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The Macmillan 4x4 UK Challenge

The Mac Virgins 2009 By Caroline Leitch

April 2008 Dad and I had our place confirmed on The Mac 2009 - a 4x4 endurance challenge, driving on road and off, up to 1000 miles raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Fast forward to March 2009, as a former Girl Guide "Be Prepared" and all that, we arrived at the Travelodge near the start line with Dad's Defender 90 TDi full only 18 hours before our scrutineering time.

Awake bright and early Friday morning, comparing how we all looked like skateboarders in our black Mac / BHCLRC hoodies and at last we were off to the start line proper. Once stickered up, club photo’d, made sandwiches on the bonnet and waited for the clock to strike 11:30 for the driver's briefing. Yes I was a bit over-prepared taking my notebook to the briefing as the briefing was, well you could say, brief.

Our time to cross the start line and we were off! First thing? Dad, stop as soon as you can so we work out the route - took a few minutes to realise the set of instructions really was all we needed to make it to the first stop, White Scar Caves, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. No time for a tour, just a rotten photo quiz - place 9 photos in the order that you saw them - well the polite way to put it was "a bit tricky". I had taken copious notes of things we'd seen along the 145 mile route, but who knows if the canal was before or after Lancaster Services? 5 minutes was not enough time for us to work it all out on the map so a quick bit of guess work, toilet, coffee, then on to the next section - Tulips.

Time to test out the rally trip meter we had borrowed from a rally-driving cousin (quick plug: ). Tulips are line drawings of junctions, mapping out your route a specified distance apart. Soon realised we were not precisely calibrated, but it was sufficient to let us know the junction we wanted was coming up soon. We soon caught up with Avo (or Asbo as Dad has re-named him!) and Colin, swearing that their trip was out too - was kind of reassuring as they'd played this game before.

Along the beautiful Buttercup Pass (Top Gear's favourite British road). No time to stop at the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Great Britain at 1,732ft above sea level, on to Doe Park near Barnard Castle. After hearing stories of catnaps at ferry ports waiting for boats to Ireland, and long, long days we were quite relieved to have the chance of a decent hot meal and a couple of drinks at the local hostelry before bedding down in the back of the 90. It was OK but I wouldn't recommend trying to sleep next to someone 6' 4'' in the back of a vehicle only 13' 5" long - including the bonnet!

Saturday morning awakened by the gentle rocking of the Land Rover courtesy of Terry "The Bulldog" Dennis, I had a lovely view out of the back of the surrounding hills. After we deemed Friday to be successful - well we started and finished in the same place as everyone else - it was fair to say we were itching to get going again on Saturday. As teams were lining up for the start line I suddenly remembered one piece of preparation I'd been warned about hadn't been completed - quick, quick, Jason "Poodle" Pegg how do you convert miles to km? Turned out that we didn't need it, but "Be Prepared".

Next navigate by join-the-dot spot heights in the right order to the entrance to Kielder forest ‘Forest Drive’. We had to head off down one road and back on ourselves - unfortunately this was where another competitor was stopped in front of the green gate we were looking for, so we drove further along the track, eventually deciding we must have missed it, so turned back. Then I spotted it, this green gate up the verge, I ran up to see "what is on the green gate", I'm looking and looking, then I have it aha - rust! Or, no, is it the weird stuff that looks like frog spawn? Hmm we'll write down both answers and decide later. Then driving further along the track we saw a nice, obvious green gate with fish on it that must be the real answer. Damn, thought I was being quite cunning thinking it was the rust.

Through the forest the next task was to piece together your own map from photocopies, faded round the edges, so we had to mark on the numbers before we then following a route entering and leaving the 1km grid squares and answering questions along the way. Took a while to decipher the instructions and piece together the map and route, but got there in the end, and realised we were heading for the Liddesdale Hotel in Newcastleton. Was nice to be heading to an area we both know as Dad's parents had a cottage there for years so we've had many family holidays there building dams in the streams around. Why? Just 'cos that's what you do. As we headed over the hill from Langholm the weather started closing in - wind, rain, and it was getting dark, still, we know this road, or so we thought - turns out there were many more cattle grids than we remembered, but eventually we made it over the hill and down in to the village. Once we got into the pub and checked in with the marshals we realised there was no way we could complete the next section within our allotted time so we nearly decided to cut and run and drive straight to the endpoint at Lockerbie, No, we can’t give up like that, we'll give it a go, and keep our spirits up by calling Mum to get a hotel room booked rather than have to drive through more wind and rain then try and sleep in the 90 again. The auxiliary sidelights really proved their worth along the route, lighting up the buildings to answer the questions en route. By cutting off a few corners and literally running in to the hotel we just made it to the Queens Hotel in Lockerbie with one minute of extra time to spare.

After being wound up that morning by Selwyn, the clerk of the course that we would need half a tank of fuel for the night section we'd filled up the tank scoffed some chips and headed back to the hotel. The final section turned out to be a set of Tulips on paper, but you had to do it in your vehicle. This turned out to be the most frustrating part of the whole weekend as no matter how many times we started to try and plot the route it wouldn't work, whether starting at the beginning, middle or end. Our tactic in the end was to scribble a route on the map and guess how many pubs and places of worship we could have passed.

After handing in our answers somewhat frustrated we headed off to the Lockerbie Best Western for a civilised drink or two in the residents lounge with a few other teams, before "stripping the willow" to bed (well, not quite, but we did have to cross the Scottish country dance floor on the way to the bedrooms, and when in Rome….).

Sunday morning, after a full Scottish breakfast, yes, haggis and all, we set off in high spirits on a sunny morning for the final push. We had a lovely drive through to the Duke of Buccleuch's estate, spotting number plates, questions and ending up at Gretna Green Services. Oh no, not another photo task - this time of photos of things we had seen over the whole weekend. We were relieved and really pleased to have finally finished. We'd had a great weekend so far, but the idea of finally being able to chill out with a drink in the bar at the hotel was very tempting, but we still had a 2 hour blat down to Cheshire to get there.

Yes, we over catered, over packed and over worried probably, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and all in aid of a good cause. All we wanted to do was to start, and to finish, so we were really chuffed to have come 36/62 for our first time. How did we do it? Well, with the support of our friends in the club, with practice navigating and tulips, tips on food and kit to bring. Just one tip anyone interested in getting involved another year... Be Prepared

Mary Griffiths described her Mac 2008 as an adventure, and so was 2009 for us. OK so we weren't sleep deprived and only spent one night in the back of the Land Rover. But, driving miles and miles not knowing where you will end up, the excitement of spotting a number plate hidden in a tree, or on a decoy duck in the river, and working out the quirky, cryptic logic of the quiz masters questions was all good fun. So if any of this sounds like we had lots of fun with the excuse of raising money for a good cause, yes that is exactly what we did. Across the 10 BHCLRC teams we have raised £15k this year, so a big pat on the back to all participants.

If you fancy helping our fundraising for the 2010 event then come along to hear Winston, The Singing Farmer in Bedfordshire on July 11th, for a few good old-fashioned country songs, jokes and fish and chips, all for only £12.


We wouldn't have known about The Mac if it hadn't been for other Beds, Herts and Cambs Land Rover Club members who have competed in previous years, and we probably wouldn't have entered if it hadn't been for the encouragement and support from other members of the club. I encourage you, if you have not yet done a great deal with your membership of the club, do come along to something, and get involved. It is your club, for the benefit of all. Whether it be the Tyros (entry level driving, for off-the-peg vehicles, can be driven by 13+ year olds), RTV (Road Taxed Vehicles, more challenging courses, some modifications, or just a beaten-up old vehicle useful), CCV (Cross Country Vehicles, more extreme terrain- snorkels essential), Winch Challenges, Green Laning, take your pick of whatever suits you, your budget and your time. You might be surprised by the warmth, knowledge and humour other members like to share.