Seeing off a Challenge(r)

It looked, briefly, like April’s green road run was going to end in the same way as the March trip. That had been aborted after just a couple of miles when, in heavy rain, I had a spurious warning light on my dash (later found to be a false alarm due to wet electrics). This time we had made it as far as Marlborough before my engine suddenly cut out just as we got to the 30mph limit. This was quickly diagnosed as a faulty relay, a problem previously suffered about 8 years ago, which was replaced with the new spare I carry, and we were on our way again.

Our little convoy, just myself and Mike Fry in his 90, soon arrived at our first byway, starting at Manningford Bohune. The first couple of km were on a wide, flat concrete roadway but this became a firm gravel surface as it started to climb a hill. A short way up this track we were faced with a single 90 coming the other way. The track was too narrow at that point to allow us to pass so we reversed about 100m and pulled onto the side to allow the other vehicle to come through. The vehicle was driven by the landowner who was extremely friendly and we stopped and talked to him for a good few minutes. He wanted to swap his old 200Tdi hard top for my Td5 hard top! Even suggested that if I got stuck/broke down I could just leave it where it was and he’d get me a lift home! A real character.

From here the byway climbed further and then passed through a line of trees before emerging onto the edge of the training area, passing several hundred bacon butties ‘on the hoof’. Although rutted in places the ground was mostly dry and firm, just a hint of mud here and there.. Passing two of the many tumuli in the area we followed this track down to Lower Everleigh and then on to the main part of the Tidworth/Bulford ranges. Driving onto the gravel tacks here it became clear that it was going to be a dry, dusty day. We did find a few puddles here and there at the side of the tracks but poor Mike was usually travelling in my dust trail.

After a brief pause to watch a couple of red kite we were on our way again and eventually found some slightly deeper water/mud to liven things up. Nothing difficult but “Mudlark Mike” wanted to splash about a bit so I gave him a few minutes to play and get it out of his system.

I had intended to take us further south towards Bulford from here, down the “Nine Mile River” valley but as we got closer we could see the red flags flying and hear small arms fire from the ranges. This was disappointing as the SPTA Newsletter had said it was a non-firing day. Instead we had to bypass that area and head north east again, passing Sidbury Hill and the big military driver training area. This is a fantastic off-road driving ‘arena’ full of hills, holes and humps but is sadly out of bounds to civilian vehicles so we had to keep going.

We did come across one interesting waterhole on the byway. I thought I would give it a careful go but, after a few yards the front wheels started to drop rapidly into an unseen hole and the water rose above bumper height. Unable to judge how deep it really got I backed out. “Mudlark” thought he could get round the edge of the hole but it was soon obvious that the underlying mud was extremely soft and he was at risk of bogging down. He tried the other edge but found the same deep water as me so backed out. The two motorcyclists who had stopped to watch seemed very disappointed that we hadn’t got stuck!

From here we moved round towards the north of Ludgershall but found our next byway blocked by a big pile of fly-tipped debris a short distance in from the main road. With no way past it we were forced to turn round and head elsewhere.

A short blast up a main road through the Collingbournes brought us to our next track. This took us back up over a ridge and into a very pleasant valley where we had a brief lunch stop.

After this is was back up some good, firm gravel tracks back onto the training areas again. Arriving back almost where we had started we still had plenty of time left so after a quick look at maps we decided to head over to the Larkhill ranges side to see if all the tracks were open there.

Driving up onto the ranges near Upavon we were greeted by the welcome sight of the red flags being DOWN! Great! We might get chance to drive another of the byways over the middle of the ranges, normally closed because of military activity.

The track was quite rough in places but very dry and dusty, lined with the obligatory warning signs about staying on the track. It did drop into a few valleys and we found some soft spots to negotiate her and there.

It was as we were climbing out of one of these valleys that I heard a loud rumble and the whine of a big turbo. Looking to my right I saw 3 Challenger tanks heading down the valley towards us, just a few hundred metres away. Stopping very quickly and leaping out of my truck Mike was wondering what on earth was wrong! Then he saw the ‘enemy’.

I must say they did look impressive as they sped down the valley, passing about 200m from us. Impressive, that is, until the turret of one of them swung smoothly towards us! My first instinct was to look for cover. Behind Mikes’s truck? Nah. Behind Mike? Double nah. As long as they take out his truck, not mine! Even in the knowledge we were really quite safe there was something very un-nerving in the way that huge black hole in the end of the barrel tracked us, even as they moved over rough ground at speed.

Anyway, they must have decided that a) they were outgunned or b) we were friendly and they turned away from us, ‘made smoke’ and shot off down the valley, Three Challenge(rs) seen off by CCROC!

Excitement over we drove onwards, passing a few old tank hulks here and there, and eventually back to the safety out of the danger area. Reaching Larkhill ‘Racecourse’ we found that there was a big equestrian even in progress but the byway across the middle of the course was open as normal so we could proceed without further diversion.

By now the time was getting on so, after a couple of quick and easy tracks we stopped for one last ‘tea break’ and then decided to head home. We could still see and hear the 3 tanks in the distance but they showed no desire to come near us again!

The weather had been dry, warm and very sunny (shorts, polo shirt, sunburned right arm) and the conditions dusty but we had a good days driving. We had seen red kite, people jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, sowjers in tanks, even ‘orse racing. Who says green roading has to be muddy and challenging to be interesting?

Next trip will be second weekend of May when I’m hoping to try a route in Worcestershire, as featured in LRO. Contact me ASAP if interested.


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