The Lost German on the Isle of Man TT Course: A Ghost Story from the Isle of Man

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One of the world's great sporting events and the ultimate motorcycle race, The Isle of Man TT 2015 Practices and Races Schedule runs from 30th May to 12th June.

Cascading down the steep slopes of Snaefell Mountain, the bank of dark fog shrouded everything in its path. At first an advanced guard of wispy light grey cloud trailed over the Mountain TT circuit and rolled down towards the Laxey Valley below.  A sombre damp blanket of darkness soon followed.  These mountain fogs could arrive quickly and sometimes without warning. They were a feature of the famous Manx motorcycle road course, the best and most challenging motorbike race in the world. When the mountain mists descended visibility was reduced to zero and all racing came to a halt until it lifted, at times almost as soon as it had arrived.

Jim Quayle had been stationed as a Marshall on the ‘Verandah’ section of the course. He had volunteered as a Marshall every year for 10 years. The 37¾ mile course needed just over a minimum of 500 Marshals stationed around the course in various sectors. At its highest point the course rose to 1,385ft (422 metres) above sea level. Jim liked to be stationed on the mountain section of the course. Although it could be frustrating at times; like today, when the fog descended and you just had to wait until ‘Manannan’ decided he would be prepared to lift his cloak of mist. ‘Manannan’ was the Celtic sea god from where the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin) derived its name. The legend being that he would use the rolling mists to hide the island from its enemies and protect it.

Isle of Man TT course map

Jim was at the ‘Graham Memorial’, a small stone alpine styled shelter cut into the side of the mountain on a sharp left hand corner of the road. It was a memorial to Les Graham (14 September 1911 – 12 June 1953) former 500cc motorcycle World Champion who was killed in the 1953 Senior Race on the island when racing as part of the Italian MV Agusta team. This course had seen many famous riders rising to the challenge and testing their road racing skills to the limit over the years.  Some had met a sad end when pushing their abilities that little bit too far. The International Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) Race was first held on the Island in 1907. The Snaefell  Mountain Course was first used in 1911.

Jim loved the history and traditions of the TT. Close to his home in the village of Ballaugh, which was on the lower levels of the course, there was a plaque on the wall in memory of Karl Gall. Jim would look at it whenever he passed by. Karl Gall (27 October 1903 – 13 June 1939) born in Vienna, Austria and former German national motorcycle champion. Riding for the BMW Team, he was badly injured after crashing at Ballaugh on 2nd June 1939 and subsequently died of his injuries. That year BMW thought of withdrawing from the race out of respect for Karl Gall. In the end they remained and his German BMW team mate Georg "Schorsch" Meier (9 November 1910 – 19 February 1999) went on to win the Senior Race.

The TT attracts many German motorcycle enthusiasts who are popular visitors to the Isle of Man and liked by the Manx. Over the years their contribution to the Races has been immense and Jim loved their enthusiasm.

Looking at the thickening mist Jim knew that there would be a long delay in the start of racing today.  A drop in temperature as the grey curtain descended made Jim restless.  He shivered when he felt the damp vapour penetrate his clothes and the chill enter into his body and touch his bones.  After a few minutes of stamping his feet and rubbing his hands in a failed attempt to warm up, Jim thought he would try and think of something else to take his mind off things. These rolling mists touched a superstitious nerve in Manx people. They were associated with the legends and folklore that reached far back into the pre-Christian history of this Celtic island located in the middle of the Irish Sea. Many of these legends spoke of the mists as portals into another world where mythical creatures and the souls of the departed dwelt.

Telling his fellow Marshalls that he needed to stretch his legs for a minute and that he would not be long, he set out to walk north along part of the ‘Verandah’. Jim kept to the side of the road that hugged Snaefell Mountain. It was important not to venture off the roads when the weather was like this. It was easy to get lost in the fog of the Manx hills. As he walked Jim could hardly see anything in front of him. The mists created a strange atmosphere that could feed your imagination. Sounds could be distorted and shadowy false images appear out of nowhere created and given form by the swirling fog. As he walked Jim thought of the riders that had come to grief on this series of bends that lay between the 29th and 30th milestone of the TT course.

Fog over mountains

Everything was so quiet as Jim walked along.  All that he could hear was the sound of his footfall on the hard road. Jim stopped and listened carefully. The air was still without even the slightest breeze. No birdcalls, the sheep were quiet and the grass on the hillside did not stir. Maybe he would not go very far because for some reason today he felt uneasy. Thinking about this Jim decided that he was being foolish and in order to conquer his unknown fears decided to walk just a bit further along the ‘Verandah’. Just as he was about to turn back Jim heard the deep sound of an engine in the distance.

Stopping he tried to look into the impenetrable mist. He listened intently and heard the deep unmistakable sound of a BMW Kompressor; the great iconic machines of the 1930’s. Who could be out on the closed roads on a machine like that, he thought? Jim could not tell how far the motorbike was away. The fog distorted everything. Standing still he heard the approaching machine coming ever closer. Then there was silence. Jim needed to investigate; it was his duty as a Marshall to ensure the roads stayed clear when closed for racing. It could be a visiting biker who had strayed onto the circuit by mistake, anything was possible. As Jim advanced he could only hear the noise of his own steps. In between there was total silence. However, he had a strong sense of someone or something being behind him or beside him. He felt watched and frightened. Looking around him he could see no one but felt a deep sense of presence.

Once again he came to a standstill. It was difficult for him to resist the temptation to turn on his heels and run. Although the cold mist still penetrated his clothing he could feel the warm beads of sweat dripping from his forehead, running down his face, neck and down inside his collar. Jim shivered; a response to the chill caused by fear not the cool mountain air. He heard the sound of footsteps coming towards him; unmistakable and regular. Coming closer, eerie and unsettling, Jim couldn’t help feeling disturbed. 

View of TT course Isle of Man

Staring ahead the dark shape of a man began to emerge from the thick mist. Clad in black and wearing an old fashioned crash helmet. Jim felt some relief at seeing a human figure. The Island was full of motorcycle enthusiasts; some rode vintage bikes and dressed in the style of the date of their manufacture. The man came closer to him and raised a hand in acknowledgement and said in a clear matter of fact way- ‘Grüß Gott’. Ahh, thought Jim, a German or maybe Austrian. He would help him find his way off the course and too safety. Jim bade him good morning back, but before he could say anything else the man said ‘Ich weiss nicht, wo ich bin’.

Jim replied in English ‘you don’t know where you are?’ That explained it, he was lost. Jim felt very relieved to have something before him he could explain rather than the wild imaginings he had been experiencing a moment before.

‘Ich habe mich eine lange Zeit verlaufen ’ then switching to English the man said in a heavy German accent ‘I have been lost a long time. Können Sie mir helfen?’.

‘Yes I can help you’ said Jim. ‘It’s easy to get lost up here, but you really shouldn’t be on the course when the roads are closed for racing’.

The man smiled. A warm friendly smile. His blue eyes looked at Jim quizzically. ‘Ja, Rennen auf der Insel  Man’. Then seeing that Jim was finding it difficult to understand him said ‘yes racing on the Isle of Man. Now I need to go home, I have been here so long and my family are missing me.

Jim thought that this man really was confused and he wanted to reassure and calm him. ‘My name is Jim. What is your name and where is you motorbike?’

The man thought for a minute as if trying to remember what his own name was. ‘Mein Name ist Peter. Yes, my name is Peter’. He shook Jim’s hand enthusiastically . ‘I have been waiting so long for someone to find me.’

Laxey bay

‘Come on’ said Jim ‘let’s go and get your bike and then I can get you to safety.’

A brief look of sadness crossed Peter’s eyes. ‘It’s very close Jim. If you wait here I can get it. Thank you for finding me. I just needed someone to find me Jim. You wait here, I will be alright now’. Turning he walked back into the mist.

Jim waited for the sound of the engine to come to life. As he did he noticed that the mist was lifting. The fog retreated quickly back up the slopes of Snaefell Mountain.  He looked back up the road in the direction in which Peter had gone. The road was now clear and there was no sign of Peter or any sound of an engine. Where had he gone? Jim walked around the Verandah section until he reached another set of Marshalls. No-one had passed them either before or after the mist had lifted.

Karl Gall leac

Jim walked back along the road. He needed to get back to his sector before the race started. As he walked he had an overwhelming feeling of sadness. It is in the Manx psyche to respect the unknown and to accept it. This Island holds its secrets, but just now and again they emerge from the fog. In his heart he knew what he had experienced. On this misty day a man had emerged from the past. A figure from the 1930’s. A TT rider, like so many over the years, who had arrived to test their skills in the most challenging motorcycle race in the world. Like so many their dreams had ended in death.

When Jim got back to his home in Ballaugh that night, he sat quietly in contemplation. Leaving his house he went to the memorial plaque of  Karl Gall. Looking around him and feeling a bit self-conscious he laid his hand on the image. ‘Sagen Sie dem Peter, dass ich mich freue, ihn gefunden zu haben (tell Peter that I am glad that I found him).’ Jim then made his way back home knowing that he would never tell anyone about what he had experienced on the foggy Manx mountains that day.

Read the story in German / Lesen Sie die Geschichte auf Deutsch

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