Unfortunately for us, the Isle of Man isn't an island full of rental cars. Everywhere we called was sold out for the weekend, until we simply decided to go see for ourselves by taking the bus directly to the rental car counters at the island's Ronaldsway Airport. There we found one local companyMylchreests Car Rentalwith a blindingly white Ford Fiesta for us. Sweeeet.
Starting out from around the corner from the Isle of Man home of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was a fitting beginning (he lives in a lighthouse and keeper's building just beyond the airport) and although we know he mostly has the place because his wife is Manx, we're also pretty sure he enjoys those road portions without speed limits. The island has even just issued Top Gear stamps!
First stop: Peel Castle.
Through misty country roads and by open fields, we reached a very ancient castle on the quayside in the town of Peel. Frothing waves crashing all around, ocean kayakers on the beach and the wind whipping enough to shake our car. We ducked inside a teahouse for Welsh Rarebit and to try the area's specialtyQueenie scallopsand we were off.
Second stop: The Ayres, aka the middle of nowhere.
Driving north along the west coast of the island and hopping on the TT circuit (here's the circuit map) for a bit, we reached the very northern edge of the Isle of Man, a desolate place made of miles of tall grass waving in the wind and anchored only by a small visitor's centre with a whiteboard stating recent bird sightings. Ah yes, the Isle of Man is also a popular destination for birding. It was freezing, the waves up here were menacing, and the lack of civilization disconcerting, but the lighthouse was very cool and completely worth the drive down single-car lanes and bridges.
Final stop: Mount Snaefell on the TT circuit.
Dropping back down to the east side of the island after The Ayres, our little Ford Fiesta zipped into the town of Ramsey and we began the climb to join up with the official TT race circuit on the side of a mountain. On this particular gray day, Mt. Snaefell was obstructed by a thick fog, so the gain in altitude was felt rather than seen.
From Ramsey down to the capital of Douglas, we rounded the mountain and its race curves complete with fogged-over open drop-offs, passed the temporarily abandoned race checkpoints and descended from the foamy fog onto the Victorian promenade of Douglas. All that in a few hours. It's almost hard to believe...until you watch videos like this one, from this year's TT race, where motorcycles are taking these mountain turns near 130mph like it's no big deal. [side brag: we totally drove the portion in the video].
Pro tip: To properly enjoy the ride and be safe during it, you've already got to be comfortable driving on the left side of road while sitting on the right side of the car, not to mention using a manual transmission.
Beyond this sign lies the land of no speed limit.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for Jaunted[