A boy’s day out

In which we do some green laning, move a tree, rescue a horse and FTF a geocache.

Plain lane

At silly o’clock, Bob picked me up in his Range Rover Classic and we set off for the byways of Wiltshire. I don’t normally do early mornings but we had to be at the RV just north of Devizes by about 08.45 and it would take us a couple of hours to get there. As well as us, there was our geocaching mate Jeff in his Discovery 3, plus four non-geocachers in two more Disco 3’s. The day was officially a geocache-free day, however Jeff managed to get us a “pass” to look for a cache he’d DNFd some time ago – GC36MA9 – Log it. It was on the first byway we were going to drive so while the 2 non-caching Discos drove on, we paused to find the cache. As we drove to catch the others up, we met a fellow cacher, who happened to be standing right next to another cache – GC36M9G – It’s miles!  – so we jumped out of the Land Rovers and found that one as well!

After that, we caught up with the others and the laning began in earnest; we set off in the general direction of Avebury and its famous stone circle. Unfortunately, the winter weather had left several of the byways extremely wet, these had voluntary restrictions on them which we complied with and so we didn’t drive them. This meant a bit of “recalculating” by our navigator but he soon had us back on our planned route.

Later, we were driving along a rutted lane which followed the hedge line of a field, when we came upon a fallen tree completely blocking the lane. We could have driven “off-piste” around it but we stopped instead. Jeff made short work of the branches with his trusty bow saw, until the tree was sufficiently manageable for us all to lift the tree and move it off the track and into the hedge. At that point, Jeff managed to get his Disco stuck in the rut and it took a gentle pull from one of the other Discos to help him get going again. At that point we all decided to back up and leave the lane for another, drier, day.

After a while, we agreed that it was time to find a suitable lunch stop and we parked up in a secluded lane which ran next to a field. This field contained several horses and a couple of donkeys. We stood around munching our sandwiches and chatting to the friendly horses who came up to the fence (presumably hoping to snaffle our lunch). I noticed that one of the horses had got a back leg caught in the strap of his overcoat making him a three-legged horse . He was hopping about trying to free himself. Along with Nick (one of the Disco drivers) I hopped over the gate and the two us approached the horse. He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry so we soon caught him. With Nick holding his head, I, being careful to keep away from his legs (as I didn’t fancy being kicked), reached under said three-legged horse and pulled his foot clear of the strap. As soon as he was back on four hoofs he scampered off across the field. Not a word of thanks. Typical horse!

Anyway, after we’d finished our lunch we continued on our route, navigating our way in a southerly direction towards the byways which crisscross the eastern side of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA). The army are using most of the SPTA for a major exercise but the eastern side was (fortunately) open to civilian traffic over the weekend. Finally, skirting Tidworth, we reached the end of our planned route.

End of the route

cleaning the Rangie
Just enough cleaning to keep it road-legal.

Looking at the map, we found that we were very close to a cache (GC401F7 – Devil’s Ditch #3), so, freed from the no-caching constraint, we set of to find it. On the face of it this was an easy one, although we still made a meal of it, eventually finding it in a place we’d allegedly searched thoroughly a few minutes earlier. Duh! After that, we drove a short way up the byway opposite and made another quick (and easy) find. Back on the blacktop, we stopped once more for what we thought would be our last cache of the day, then we set off for home.

As we drove homewards along the M3, we discussed some new local caches which had been published that morning while we were en route to our RV. I called them up on my iPhone and discovered that one of them had not had a find logged. Could it be that nobody had FTFd it all day? I input the cache’s coordinates into Bob’s satnav and we continued on our way with a slightly amended plan. When we got closer, I checked again – still no log on the website!

So, at about 19.05 we arrived near to GC5NXZT – A cache with a view too. It seemed only a minute or so before I spotted the container. We opened it and… a clean log. FTF! Incidentally, that was my first FTF for a whole year – partly due to my unwillingness to compete with the local FTF hounds – so it was a super result. Bob and I were pretty pleased with that; we jumped back into the Range Rover and drove to the other new cache (which had already been FTFd) and found that as well. Well we had to pass it on our way home anyway.

After that it was back home for tea and medals. For a non-caching day it had turned out to be pretty successful: 7 caches found and one of them a FTF. Excellent!

Freelander-ing

On Friday, Bob and I returned to the Land Rover Experience centre at Luton Hoo. This time we got our hands on a Freelander 2 – which we should have driven back in September. This was a brand new one. With just over 100 miles on the clock it hadn’t even been off-road. Until now. 😀 It wasn’t quite the same as my own Freelander 2, this one was an automatic which I think might have helped us a fair bit!

Of course, we’d been here before so we had a fairly good recollection of the technical stuff, however I was amazed to find that “my” car could tackle so much of the extreme stuff. Unlike the old-school Defender, the Freelander has Terrain Response which meant that, despite it not being a pure off-roader like the 110, we could tackle all sorts: firm or muddy surfaces, rocks and boulder fields, steep hills and 40° side slopes – all covered with wet and very slippery Bedfordshire mud.

Mud lovely mud

At one point we had to drive around a curved slope (the best description I can give would be to say it was a bit like a circular berm). We were at a seemingly impossible angle and when I was in the back taking photos and looked out of the side window all I could see was the ground about 2 feet away from me. Very disconcerting!

Slope

Of course, the Freelander doesn’t have the ground clearance of most of the Land Rover stable, so negotiating the challenging crossaxle-ing section had to be dealt with in a different way to how we’d done it in the Defender. If we’d driven straight over the obstacle we would have grounded it, suffice to say the Freely took it all in its stride.

a bit steep

Another spectacular obstacle we tackled was a ridiculously steep hill which the instructors called “Pilot View” because as you went up it all you could see was sky, that is until you levelled out on a small plateau on the top.

All I can see is sky!

The next stage was to engage the Hill Descent Control and very slowly inch the Freely forward until it tipped down, then hold it on the brakes. The hardest part was having the conviction to trust the HDC to do its stuff and quickly take your feet off both pedals! The Freely simply descended the hill at a nice safe speed, levelling out at the bottom with a bit of a rush! We had several goes at this, it was so awesome.

Down we go!

It seemed all too soon when we had to call it a day. The light was beginning to go and we were the last to leave the site.

An amusing footnote: The Estate had been running a shoot earlier in the day and as a result we hadn’t seen a single bird all afternoon. With the guns long gone the fields were full of pheasants and the tracks had their full compliment of suicidal partridges running in front of us as we drove back.

So, finally, back to the LRE base for tea and medals.

I could get used to this.

Driving a Defender off-road

When I bought my Freelander, the dealer gave me a voucher for a half-day Land Rover Experience.

Today was the day. 🙂

I went with Bob, my geocaching buddy, to the Land Rover Experience at the Luton Hoo Estate. We spent a very happy afternoon driving a Land Rover Defender 110 through some challenging terrain sections. We had to conquer extremely  steep hills which I didn’t think we’d get up (or down!), a section where the Defender was leaning over so much I fully expected it to fall on its side, plus boulder fields and other hazards. We negotiated narrow trails through woodland, the Defender’s rear end squirming in the mud, and chased flocks of Partridge and Pheasant which for some inexplicable reason refused to simply fly out of our path.

Defender on a woodland trail

Hopefully I’ve learnt some skills which I can apply in my own vehicle (always assuming I’m brave enough). Although we were in the completely capable Defender and not a Freelander, our instructor was keen to point out manoeuvres we’d just completed saying “Your Freelander can do that”. Except for The Big Hill. That one was Defender-only territory.

Sum up: A bloody good day, and when can I do it again?

If you’re interested, this is where we went: www.london.landroverexperience.co.uk.