To non-race fans, these names are charmingly Celtic though meaningless, but to the thousands of people who come to the TT each year, they're the places where high-flying racers test their mettle -- and their bikes' suspensions -- speeding through tight switchbacks and catching air.
I rented a bike for this trip to experience the course up close, though at distinctly lower speeds. I started my trip in Douglas because it's home to the course starting gate, which was a mile from my hotel and, unnervingly, next to the town cemetery.
For an island that embraces motorcycling, it's odd that motorcycles are not rented on the isle itself. Neither of the two motorcycle shops rents bikes because of high insurance rates. So I rented my bike in England and ferried over. A bike isn't necessary, of course. The island has excellent public transportation, both bus and rail, or you can rent a car or a bicycle. But I wanted to experience the island on a motorcycle.
I was on the island for the last few days of the races, which I viewed from the grandstand, just above the pits where the racers were speeding so ear-shatteringly and blindingly fast I couldn't tell who was whom without the benefit of the announcer. There weren't any big screens to show what was happening in real time, just Manx Radio, which was giving the play by play. To see the race, I had to watch the televised recap each night.
The races were over when I decided to wheel my bike around the island course. I didn't know where I was going, but the course is marked with enormous orange signs and arrows. Many hay bales and foam pads cushion potentially deadly roadside obstacles, such as lamp posts, stone fences and trees. Even if the course hadn't been marked, I would've been able to find my way. I just had to follow the steady stream of Ducatis, Gixxers and Ninjas.
It took me about an hour to ride the course during the day, when there's street traffic. The racers do the same thing in about 20 minutes. But at my leisurely pace, I could experience the scenery that makes this island special.
Clusters of charming stone cottages in Douglas gave way to fields of grazing sheep and cows in nearby Kirk Michael, then sweeping coastal vistas and twisty, mountainous chaparral coming out of Ramsey.
It was such a gorgeous ride that I decided to ride it again -- and again, which isn't hard to do. The island is just 32 miles long and 12 miles wide, or just a little smaller than L.A. proper but without the traffic, so getting around is quick. After three round trips of the "track" at gradually increasing speeds, I decided I'd had my fill and parked my bike.
My next stop was the Fairy Bridge just outside of Douglas. According to island lore, those who pass over the bridge must say hello to the fairies unless they want bad luck. I wanted to see if the locals actually did that, so I hopped on a London-style double-decker headed for Castletown. I also planned to check out the well-preserved medieval-era Castle Rushen, from which the town gets its name, and go to the local pub.
About halfway through the 20-minute ride, the bus riders waved and called out, "Hello, fairies!" as we passed over the short bridge and under a lush canopy of trees.
One of them was Gina, whom I'd met before boarding. She patted the seat next to her when I walked down the aisle, and we chatted the rest of the way about her work as a banker, the fact that she'd moved to the island from England because she felt it was safer for her kids, and my plans for the rest of my stay. When I told her I'd be heading around the island clockwise by bike but didn't have accommodations outside Douglas, she called a friend about a homestay.
The next night, I was sleeping in her friend's house in Port Erin, a sleepy coastal village in the southeast corner of the island with a stunning beach and kayak rentals. Homestays are one of the most common accommodations on the Isle of Man and offer an up-close view of island life. Sanctioned homestays cost about $40 a night, a relief given the exchange rate.
The Isle of Man is not part of the European Union. It is a self-governing crown dependency affiliated with Britain only for its defense and international trade representation. So its currency is in pounds.
Not that there's much to buy, other than motorcycle paraphernalia and trinkets paying tribute to the Manx cats (cats without tails). There is, however, quite a bit to do to experience the history.
The Norse occupied the isle in the 7th century, but its culture also was influenced by the Irish, Scottish and English, all of whom occupied the island for centuries at a time. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the island became autonomous, but its history of occupation by other peoples and its landscape-inspired trade is evident across the island.