On the Plain again

May 8, 2016

 

For once it looked like the weather was going to be on our side for the trip to Salisbury Plain, with a forecast of blue skies and temperatures on mid-20s. Driving up to the RV it looked, briefly like they had got it well wrong again as dark clouds gathered and rain started to fall. Once we were all together and set off on the road things soon started to improve and we arrived at the start of the planned route under the promised clear skies.

Of course, something had to pop up to let us know that it wasn’t going to be all plain sailing as we arrived at the first lane to find the red flags flying and gates closed. Without consulting me the British Army had decided to hold a huge exercise and shut off a big portion of the area!

Not deterred a quick plan B was devised that involved going to what had been the proposed finish, starting from there and going round in the opposite direction. Simple! Of course it wasn’t!

Firstly, I had only driven this route in the intended direction and that was in the pitch dark (on a BAMA Night Navigation) and there were a couple of tricky to follow sections that I’d only seen in one direction. Could I find them in daylight from the ‘wrong side’?

Secondly, on arrival at the start of first track (opposite Stonehenge) we were greeted with a ‘Voluntary Restraint’ sign. OK it was only ‘voluntary’ but in order to comply with GLASS Code of Conduct we really need to respect the restriction. Another few miles of planned route erased at a stroke!

Never mind, there was another Byway just couple of hundred metres away, let’s try that.

Success at last! We were finally doing our first lane.

Nothing at all challenging about this (or any of the subsequent lanes) with a firm dry, gravel surface and just the odd damp patch or two. It was also wide and easy to follow, our passing disturbing only several hundred bacon butties ‘on the hoof’ and seeing just two walkers who gave a wave as we passed.

On to the next two lanes, again neither demanding with good surfaces and fairly wide. Stopping at the end of the second lane on top of a ridge with fantastic views we decided on an early lunch.

From there it was a short drop down to another village, where advantage was taken by some drivers to top up fuel tanks, and then a short journey along an A road for our next Byway. I had remembered this from one BAMA event as not being easy to follow on either map or the ground as it had a couple of hidden dog legs through a farm yard and under the main road before again dog legging back to the apparent course as per the map. I almost missed the narrow turn into the lane between 2 houses but spotted it just in time.

This lane lead us back up onto the plain, via our lunch stop point, and onto a wide, well surfaced track leading back towards a difficult crossing over the A303 not far from Stonehenge. This really is an incredibly busy stretch of road, being one of the main routes from Londondinium to the South West, comparable to the old A417 pre Birdlip and Cirencester Bypasses.

All safely over and we were onto the roughest lane we had done so far. Full of short switchbacks which, if it hadn’t been so dry, would have been full of water. This took us up to the next ‘difficult’ junction where this track and 3 others converged. Would it be easy to get onto the right one? No, of course not! I had already made a change to the planned route when checks pre-trip showed a change in status of one lane and when we reached the junction we came up to a large information board detailing a diversion onto another lane  for safety and sustainability reasons. It also said that the changes were not yet shown on the Wilts CC website.

Fair enough, the diversion was heading in the right direction anyway so no real problem.

As it happened this lane took us into one of the many shallow valleys on the Plain where we found a short section of mud and water (about 18” deep). We all had a go and getting through and all made it, at last the trucks looked like we’d been greenlaning. A good photo opportunity too.

On up this lane we reached another minor road crossing where the original lane had been diverted ‘for safety and sustainability’ reasons. We all made the road crossing safely but, as we turned back along the new track to reach the original line we had the only real problem of the day. There was a short puddle, about 20m long and deeper on the right. The first vehicle made it through without incident but then Dan Garner, Tail End Charlie in his Disco 3, suffered a blow-out on his front nearside tyre going through the water. There was no sign of any damage to the tyre or what had caused it but it lead to a lengthy stop while the wheel was changed. Unfortunately Dan only had a space-saver spare wheel so wisely decided to bow-out disgracefully and head home. Luckily we were only a hundred metres or so from the road.

Our diminished team ploughed on regardless up over a hill and down into another valley with water and mud in the bottom. From the tyre tracks it looked like people had tried one of the three ‘troughs’ but had then opted for safety and driven around the edge. I had to try it though but, having got about a 3rd of the way in, realised the water was getting close to the limit and chickened out. For some reason nobody else wanted to try it!

From there it was back to a firm, dusty, wide gravel track leading to a road. Stopping here we discussed heading in the Bulford direction to try and finish the day on the Nine Mile River area but  J**p Wrangler came down the lane behind us and the guy behind the wheel informed us that all that area was closed off for the day.

The decision was taken to try and find a couple more nearby Byways as we headed in the general direction of home but, as we reached the edge of the main training area the gates were still closed and red flags flying. Don’t those military types have homes to go to?? Getting back to the famous Bustard Hotel (you’ll understand if you’ve ever been there) we pulled up on the parking area and decided to call it a day, there being little chance of finding anything further to try.

Back on the road for the trip North I was back at the Chateau by 4.45 but then spent the next hour pressure washing off the cement hard Salisbury Plain gloop.

Another great day out, even if beset by frustrations and diversion.

 

Don’t forget to book early for Junes trip!

 

Dick Loveday

 

 

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