Isle of Man
|Isle of Man|
|Location Map ( geo)|
The Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency which lies in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland, Galloway in Scotland, the English Lake District and North Wales. Although it is closest to the Scottish Coast, it is accessed by ferry primarily from Heysham near Lancaster, with additional sailings from Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin during the summer months. All services are operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, and arrive in the port at Douglas, the capital of the island, on the east coast. The island also has an international airport at Ronaldsway, near Castletown, in the southern end of the island.
The geography of the island is interesting, and has led to some fabulous driving roads. The north end of the island is largely low lying and flat, but south of the A3, a substantial range of hills, including the island's highest point of Snaefell (620m) cross from shore to shore. South of these, the A1 passes through a shallow valley (around 40m at the watershed) between Douglas and Peel on the west coast.To the south, another range of hills rise up, and while the eastern side of the island largely consists of gently rolling hills not far exceeding 200m, the west side rises up to the summit of South Barrule at 483m. All of these hills lead to a rugged coast of cliffs, hidden bays and some spectacular rock formations, while the north coast is largely a long shingle beach.
Roads are classified as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and U roads. The numbers of A, B, and some C roads are signed. A few of the A roads are classified as Primary routes, and therefore signed as Primary Routes with green signage. These include the A1, A2, A3, A5, A6 and A18. All other routes are non primary with white signage.
The Hierarchy is different to the rest of Britain as the classes are: Primary, District, Local, Access, and Unsurfaced. A map is available here: Isle of Man Government Map
When roads on the island were first classified, the numbering made a certain amount of sense, with the A1-A5 connecting the main towns together, and the A6-A9 forming more important subsidary routes. The Axx numbers were then used from north to south, as were the Bxx numbers. However, many of the B roads were upgraded to A roads and their numbers re-used. There have also been a lot of other routes which have been classified as A or B routes over the years, simply using the next available number, resulting in a less obvious system of number allocation.
Driving on the Isle of Man is not too dissimilar to driving elsewhere in the British Isles. The main difference is the lack of a maximum speed limit (see below). There are a few important differences with the roads however. Firstly, many of the routes run between earth banks rather than field walls or hedges. Some of these banks are themselves topped with with walls, or more often gorse hedges. The B roads and minor routes are often single track or a narrow S2, however some A and B roads seem to vary wildly in width between the banks, and even when this ends up being 4 or 5 lanes wide, the full width is tarred, often without any layby markings, and sometimes the centre line is anything but central.
One other thing to look out for is that many of the fingerposts on the island seem to point in the wrong direction.
The Isle of Man does not have an upper maximum speed limit. However, that does not mean that the roads can be driven at high speed. The island has 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 limits signed in various places, but the UK NSL sign does mean that the route is unrestricted. In practice, however, it is not easy to find a stretch of road where it is possible, legal and safe to exceed much more than 70mph in a moderately fast family car. This is due to a variety of reasons. Obviously, other traffic is a major controlling feature on the speed that can be attained, both slow traffic ahead and oncoming traffic preventing racing lines from being taken through the bends. Many of the roads are also too narrow, twisty, or bumpy to be taken at high speed.
Despite this, it is possible to exceed the standard UK speed limit of 60mph legally, and reasonably safely on the island, but beware that dangerous or reckless driving charges are possible. Indeed, much of the traffic on the Mountain Road when it is quieter seems to be able to run at around 70-75mph on the straights, and the same can be found on other routes.
Most other road rules and signage on the island follow the rules of Mainland Britain. One obvious exception is that the Stop Line and sign is much more prevelant than the Give Way. In many cases this is because the junctions can be almost blind, but even those with good visibility can have stop lines, particularly in the towns.
Signage for junctions is not as comprehensive as it is on the mainland. Most major junctions have Advance Direction Signage, but nothing at the junction itself. As the signs are installed at fairly random distances from the junction in question, it can be easy for the unwary to miss a junction, or believe they have missed it. Minor junctions are more commonly served by fingerposts, although it is common for the fingers to be pointing in the wrong direction, also leading to confusion. As in the UK, a great many urban junctions (of note), and some rural ones, are completely unsigned.
Bridges, Tunnels, and other Crossings
The Isle of Man does not have any tunnels, and only two causeways, connecting small offshore islands to the main island at Peel and Langness near Castletown. Being a hilly island, it does have a large number of burns and rivers, all of which need bridging at some point. There are also harbour bridges in Douglas and Ramsey which lift or swing, and the dramatic Groudle Glen Viaduct, which is shared with the railway.
The Isle of Man is, perhaps, most famous for being home to the Isle of Man TT race, and the TT Circuit is almost entirely formed from public roads which can be driven by the general public. Indeed, most of the year the islanders have to use the circuit to get around the northern end of the island. The route starts on the A2 in Douglas and follows the A1 to Peel, then the A3 around to Ramsey, before crossing back to Douglas on the A18 Mountain Road, passing below the summit of Snaefell. There are two other road racing circuits on the island, the Southern 100 Course near Castletown in the south and the Jurby South Circuit near Jurby in the north.
The Isle of Man uses a number of different, but related registration systems. The area identifiers of MN and MAN have been reserved for exclusive use on the island, including in the current (2001) system, however, these have not yet been used. The original numbering systems on the island all used MN or MAN as either prefix or suffix, with up to four digits. Between May 1974 and May 1983, MAN plates were also issued with a prefix or suffix letter (similar to the annual indicator on the mainland, but issued in sequence). These plates had numbers from 1-999, and the letters O and U were also used as the prefix or suffix. The MANX123 and 123MANX systems have also been issued, although it is not clear when, and very few vehicles seem to carry these plates.
All of these systems were used up by August 1987, since when the island has been working through xMN123y format plates, with 'Y' reg cars commonly seen on the island in 2023, suggesting that the change to y123xMN is imminent. However, the opportunity may be taken to align with the current UK system.
Despite the plates being very similar to the UK systems, there is no real age indication given by the plates, and it appears that cars imported to the island are given current plates, rather than age related plates. This is probably because all plates in the previous systems have been issued, and even though the relevant car may have been scrapped, they are not formally re-issued. However, as there is no age indication from the registration, this does mean that old vehicles can carry current plates and new vehicles very old plates. There is therefore a strong market in transferring registrations between vehicles, even if it involves using scrap vehicles to 'sell' the number plates in question. As elsewhere, low numbers and older style plates appear to be particularly desirable.