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Written by Pete Restall

Saturday 5th March 2005. 10.00 AM.

Sitting on the start line of not just our first Macmillan 4x4 Challenge but our first ever navigation challenge.

After a couple of month’s preparation and practice we are finally off, and not exactly sure of what’s ahead of us. Despite reading all the articles we could find about previous challenges and chatting with Russ to get an idea of what to expect, it seems that everything has changed. Due to unexpected set backs (the M.O.D. withdrawing permission to use land for the off road sections), it seems that the organizers have had to re-plan the 28 hour 1000 mile event within the last two weeks. At the drivers briefing we have been told the mileage of the event has been reduced and that due to lack of time the organizers have not been able to run the route the usual 3 or 4 times to check on timings.

Along with the other two teams from BHCLRC, Russ Brown & Laura Daniels (Sub Editor of Land Rover World) - Team 1, and Michael & Paula Brown - Team 26, we have been issued with our road books for day one. After plotting a mass of grid references we are off on our initial test, a list of directions with questions to answer, control boards to find, photos to take and finally getting to our first check point. After a few U-turns thinking we had missed answers, and finally finding them further down the road, we manage to check in. So far so good.

After a very short break we then set off for a morning (so we thought) of more navigation through the Forest of Dean, a mixture of roads and forest tracks, along with an excursion into a disused quarry for something slightly rougher, which the Pajero drivers thought was awesome!! We didn’t touch the ground with anything other than the tyres.

Our next test is at an off road centre next to the river Severn, where the lack of time available to reorganize the event seems to taken it’s toll. Many of the teams with higher start numbers have arrived at one of the forest stages too late and the stage has been closed. They are then redirected to the trial section, arriving just ahead of the earlier starters who have managed to complete all of the stages up to this point. As all the teams have arrived at around the same time there is a shortage of parking and a queue for our forward transport. Upon arrival the drivers, who have to take there road books with them for scoring, are eventually transported in 110’s, that could hardly be described as in showroom condition, through the farm yard, through the cow shed, past the slurry tank and finally across the fields to a trial section. In the mean time Steve is attempting to get the viscous fan removed from the Range Rover, before the knackered bearing that developed earlier in the afternoon, does the water pump no good. After doing the trial section, yet another first for me, and getting through with a 3 (same score as Russ, sorry), we finally leave on the journey to Radner Forest 2 hours after arriving.

Out with the road book again, due to having had to take the road book on the trial we haven’t had the time to plot any further, we get a shock when we see that the radner forest stage opens at 4.30. It’s 50 miles away and the time is 18.00, Better get our foot down.

With clues to find on the way, and Steve taking a stint at driving we head north, still trying to find answers to clues on the way. As we travel through Leominster we decide to fill up with fuel as it is probably the last chance before Radner and we can then top up at the fuel stop, listed in the road book after Radner en-route to the final stage of the day.

We finally arrive at Radnor at 20.30 and get presented with a photocopied enlarged map, and the instruction to make our own romer to suit (Good job we found out what a romer was before we went!!). Romer completed we head off into the forest in search of control boards. As we enter the stage we think it’s strange to see that some one has lost there number plate and it’s been pinned to a tree, just like people do with wheel trims on the road. We carry on looking for control boards until we finally see a second number plate nailed to a tree. B******S back to the start to note down the first Number Plate/Control Board (Ask Russ how many they passed before it clicked) and carry on. Half way through the stage the Rangy starts overheating, no viscous fan, all the auxiliary lights on and the electric fans running off the second battery, its gone flat. Due in part to the conditions, the teams on the stage had managed to get bunched up causing lots of stops therefore making our overheating situation worse, so we decided to pull over and let the rest of the field get ahead, thereby giving us the opportunity to plod along with enough airflow through the rad to get to the finish. After talking to Russ, who was ahead of us in the queue, he tells us there were a lot of people having problems with the conditions and the hill ahead of us, so we put the kettle on had a cuppa and warned any other vehicles passing of the conditions ahead.

We finally moved on, and after catching the convoy, that Russ was leading down the mountain, a few times, finally got to the end of the stage, three hours after entering it.

After quickly plotting our route to the next stage and worrying about our fuel situation (that’s the trouble with a V8) we finally set off, only to be held up by two pajero’s travelling at about 40 MPH. As they are pulling off the road onto a garage forecourt we finally think we can make some progress to the next stage until we see Russ & Laura parked at the garage. We pull in only to find that this is the fuel stop, it’s closed and Russ has no diesel. We’re low on petrol and are advised by the organizers that there is no where else open for fuel, and if we did travel to the final stage it would be closed before we got there. Luckily the fuel stop was also the overnight stop so there was nothing else to do but eat and get settled for the night. So the tailgate of the Range Rover (Renamed the chuck wagon at this point) is dropped down, gas stove set up and pot noodles, coffee & hot chocolate, cakes & biscuits all round for the four of us, then into the sleeping bags in the back of the car to try and get some sleep.


Sunday 6th March. 6.00 AM.

Awoken by the sound of diesels ticking over and the call of nature, welcomed by ice on the inside of the windows, day two beckons. First job of the day, tailgate down, gas stove out and kettle on. After a well needed cuppa, time to queue at the cafe for breakfast at 7.00. After breakfast we finally get to fill up with fuel, restock the chuck wagon from the garage shop and receive the road book for day two.

After plotting yet more grid references we’re off on a very pleasant journey through some glorious scenery, still in search of answers, it didn’t help that not all the clues had answers that were to be found on route, but took the use of a bit of initiative, after meeting up with Russ & Laura on route, Laura, as the only person who didn’t look intimidating after spending a night sleeping in the Land Rover, was sent knocking on doors with her clipboard, to survey the local population for answers.

We finally arrive at the final off road stage, glad we kept our home made romer from last night, plot our grid references and off into the snow again. After the previous 24 hours we still aren’t sure what we are looking for as far as control boards, but as we turn the first corner we breath a sigh of relief as we see a number plate nailed to a tree. Only the difficult bit left, trying to find our way through the forest, get to the end, find as many number plates as possible and work with an overheating V8.

The only instructions left are directions to the hotel for Sunday night, so after dropping the tailgate again, this time with Michael & Paula (Team 26), to indulge in coffee and bacon sarnies (Defender drivers passing pointing out how Rangy drivers don’t like roughing it), we set off northwards to our final destination, and a much needed shower and a pint.

To top off a fantastic weekend there was only the Sunday night dinner and presentation to stay awake for. A nice meal and to the presentations, the organizers start reading out places and presenting awards and suddenly Team 15 is announced, was it fifty or fifteen, then the names, and we can’t believe we have managed second place overall orienteering, on our first ever event. As the final award of the evening the organizers present Russ Brown with a special trophy in recognition of his support to the event from the start.

Pete Restall