Chris Thorne

Langdale Quest 2001

The weekend started early with a group of 6 of us meeting up at 7:30am at the service station near Northampton on the M1. The journey down was quite straight forward, although one driver did manage to take a wrong turning, following the wrong sign for the park and ride where we were to meet up and had to charge down 2 miles of duel carriage way before they could turn round and drive back. Fortunately the rest of the group waited at the park and ride car park and the lost sheep was able to rejoin the flock. The identity of the individual will remain anonymous to save my, sorry their, embarrassment.

Once at the campsite we met up with the members that had travelled down on the Friday and had benefited from a lie in. After pitching tents the whole group of, by now 9, Land Rovers made off to Langdale Quest. The weather was rather misty so no sightseeing could be done and it was a case of follow my leader along the single-track roads. Thanks to Phil Rubini’s navigation and a tip off from the Centre we used a UCR and joined a toll road after the toll and made good time to the Centre.

Considering the size of the area open to the Centre, over 10,000 acres, the actual reception car park area was extremely small. Therefore we had to take turns to drive up and use the vehicle dip for the old foot and mouth disinfectant, which for some reason, they had roped off the exit requiring each vehicle to drive in and then reverse up the slippery wooden boards. Although everyone achieved it the dip was not the same after we had been through. Those of us who knocked the sign and post down, or tried to climb out sideways and dragged the liner and boulders down, know who we are! We were also required to complete a wonderful form. Anyone wishing to attend another time make sure you have revised, you will be asked questions!

Black MK 4x4Once all the formalities were complete we were given a route map for the 3-hour route and we decided to set off in one large group. The route maps seemed to me to be clear and quite well thought out. Small signs by the side of the tracks marked the routes with coloured numbers and you simply counted up following the markers and taking the turnings after the appropriate number as shown on the map. Unfortunately the signposts were mounted a little way off the tracks, probably so they were not easily knocked down. However in the misty reduced light in the woods spotting them was hard in places. The actual course was very good. The recent rain had made the tracks lovely and muddy with large puddles. The combination of very runny mud and underlying rocks meant that grip was usually fairly good in the ruts and I did not see many people struggling with the more road orientated tyres. I even heard someone was tackling some off road sections in two-wheel drive!

Those that wanted to could try to make new tracks through the thicker mud in the middle and side of the other ruts and try to move from one set of ruts to another to make it a bit more interesting. Half way round the course we found a wooden seesaw that some members tackled. There should be some photos about of Land Rovers either perfectly balanced or crashing down with horrified looks on the driver’s faces. I know which the photo of my vehicle will look like!

Linking the ‘off road tracks’ were stretches of forest tracks that were so easy I even saw a Vauxhall Corsa driving along them at one point! Driving these ‘almost roads’ did mean that you could get between the different areas of the forest and did make you feel a bit like Richard Burns or Colin McRae. We were obviously not the only vehicles driving round and although there was no congestion we did meet up and pass other vehicles. These ranged from what looked like a brand new series 2 Discovery to Suzuki Vitaras and from heavily modified Toyotas to police and military 110’s.

At one point we all had to pull over to let the police drive by and at another point our convoy picked up a soft-top 110 packed full of squaddies. As said the majority of the tracks were straightforward. Care had to be taken to avoid loosing fillings and shaking the cars to pieces on some tracks as the underlying rocks made the track into a cross between an badly maintained cobble street and a fairground roller coaster. Soft suspension was the requirement but for those with heavy-duty suspension you felt every boulder through your posterior! Although no one got stuck on the course, thanks to the varying speeds of the fast tracks and the crawling bone shaking sections gaps appeared in the convoy and unfortunately we lost the last man at one point. Fortunately this was the perfect excuse for the group to have a brew up in the woods.

Once contact was re-established and we were on the move our progress was slowed to ensure we stayed together. Unfortunately this added time to the journey and night was closing in. It became interesting taking some of the long down hill sections with head lights and spotlights on full to see all the large wash outs on the track. There was no ‘feet off’ in this situation. Brakes had to be applied to slow wheel spin when dropping into the washouts. Those with ABS had a definite advantage.

By now hunger and fatigue had crept up on us and then attacked on mass and the group decided to cut short the course and make our way to a pub. After queuing up again for the water dip we set off to split into two groups. One lot to find a pub and the others who decided to head back to camp. By now a couple of us were low on fuel and so we invaded a local filling station. Once the vehicles were topped up we headed for food to top up our stomachs a good workman always takes care of his tools before himself!

Unfortunately Saturday night seems to be the night to go out for food and so everywhere was full, either that or they did not like the thought of a load of southerners overrunning their pubs! It therefore became one chip shop owners lucky day when half of us turned up for fish and chips! It was then a dash back to the campsite before the chips got cold. Suddenly those that were cooking for themselves seem to have gone from being hard done by and not having a decent pub diner, to being the better off for coming prepared!

As time had flown by and the campsite closed its gate at 11:30pm the night drive was ruled out. We had already done enough driving in the dark as it was! By now the weather had got even wetter and the night was interspersed with down pours.

Morning dawned early for some and not quite so early for others. Despite some efforts half the group seemed to be able to sleep through anything. Some people can sleep at any angle with out being disturbed. Once everyone was up it was decided to split into two groups with the early risers setting off there and then and the late risers staying to finish breakfast and clear up before setting off.

So it was that 5 vehicles set off leaving 5 behind. Another Neil, a friend of Neil’s aka Piglet from the discovery owners club, had joined the group late on Saturday night. This time the weather was better but a light mist still obstructed some of the scenery. Once again we had to dip and complete the formalities. This time we decided to tackle the 2-hour course. This course although using some of the same tracks of the 3-hour course also had some unique tracks making the drive sufficiently different to be interesting again.

The over night rain had also made going even muddier and virtually all the off road tracks had water logged ruts. This made the track sides slippier and changing ruts became more difficult when trying to avoid larger holes or boulders. As a result we landed up with some interesting sideways driving as the front wheels got grip and pulled out of the ruts and the heavier rear stayed where it was! After a while the second group arrived and decided that they were going to go for the more challenging ‘maze’ section. The first group continued round until we came to a part of the track bordering the maze and decided to stop and walk into see the others.

We arrived just in time to see (Jon, the camel yellow disco) stuck with his Discovery sideways across the track where it had slid along the wet logs which had been used to fill in some of the deeper gullies going across the maze track. Shunting the vehicle backwards and forwards did not achieve anything or so it seemed. Even when half the trunks had been dug out from under the vehicle and with the combined use of a PSP from (the gentleman in the SeriesIII with roof tent [editor: Steve]) and (the gentleman in the red 110 [editor: Chris Watt]) ‘s bridging ladders, which had finally been used but had become curved ladders, it was no go. I am sure (the gentleman in the red 110) would like it pointed out, the welding did not fail it was just that the strength of the material was slightly less than expected, but they did not bend that much and were, and are, still useable !

Finally using the winch the vehicle was repositioned enough that it was thought it could drive out. Those standing out side were advising using full left lock but (Jon, the camel yellow disco) had turned the wheel as far as it would go yet the wheels remained pointing straight forward. More crawling under the vehicle revealed that something had been achieved by the shunting, a large dent in the steering damper crushing it and restricting its movement. Struggling in the mud (the gentleman from the white 90 [editor: Richard Edwins]) managed to remove the damper. As (Jon, the camel yellow disco) said he was glad he had not fitted an expensive Bilstein Damper! The wheels could then turned and the vehicle extricated itself. Apart from (the gentleman in the series 3, editor: Steve Knight) trying to demolish a tree with his winch bumper on another bend in the track the rest of the track was achieved without further incident.

As time was getting on we split up again. The two Neil’s in their Discoveries had already pressed on together earlier, so it just left the three nineties to complete a bit more of the two hour course before heading back to the campsite to collect the three, by then, lonely tents. The other group carried on along other paths timing their return very well so that they passed the campsite just as we were ready to leave. And so it was that the convey wound its way back to Buckinghamshire after a very enjoyable weekend, a bit more muddier but no worse for wear. That is except for (Jon, the camel yellow disco) who actually claimed the Discovery drove better without the damper!

Talk turned to arranging for a return visit this time with possible camping within the Langdale Quest site, and more time spent in the challenging maze section for those that prefer it. So if this has inspired you then look out for future details.

For those worrying about the distance and cost I used 1 and a half tank fulls over the entire weekend in my 90 with 300Tdi engine, although I cant quote mileage as the odometer does not work on my 90. And from reports I heard the others returned reasonable consumption figures of 25 to 27 mpg so provided you can stand the drone from your engine and tyres at 55 to 60 mph for about 4 hours you should have no excuses not to come!