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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2005

By Mike Stapleton and David Kent

I should have started to write this report in the weeks immediately after the event, whilst it was still fresh in my mind. However, I didn’t start it until July 2005, and then I only wrote it up until we stopped for the ‘overnight’ stop at 04.00 on the Sunday morning.

I am now trying to finish this report, because the 2006 event is fast approaching, and today’s date is the 24th January 2006, the whole event is but a distant memory so this report might be a bit vague, for which I apologise!

Friday the 4th March – 13.20 Milometer 62632.3 Trip 104.00
Location: Ely

Left Ely at 13.20 with David (Kent, my navigator for the third year) en route to Hereford for the 2005 Macmillan 4x4 Challenge. The Land Rover’s looking really up for it with six new tyres and great Macmillan graphics on the two sides and rear of the roof section. Under the skin, as well, this is not the same Defender 110 which took part last year – new final drive ratios, massively bigger intercooler and a new engine management chip, which all goes to produce unhassled cruising at 80 – 85mph.

Which is just what we were doing when we overtook our pals Dave and Steve (the ‘big guys’) otherwise known as Dave Ridout and Steve Harrison, who were to be Team 4, in a similarly modified Defender 90 on the M5. Dave took umbrage at our overtaking and set off in hot pursuit, just as we got to a 50mph speed limit. I slowed down to observe it – he didn’t, so we didn’t see them again until the pub later in the evening.

Friday the 4th March – 16.20 Milometer 62796.9 Trip 268.6
Location: Hereford

Refueled (45.86 litres diesel) and made our way to the Hopbine Hotel. We’re shown to the room we had in 2003, room 5 – is this an omen? (We are Team 5 again.)

Whilst unloading we met first timers Eric Hall and Tina Evans, who would be Team 47 in their Freelander. They went on to take 3rd place in the Night Navigation Award. Once again we ate at the Hearts of Oak and then went to the Starting Gate to meet up with the usual motley crew including organiser Peter Rowland and, main man and route setter, Selwyn Kendrick. After a pint and a bit of a chat we retired to our B & B.

Saturday the 5th March – 06.30
Location: Hereford

A more civilised time to get up this year, yet we were ready for breakfast at 07.00 – our only meal in the next 24 hours.

Saturday the 5th March – 08.00 Milometer 62805.4 Trip 008.5
Location: Hereford Hyundai Centre

The event started from the same garage as previous years and here I made our first mistake of the weekend. Rather than joining the queue to sign in and get our road book we stood around chatting until 09.15, which meant that once we had signed in David had very little time in which to plot our first few map references. I busied myself with our numbers and getting scrutineered – as usual a painless process. The driver’s briefing came round all too soon and then, as Team 5 we were amongst the first to leave, which we did a few minutes late at about 10.08.

We turned right out of the garage, down the road for half a mile, and turned right – our first question: ‘What sort of furniture is made here?’ The huge chair made the answer seem very easy. We caught up with Team 4, and then came our next mistake, we followed them left at the crossroads. They then turned right, which David said was wrong as we were to go straight over at a crossroads. It was soon apparent we’d gone wrong, so turned round and followed the route taken by Dave and Steve.

We were looking for an oast house, which we were to photograph, and found one, but I wasn’t convinced it was the right one. So we reversed the route we thought we should have taken and met many other competitors coming in the opposite direction. We came back to the point at which we’d followed Dave and Steve left – it was the crossroads where we should have gone straight over. Back on course, but having lost about 20 minutes we were now running with cars that had started long after us.

We caught up with a number of competitors at Hoarwithy, on the River Wye, where, I think I can safely say, we were all dazed and confused! That is judging by the fact that we were all driving back and forth, trying to make sense of some confusing instructions. On from there to a Land Rover specialist’s garage at Crocker’s Ash (Landranger 162 SO 542 168), just off the main A40, Ross-on-Wye to Monmouth road. Here we thought we had a choice of route to our next map reference (Landranger 162 567 141) – the ‘quick’ way via the A40 and Monmouth, or a slow route via some minor country roads.

We chose the ‘quick’ route – our next and very big mistake of the morning! Once we got into Monmouth, we missed the turning we were looking for and ended up stuck in a traffic jam in the town centre, full of shoppers and parents collecting their children from Monmouth school, which, being private, had lessons on Saturday morning. It was whilst trying to work out where we’d gone wrong that I noticed the dread word ‘via’ after the map reference we were heading for, followed by half a dozen other map references.

We quickly plotted these and, of course, they led us through the minor country roads we had elected to avoid! So a quick dash back up the A40, back past Crocker’s Ash and down into the Forest of Dean. Here we enjoyed our first two off road sections of the day, in the forest. Fairly straight forward, if a bit slippery on some of the tracks. The second session in the main part of the forest found us having to avoid walkers, bike and horse riders all wearing Oxfam T-shirts – all obviously, like us, raising money for charity. That being the case we made a point of not running too many over!

A quick bite and cup of coffee at the Forest Centre, where we all enjoyed watching a competitor’s Pajero having to be towed off a flat grassy area of the car park, across which it could make no head way.

Saturday the 5th March – 16.30 Milometer 62925.1 Trip 128.2
Location: Tidenham

On now to Tidenham, over looking the Severn Estuary, to an off-road site where we to drive some supplied, incredibly tatty – seats not bolted down, no roof, little or no brakes – Series 1 Land Rovers over a trials course. But when we arrived I discovered that although my headlight switch was on, the headlights weren’t – and I couldn’t turn them off – the switch was jammed.

David went off to drive the off road section, whilst I telephoned Land Rover Assistance. I thought they’d send someone out to replace the switch, but no they didn’t have the part so I was offered a ride home on the back of a recovery truck. Now, as you can imagine, that wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned.

One of the other competitors, Russ Brown, one of the original guiding lights behind the Challenge (and the guy who looks after the Challenge website) and probably the only one to have competed in all of the Challenges, offered to help. He removed the switch and determined that it had self destructed. He did, however, manage to make the sidelights and headlights work – though the headlights were being fed by the sidelights, so were somewhat dim. Whatever, it meant we could continue.

Whilst this had been going on a heavy, and cold, shower made the off-road section decidedly uncomfortable for all those at the bottom of the field with nowhere to shelter!

From Tidenham (Landranger 162 562 962) we went on to another off-road site, this time in a quarry. Now, I don’t know what they excavated from that quarry, but I do know I’m still finding remnants of the mud we picked up during our 10 minute drive round.

After the quarry, it was on to Radnor Forest (Landranger 148 236 682), and the beginning of probably ten hours of being lost in forests with virtually no illumination. Dipped headlights were absolutely useless, and though I did have main beam, I had to hold the lever in the headlight flash position to have them on, driving with one hand – and couldn’t use them if there was another competitor in front of us. And there usually was once we got into the traffic jams in the middle of Radnor Forest, caused by an inch or so of snow about and one or two competitors having a problem with traction!

In the forests we were looking for car number plates hung vertically by elastic bands in trees. Our lack of illumination proved a total disadvantage here. Some were easy to spot, but if they weren’t hanging face on they proved impossible to see. We know from other competitors’ tally that we saw very few of them (probably about half).

We had enlarged photocopied sections of an Ordnance Survey map, to plot our route through the forest. But once you miss your way, all the trees start to look pretty much the same! We met a group of Land Rovers coming towards us and they assured us they were going the right way, so we tagged along. It was soon after this that we came to a halt in a traffic jam of 4x4s and didn’t move very far or fast for the next hour or so.

It was really very quite bizarre, being stuck in a traffic jam, in the middle of a forest in the middle of the night!

Once out, we quickly made our way across the rest of Landranger 148 and on to 147. At Crossgates (Landranger 147 092 648) we pulled on to the forecourt of a darkened and closed garage. Totally unexpectedly – and somewhat bizarrely – Peter Rowland, the Macmillan Challenge organiser, materialised out of the darkness at my window! He asked what we were doing there – I asked him the same question! It turned out that behind the garage was a large car park where we were to spend the night break – but we still had another forest section to go before we could do that.

So off we went, down Landranger 147 to Builth Wells, turning on to the A483 to Llanwrtyd Wells. Here we took to the minor roads again to Crychan Forest (Landranger 147 848 412). Again we were given enlarged photocopied Ordnance Survey maps to follow, to reach a checkpoint in the centre of the forest. We soon got lost again and didn’t find the checkpoint. Every tree and forest track looks the same at 02.00 with a covering of snow and when you have no idea where you are.

We opted to find our way out, but that was easier said than done! We followed what appeared to be major forest tracks until they petered out, first in one direction, then in another! At last we met some other competitors coming towards us. Again they were confident that they were going the right way, although it was a track we felt we’d followed to it’s petered out end. Well it did get very scruffy with felled trees, but once passed that it continued to the outside world and we retraced our route to Crossgates.

We were supposed to get here soon after midnight (and spend six hours resting here), but it was after 04.00 when we eventually rolled in with very last tail enders. We parked next to Dave and Steve (Car 4) and tried to grab a couple of hours sleep.

Sunday the 6th March – 06.30 Milometer 63131.3 Trip 176.4
Location: Crossgates

Up at 06.30 to find that David’s Land Rover had dislocated a rear coil spring (fitted new the previous weekend) which had tried to gouge a hole in his near side rear tyre and the off side rear wheel bearing had also given up. So it was on to the back of a recovery truck for Car 4 (much to Dave and Steve’s disappointment).

The car park we were in had three great selling points – toilets, fuel and a café! Although she’d been warned about our arrival, the manageress seemed a bit phased by the mob of dirty off roaders crowding round the doorway to her café. We’d been told it would open at 07.00, she had no intention of opening until 07.30! She herded us all in and told us to sit at the tables. We were lucky here as she chose our table to be the first to approach the counter! A hot (vegetarian) full breakfast was very welcome.

After breakfast we waited to be sent off – we assumed in order, but as one or two cars left we realised it was a free for all, so off we went. We soon overtook the cars who had left before us and had the road to ourselves.

We travelled through Rhyader and into the Elan valley. Now if you’ve never been here, I thoroughly recommend it, a beautiful valley, particularly on a sunny Sunday morning. We arrived first at the next forest stage and had to wait while the Clerk of the Course went through to make sure all was in place. We were the first competitors on to the stage. Quite a different experience, driving through the forest in daylight. The number plates were much easier to spot!

All too soon we were finished that section, and that was it – over for another year.

Sunday was supposed to have been a big day, but Selwyn Kendrick, the guy who organises the land we use and sorts out the routes, had been let down at the eleventh hour by the MOD, who had decided we couldn’t use the land that had been agreed in advance. They took out all of the MOD land we were to use and so Selwyn had had to negotiate with Forestry Commission to use some of their land. Luckily, Selwyn has a very good relationship with them so we had at least some off road sections – albeit forest tracks are a bit tamer than MOD land.

We set off for the De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel determined not to be late this year!

Sunday the 6th March – 14.50 Milometer 63297.5
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel

We arrived there at 14.50, having covered 492 miles on the competition. Once we had checked in, we made our way to the bar to catch up with some of our fellow competitors and to enjoy a well earned pint (or two).

The evening festivities came and went – the presentation of well deserved trophies and the auction kept us busy until it was time to move to the bar for a nightcap.

Monday the 7th March – 09.00 Milometer 63297.5
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel

Homeward bound. We had nearly made it when, at St Ives, just a few miles short of home we had a puncture of the offside front tyre. It was just beginning to rain so David and I made quick work of changing the tyre.

Monday the 7th March – 15.47 Milometer 63501.5 Trip 370.1
Location: Sainsbury’s, Cambridge

I got back to Cambridge and went to Sainsbury’s to fill up. I’d driven 869 miles since leaving Cambridge on Friday. And that was the end of another fine weekend!

Trivia

Once again the weather was fine – we had sunny days and clear nights.

Overall – Cambridge – Challenge – Cambridge we did 869 miles, 500 on the event. Considerably less than 2004 (1228 miles, 810 miles on the event) or 2003 (1298 miles, 881 miles on the event).

We came joint 43rd (equal with our mates Dave and Steve of Team 4, quite strange as they’d dropped out on Saturday night!) out of 47 teams taking part. In 2005 we were 25th out of 43 teams, and in 2003 we were 6th out of 38 teams.

And the not so trivia

This year we raised £1820.00 (excluding Gift Aid), £2008.00 in 2004, £1505.00 in 2003.

The 2005 Challenge raised £55,000.00. So in the three years that we’ve been involved we’ve raised £5333.00, and in all, about £150,000.00 has been raised for the charity.

Mike Stapleton and David Kent