - my mum.
We’re kitted out in helmets, harnesses and given a full safety talk before being let loose on the rope course in the trees.
This is the Manx version of ‘Go Ape’ - think wobbly wooden platforms, cargo nets and mini zip wires.
We’re only about six feet off the ground - to mum’s relief, the big boys’ high ropes course was not due to open for another few days - but it’s enough to get your heart pumping as you leap from one stage to the next.
After completing the course we’re not back on solid ground for long - and soon find ourselves scrambling up a climbing wall to the top of a 250-metre zip wire through the trees.
Mum suddenly discovers her inner Jane, and she leaps off the zip wire platform without a second thought.
Next we inch our way up a knee-knockingly high tree, ding a bell at the top and abseil down under the careful supervision of adventure park owner Steve Salter.
The fun continues with a trip through the beautiful plantation’s pathways on off-road pedal go-karts. We huff and puff up the slopes but before long, Steve catches us up in his 4X4 and tows us around the rest of the circuit at what feels like 100mph.
Any reservations that my mum had about our outdoor adventure have completely disappeared by this point.
I can hear her shrieking and giggling as our go-karts hurtle through the trees.
This is a fantastic day out for both children and big kids alike. Don your best loincloth and get yourself down there.
n Call Ape Mann Adventure Park on 07624 494252.