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By Mike Stapleton

If I learnt the lessons year on year I’d start to write these reports in the days or, at least, weeks immediately after the event, when it’s still fresh in my mind. However, I don’t! It’s not until I start seriously thinking about fund-raising for the next event that the need to get the previous years report finished and out becomes a necessity.

Here we all are at the beginning of 2007 and the Macmillan 4x4 Challenge 2007 kicks off in five weeks time – so now it gets serious!

Friday the 10th March 2006 – 10.30
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 77737.0 (In 2006 the reading was 62632.3) Trip 146.8

Left Cambridge at 10.30, en route to Kidderminster to pick up my brother-in-law, Paul (Ferrie), my co-driver for the 2006 Macmillan 4x4 Challenge.

Friday the 10th March 2006 – 15.30
Location: Kidderminster – Milometer 77854.7 Trip 264.5

I arrived at Kidderminster at 12.45 and after lunch and packing Paul’s copious food supplies (he’s a diabetic so needs to eat at regular intervals – not easy on this type of event!) and his personal stuff we were on our way to Clyro, South Wales. We were both wearing the very appropriate Land Rover safari shirts kindly donated by Marshalls of Cambridge.

Friday the 10th March 2006 – 16.12
Location: Leominster – Milometer 77885.6 Trip 295.4

We filled up with diesel at Morrisons, 51.47 litres at £0.93.9p per litre, and our ‘operator’ was Masha (thank goodness for detailed receipts!).

We arrived at Baskerville Hall Hotel, Clyro Court, Hay on Wye, Hereford, from where we were to start, at about 17.00. We were one of the last vehicles to arrive, but it was a while before we could sign on and start to apply our event number stickers – as in previous years we were Team 5. The following is from the Supplementary Regulations:


7.1 Scrutineering and documentation will begin at 16.00hrs on Friday 10th March 2006. Documentation will close at 19.15hrs on Friday 10th March 2006. At signing on competitors must produce identification comprising a passport or photo card driving licence.

All vehicles must carry the following equipment:
  • Compass
  • Ruler
  • Pencils
  • Rubber
  • Romer
  • Safety warning triangle
  • Suitable tow rope
  • First Aid Kit
  • Shovel
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Extra warm clothing
  • Extra waterproof clothing
  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Litre of clean drinking water per person per day
  • Black plastic bags in which to keep own rubbish during event
  • Toilet paper and other personal requisites
  • Flask of warm tea / coffee / sweeteners / milk etc to own liking.

7.3 At Documentation Organisers'/sponsors' plates and decals will be issued for each competitor to apply.

7.4 Vehicles must be presented at the start in a clean condition.

7.5 Parts of the event will take place during the hours of darkness or in dark areas and vehicles should be equipped with suitable lighting.

Friday the 10th March 2006 – 20.05
Location: Clyro Court – Milometer 77910.0 (approximately)

We set off just after 20.05 on the Friday. Team 1 led away a little late as, with the car park being full of ‘Chelsea tractors’, we had a job getting into team number order. We were the fifth vehicle away. Using 'Tulip diagrams' (I'd given Paul a short session on what to expect regarding OS map references but had forgotten all about 'Tulips') we had to find our way over 100 miles to Wood Park Farm Tracks – an off-road site somewhere in deepest Wales, about 8 miles to the north east of Haverfordwest.

I’m not sure what time we arrived there, but once there we drove round the site looking for 'numbers, letters or pictures'. It was quite a good site – lots of mud and water! We then had a short coffee break before setting off again at 23.20.

Friday the 10th March 2006 – 23.20
Location: Wood Park, near New Moat, South Wales – Milometer 78014.2 Trip 128.6

We picked up the tulip diagrams where we had left off, at No. 32, and 12 further tulip diagrams led us through 19.6 country miles to Fishguard Docks – it took an hour to cover those 19.6 miles! The final instructions on the final tulip diagram (No. 44) was 'Join queue for ferry'. We were going to Eire! Paul was quite excited about this having never been there.

Saturday the 11th March 2006 – 02.45
Location: Fishguard Ferry Port, South Wales – Milometer 78014.2 Trip 128.6

We sailed at 02.45 on Saturday, were given our instructions and maps for the first stage in Eire, so having plotted our route we grabbed an hour or two of sleep before landing at 06.15 at Rosslare.


Team 5 – a muddy Muddy Blue Too in the queue for the ferry, Fishguard Ferry Port

We spent a pleasant day in Eire, though the weather got worse as the day went on. Having kept the photocopied maps we were issued whilst there (I think we were supposed to hand them in) I have now (29th January 2007) put them all together and can now work out where we went!

Having left Rosslare harbour we took to minor roads to skirt round Wexford. Just after Wexford we turned on to the R730 and then spent much too long trying to answer the question: 'How many pickups, and cows and their colours in the field?'. We retraced our steps over this section, a distance of about 3 miles, running next to the River Slaney several times but still couldn't answer the question. The answer apparently was 'none' – as the farmer wasn't there that morning (in his pickup truck) and neither were his cows!!!! Both Paul and I proved to be similar in not being able to 'let it lie' – which we should have done, as the delay meant we were running late for the rest of the day.

Having given up on the colour of the cows we continued up the R730, then the R702 for a couple of miles until at New Bridge we turned left on to the R746 towards Bunclody. We were answering questions all the way: numbers or dates of phone boxes or post boxes (some of which were Victorian, with VR on them, but painted green), telephone numbers or names of Estate Agents or fence erectors and so on.

After Bunclody we took the N80 until once again turning off on to minor country roads. At Bang Up Corner we turned right up Gallows Hill to avoid the town of Tullow, and made our way cross country to pick up the R725, which two miles later brought us to our breakfast stop at a garden centre.

Saturday the 11th March 2006 – 10.55
Location: A garden centre on the R725, a few miles east of Tullow (An Tulach) – Milometer 78133.0 Trip 247.4

We arrived there at 10.55 with the last two or three competitors and most of the other competitors had already left on the next stage. Not only that, but as I waited for Paul to return from the toilet, they stopped serving breakfast! So a quick roll from our copious supplies (Paul brought 12 back with him) and armed with a new road book, on we went.

The maps show that we then travelled north to join the R727, then west on the R727. At Killerrig we turned right (north) on the R418 to Castledermot (Diseart Diarmada), from there we went west again on minor roads, and then south-west on the R429 and on to the R430 before nipping up to Ballyroan (Baile Atha an Roine). At some stage we had a drive round a few very muddy fields where one or two competitors needed a pull.

A short stretch of the N8 took us to Abbeyleix and we appear to have headed south. However, here I think I’m missing a page or two of maps as I next pick us up north of Abbeyleix travelling west on the M7 and then the N7, then on to the R440 at Mountrath and then on to a fairly tame forestry section (tame but Dave and Gareth – Team 4 – did manage to get totally lost!) at Cardtown just below the Bloom Mountains.

After this we were given another road book, but just as we were plotting our route we were told just to head straight for Dublin as we had to be in the ferry queue at 19.30 or be stranded in Ireland. It’s a pity we missed the next section as our route headed north through the Bloom Mountains on narrow roads before picking up the R422 towards Mountmellick. However, I must admit that the pleasure of looking for pub names and so on was beginning to wane.

Saturday the 11th March 2006 – 17.20
Location: Brennans Maxol, Ballymany Road, Newbridge, Co. Kildare – Milometer 78246.8 Trip 361.1

I was getting very concerned as the fuel gauge was well into the red, so I woke Paul up to help me locate a filling station. We pulled off the M7 in pouring rain and found Brennans straight away. Our only expense in Eire was the 60.59 litres of diesel at 1.029 euros (making it about £.0.68 pence a litre?) we put in here. Good job as we hadn’t changed any money and so had no euros. Our fuel consumption since filling up at Leominster worked out at 27mpg – not bad considering the type of stop start and off-road driving we had been doing.

We arrived at Dublin Port at 18.30. We ate once we got on board (my vegetarian meal was huge I seem to remember). We sailed at about 21.15, had a short driver's briefing and the whilst trying to sleep listened to a teasing conversation between Sunita Shroff (well known TV personality) and Russ Brown – whose previous navigators had included Charlie Dimmock and Lynn Bowles. She was asking him why he always had lady celebrity navigators, was it that he just wanted a good looking lady in his Land Rover for the weekend? She suggested to avoid any such suggestions he should have Timmy Mallet as his navigator for 2007! All very good natured, but with an element of truth. I did grab about an hour's sleep.

Sunday the 12th March 2006 – 00.30
Location: Holyhead Ferry Port, North Wales

Once we'd landed at Holyhead (00.30 Sunday) we drove for about 20 minutes to the Angelesey race track where we were to spend the remainder of the night. The wind was blowing a bit and it was pouring with rain so I decided that putting the tent up was not a good idea as we'd get soaked. Paul wasn't happy about this – even less so about the guy in the vehicle next to us who kept his engine running for the first hour or so. I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Paul get ‘cross’!

After a few hours of fitful sleep we were up for breakfast at a little before 07.30 – two cups of coffee and a delicious fried egg bap later we were feeling a lot better. At the driver's briefing Selwyn mentioned that he'd had snow warnings and that we might have problems on some of the Welsh stages – we laughed as we thought he was joking. In fact snow caused the cancellation of most of the route for Sunday! We left our overnight stop in team order so again we were amongst the front runners.


A bit of snow in Wales!

As we dropped down into Wales – down the A4085, past Beddgelert and on, snow was getting deeper and deeper at the sides of the roads. Not only that but it was frozen, so made for tricky driving conditions even in a 4x4.

We crossed the river at Penrhyndeudraeth by the toll bridge – and got another question ‘How much was the toll?’ wrong! The quite old sign said 10p I think, which we put as our answer. The correct answer was nothing as that’s what we paid!

We turned left to Ffestiniog and took the B4391 into the hills. Where this road joined the A4212 we were stopped by Selwyn as a ‘scout’ had been sent up the narrow and steep country roads we were now due to follow to report on their condition. ‘Not good’ came back the answer and we were instructed to skip on several map references and to pick up the instructions again at Corwen on the A5.

We continued down the A5 until we tuned left a few miles before Llangollen and headed up the A542 towards the Horse Shoe Pass – a steep and winding pass over the Maesyrychen Mountain. The signs at the foot of the pass said it was closed!


Team 4 behind us on the approach to the Horse Shoe Pass, as we waited while the Ford Galaxy turned round

The snow meant that everyone with a 4x4 from miles around had come to play – and some without four wheel drive. Like the lady we followed towards the pass in a people

carrier, who spun on one of the bends and when Gareth went to help, asked what was up at the pass (we'd assumed they were locals and knew were they were going, but apparently not!). She was driving a Ford Galaxy modified with hand controls. Gareth advised her to make her way down very carefully and to 'keep her foot off the brake!'

We ended up at the Ponderosa café – sadly closed (answer to one of the questions – though few of the competitors had ever heard of the Cartwrights) at the top of the pass. The snow had become one solid sheet of ice, Dave slid straight into a Freelander on entering the car park and when he got out of the vehicle Gareth went straight over on his rump! So from the frozen top of the Horse Shoe Pass we made our way to the usual DeVere hotel, the Daresbury Park, and a well earned pint (or two) via some very snow covered and snow drifted roads. Everyone enjoyed this part of the trip.


Team 4 now in front as we head for the hotel

Sunday the 12th March 2006 – 17.20
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel

At the event dinner that night we were astounded to find that Team 4 (Dave and Gareth) came second in the Night Navigation section and that Team 5 (yes, that's us!) came joint third in the same section (which means we all got an engraved whiskey glass) and we later found we’d come joint 18th overall.


Paul, Sunita Shroff and myself – Team 5, third place in the night navigation category

Monday the 13th March 2006
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel



Team 5 – Paul and me, and Team 4 – Dave and Gareth outside the Daresbury Park Hotel

So after waiting a whole year it was over again – until next March. And so, homeward bound, back to Kidderminster to deliver Paul, who (insane fool) was intending to go to work for the afternoon!

Monday the 13th March 2006 – 14.45
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 78677.3

Home, I’d driven 940 miles since leaving Cambridge on Friday and we’d done 544 miles on the event itself. And that was the end of another fine weekend!


Overall – Cambridge – Challenge – Cambridge we did 940 miles, 544 on the event, compared with, in 2005 (869 miles, 500 on the event), 2004 (1228 miles, 810 miles on the event) and 2003 (1298 miles, 881 miles on the event).

On the events we’ve driven a total of 2735 miles, and we’ve raised over £7000.00 – so that works out that we’ve raised about £2.55 per mile.

And the not so trivia

In 2006 we raised £1257.00, but that's not counting Gift Aid which should add another £250.00 to £300.00. With £2107.00 in 2005, £2008.00 in 2004, £1505.00 in 2003, that makes a total of at least £7140.00 we’ve raised in four years. Thank you.

Please do visit the Macmillan 4x4 website to look at the photos of each year’s event – my Land Rover is on the ‘Home’ page, top left.