Well after getting the kids back to school, and settling down into a new home routine, as the half term approached, we needed a bit of a distraction, when Keith dropped me an e-mail and asked if we fancied coming along on another of his Welsh Adventures. So we said 'Yes'. Now, Keith described the route as a 'scenic' run, and 'non-car damaging', and we anticipated something pretty much like the Lake Vynwry run. And after a little bit of consideration, decided that we would take 'Bert', the wife's Range Rover.
This was an edged decision. Bert is HER daily driver. Scratch it at my peril! But...it is still a Land Rover, and after Keith had described how steep some of the hills were, and she'd checked the weather forecast and found out how cold it was likely to be, she decided that she'd risk it, if only to give her some confidence of what it was capable of come the really bad winter weather.
So, we set out Sunday morning bright and early having just put the clocks back and realised we could have a leisurely breakfast before departing.
On the road to Corwen, well, as you'd expect. Range Rover refinement, there is no beating it. V8 softly purring away, 2000rmp on the rev counter and 60mph on the speedo, heater keeping us warm, windscreen wipers letting us see where we were going, and the stereo playing some quiet incidental music in the back-ground.
Where's the clatter of tappets, the frantic waggling of gear stick and overdrive lever, the intense concentration of predicting the traffic pattern through that next roundabout, so that you don't have to change down two more gears and put all your weight on the brake pedal to haul the thing to a halt!
The only thing to detract for enjoying the scenery in a Range Rover is watching that fuel gauge needle as it edges down the scale, so slowly but menacingly, reminding you, you have a thirsty engine under there, and you'd better remember to give it plenty to drink!
So, we arrived at Corwen car park, at about ten to ten in the morning, and were a bit surprised to find more than a dozen 4x4's in the lot.
And Keith was worried. They were all expecting to go out on his run, but he hadn't got anyone to lead a second group. Oh dear. So he decided that the best thing to do would be to lead the convoy as one group, but in two waves, with the second half of the group following about ten minutes behind the first, so that it wasn't too big going through any one section, and the two halves would meet up at halts. Keith asked me to lead the second wave, and handed me a walkie talkie to keep in touch.
Well, I did my best, but Keith decided to deviate from his original route map to cut out a section he decided was a bit long and a bit too fragile for so many vehicles, and we had a very tidy old Series 3 short wheel base diesel in the second wave, which couldn't really do more than about 40mph on the early road sections, so the second wave started to lag behind a bit, and Keith's radio instructions started to break up as the limit of the walkie talkies range was reached.
Any way, we made the turn off the hard top, and started a long climb into trees, along a lane crossed with forestry tracks, and the radio's range was getting shorter. A garbled message came through, and might have been that there was a turning coming up, or that the first wave had stopped for us.
So, watching for tell-tale wheel tracks in case of a turn off, I lead the group straight on, expecting to find Keith up ahead, and noting any where he could have turned off. Only one likely track presented itself, and I hesitated. It was a sharp left hand turn, but the surface was shale and there weren't any discernible tracks, and it was clearly marked as a bridle path.
Big dilemma that. Snowdonia National Parks Authority have been known to mark RUPP's & BOAT's as bridleways to discourage vehicular use. Road ahead was marked a dead end. Was there another turn off ahead, or was this bridleway a disguised BOAT? I had seven 4x4's behind me, depending on my decision. I lead them straight on, sticking to the known ROW.
Until we came to the dead end! No word or even a swark from Keith on the radio, so we all swung round and trundled back the way we came, trying to raise Keith on the radio as we went. Luckily he'd climbed to the top of a hill and was looking for us, and the extra elevation let the radios work, and we established that we did indeed need to take that Bridleway. Thanks SNPA - thanks a bunch! But, back on track, we found the kind of terrain most had come to experience.
Keith had halted to guide his group through a very tight section of track between boulders and a dry stone wall, and was just guiding the last of his group through, as we arrived. So Keith moved his convoy down a few hundred yards to give us room to come through, and then came back up to guide us all through too.
Oh dear, narrow gap, rocks, wife's paintwork! But we squeezed through. Those side steps supported some of the Rangies weight while we did it, but hey, that's what there there for, right?!
Next through was the little Series 3, in his first time 'off road', but his narrower track, and narrower body would give him a slightly easier time.
And we all make it without any great drama, so it's off on to explore some more, and with scenery like this, you just cant fault it.
Wales might be cold in autumn, but with clear sky and low sun you get very dramatic lighting that brings out the colour and texture of the terrain, and with the trees starting to go brown and gold and red, and loose some of their excess foliage, you get a wonderful pallet of colour.
Something these pictures unfortunately fail to show, but at least they show some of the drama in the landscape that is lost in stark summer sun.
And on we went to the lunch stop. Started to loose Keith on the radio again, and turned left at a 'phone box, hoping that was what he had said, through the squark.
Then took a wrong turn when he said something we couldn't hear and drove past the turn off. Reversing seven vehicles down a track with cyclists coming up it ISN'T fun! but we got back on track and all parked up at the lunch stop.
An event punctuated by the prissy driver of an MG-F, who had parked parallel taking up three parking spaces, and who was duly boxed in, and spent five minutes tramping around getting ever more irate trying to find the driver of the black 90, to let him out. We did offer to help him lift his matchbox toy out of the toy box for him, but he just strode off shouting 'I want the driver of THAT one!' so we left him to it.
After lunch it was mainly road miles, with some broken hard top tracks, punctuated by the wooden Penmaenpool toll bridge spanning the River Mawddach.
And yet more stunning views.
This one over the sea around Barmouth.
A short pause brings two waves of 4x4's together for a few minutes, and we get to see the full size of the convoy.
First timers in the Series 3 has forgotten to bring a camera, but are revelling in every moment of it, so I offer to take picture for their family album.
Range Rovers still fairly clean, and not acquired too many new scratches yet, but has developed a loud knocking noise from the propshafts, axles or suspension, that might be a universal joint in the swivel, but investigation will have to wait until we get home.
(Turned out to be shot hub bearings on the rear near side. But I had to overhaul the brakes before I found that out!)
After a few more road miles we head back inland up the toughest track yet, with the sun setting behind us, photographs don't do justice to just how dramatic the scenery was becoming.
By now the convoy had split into three straggling groups. Up front was Keith and a couple of Pejero's, and another Range Rover in the middle was a couple of Disco's, the Toyota, a Frontera and the kitted 90.
The Frontera, despite some pretty rugged mud tyres was making heavy work of the rutted mud track, and the Toyota was not having a good day, its diff-lock having decided not to function.
We trailed behind letting Keith know what was going on behind with the Series 3 and the black 90 behind us. The Rangies V8 and auto box doing great in low range, I didn't bother with diff-lock most of the way, while the little S3 trundled through on tyres that were almost completely road biased, its driver hammering the dash-board grinning all over his face, incredible that his old standard relic was making such light work of it where more modern and better equipped vehicles were having a hard time.
As the sun finally sets, we wait while the other range rover fixes a puncture, before finishing the last twenty minutes of lanes in the twilight. Luckily they weren't so bad, but we just had to do them slowly.
Finally getting back to Dolgellau car park a little after six, we'd had a good eight hours up in the mountains and seen a lot more than we ever would have done from hard top roads.
We had had a few minor incidents, wot with the Toyota needing to spend some time on the end of a rope, and the other Rangie having a flat tyre, but nothing life or car threatening, and every-one seemed to have enjoyed themselves.
We were proud of how well Bert coped with it all, especially with that brooklands spoiler and pretty much street biased tyres, and apart from that clonking getting worse, it seems noting serious done to the car, and the wife has taken it to work, in all its muddied glory, to prove that its not a pampered school run SUV!