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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2008

Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie

(Team) Five go adventuring … to five countries in two days

In the week before the 2008 Macmillan 4x4 Challenge I had a list of jobs to do on my Land Rover, Muddy Blue Two (Too). These included fitting a CB and new front spotlights which I’d brought recently and some smaller spotlights which I’d had since last May. The CB got fitted (and proved very useful) but the lights didn’t get fitted for one reason or another. However, when it was time to leave, Muddy Blue Too was looking rather smart – washed and polished and (his/her?) black bits blackened.

My partner and a neighbour wondered why I bother to clean the car as it is bound to get a tad grubby over the course of the weekend. My excuse is that the ‘regs’ state that competition ‘Vehicles must be presented at the start in a clean condition’ for Scrutineering. And it is one of the very few times when the car gets cleaned let alone polished in a year.

We failed to stay clean for very long though. On one of the first green lane sections, on Friday afternoon, I spotted the official photographer at the other end of a very big puddle. I thought ‘I’ll give him a dramatic picture’ and rather stupidly wellied the Land Rover through the water. A wave rose up and engulfed us entirely (I don’t actually know what happened to the photographer) to the extent that I could see absolutely nothing through the windscreen for several seconds until I managed to turn the wipers on. The whole vehicle, including the roof and the rear load cover, was covered in dirty orange water. The ‘Team 05’ on the roof was no longer visible through the coating of mud and I had to clean the windows as soon as I had a chance as I couldn’t see out of any of them except the front screen! A macho moment I regretted for the rest of the weekend!

Thursday the 6th March 2008 – 19.36
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 119401 (In 2007 the reading had been 98288.3) Trip 002.4

We had to be at the start on Friday morning so I set off on Thursday evening, having had a last proper meal with my partner Georgia (George to me) I left home at 19.36 on my way to Kidderminster. I arrived there at 21.49 and spent the evening with George’s sister Plum and her husband Paul (Ferrie) – my co-driver.

Friday the 7th March 2008 – 08.40 Day 1: Countries one and two
Location: Kidderminster – Milometer 119524 Trip 126.1

Tim Castle, Dave Ridout’s (Team 4) navigator for this year lives quite near to Paul, so we arranged for them to come and call for us so we could travel to the start as a small convoy. We left Kidderminster at 08.40 and arrived at Craven Arms on the A49 near Ludlow, at the factory estate of Britpart (Quality parts for Land Rovers) at 10.00. The Britpart estate is an ideal rendezvous and start point for the event, plenty of space for the 70 to 80 vehicles – competitors and organisers, not to mention the obligatory burger van.

The parking area was filling up with various 4x4s but this year the car park was so well organised we had specific bays to park in – in team order. We soon met up with the people we see only once a year at this event. Principal amongst these are Peter Rowland, who is the amiable face and hard working organiser for Macmillan, and Selwyn Kendrick, the ever jovial evil genius who does all the hard work of setting the route and all of the devilish challenges we undertake along the way.

We signed on and collected our bag of ‘goodies’ and, as in previous years, there was only one of everything in the carrier bag for each team of two – one hat, one mug, one biro … and so on. As ever there was a certain amount of hanging around, waiting to sign on, then waiting for some late arrivals, and then waiting for the driver’s briefing. At about 12.00 we had a fried egg bap and a portion of fries from the burger van to keep our motors running. The driver’s briefing eventually starting at 12.45.

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View of our roof from next door’s bonnet, sporting trend setting roof graphics - you watch next year everyone will have them!
Admire Muddy Blue Two’s shiny paint work and clean, mirror like windscreen. Dave and Tim (Team 4) are seen behind sticking competition numbers on Lucy (aka The Muddy Blues One).

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A motley collection of vehicles and individuals about to take part in the UK's premier charity off road navigational event.

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Paul looking quietly confident. He's obviously totally forgotten what this event takes out of the entrants!

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What we are about is plain to see.

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Competitors in the 2008 Macmillan Challenge line up at the start of the event. From the right, Team 3 (Team 1 didn't start and Team 2 arrived late), Team 4 The Muddy Blues One and Team 5 The Muddy Blues Two.

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Team 4, Muddy Blue One – Dave Ridout and Tim Castle (as if you needed to be told!) on the start line at the Britpart factory, Cravens Arms

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Team 5, Muddy Blue Two on the start line – note clean and shiny paint work, not to mention nervous grins!

Friday the 7th March 2008 – 13.20 Day 1: England and Wales
Location: Craven Arms – Milometer 119564 Trip 166.2

The event started for us at 13.20, and we went immediately off road round a small shake-down course they’d set up at the back of the factory, this was Section 1 and we scored 8 points of a possible 10 here. The answers for Section 2, which were for questions about Britpart parts, could be found in the catalogue we’d been given in the goodie bag, again we scored 8 out of 10 on this section.

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The clean and shiny rear end of Muddy Blue Too, in line, in Team order at the start at the Britpart factory, Cravens Arms.

From there, using a road book including Tulip diagrams, we went and had a nice run round Shropshire, dipping in and out of Wales. I’ve pretty much forgotten where we went exactly, but I know we travelled up and along the side of a ridge of a hill called the Long Mynd. As ever we were answering questions like: ‘pub with a kick’, to which the answer was found as a pub called ‘The Pair of Boots’. On this part of the course, Section 3, we scored 6 points, which is the most anyone scored – so full marks? Somewhere in here were two more sections, Sections 4 and 5. On Section 4 we scored 23 points, the maximum anyone else scored was 30, but there were quite a few in the mid to high twenties. On Section 5 we scored 10, and the highest score here was 15.

At 18.45 we arrived (late) at some services near Preesgweene, on the A5 just north of Oswestry. It was here that we had the confirmation – our ferry reservations – that we were going to Eire again. A quick plotting of the map here, a fry up and at 19.37 we were on our way to Llangollen. Unfortunately the council had decided to close the road, so that meant we had to find our way round the closure – and subsequently miss some answers to questions (on this Section we scored 4, the maximum scored was 13 – by Team 4 but they went down the ‘Road Closed’ road as Dave knows his way round this area).

A nice little run through the Welsh countryside and Berwyn Mountains, with some off roading in the forests had to be given up at 21.40 at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant as Paul was suffering motion sickness rather badly. Not surprising when he’s trying to follow a map on his lap in the dark and look for the answers to questions and at the same time I’m throwing the Land Rover round narrow Welsh lanes and along rutted tracks.

Friday the 7th March 2008 – 22.25 Day 1: England and Wales
Location: Bala Off Road Centre – Milometer 119725 Trip 327.2

We ‘cut and ran’ to the end of that section at the Bala Off Road Centre, where we arrived at 22.25. More hanging around enabled Paul to feel a lot better by the time we were sent into the off road course to follow a set course and look for letter boards at about 23.30. Here we scored 19 points, two teams got the top score of 26. We emerged from there at about midnight with instructions to take us to Holyhead.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 00.01 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Bala Off Road Centre – Milometer 119728 Trip 330.2

We stopped at the fuel station in Betws-y-Coed, as although I wanted to take advantage of cheap diesel in Eire, I didn’t want to run out en-route. So £12.00 of diesel should see us well on our way. We were overtaken by several competitors’ vehicles here and so we found ourselves tucked in behind Team 4, in our rightful place.

Shortly after we joined the new A55 road to Holyhead an illuminated sign warned us there was an accident ahead. I’d pretty much forgotten about it when several miles later Dave suddenly swerved to the right and put on his hazards. There was a small car in the middle of the road with the driver’s door open. I was surprised when Dave drove slowly passed it and then accelerated away. I duly slowed down, took a look inside, expecting the worst, but the car was empty. There was another car on the side of the road a little further on but the driver of that was out and about and didn’t seem in need of any assistance so we too accelerated away.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 01.00 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Holyhead – Milometer 119797 Trip 401.1

From Holyhead we were sailing on the 08.55 Fastcraft sailing to Dun Laoghaire. We arrived at Holyhead at 01.00 and had a coffee and then attempted to put the tent up in the ferry terminal car park (some people managed to put theirs up) but it was too windy and the tent pegs just wouldn’t go into the block paving! I suggested that we could sleep under the Land Rover, but I don’t think Paul really fancied this, so at 02.30 we admitted defeat and grabbed a few hours sleep sitting in the vehicle.

Well, I was sitting in the front but Paul had the back seat to stretch (?) out on. I gave up trying to sleep at 07.00 and shortly afterwards we were checking in and moving from one car park to that next to the ferry berth.

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A Muddy Blue sandwich. On the dockside at Holyhead, on the left Muddy Blue Two (no longer clean)
and on the right Team 29, Janet and Graham’s Land Rover Tonka, otherwise known as Muddy Blue Three.

Quite a rough crossing, but it didn’t stop me tucking into Beans on Toast for breakfast – Paul was feeling his usual self by now but still gave breakfast a miss.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 10.45 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Dun Laoghaire – Milometer 119798 Trip 402.1

Arrived at Dun Laoghaire at about 10.45 and although we’d been the first of the competitors’ vehicles on to the ferry we were the last off so were trailing everyone else as we set off up the M50 from junction 16. We left the M50 at junction 4 (signposted City Centre and Naul) which is to the north of Dublin and is also the turn off for the airport. We took the first exit to Naul and went round three sides of the airport, following a route we had plotted on the ferry. As always we were looking for answers to questions as we went.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 14.15 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Duleek – Milometer 119861 Trip 462.3

At about the seventeenth of twenty two map plots we had to ‘cut and run’ again as we were running short of diesel. I’d made sure I had a fairly empty tank to take advantage of the cheap(er) Irish diesel (about £1.00 a litre), but we should have filled up earlier. With the fuel gauge into the red we filled up at Duleek (64.26 litres at 1.219 Euro per litre) and found the end of this section just to the north of this town at 14.30. On this Section we scored 10 points, one team scored 19 points.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 15.10 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Duleek – Milometer 119867 Trip 006.0

I boiled the kettle whilst the heavens opened as Paul did some very quick plotting as we had to be away by 15.10. Our route took us from Duleek in a generally north westerly direction through Drumcondra, around Kingscourt, around the to the western sides of Carrickmacross, Ballybay and Monaghan, from where we went just about due north to Emyvale, where we had to be by 18.30 at the latest and where we arrived at 18.20. On this final section in Eire we scored 13 points. The highest score on this section was 15 points, scored by both Teams 4 and 48.

From Emyvale we continued north on the N2 and at Aughnacloy we turned left on to the A5 and were back in the United Kingdom. We drove on to Todd’s Leap Off Road Centre (It’s muddy marvelous) at Ballygawley. A short delay here, but by 19.30 we were driving round this excellent off road site. The staff informed us that the site was kept very tidy, so anything we saw was put there intentionally for us to find and note down – mannequins, archery targets, typist chair, computer keyboard … We were to write down what we saw in a list and then using the initial letter of, for instance ‘keyboard’, like playing Scrabble, make up a word, being scored for the number of letters used – scored as per Scrabble scoring. We found more clues than there were spaces on the answer sheet and when we came off the site instead of being given time to make our word, we were pushed on to get to Belfast for our next ferry. I notice that for this section we and thirteen other teams scored zero, 41 teams scored 15, one team scored 18 and the winning team scored 22. Had we scored 15 points here (which I believe we should have done) our final placing could have been ten places higher.

A nice site very varied and quite challenging terrain. It was here that we lost dipped headlights – main beam or nothing, but at least this time I didn’t have to hold the headlight flash switch in place to get main beam. At some time during the late evening Muddy Blue Two’s milometer registered 120,000 miles, but I missed it!

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Graham (right) demonstrates his unique navigational technique (eyes closed) to Tim (left), whilst Dave sleeps at Belfast docks.

Saturday the 8th March 2008 – 21.00 Day 2: Wales, Eire and Northern Ireland
Location: Belfast

Arrived at Belfast at 21.00. Once I knew we were going to Belfast I’d texted George’s daughter Shelley, who lives near Belfast asking if we could call in for a shower, a change of clothes (we’d been wearing the same clothes for 38 hours by this time) and a decent cup of coffee. Considering the amount of time spent waiting at the Holyhead ferry I thought we’d do it easily. But arriving at 21.00 there just wasn’t enough time. We boarded the ferry at 21.45 and departed at about 22.05. Apart from the Macmillan competitors and the support crews there were just three lorries on this ferry.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 00.30 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: Stranraer

Landed at Stranraer at 00.30 and set off up the A75 towards Dumfries. We were the second vehicle (Team 4 in Muddy Blue One were first) in a convoy of about 65 vehicles (the majority being Land Rovers) which looked pretty impressive in the rear view mirror – a line of headlights stretching back into the pitch black night.

I gave way to the idea of a shower and a change of socks and pants when we arrived at the Travelodge in Dumfries at 02.30 with Team 4 (who were already booked in) and found that they had one room available – albeit the disabled access room. In to bed at about 03.00 and out of it four hours later at 07.00 for another fry up in the Little Chef and on our way to the next rendezvous at the Queen’s Head at Lockerbie where we were due by 09.00 and arrived at 08.45.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 08.20 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: Dumfries – Milometer 120106 Trip 245.1

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Dave, Mike, Graham and Tim waiting for the driver's briefing at the Queen’s Head, Lockerbie.

A driver’s briefing was held at 09.30 and we were given another set of maps on which to plot coordinates. This was to be the last section and was intended to fairly relaxed.

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Two of the Macmillan heroes, on the left Tom Hyde, navigator, and next to him, Gareth Jakes of Team 34, who spend the weekend in a canvas topped truck (on the left)
with bucket seats and thus no adjustment whatever! They went on to win third place in the overall competition.

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Plotting our final Section at Lockerbie.

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Such concentration!

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Team 5, Muddy Blue Two about to leave the Queen's Head, Lockerbie, with Team 4 disappearing to the left.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 10.20 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: Lockerbie – Milometer 120119 Trip 258.1

We left at 10.20 and headed north-north east on the B723 towards the Castle O’er Forest. At map reference 233 957 we turned on to a forest track for some gentle off roading through the forest looking for number boards again. We enjoyed great scenery and even some sunshine.

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The Muddy Blues, One and Two, living up to their names, at the end of the Castle O’er forest section.

After zigzagging through the forest we passed the Castle O’er itself and followed a narrow country road in a generally easterly direction. We followed the B709 towards the south east, then picked up a ‘white’ road again onto the moors. It was during this section, at Burrowstown Moss on the slopes of Black Edge, just after Langholm that I got stuck!

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Muddy Blue Too being recovered from bottomless bog! Good winching practice!

We came upon several Land Rovers being posed for photographs next to a Scottish Borders sign by a cattle grid. After they’d taken their shots and departed we decided we’d do the same, but before we could do that a few cars came along and so to let them pass we pulled over. Dave pulled on to the hard standing by the cattle grid, I thought I’d be a gentleman and pulled right over on to the grass verge behind him – which turned out to be a bottomless peat bog! Still, raised a few laughs and enabled Dave to winch us out – which took all of 45 seconds – so fast that Paul only just got out in time to take two photographs.

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Dave and Tim on the border – we were actually traveling in the opposite direction!

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Mike and Paul similarly posed, not poised.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 13.30 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: Newcastleton

On then to the Liddesdale Hotel in Newcastleton at 13.30 where we handed in our last answer sheet and were given instructions on how to get to the hotel. Many of the competitors were enjoying a relax in the sunshine but we decide to push on. For a time we followed Team 4 but they left us. We passed one competitor (Team 17 I think) who had broken down in Eire and were being brought home on a recovery vehicle. They waved enthusiastically as we passed them.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 14.50 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: Truck Haven, Carnforth – Milometer 120262 Trip 401.3

Filled up with 63.07 litres diesel here at £1.139.

Sunday the 9th March 2008 – 16.20 Day 3: Scotland and England
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel – Milometer 120344 Trip 082.3

Arrived at the De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel at 16.20 and after queuing for a while to check in (lots of scruffy off roading types in front of us) dumped our stuff in Room 146 (we were in Room 144 last year) which was just about to be made up – the hotel was a bit busy apparently.

Off to the bar to meet Tim and Dave to enjoy a few beers, which we did. Graham joined us soon after to report on their day which had included Tonka’s clutch going in Scotland, so it was their turn to cut and run and Janet had had to nurse Tonka home. Luckily they live quite near the hotel so they were able to put their stuff in their Freelander and rejoin us for the Presentation Dinner

We relaxed until 18.30 then thought it time we got cleaned up for the presentation dinner for which we were back in the bar an hour later.

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Give us this day our daily soup, and a glass of red! From left Graham, Tim, Dave, and Mike

The vegetarian food at the presentation dinner was much more enjoyable than I remember it being before. We were delighted when it was announced that Team 4 had come first in the Night Navigation section – so more cut glass for Dave! Nothing for Team 5 I’m afraid!

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Team 4, Tim and Dave being presented with their glassware for First place in the Night Navigation Section.
To the left of the picture you can see Peter Rowland and Selwyn Kendrick, our organisers.

Hearty congratulations to Dave and Tim, Team 4 who came 1st in the Night Navigation Section and 7th overall with 154 points, just six points behind the winners (Team 27) with 160 points, Team 5 came 32nd with 121 points, so it was all quite close.

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Tim and Dave admiring their glassware. Mike bemused by the remaining glassware – all empties too!

As usual the Auction dragged on somewhat so when they were down the last few spare wheel covers we made a swift exit to the bar. Having said that we were far more restrained than last year – might have had something to do with the fact that they pored us a glass of wine at the start of the meal – and that was that! No bottles on the table and no-one went to buy more as they had done last year.

Monday the 10th March 2008 – 10.00
Location: De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel – Milometer 120344 Trip 082.3

Having enjoyed a thorough Daresbury Park breakfast and said our goodbyes until next year, we departed at 10.00 (Dave had already left and not on a recovery vehicle!). We arrived at Kidderminster at 12.00. Unloaded Paul’s stuff and had a coffee then I left there at 12.48 and arrived home in Cambridge at 15.15. The weather was a bit wild at times!

Monday the 10th March 2008 – 15.15
Location: Cambridge – Milometer 120559 Trip 297.0

Unloaded the Land Rover and sorted out dirty clothes and such like! That’s another Challenge completed and over for another year.

Trivia

Overall – Cambridge – Macmillan Challenge – Cambridge:

This year we went a bit further and drove 1035 miles, 780 on the event which compares with 2007 when we did 779 miles in total, and only 382.5 on the event; in 2006 we did 940 miles, 544 on the event; in 2005 we did 869 miles, 500 on the event; in 2004 we did 1228 miles, 810 miles on the event; and in 2003 we did 1298 miles, 881 miles on the event. So a return to a longer Macmillan Challenge in 2008.

On the events we’ve driven a total of 3898 miles, and we’ve raised at least £11,350.00 – so that works out at about £2.91 raised per mile.

And even more trivia

So that was it for another year. Not that we are in it for the ‘silverware’, but I’m pleased to offer hearty congratulations to Dave and Tim, Team 4 who came first in the Night Navigation Section and so collected some glassware and 7th overall with 154 points, just six points behind the winners (Team 27) with 160 points. And congratulations also to my heroes, Gareth Jakes and Tom Hyde of Team 34 who came 3rd overall with 157 points and so also collected some glassware. Team 5 came Joint 32nd with 121 points, and Team 29, Janet and Graham, came in Joint 43rd with 110 points, so it was all quite close.

Interesting to note that in 2003 we came 6th overall with 72 points, the winners scored just 88 points.

Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie