The Parkwood Safari

I was asked recently if I had ever visited Parkwood Off Road Centre (AKA Tong) in Leeds and what my thoughts of it were. The answers were quite simple; I’ve lost count how many times I’ve visited and it’s a fantastic venue that’s fastidiously maintained and well worth a visit.

That got me thinking about the last time I visited. It wasn’t for one of their popular ‘Pay and Play’ days, rather to write an article for the now defunct Land Rover World magazine on their Parkwood Safari training days, and it went something like this…

As we all know, off roading with our 4x4s, either at an off road centre or ‘laning is great fun.  Driving up and down steep and seemingly impossible hills, wading through deep water and negotiating steps that flexes our suspension are all part of the fun, but how do we know that we’re doing it right?  Who taught us, and who taught them?  I was always told as a spotty teenager that I shouldn’t take driving lessons from my Dad due to all his learnt bad habits, and I suppose the same can be said for learning to drive off road too.  Have you ever been to a Pay and Play site and watched in horror as people make mistakes and damage their vehicles?  I know I have.

This wasn’t lost on Parkwood Off Road Centre’s qualified off road driving instructor and genuinely lovely person, Rebecca (who’s sadly no longer with us).  So she devised a plan, a plan to offer off road training days to willing participants and give them the opportunity to receive friendly, informal tuition using their own vehicles under the highly experienced supervision of the legend and true gentleman that is Brian Hartley of Club Off Road fame.  Brian had also brought ex-Land Rover instructor Darren McGuinness along as his official colleague, and a helper called James.

The day began at 9.00am with a health and safety briefing and to assess everyones knowledge, once satisfied, we all drove into the belly of Parkwood were Brian had found some safe hills for participants Richie and Jax to learn the basic skills of a failed hill climb.  Brian got them to experiment by trying different gears so they got an idea of what their own vehicles were capable of.  I remember my V8 90 hybrid used to go everywhere in 3rd low, whereas my Discovery is much more capable and happier in 2nd low.

Satisfied that Jax and Ritchie could handle a failed hill climb, Brian lead us around Parkwood’s array of tracks, and as he found different levels of hills for us to climb he would occasionally get Jax and Ritchie to stop mid climb and practise their new found skills.

Brian lead us into a wooded section that he had scouted earlier in the week, but because the team at Parkwood are always on top of maintaining the venue, today our way out had been blocked.  Because it was a small group, Brian gave us the choice of either reversing out and carrying on, or spend a bit of time trying to get out of the situation by driving up a particularly damp hill.  We chose not to be beaten!  First to attempt it was Darren in Brian’s V8 90, he was successful.  Next was Richie in his Tdi powered 90, but unfortunately his All Terrain tyres just couldn’t find grip, so we tried another section and again, it was just too damp.  This lead to another discussion, carry on elsewhere or have a lesson in winching.  The opportunity was too good to miss, out with the winches!

Once both Richie’s 90 and Jax’s 110 were safely winched out I decided to have a go myself.  With 2nd low engaged I carefully aimed for the first hill trying to avoid the tree stumps and branches, but even with a fair bit of momentum and extra wheel base over Richie’s 90, my Discovery scrambled for grip and failed.  Even though I wasn’t officially part of the group, with Brian watching I had to make sure that I could do a failed hill climb... no pressure then!

After putting the world to rights over lunch we ventured back into the woods following Brian as he lead us down hills, threading us through wooded sections and in and out of muddy holes.  Where the terrain looked tricky he would stop and have us asses the situation, discussing how best to tackle the obstacle in each vehicle.

One great aspect of the day is that no one was ever under any pressure to do anything that they weren’t comfortable with.  But with Brian’s leadership skills and expert knowledge, everyone was confident to follow his lead.  Brian proved that even in difficult situations, driving slowly and carefully was the way forward.

Once they'd meandered through Parkwood’s many tracks and gaining confidence, Brian decided it was time to look at wading.  Driving fast through water may look exciting, but as most of you know, it can cause untold damage.  Water in the electrics, a lack of visibility and what about those rocks and holes that you can’t see hidden out of sight in murky water?

After discussing the dangers of wading, like what to do if your Land Rover starts floating down stream and the effects that muddy, gritty water has on brakes and other joints, Brian showed everyone how to create the perfect bow wave in his 90.  Jax and Richie then took turns in their vehicles with Darren sat beside guiding them through.

As it was nearing the end of the day, Brian had one last test for Jax and Ritchie, and that was to negotiate the longest and steepest hill that Parkwood has to offer.  Not only did they get down in one piece, but they successfully drove back up too, a satisfying end to a cracking days off road tuition.

So, if you are a beginner, or even someone who’s been ‘off roading’ for a while and fancy learning new skills, then give Parkwood Off Road Centre a call or visit her website at