The Isle of Man's top scenic drivesFor anyone who has ever taken a road trip on the Isle of Man, it is not hard to see why popular TV programme Top Gear described it as “a motorist’s Heaven”. But it is not just die hard petrol heads that avail of the joys of motoring on the Island. A combination of limited traffic, stunning vistas and the sheer variety in highways available make touring the island a real pleasure for even the most reticent motorist.
1) Port Erin to Peel Coast Road
This route between two coastal towns offers spectacular panoramic views as the highly driveable highway winds, climbs and falls steeply through the open moorland of the deserted south western corner of the island. Traffic and housing is sparse, much of the route is not speed limit restricted, and as an added bonus, the Manx government has recently laid fresh tarmac for the first half of the journey making the road an absolute pleasure to motor on. Indeed many would say as a pure driving experience, it is the best road on the whole island. But the real delight of this adventure is the intensity of the views experienced none more so at the last rays of the day as the corridor between Peel and Port Erin experience some of the best sunsets anywhere in the British Isles. The start of the journey is dominated by the increasingly steeper climbs of the Bradda road, Ballakillowey, the evocatively named Sloc and Cronk Ny Arrey Laa (hill of the rising day) all of which offer stunning panoramas over the southern half of the island. A little further on, as the road traverses the boundary of the always pleasing Glen Rushen and the peaty Dalby Mountain (home to the infamous Dalby spook!) it offers up almost unmatchable coastal vistas, firstly at the remote detour at Eary Cushlin and then, perhaps most spectacular of all, at Niarbyl. But the beauty doesn’t end there. As the green fields continue to roll towards the sea, the national glen at Glen Maye offers the chance for a stroll through one of the island’s most picturesque glens. The final few miles sees the road flow nicely through the green fields and hillocks of two peaceful hamlets in Gordon and Patrick before the walls of the historic Peel Castle arises on the horizon, usually contrasted against one of those famously powerful sunsets.
2) Marine Drive and the Plains of Heaven
The steep cliffs of Marine Drive, south of Douglas, gives drivers a uniquely quiet clifftop drive complete with winding corners cut out of the rock and sheer plunges to the lapping Irish sea below. It also gives nature lovers the chance to spot Dolphin Pods, Basking sharks, the Cumbrian coast and any number of seabirds you care to mention. By looping round back through rolling country roads of Newtown and the Braaid on the way back to Douglas, drivers can sample the romantically named “Plains of Heaven”- a superb display of green fields being shaded by the towering central hills. A popular wedding picture vista, the plains of heaven are said to be an exact replica of what awaits us all once we shuffle off this mortal soil (if you believe the locals anyway!).
3) The Mountain Road
Steeped in motorsport history and general motoring folklore, the mountain road is one of the most famous roads in Britain. Stretching for 9.5 miles between Ramsey in the north and the capital in Douglas, the charts a path through the Northern hills up to the island’s only mountain, Snaefell, before gradually meandering downhill to Douglas. Featured in many of the TT races greatest moments, it has many trademark features: no speed limit, a total absence of houses, a tram crossing slap band in the middle, some of the wildest extremes of weather anywhere, the unique privilege of being an integral part of the world’s most famous motorcycling circuit complete with the associated roadside furniture and paraphernalia, the luxury of becoming one way during the TT festival thus turning it into the closest thing to a racetrack that a public road can become, and of course, spine tingling mountain views. But many forget the mountain road’s main draw. It’s an absolutely excellent road to drive. Well maintained and flowing it is also surprisingly quiet for most of the year outside of motor biking festivals.
4) Sulby Glen and Druidale
It is something of a standing joke on the island that Manxman are often unimpressed with travellers’ tales from the Swiss alps. “Why go all the way to Switzerland when we can go to Sulby,” they cry. And once you have driven this road you can begin to see their point. The road slowly climbs up the alpine like Sulby glen, with stark hills, mountain streams, mystical ruins (Tholtans in Manx), colourful heathers and lush ferns. Next up are the famous hairpins of Tholt-y-Will and one of the island’s most photographed features, the Sulby dam. Best viewed further up the road where Snaefell mountain towers over all, the Dam sits like a brimming bowl of clear blue liquid set within idyllic countryside. After following the TT course briefly the route then doubles back by taking in the barren moorland of the Brandywell road and its panoramic views towards the North West and briefly but spectacularly, back down the Baldwin valleys. At Brandywell Cottage, the island’s highest house, the route travels down through the boneshakingly narrow Druidale glen. Another road steeped in motorsport history, this time car rallying, the road is full of gooseneck bends, sharp inclines and drops, and sump grinding leaps. However, once more its real appeal is its views, this time back towards the dam with Snaefell as the backdrop, and laterally westwards towards the coast. A must for fans of driving amongst the moors and the clouds!
5) The Northern Plain
The Northern Plain is entirely different to the rest of the island. It is flat, high grade farmland, full of big fields of barley, sleepy flower lined lanes, and pretty cottages. It’s easy to briefly lose your way in this part of the island. But that doesn’t matter. If ever there was a place on the island where the much quoted “slower pace of life” is evident, it is here. Villages like Andreas, Bride and Jurby typify the notion that nothing much happens up here, and more to the point, everyone present is perfectly ok with that. The northern plain also has numerous access points to the coast what is effectively one giant beach smothering the North of the island. These beaches teem with wildlife and with their wild open feel, appeal to dog walkers, campers and those who simply wish to chill out in their own personal space. The Point of Ayre is the northern most point of the island and to stand here is to stand closer to Scotland than it is to stand closer to Douglas. Inland the old wartime airfield at Andreas is intriguing, whilst the unique rough tracks of the Curraghs near Ballaugh is the island’s densest wetlands, home to a wild colony of often spotted wallabies. Just keep driving and you will come out somewhere. Don’t worry!
The parish of Maughold is effectively a clifftop peninsular, shooting out at right angles at Ramsey before moving back south along the east coast at 45 degrees via several dreamy coves and beaches, whilst to its west side the hulking North Barrule provides a gorgeous shield to it’s beauty. From a motoring point of view, Maughold is a network of quiet country lanes that climb and fall amongst its pretty surrounding. It is a very green place. A thousand different shades amongst its endless trees and fields. Take your pick on where you want to go. Traverse the island’s most popular Glen at Ballaglass or perhaps visit the popular coves of Cornaa, Port-e-Vullen or Port Mooar. Climb the Quakers road –or Dreemskerry and survey the land below you. Or take a drive up past Maughold church to the clifftop Brooghs and look back across the area and drool. From this view it is easy to see why many of the island’s most prominent people have chosen to be laid to rest in this parish.
7) The Baldwin Valleys
Baldwin is perhaps the least spoilt area of the whole island. By taking a cruise up the narrow, tree lined valleys you get the feeling that it could easily be 1918 or even 1818, not 2018. The area is given real atmosphere by the abundance of trees present, none more so on a windy November day when the leaves are swirling and the hills appear to be closing in upon you. However its real beauty lies at the Northern end of both valleys at the reservoir at Injebreck. Even before the reservoir was constructed in the early days of the 20th century, the Victorians saw fit to build one of the island’s most prominent tourist attractions here, the Injebreck pleasure grounds. With the reservoir now there the scene is most certainly even better! The hills of Colden, Carraghyn, and Injebreck itself form a ring round the reservoir, their tree lined slopes, cascading streams and mini waterfalls creating a blissful sight. By driving further on up the steep Injebreck hill you come to some of the wildest and barren terrain on the island. Further back down the valleys on the ridge between the two is St Lukes church, complete with its elevated views of the barren hills. It is perhaps the most picturesque of all the island’s churches and well worth a stop.
8) The Sound and South Eastern Coast
With the road gently dropping away from the heritage village of Cregneash, the views towards the islet of the unpopulated Calf of Man, and the big seas beyond it, remains simply unbeatable for many. Add it to it the basking seals at Kitterland rock, the uncompromising cliffs of Spanish Head and the gnarled coastline of the sound then it becomes obvious why this road sees so much traffic. Yet the entire South East Coast is equally as spectacular. Driving north from the sound, Cregneash offers a real life working crofting village and its detour through the village up to Cronky Watch offers the driver a cliff top view as good as anywhere with the vast seas ahead of you and a perfect view of the East Coast. Inland, Meayll Hill provides a History buffs with one of the finest stone circles in Britain and a stark view of Port Erin and out towards Ireland. A short drive down the tumbling Howe hill sees the towering Southern hills jutting into the clouds, whilst Port St Mary is a quaint old fishing village. The treats continue at Gansey and the often languid but occasionally storm lashed Bay-ny Carrickey. A tour round Pooill Vaaish provides yet more coastal motoring whilst the view from the top of Fisher’s hill sees the south of the island open up in front of you like a pop-up book. In Castletown, Scarlett offers the driver the big skies of Castletown Bay and inland to South Barrule, whilst further on at Derbyhaven and Fort island an air of coastal calm lingers. A short drive to Langness, perhaps a threat to the Sound’s title as bookies favourite for the island’s favourite spot, allows the driver a uniquely flat view of the south of the island, complete with yet more haunting skies. A nicer drive would be harder to find!