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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2009

By Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie

(Team) Five have a wonderful time … no change there then

Day minus one – Thursday 5th March 2009 – 19.45
Location: Cambridge Milometer: 142278 Trip: 175.7

I left Cambridge at 19.45 on the Thursday evening and the weekend started off badly as the A14 was closed, so to get to Paul’s I had to follow a diversion via Corby, and it took me until 22.50 to get there. A journey which normally takes a little over two hours took an extra hour.

Day one – Friday 6th March 2009 – 08.15
Location: Kidderminster Milometer: 142421 Trip: 319.0

We left Kidderminster at 08.15 on the Friday, popping into Sainsbury’s to fill the tank, 50.58 litres (11.1716 gallons) at £0.99.9 per litre, and arrived at the grounds of the Britpart factory at Craven Arms at 09.35. After signing on and attaching vehicle numbers and sponsors’ stickers we grabbed a veggie burger and waited for the start.

 

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Dave Ridout and Tim Castle (Team 4) in Muddy Blue One (aka Lucy) at the start at Craven Arms. Sadly Lucy is no longer with us as Dave sold her soon after the event (the ba****d)

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Paul at the start, it looks like he's remembering just what he's let himself in for (again!)

Day one – Friday 6th March 2009 – 12.05
Location: Craven Arms Milometer: 142456 Trip: 032.5

We departed the start at 12.05 and following the instructions supplied travelled, by motorway and A and B roads, 177 miles to the Yorkshire Dales and the first check point at the White Scar Caves near Kirkby Lonsdale.

Day one – Friday 6th March 2009 – 16.30
Location: White Scar Caves Milometer: 142632 Trip: 209.4

We arrived here at 16.30 handed in the first set of answers – you know the routine by now – ‘How many horses’, ‘’What’s on the steeple?’ and so on. We had time for a quick coffee, but no rest as we had to look at photographs of various landmarks we’d passed on our journey. We had to put them in the order we’d seen them – pretty damn difficult!

Having been given a set of tulip diagrams from here we headed through some great scenery to Hawes and then, via Butter Tubs Pass (apparently Top Gear’s favourite UK road), across the moors to Tan Hill (the highest pub in Britain I believe – but no time for a pint). On to Barnard Castle and then to Cotherstone on the River Tees. At this stage it became apparent we were visiting Paul’s old stamping grounds as we passed near where he used to live and the ended the day at Doe Park Caravan Park where he’d stayed on several occasions.

Day one – Friday 6th March 2009 – 18.00
Location: Cotherstone Milometer: 142686 Trip: 263.1

We arrived here at about 18.00 and were told to make ourselves comfortable until the 08.30 driver’s briefing the next morning. This being a bit early to turn in we retraced our steps into the village and into the Fox and Hounds, where we took advantage of being there first and blagged four of their five bedrooms. In fact Dave and Tim had the use of a holiday cottage just behind the pub, with two rooms and a lounge with a big TV and even bigger sofas. So Dave was in his element!

The young bar maid of the Fox and Hounds, Sarah, was rushed off her feet by the unexpected influx of hungry and thirsty competitors. However, she handled the throng with aplomb. This year’s celebrity co-driver for Russ Brown (Team 30), Julia Bradbury and her sister Gina Fox who was a last minute replacement co-driver for Pete Restall (Team 32), were a little slower at getting to the pub than us old hands and had to share the remaining room. I must say thanks to Russ as, were it not for his article in Land Rover Owner magazine reminding me of what we did I’d not have so much detail in my report!

A pint, a very welcome meal and a pleasant evening were enjoyed by all.

Day two – Saturday 7th March 2009 – 09.05
Location: Cotherstone Milometer: 142688 Trip: 265.1

The cooked breakfast was also very welcome and our elite band comprising Paul, Dave, Tim and myself were joined by Julia and Gina as well as Russ and Pete, who had enjoyed a night under canvas.

 

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The Muddy Blues, Too and One, side by side at the Doe Park Caravan Park, Cotherstone

Following the driver’s briefing back at Doe Park we set off at 09.05 heading north. We eventually arrived at Bellingham, the gateway to the Kielder Forest Park, at about 13.00, and from there we navigated, by way of spot heights (height of the ‘spot’ above sea level) to the entrance of the Kielder Forest Forest Drive.

Day two – Saturday 7th March 2009 – 13.30
Location: Kielder Forest drive Milometer: 142787 Trip: 364.4

Before entering the forest we drove on about a mile to a conveniently positioned (though expensive) fuel station. Having put in 54.2 litres at £1.09.9 per litre (11.924 gallons) of diesel revealed that MBT had done 30.56 mpg since leaving Kidderminster.

So, just before entering the Forest Drive we stopped for lunch and were soon joined by Dave and Tim and several other competitors with same idea. Into the forest and onto the Forest Drive looking for bits of number plate again. It proved to be an extremely boring drive after a while, not daring to go much faster than 10 mph, craning ones head back and forth. The Forest Drive is about 10 miles long (it seemed so much longer) so we didn’t arrive at Kielder village until 15.50 having driven just 13.5 miles since we’d filled up!

By now the weather had changed and it was pouring – I felt very sorry for the marshals who had to stand out in it. One even had to paddle in the pond there to retrieve a decoy duck they’d bought, attached a number to and set afloat. Needless to say that was one number we missed!

Day two – Saturday 7th March 2009 – 09.05
Location: Kielder village Milometer: 142801 Trip: 013.5

Here we were handed three photocopied maps and a sheet of instructions. Another variant of navigation was required here: we were given a list of map grid squares with the direction we were to enter and exit them. Took a few minutes, but we soon got the idea and headed off into the gathering gloom. Out of Kielder village heading north west, pick up the B6357 south, then at Steeleroad-end turn sharp right onto an unnumbered road running west alongside Hermitage Water. Stopped at Hermitage Castle (pouring with rain still) and find the answer to a question – I’m fairly certain we got this one wrong! On across the moors to the A7, turn left heading south again, to Langholm (‘Hey, weren’t we here last year?’). Just before Langholm turn left again, now heading east to Newcastleton.

Once we arrived here, back on the B6357, we had virtually done a full circle since we turned off the same road. Down the B6357, then right on to the B6318 and heading back to Langholm. Once we arrived here we had a choice to make. The route we were supposed to follow took us, by grid squares, map references, location names and spot heights in a north westerly direction by narrow roads across the moors up to Eskdalemuir, then the route turned south west to Paddockhole, north west again and then finally south west again to Lockerbie. A journey of perhaps 30 miles or more on a night of torrential rain, low mist and high winds.

Or …

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At some stage today I ran into the back of another competitor when pulling over onto a grass verge to let an approaching car pass. His tow hitch was unscathed whilst my bumper was pretty well bent as you can see. Driver error I fully admit. Luckily it was only the bumper that suffered and I had another one in the loft!

… we could cut and run! A convenient road, the B7068, ran across from Langholm and joined the route at Paddockhole, so we took that. In the dark and in the wet and mist it would have been nigh on impossible to answer any questions any way. The more direct route was quite hairy enough what with mist, rain, wind, and water-filled pot holes.

So to the Queen’s Head at Lockerbie again, a return after our visit here last year. We attempted to get a room for the night, but were told that they were all taken – strange as Julia Bradbury was able to get one for Russ 30 minutes later! The power of celebrity!

We were told we’d be doing a night stage from here and that the driver’s briefing would be at 19.30, so we ate a welcome meal (any real food on this event is welcome) in preparation for a long night’s fun. The driver’s briefing will be at 20.00 … the driver’s briefing was held at 20.30 … we were told to collect route details and that we had one hour to complete the exercise – so not such a late night after all!

We collected our instructions – a set of tulip diagrams and a print out of a section of an OS map and ran to the cars. Many vehicles had their engines running and headlights on ready to depart almost at once. It must have taken their navigators a few minutes to realise that the OS map section we’d been given had Wolverhampton Airport in the bottom right hand corner and that to drive there and back from Scotland in an hour was probably asking too much of the finest drivers! Once again this map brought back memories for Paul as he had lived very close to the villages shown a few years ago!

What we had in our hands was a ‘table top exercise’! The organisers had decided that the weather was just too bad to send us out – even though we were all kitted up in wet weather gear and sitting in four wheel drive vehicles. So we just had to plot a route from directions given, identify where the directions would take us and return the completed exercise in the shortest time possible.

We’d have liked to have enjoyed a pint or two but having not blagged a room at the hotel I still had some driving to do – we headed for Dumfries. We thought we were heading for the same cheap hotel we’d stayed at last year and I thought I could find it OK – Dave and Tim who were also staying there had already left. I went way far too far round the Dumfries by-pass and when we got back out into the country – en-route to Stranraer – we turned back and asked for directions at the next filling station. Luckily one of the young ladies knew where it was and gave us accurate directions. Strangely though when we got there it wasn’t where we’d stayed last year but Dave’s LR was parked outside so it must be the place. Apparently it was a different chain, just on the other side of the road from the one we’d stayed at last year – and was much nicer. A good night’s sleep!

Day three – Sunday 8th March 2009 – 08.00
Location: Dumfries Milometer: 142920 Trip: 132.2

Back to the Queen’s Hotel for breakfast – they must do quite well out of this event – not only a full hotel on a wet weekend in March, about 120 people requiring food and water in the evening and probably more wanting breakfast too!

The weather had improved dramatically as we headed west on the A709 – the Dumfries road again. Not for long though as we soon turned right onto the B7020 heading north and then shortly thereafter left to head west again. We crossed over the A701 and so into the Forest of Ae. Once again we were answering questions and looking for number plates.

Further directions took us round in a big loop and once again we were on the A709, again heading east away from Dumfries. The Macmillan 4x4 challenge for 2009 was all but over. We had a few more questions to answer on the way to Gretna Services of course but the answers were pretty obvious as on a main road you can’t have dozens of 4x4s pulling onto the verge or doing u-turns whilst searching for an allusive fact or date!

Day three – Sunday 8th March 2009 – 13.00
Location: Gretna services Milometer: 143018 Trip: 230.4

When they got to Gretna services they thought ‘it was all over’ – well it wasn’t! Once we got into the services we found that the organisers had again set out some photographs for us to identify, which of course we were all up for after three days in the saddle!

So that’s it for another year. Just drive to our usual hotel and enjoy a pint or three.

Day three – Sunday 8th March 2009 – 16.20
Location: Daresbury Park Hotel Milometer: 143161 Trip: 373.9

And so we did and the usual evening meal and presentations, which of course were made by Julia Bradbury, and the traditional auction. No pots for us this year but that’s not what we do it for, as I say every year. What will I say if we ever did win a pot I wonder? The auction didn’t drag on a long as usual this year – I think Peter (Rowland) has got smart and puts some of the donated goodies on e-bay!

We were glad to head for our beds in the early hours, pitying the Bradbury girls who had been collected by a driver from Land Rover in a Range Rover to take them back to London as they had to be at their solicitors bright and early the next morning!

Day four – Monday 9th March 2009 – 09.45
Location: Daresbury Park Hotel Milometer: 143161 Trip: 373.9

After the usual thoroughly thorough Daresbury Park breakfast, time to say our goodbyes and be on our way. Folk seem to have left early this year as there were very few competitors’ vehicles in the car park by the time we left.

Day four – Monday 9th March 2009 – 10.06
Location: M6 services Milometer: 143175 Trip: 387.4

More fuel for MBT, 13.3408 gallons which means consumption of 29.0387 mpg.

Day four – Monday 9th March 2009 – 12.00
Location: Kidderminster Milometer: 143252 Trip: 076.8

Drop Paul at home, a spot of lunch and I’m on my way to mine.

Day four – Monday 9th March 2009 – 15.30
Location: Cambridge Milometer: 143378 Trip: 203.3

Arrived home at 15.30, just four hours short of four days since I left. The round trip was exactly 1100 miles, and the event covered 705 miles.

Firstly, how much did we raise? Well, Team 5 raised a total of £1025.00 in cash, plus £204.71 Gift Aid (Gift Aid really make a big difference!) and on our justgiving site – including a last minute donation on the site literally days before it closed – we collected £805.00 plus £218.59. For those of you not too hot on mental arithmetic that’s £2253.50.

So I’m pleased to report that in seven years I, along with co-drivers David Kent and Paul Ferrie, have raised £13,610.32. Not bad for a trio of old boys, eh?

In all the 62 teams who took part this year raised £106,628.12 and by my calculations that means that in eight years this event has raised £574,988.56 – well over half a million pounds!

Secondly, how did we do? We were Joint 8th in the Scatter with 61 points (first place on this section had 65 points), we were Joint 35th in the Night Navigation section – we didn’t do part of it – with 38 points (the winners had 63 points) and Joint 40th in the Orienteering with 53 points (the winner of this section had 85 points). Overall we finished in Joint 34th place with 152 points – the winners (Team 27) scored 207 points.

It just remains for me to thank Paul for sitting in the hot seat once again, and for us to thank all our generous sponsors. Thank you. Until next year.

Mike Stapleton and Paul Ferrie