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Heather & Keith Parkinson

The Macmillan 4x4 Challenge is an off road navigation challenge to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. When you sign up you know the start point and finish point and that’s about it! We raised £2,085 so a big thank you to everyone who sponsored us.

This was the first year we had entered and while we had spoken at length to friends who had completed the challenge in previous years we didn’t really know what to expect. To cover all possibilities we fully prepared our Land Rover 110 for all eventualities. Keith fitted extra lights front and rear and map reading lights for the night navigation exercises and we sent her in to Rogers of Bedford for a full service. We invested in a rally trip meter which accurately measures distance – fitting that piece of kit was probably the most stressful part of the whole adventure. We had replacement parts couriered to us which were fitted by Rogers of Bedford the day before we set off. Thanks to everyone at Rogers for their help!

On Thursday 6th March we drove to Ludlow and stayed in a Travel Lodge near the start point. Couldn’t help feeling that this might be our last decent sleep and food until the end!

Friday morning we checked in at the start point at Britpart’s yard, and then stood around and chatted for a while, as other challengers arrived – 58 teams started the event. It was reassuring to meet up with other teams entering from Beds Herts and Cambs Land Rover Club. As the start time approached everyone was getting a bit nervous. Then finally it was time for the drivers briefing, start time was announced and we all got ready. We were team 3 which meant we were to leave 3 minutes after the start time

The first section was right at the start. Using an impromptu off road section, we had to drive around and spot an unspecified number of car number plates. Once this was done, it was off to the checkpoint to get the first actual driving instructions and clues. We were off.

The next section was navigation by tulip diagrams with questions to test our observation skills along the way. We went out of Church Stretton and up into the wilds of the Long Mynd. At the end of that section we had to answer a question paper based upon the Britpart catalogue – advertising in exchange for using their facilities at the start no doubt!

Another section on the day was set in forestry commission land. An interesting one this, we had to plot our route and then look for letter boards, the size of two number plate sized letters. The idea was to list all those found. There was one small and interesting boggy track here too which was our first experience of mud.

Next a road section with questions to answer which led us to the next meeting point at Oswestry at about 17.30. As we were one of the first teams there (being team 3 and having started earlier than the others) so we had time to have a full roast dinner in the café – it was very welcome indeed!

We then went on to a night navigation exercise. We were given a specific time period to plot our route from grid references onto an ordnance survey map. This was made more interesting by the fact that we came across a road closed because of major roadworks, and following the signposted diversion upset the route we had planned. Heather’s memory of the forest driving is the spooky way the eyes of sheep in the fields glow in the vehicle lights in total darkness!

This section ended at Bala at about 21.30 at a commercial off road site. We drove round a marked route with numberboards to spot. It was very dark and even with all our extra lights Heather leaned out of the window with her torch to read one numberboard sneakily placed on the back of a gatepost.

From Bala we drove on the road to Holyhead to catch a ferry to Dublin early the next morning. We arrived at Holyhead at 01.30 (Saturday morning). We ‘pitched’ our tent in the queue tying the guy ropes to our Land Rover and the vehicle behind. With our decent camping equipment we had a great sleep – concrete is really comfortable as its flat with no lumps and bumps. The noise of the huge trucks arriving close by for the ferry was a bit disconcerting!

As it got light we convoyed onto the Stenna Line ferry and left at 08.00. The crossing was to take about an hour and a half. The ferry was full of Welsh rugby supporters off to see the Six Nations match in Ireland. We had some breakfast while plotting the first part of our route in Ireland.

Some of the questions we had to answer were bizarre – ‘what colour is the slide’ proved particularly tricky as we saw childrens garden slides of every colour! The countryside was beautiful and populated with mad dogs determined to get run over we are sure!

The next check point was a big visitors centre for the Newgrange prehistoric site at about 13.00. We were told we had only about 10 minutes to plot the next section that was very long - we were both desperate to use the toilets and that was at least a ten minute walk so we rebelled and left a little late. A shame we didn’t get a chance to visit the prehistoric site. By this time everyone was getting a little tetchy with their co drivers!

Off we set, again following the navigated route and we made our way northwards – no one we spoke to later ever found the ‘blue bridge’ we were looking for!

Our destination was Todds Leap off road course and we arrived at about 19.00. This time we had to drive around a marked offroad course through the woods in the dark writing down any objects we saw – these included an umbrella and a fully clothed dummy!

From Todds Leap we then set off for Belfast and the ferry to Scotland. This time the ferry was nearly empty, and we had no plotting to do, so were able to get an hour or so of sleep. The ferry arrived in Stranraer at about 00.30. Once the few haulage trucks were off the ferry security locked the ferry terminal gates. They obviously weren’t expecting 50 odd 4x4s! It was a bit like the ‘Italian Job’ with Land Rovers rushing round the terminal dodging between trucks parked for the morning ferry but we eventually found our way out! The next bit was the worst bit of the whole experience we think – we had to drive from Stranraer to Lockerbie in the dark when we were all very tired. We were camping in the grounds of a hotel on the edge of Lockerbie. We got there about 02.00 (Sunday morning) and set up our tent for a few hours sleep. The hotel staff were a little surprised as they were only expecting a ‘few’ 4x4’s, and not the 50 odd that finally arrived. The kitchen staff were even more surprised when they had to provide over 50 cooked breakfasts.

On Sunday morning we were given another route to plot and drive, and another sheet of questions to answer so off we went. This section was set in the Scottish countryside, and it provided some excellent and sometimes breathtaking views. We finished at about lunchtime at Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders. The pressure was off and all we had to do was drive for a few hours to the hotel near Warrington. No questions or things to look for this time!! This meant it was more difficult to keep awake

We had time for a welcome soak in the bath and got dressed up for the evening presentation dinner. It was weird to see how everyone we already knew or had met over the last few days looked in smart clean clothes with tidy hair!

We were really pleased to have come eleventh overall out of 58 starters on our first attempt. We also won third place in the night navigation event. The other achievement of course was to be a husband a wife team and to still be speaking at the end of it all.

This doesn’t really give full credit for the fun we had or the effort it took. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience but for us it was about raising money for a good cause. To date the 2008 event has raised £109,000. No doubt we will be doing it again some time in the future.

Heather & Keith Parkinson