It was last December, at our annual Christmas outing to United Grand Lodge, when I was invited to walk the coast of The Isle of Man. I remember very vividly, our Provincial Grand Master from Lincolnshire approaching our table with another Provincial Grand Master following closely behind. I was introduced, a business card was offered and the invitation was made. When they walked away, I remember thinking.... 'oh shit, this is all getting a bit serious' !!! If we consider, I wasn't in a particularly good place in my head, I was feeling rough as hell with a lingering chest infection and my hairbrained idea to slip away quietly to walk around the coast was slowly becoming a very noisy affair which was scaring the hell out of me.
Yes, I know it was only a walk but I genuinely had no idea if I was capable of such a feat, would my body hold up, would my mind hold up, I had no idea but the fact that now the whole daft idea had somehow gone very public, I was doubting myself even more.
Anyway, as you know, we got going and over the first few months, I embraced the opportunity to visit the Isle of Man which I fully intended on doing when I eventually got around to the west coast. It was Stuart, our Provincial Communications Officer that suggested one day that my invitation was an open one so I could visit the island at any point... why not go while the TT races were on ?? And get to visit the TT Lodge which meet on race week. 🤝🍷
It took a bit of organising, a train from Helmsdale to Inverness, a hostel for the night, a day hanging around, a train from Inverness to Glasgow, then another to Lancaster, a bus to Heysham and then a ferry over to the island. What a pain in the arse that lot was !!! The hostel was ok, I shared a room with a guy from Bristol who had just completed the west highland way walk and was on his way home and 2 French girls who never spoke so I've no idea where they were going. I did meet some lovely ladies while I was sitting by the river in Inverness soaking up the sun.
Mums on bikes, a group of ladies from the West Midlands who were smashing the Lands end to John O' Groats challenge on their pushbikes, raising money for the Air Ambulance. It was lovely to meet these ladies, we had a great chat and they attempted to teach me how to use Instagram !!! More training required I think girls... I promise I'll keep trying... 🥰
My train from Inverness was on time and left at 8.15pm. What I hadn't considered, it arrived in Glasgow at midnight and my next train wasn't until 4.30 in the morning !!! Wouldn't be a problem, I could kip on a bench in the station, that would be safe enough. Only, the mad world we now live in, they throw everyone out of the station and lock the gates at midnight, mainly due to drunken idiots causing trouble. I therefore sat in MacDonalds until 2am when they closed and threw me out so over the road into a Tacobell until 4am when they closed and the train station reopened... what a great night that was... Not...
I was at the ferry terminal very early but being a foot passenger they allowed me board the earlier ferry so I arrived on the island at midday. Unfortunately, the welcoming committee were due to meet me until 6.30pm when I was originally due to arrive so I had to hang around for the rest of the afternoon. I wasn't sure if there was a plan for me so I waited to meet the guys to find out. There wasn't a plan but Rob and his good lady Amy took me to Busheys for a few beers. It's a famous outdoor venue during TT week so it was nice to see it but I was knackered and all I wanted to do was sleep. It was 11pm when I finally decided to leave Douglas and head up onto the coastal path to find somewhere to pitch my tent.
I slept like a log in a small picnic area up on the cliffs and the following morning I hit the trail. I walked 16 miles up to Castletown along a stunning coastline. A brief stop at a fascinating building at Port Soderick, a charity called Heroes on the Water. I met Scouce, an ex sub mariner who made us a coffee and showed me around.
What a fantastic facility, created following research done by the Americans after the conflicts in the Gulf & Afghanistan. Apparently, getting veterans out fishing on kayaks has a massively positive effect on their mental health. It has been proven to be hugely effective and the work Scouse and his team of volunteers do not only helps ex forces personnel but also any ex and serving uniformed service workers.
I was on my knees by the time I'd got to Castletown, a challenging walk in 20C temperatures and the missed nights sleep had caught up with me. A friendly chap I passed pointed out that the Sidings pub was the best in town and he was spot on. A lovely meal, a couple of cold pints, the landlord said I could pitch my tent in the pub garden and the chap lodging in the flat attached to the pub let me use his shower... what a result this pub turned out to be. Thanks guys. 😉😍
Even better, the bus stop was right next to the pub as I had to get back to Douglas first thing in the morning, I'd been promised pit lane and start line tickets for race day 1 and this was one show I was not going to miss. Fortunately, Alex and Phil, both prominent Freemasons on the Island also have important jobs in the pit lane so I met Alex who gave me my pass and I spent the rest of the day wandering around the pits taking in the experience.
I had a fantastic day, followed by watching the entertainment in the grandstand and being a cheeky chappy, using the business card I'd been given of a prominent member of the local community, I blagged myself pass security and into the grandstand campsite where many of the racers were camping in their big motorhomes. I pitched my tent just outside the shower block so scrubbed up, watered and fed, I was in my scratcher for 9.30... what a party animal !!! I just couldn't handle any more excitement and unbeknown to me, there was plenty more excitement to come.... 😎
Steve Plater kindly let me stalk him for a few minutes between his commentary slots, Steve lives in the village next door to me in Lincolnshire and we had met years ago when we both sponsored tables at a kids boxing event. He's a top guy and I'm sure will see the light one day and become a Freemason... I'll keep asking him until he does... 👍😉