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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2004

Written by Dr Paul Unwin

 It’s true the darkest hour is the one before dawn and on the Macmillan 4x4 Challenge you get to drive right through it plus an another 27!

Raising money for the Macmillan Cancer Trust Charity and having a weekend of fun driving Land Rovers (and others if you must) is what the Macmillan 4x4 Challenge is all about. This year, the event took place in early March and saw 43 teams enter in a variety of 4x4s but mostly Land Rovers including a 127 ex-army ambulance, a pair of Freelanders, a handful of Range Rovers, a cluster of 90s & 110s and plethora of Discoverys. The start was in Hereford and David and John Standring (Team 1) being the winners of the previous year’s challenge got the event off to a brisk start at 10:01. The BHCLRC was well represented by the Strandrings (Team 1) Team 14 – Russ Brown with special co-star/navigator Lynn Bowles, Team 11 – John Lawson and Mike Anthony and Team 22 myself and my navigator Richard Powell.

The first challenge was to navigate to an ancient monument in xxxx, Wales , the second and much more demanding was solving how to operate the Polaroid camera. On then to Castle xxx for the first check-in and pick-up the route-sheet for the afternoons orienteering exercise on the Army ranges at Sennybridge. On our arrival the Army retreated leaving us to some great scenery on a bright sunny Spring afternoon. The timed orienteering exercise consisted of following Tulip diagrams that took us along roads, tracks and some gentle off-road. To the BHCLRC challenge novices (Teams 11 and Team 22), Tulip diagrams are not as bad as they sound and once you get the hang of it's nearly over.

Once off the Army range, the glamour photo session began, but unfortunately the sites or should I say village signs were at Bethlehem (Wales), Pennsylvania (Bath), Canada (Winchester), Palestine (Salisbury). A Polaroid photo of your co-driver posing by each sign was required for the log-book. As evening went into night the miles rolled by, the photos were collected and the overnight stop at Thruxton race-circuit beckoned. Team 22 arrived late – we should have cut and run missing out Winchester. Like us, John in his TD5 Disco underestimated the distance and we arrived late at Thruxton and we received a big time penalty. At 10:30pm we pulled up next to Lynn and Russ who were busy studying for the next day's fun. Dave & John

were sound asleep in their Disco TD5 and after our vehicle check we too caught 75 winks (minutes). To our great delight we were allowed to pick up the route sheet comprising of 38 grid refs 1 hour before your allotted start time and ours was 01:22!

The night was really dark as we set out of Thruxton on the way to the tank driving range on Salisbury Plain. Driving into the great sandpit where the tanks play in the daytime we were met by the 21 4x4s who were ahead of us but they were just milling around in little groups or by themselves. The Strandrings (Team 1) in his TD5 flew by our nose and then he was behind us. Oh what fun we had looking for the reflective marker boards and then the right exit in that great sandpit. They tell me Salisbury Plain is one of the great off-roading places.

The night navigation was a real challenge taking place over 65 miles of tracks and lanes of Wiltshire. We arrived at the time-check point at the Delamare Services (M4) at 4:30 having found 31 of the 35 marker boards. At that time there were not too many travellers at the Services other than a dozen or so 4x4s with crews looking a bit shell-shocked (well we had been on an Army range).

Ten minutes later we were back on the M4 heading for Cheltenham to solve a cryptic clue, the Strandrings TD5 passed my humble 300TDi but we kept on their tail. The question solved, a quick turnaround and back west to Wales. The next challenge was scatter orienteering and I admit team 22 really did not know this was as we entered the off-road site, but the idea is to find marker boards of various values within a specific time. The final challenge was solving two last cryptic clues that entailed a Sunday morning drive across Wales and once answered on the home stretch heading north to the finish in Runcorn.

A shower, a change of clothes and to the bar to mull over the adventure. The award evening followed by a no-so typical raffle of off-road goodies beautifully exhibited by Lynn ended one great weekend.

Although it was one great weekend we were there to raise money for the Macmillan Cancer Trust, The teams raised an amazing £44,000 – that’s just one specialist nurse for a year. Finally, it is a sobering thought that 1 in 3 of us will suffer from cancer and we all know someone who has been cared for by a Macmillan nurse and so will you be doing the Macmillan 4x4 Challenge next year?

Dr Paul Unwin