It had been 10 years since my first and last visit to the Isle of Man for the TT races, back in 2002 I had just changed jobs, as I finished my training the TT trip arrived and off we set. That year it was Myself, Rob, Des, my brother Hamish and an Australian who I have only ever known as Goatf**cker. That year we camped at Union Mills, it was a fantastic couple of weeks and I was fortunate enough to see the great David Jefferies ride and win the Senior TT.
After that first experience I had wanted to return but due to lack of funds or other commitments I had been unable to. In 2011 I listened to the TT via Manx Radio on my iPhone as I rode around London between meetings, this got the fire stoked, it was decided that 2012 was going to see my return to the Isle of Man. I wanted my then girlfriend (now wife) Camille to come and experience this unique spectacle as it is planned that we will eventually head to her home of Taiwan in the future, as we met through a motorcycle group I knew she would enjoy it. Camille is not a fan of camping, I figured the best bet would be to get a cottage. I put the word out to a few friends inviting them to join us and in this way share the cost and set about trying to find a place to stay. This was not that easy, I emailed and called through a long list. At one point I had to look and see if I had a pregnant virgin on a donkey as all I heard was, “sorry but the inn is full” or words to that effect. Eventually I found something but had to wait and see if the guests of 2011 would want to return, thankfully they were not planning on TT 2012 so I snapped up Thie Y Ribbeyder.
There were a few dramas and one of our party dropped out but it worked out in the end and come May 2012 we were loading our bikes and heading off into the night to Liverpool and the Steampacket Company ferry to Douglas. The boat was packet but we found a couple a couple of seats next to each other, Camille and in and tried to get some rest, the third member of our party Llewellyn managed to get a seat somewhere and did the same. Eventually after hearing the entire life story of an over excited individual who had verbal diarrhea and no realisation that everybody else was trying to get some sleep, I was relieved to see Douglas appearing through the drizzle and begin to get set for the ride to the north of the Island.
As a photographer I have contributed to TRD for sometime covering BSB for a couple of years and shooting for a couple of articles. I enjoy motorcycles and photographing them, portraiture however is where my real passion lies. I had decided that I would set myself a project to make portraits of the people I met during the TT. For me the Isle of Man TT races are as much about the racing, as they are about the fans that make the pilgrimage from all over the world to join in and make the TT the fantastic and exciting experience it is. Not to mention the wonderful warm welcome from the Manx people. I had a press pass and got some great photographs of the racing and opportunities to get amazing views from the very edge of the circuit but this is about the people, the characters that I encountered during our 10 day stay during the Isle of Mann TT races 2012.
Having arrived at sparrows fart in Douglas and got off the boat we headed directly to Ramsey in the north of the island. We couldn’t go to the cottage until late morning so we figured breakfast was the best bet. In Ramsey we found the Court Café, your everyday greasy spoon but very welcome after a damp and tired ride from Douglas. Settling down for a few cups of tea and some good old eggs and bacon I figured I may as well start my project.
Heads turned as I got up camera in hand and asked the proprietor if I could take his portrait. “Why would you want to take my photograph?” (this turned out to be the question of the week for me), I explained what I was doing and why, occasionally I was told not to but most people looked pleased I was interested and where happy to let me photograph them.
Danny, who runs the Court Cafe is from Liverpool, he commutes to the café everyday during the TT week to keep the race fans fed and happy. Thanks for the Tea Danny.
We couldn’t stay in the café for ever so ended up hanging around in Ramsey like bored youth until we felt we could head to our home for the stay. It was a short ride further north to Thie Y Ribbeyder where we found the Beth who owns and runs the cottage with her husband Steve finishing up. Thie Y Ribbeyder was a god send, a beautifully appointed spacious cottage with a very welcome wood burner to keep us warm and cosy. The cottage stands on its own surrounded by fields, for us it proved to be perfect contrast to the excitement of the racing and revelry during the TT. The view was stunning and we got to see something we had never seen before, this is a rainbow in high cloud illuminated by the moon or as we called it, a moonbow.
The following day to our joy the sun had joined us so off we went. Camille was still a little unsure, she loved the cottage but didn’t know what to expect as far as the bikes were concerned. We got to Ramsey, parked the bikes and found a place to watch practice. The atmosphere built and then we heard them speeding toward us, engines pinged down through the gears, slipper clutches working overtime as the rear wheel skips over the bumps heading into Ramsey, tip it right and them gas it all the way out and up to the hairpin. I looked at Camille and knew from her face she loved this every bit as much as everyone there, this why to me it is as much the people there as it is the racers.
Peter was standing next to me, having found out he was local, I asked him how long he’d lived in Ramsey “50 years” he replied, “Where were you before?” I enquired, “Douglas haha, minus 2 years based in London with the Scots Guards.” It must be the fresh air and relaxed lifestyle as Peter doesn’t look too bad for 74.
There are always plenty of places to view from and we found a cracker tucked away in Ramsey behind Budgens, great views of the bikes just feet away, and with just a couple of other spectators.
Patrick had travelled from Solvakia where he used to be a Policeman. At well over 6ft (I was standing on a crate) he was a big lad, he was over for the week and had set up camp near Douglas travelling to Ramsey for the day on the train.
After the roads had re-opend we headed south the wrong way around the circuit to The Railway pub near Braddan Bridge, there is a good view and a warm welcome at the home of the famous Purple Helmets.
Angie is the barmaid at The Railway and pulls a fine pint.
Heading out into the garden and the benches next to the road ready for evening practice and the superbikes I found a group of Italians. They had chartered a flight for the 2012 TT with a look towards the documenting the event.
I’d noticed Luca looking at me (my camera), it turned out he too is photographer and was part of the Italian group from Milan. He had travelled over with, Andrea (Video Production),
Carlo (Production Manager), and Raffaella, their tour Manager.
It was a lovely warm evening with good light, just perfect for practice, and photographing motorcycles. There looked to be a space I could get into where I’d have a perfect view. A quick chat with the marshals who assured me there was no way they would stand where I was, pointing out that the reason the fence was new is because a rider at the last years ManxGP had wiped it out. I assured them I would take the risk on my shoulders and got set. Holding my nerve as the riders tore through the bumpy corner I got some great and I think unique shots as I strictly should not have been where I was, so if you’re bored of looking at portraits here is one for you.
Practice over it was back to our cottage and then a planned night out in Ramsey. Being rubbish with bus timetables we stood waiting for a while and got to playing guess the car as we watched the few that were passing head along the straight toward us. One of the cars stopped and we Steve (Beth’s husband and co-owner of Thie Y Ribbeyder) got out.
Steve is a born and bred Manxman, working the farm on which he built the cottage we were staying in. As with all the people we met, Steve was super friendly, didn’t laugh at are inability to work out the bus timetable too much, and thought nothing of offering us a ride into Ramsey and a bit of knowledge where to get the best pint.
It had been a full first proper day, a few good beers and a interesting cab ride back, that night we went out like lights buzzing about what the next few days would bring. Each morning we’d have breakfast listening to Manx Radio TT and see what the weather was supposed to do and thought about where we would head to watch. There are so many great places to view along the 37.7 mile road circuit that we were spoilt for choice. I wanted to take Camille and Llewellyn to Ballaugh Bridge to see the riders leap, then with the suspension totally bottomed out weave between the walls of the houses. We made that we parked up inside the circuit and looked for a place to view. Sadly there had been a fatality that morning and racing had been delayed. A car and a motorcycle had collided and the rider, as usual had come off worse. It is a reminder to take care and although it is easy to get excited at the TT with all the bikes and amazing atmosphere it only takes one mistake. Better to enjoy it and leave the racing to the racers. If you want to race on the TT enter.
We could hang around or head up to Hailwood Heights for the first super sport race. Deciding to go on we thought it best to get supplies to keep us going up on the mountain side. Nipping across to the shop to grab a sandwich or two I got chatting to a lady in the queue.
Martina originally comes from Nurburg, she fell for the charm of the Island and moved there just six weeks after her first visit. She has lived there ever since and now runs a nursery.
Having spent the first race up on the mountain and the second down in Ballaugh which was extremely enjoyable and full of action we headed off to find somewhere to get dinner. There are other roads on the Isle of Man other than those used for the circuit. It would appear that most stick to the course as we delighted in the solitude of the A36 and then the A27. The view across the Island in the evening light took our breath away, it was a truly beautiful experience. Time was getting on when we hit Peel but we managed to get a table and something hot in our tummies. Outside the Pub/Restaurant I met Clive and Steve.
They saw that the TT was on and decided it was a good idea to sail in Steve’s father’s boat for two days and nights from Penzance. After this epic journey Steve had brilliantly managed to fall in the sea and lose his phone, however they were having a great time and looking forward to the rest of the weeks events.
The next morning it was back to our favoured spot in Ramsey and before a trip up to the Ramsey hairpin. I caught a glimpse of an interesting looking dude and asked if I could take his portrait, it turned out he had come all the way from Brisbane.
It was a bit of an adventure to get to the hairpin and we had collected a few on the way, one of which was Mathew (Mathaus) who’d ridden his GS from Bavaria.
It was once we got to the hairpin that I met one of the best characters of the week. Nippy Norman and his trusty TLR200.
Norman has been a Marshal at the TT and Manx for 52 years, he travels over every year from the West Midlands in his camper bike and all. He was a bit slow on his feet but I bet he rode that TLR as if he were on junior kickstart.
Camille regrettably had to head off back to London the next morning, she had really enjoyed her stay, we even talked about one day living there. I am sure that we will return together in the future. As Llewellyn and I were going to be in Douglas we thought it best to hang and watch as the bikes shot off down Bray Hill. I went on to the grid to take pictures of the TT Zero bikes and riders, arranging to meet up after. I found Llewellyn and we headed back to the paddock, on the way I spotted a great looking guy whose photograph I just had to capture.
Making the most of the sponsorship from Cofain, John Birtchell whose sons Tom and Ben where proving to be a great team under the guidance of Klaus Klaffenbock in the number 5 sidecar.
There are more portraits that I made during TT 2012 and lots of motorcycle shots but to finish up I just loved meeting Judy Cannan, Joan Thornton and John Thornton who were leaning on the wall of St Ninian’s church in Douglas watching the bikes. They had been running the tea room in the church, serving delicious cakes and tea but where out to watch and as enthusiastic the rest of us.
For me, meeting and photographing the people that I met at TT2012 really shows that this event is not just about the bikes. It is a celebration of hospitality, a coming together from all over the world to enjoy what is a totally unique event. If you haven’t made it to the Isle of Man TT I cannot recommend it enough. If your other half isn’t into bikes, there is plenty for them to do and see, but I bet once they feel the rush as a bike screams past just inches away they won’t be able to stop the grin of excitement. Like I said at the start, Thie Y Ribbeyder was the ideal place for us. It was a retreat of tranquillity at the end of the day. If your thing is to party all night then Douglas is the place to be, if you want a quieter nightlife then head to Ramsey and if like me you want to chill out in front of a log burner and get away from it all at the end of an exciting day then look for a cottage. Above all though make sure you get to the TT and find out for yourself, join in the fun and help make the TT the exceptional experience it is.
Word and pictures by Duncan Longden.