Where are all the bikes?
When you think of international areas of low tax that attract wealthy and famous residents, you do not ordinarily think of mountainous islands in the northern reaches of the British Isles. Monaco, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, maybe even Jersey - yes. The Isle of Man - no.
And yet the little crown dependency in the middle of the Irish Sea attracts its own fair share of wealthy residents. This, in a roundabout way, is why I find myself sitting in the queue for the Isle of Man-bound ferry at Heysham, surrounded by the red leather of the PH fleet BMW M6.
It's a flimsy, tenuous premise, but then you really do need only the thinnest of excuses to take a 500bhp, rear-drive coupe to an island whose black-and-white de-restriction signs mean just that.
Anyway, I have my orders and a quick smartphone search while queuing at the port (well, not all that quick - Heysham doesn't exactly have what you'd call a full 3G signal...) reveals that, according to an online walking guide, you can see Mansell's old gaff if you look south to Cregneash from Milner's tower. So far so good, but where either of these places are, and how many houses lie on the line of sight between the two, are mysteries that will for now have to remain unsolved. Because I have a ferry to catch.
The drive north from Douglas to the first campsite reveals that the Manx roads seem rather small for as big a beast as the PH fleet M6 (many of what they label A-roads would be a small B-road on the mainland). But memory of watching TT races on telly tells me that the Mountain Road, which runs through the heart of the Isle of Man and is its main arterial route as well as part of the famous TT course, will be rather better suited to the M6 than the nadgety and surprisingly built-up coastal routes around Douglas, the island's capital. The answer will be revealed tomorrow morning, because it will be time for a tour of the TT course.
It's a clear crisp autumn morning when I pick up the route of the 37.73-mile TT course, a few hundred yards before the startline grandstand - and most importantly it's clear up on the Mountain Road. Obviously, this is not going to be a record-setting run; the low-lying farmland of the southern and western reaches of the TT circuit is dotted with villages and there are a fair few 50mph speed limits dotted about, too. Even so, it's quite humbling just to trundle through the villages, however, with the thought that bikes are streaking through at high three-figure speeds, feet from people's living rooms.
In fact, the big Bee-Em is acquitting itself mightily well. Once you've hit all the various buttons to put into 'maximum-attack' mode the M6 becomes quite a back-road machine (Chris-R has kindly dialled this set-up into the wheel-mounted 'M' button so you don't have to go through the trouble of switching to 'power', putting the damper settings to maximum via the EDC button, and changing the gearbox mapping to 'vicious').
Eventually we're heading out of Ramsey and up onto the Mountain Road. On a clear day like this, and in a fast car like the M6, this is about as close to motoring nirvana as you're going to get - a well-sighted, challenging piece of road with plenty of overtaking opportunity and no speed limits. For those who haven't had the pleasure, it's a bit like driving the best road you've ever seen in the Peak District, Yorkshire moors or Brecon Beacons, but without the worry of breaking speed limits.
After a brief consultation with Messrs Ordnance and Survey, it turns out that Milner's Tower is on Bradda Head, just outside Port Erin in the far south-west of the island, and that Cregneash, a 'living museum' village, lies across the bay, on the next headland down as it were. It's also clear from the OS map that there's only one large structure on a direct line south from the tower (apart form the town of Port Erin itself, of course). I have my destination.
The journey down to the Port Erin area is, if anything, even more epic than the Mountain Road. Fast, bumpy roads criss-cross areas of moor and conifer plantation and, as the roads drop down towards the Calf of Man (effectively my destination) I realise that i've actually had more fun than driving on the more famous parts of the island - though that's probably because the roads are so empty here.
More importantly, I've discovered that Isle of Man is a properly good place to go for a drive. Even forgetting the motorsport side of things, it's a bit of a petrolhead's paradise. Was finding Mansell's old gaff a ridiculous reason to go? Yup. Would I use an even weaker excuse to get out here again? Hell yes.
Thanks to the Isle of Man tourist board - www.visitisleofman.com