There's a place up in Scotland that for many 4x4 owners could easily be described as Mecca. With thousands of acres available for us to roam, this jewel is largely a secret.
A few months ago I received an e-mail with the date of the next do, I quickly added it to my diary and replied back with my confirmation, I was excited. Unfortunately as the weekend arrived I realised 2 things, the first was that I had too much work to do, and the second was that I hadn't managed to buy new tyres for Deux Smurf. As I was wandering around Mud Life Towers grumbling to myself I began reminiscing about the first time i visited this wonderful haven. I remembered loading my tent, recovery gear and a set of off-road tyres for Barny's X90 into the back of my old 300Tdi Discovery and setting off up the M6. Our mini convoy from Lancashire included myself, Barny in his Suzuki X90 and Andy and Frank in Andy's white 90. The sedate four hour drive was made more pleasurable by the wonderful weather we were experiencing, which of course turned into low cloud and rain as soon as we reached Scotland.
On arrival at our secret destination we unloaded all the gear, erected the tents and lit the BBQ’s, we then stood around and watched Barny as he swapped the wheels on the X90 to the non road legal Alligators, which are basically motor-cross tyres for cars.
By then it was around 5.00pm and just getting dark, so we decided to have a quick mooch around the hills before tea. I opted to leave the Disco behind and jump into the X90's passenger seat to see what it was like on the Alligators.
Following Andy in his 90 across one of the many rivers that weaves through the site, the little X90 was doing a stirling job. Then the inevitable happened, though Andy had successfully driven through a particularly deep and muddy set of ruts, the steep banking at the other end proved too much as the rear diff gouged into the ground and put an end to all motion, back and forth.
Then Barny had a go at a similar set of ruts just to the left and... well, even the Alligators couldn't help as the water was deeper than expected and the little X90 ground to a halt.
After assessing the situation (pointing and laughing at them both), I realised that the only way out of the situation was for me to walk back to the campsite and get the Discovery.
Returning to the scene of the buffoonery (with wet feet as I had to wade through a couple of rivers to reach the camping area), we connected the KERR recovery rope, and after a couple of tugs they were both free. Then it was back to the tents for food, beer and catching up on gossip with old friends.
Saturday arrived grey and murky, and after copious amounts of coffee and a few sausage butties we set forth to explore this great off road site. Barny followed as I stretched the Discovery's springs over the varied types of terrain on offer. Driving it everyday for the commute, it's easy to forget just how very capable Discovery's are off road, even when fitted standard spring and All-Terrains.
As the only standard vehicle wearing AT's over the weekend she did well considering the wet and greasy conditions. But it's all about being aware, not only of your own capabilities, but those of your vehicle. Sure, as a 'pay and play' site most of the visitors had tricked up 4x4's, and their aims and objectives were to perhaps find the limits of their vehicles, mine was to not get stuck in the deep muddy ruts, and definitely not to break anything!
The Alligators on the X90 were excellent and took Barny where ever he wanted, the only downside was it's ground clearance and gearing on some of the longer, steeper hills, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
In the afternoon a few of us decided to explore the forest section, I again jumped in X90 as I hadn't removed the Thule roof bars of the Disco and therefore didn't fancy to ripping them off. It was great fun as we weaved our way through the trees and river following Andy and Frank in the 90 as well as Phil and Rob in their Vitara. I was beginning to wish that I’d kept my little Series 1, she would’ve loved it!
After a whole day of playing up hills, through rivers and along the many twisting tracks, the light began to fade and the mist descended around the camping area, so we decided to retire for the evening. Every so often vehicles were seen leaving the camp ground and heading off in convoy into the darkness with their lights ablaze for some night time action!
As we finished our tea we began to light the traditional Saturday night bonfire, there's something caveman like about standing around a fire after a hard days playing in the mud consuming beer and food!
I woke several times during the night due to the howling wind and driving rain, then at around 8.30am I woke again to a rhythmic patter on the tent, either it was still raining, or someone had mistaken my tent for an urinal. It was raining still (thankfully), so I turned over and snuggled even further into my sleeping bag until my bladder reminded me that I’d consumed a fair amount of Guinness last night!
After copious amounts of coffee and another sausage butty courtesy of Barny, the extent of last nights downpour was immediately visible by the swollen river that passed the camping area.
Aware that the ground would be a lot slippery than yesterday, Barny and Andy followed me as I drove up the steep, rocky incline onto the safety of the hills above and watched as others struggled in the mud and rivers in the valley below.
Soon we met up with Phil and Rob again in the Phil's modified Vitara and joined them as they drove up a particularly wet and greasy hill side. Not to be outdone I reckoned I'd be able to get the Disco up there, so in second low I began the long and steep incline. My first attempt wasn't successful, I nearly reached the summit but I lost grip about 3 metres before it, so straight into reverse and I began reversing down without any drama. My second attempt, this time in third low proved successful. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush so much that I decided to show what a standard Discovery could do again. This time, just before reaching the summit the Discovery slotted itself into an existing set of greasy ruts and lost traction again. Not a problem, apply the foot brake, slot into reverse and proceed as you would after any failed hill attempt and just let the engine do the braking. Unfortunately things began to go a little pear shaped as the front began to slide to the right, and even though I accelerated a little and tried to counter the steering I soon found myself sliding down the hill, sideways!
So there I was, sliding drivers side first down a steep, long grassy hillside... The next few seconds was a bit of a blur I have to admit, but I do remember turning the steering into full lock left, accelerating hard still in reverse until I was 'generally' facing downhill then selecting second whilst adjusting the steering. Once at the bottom, after being told it was a perfect 'J' turn I was reminded of how quickly things can go drastically wrong!
As Andy, Barny and Phil drove down into the deep ruts towards a river, I decided to drive up the hill again. Not to prove a point as such, but the deep ruts were too much for the Discovery's low tow bar, so it was my only way out, and this time I managed it without any drama, phew!
As Sunday progressed we sauntered around looking for new and challenging tracks to drive, and as always, there was a good humoured rivalry between 'The Best 4x4's By Far' and those other Jap trucks, which is how it should be.
At the other side of the site I watched in envy as all the vehicles fitted with snorkels drove up the swollen river, and that included Kenny Rice in his old Series III Land Rover, it was nice to see him keeping up with all the other modded trucks!
And as the rain eased to a fine Scottish drizzle I figured that as I hate folding up tents in the pelting rain it would be a good time for me to return to the campsite and begin packing up. Soon enough Andy and Barny arrived back and joined in, and it wasn't long before we were ready for our long homeward journey and looking forward to next years event!