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   the Christmas Chaos Run!

Green Lane Expedition - December 2003 - Leicestershire

Well, back in October on the Dolgalau run, Keith handed us a sheet of forthcoming runs. When we got home, we looked at the calender, and picked out two which didn't coincide with any of my motorbike trials or family outings etc. One in November, and one in December.

Any way, things being what they are, the December one got cancelled. I had flu, the Wiezil had no brakes, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was NOT fit to drive, and using Bert again, was completely out of the question.

Shame too, as the love of my life had just bought me a brand new CB radio for my birthday. I had spent about a month or more making an overhead console, out of MDF & vynal, to go in the roof, and take the cassette radio I had left over after refitting Berts interior, a clock thermometer, and switches for the interior and work/reverse lights I had installed wiring for when I fiber-glassed the roof. And that CB radio fitted up really nicely under that, just over the rear view mirror!

And it was worse, not only did I have to miss out on the Green-Lane run, but I missed two of my motorbike trials as well.

So, there I was browsing the LROi forum and 'Madmatt' puts up a post; 'Who fancies doing some lanes round Leicestershire Monday/Tuesday before Christmas - get away from the Santa Insanity'

Hmmmm, well Leicestershire isn't that far away from us, and I know that Matt is a pretty 'active' member of the Leicester & Rutland Land Rover Club on the Green Lane Front.

I wasn't sure if the wife would still be working or not, but the kids would have broken up from school and be asking "Da-aa-aad! Wezit Chi-ST-mus, yet?" every two minutes.

So it seemed like a good diversion for them, and me too I guess.

Checked with wife

We could go, even if she had to work.

Then calamity struck, and the clutch ceased to operate on Wiezil.

Darn.

Early suspicions that it was something difficult and or expensive to fix were sort of borne out.

It COULD have been that there was air in the clutch cylinders and it just needed bleeding, or it COULD have been that the master or slave cylinder had gone. Or of course the hose & pipes that join them.

Turned out that the major culprit was the master cylinder.

So, game back on. The date had been set for the Tuesday.

Monday, though, wife had her works do.

Other than to say that I brought her home in the early hours of the morning SOME-WHAT worse for wear, I shall not mention the event, and I was making up sandwiches for the kid's lunches at two o'clock in the morning.

Four and a half hours sleep later, and coffee appears under my nose.

It is about the only thing known to man which can wake me from a deep sleep of less than seven and a half hours, and even then, it is not infallible.

Half an hour later, kids are jumping up and down on the bed, and running up and down the stairs, making enough noise to wake the dead.

But I can sleep through it! (And I hadn't been drinking the night before!)

Eventually I succumbed and downed the now tepid elixir of consciousness, and handed the empty vessel to the nearest noisy offspring to hand for a refill, before dragging myself into thermal underwear, jeans and fleece.

The wife was downstairs. "What time had you got to be off?"

"Err, about eight" I uttered.

"Well" she informed me, "You're going to have to drop me at work, and come back for the kids before you leave, the lights on my car don't work."

True. Bert is suffering from a distinct lack of illumination.

A single solitary and most unco-operative wire has been deciding when and if it will supply power to the headlamps dipped beams, in Bert's electrical system.

Cleaning contacts and securing the wire have failed to effect a permanent cure. Soldering the wire directly to the terminal post, failed to effect a permanent cure. Building up the joint with solder, so that not only did the joint attach wire to terminal, but terminal to switch contact ALSO failed to effect a cure.

The wire decided to snap, instead.

But, considering the amount of alcohol she had consumed the previous evening, she did not need that as an excuse.

With little more than five hours sleep, she would have still failed a breathalyser test. SO, I'm not moaning.

Well, I am.

No-one who has had that much to drink the night before, has ANY right to be so, err, unaffected.

Any way ....................

So, half an hour later than planned we set off. Five kids, and me, in the Wiezil, to meet Matt, at his house, before heading out on the 'lanes.

And it's looking good. Wiezil is happily belting along the M69 at a heady 55mph, and the traffic is fairly light, with the consequence that we make Matt's in near enough the exact time the Journey Planner program said we would. About an hour. To be greeted by Matt and a thankful big mug of that elixir of consciousness, mixed to perfection. Hot, strong, no sugar and with just a splash of milk.

Now, sitting, no, standing. Err excuse me a moment while I search my thesaurus for things that are very big, and very tall. Right,

So, there on Matt's drive LOOMS his Defender 90, like a skyscraper with wheels. I guess it might only be a 2" or 3" lift, but with big mud-plugga tyres, an expedition roof rack, with a row of spotlights on the front and a beacon bar on the back, coupled to the fact that I can never get over how short these things are, it just LOOKS like it's about two stories high.

Errm. Guess your into your off-roading, Matt? And he quietly fusses around explaining that we are waiting for another bloke, Paul, alias Knifemaker, from the LROi forum, and a mate of his from the LRLRC, also called Matt, who at short notice was trying to see if he could convince his boss to let him have the day off work.

Paul, is the next to arrive, in a two door Disco, complete with mud-plugga tyres, snorkle & winch. Paul seems to be into outdoor pursuits and stuff, and the back of the car is just stuffed choca-block with kit. One interesting feature being the little galley that folds down out of the rear door trim.

Matt, arrives shortly after, having managed to get the day off work, in another two door Disco. Again, pretty well equipped and on rugged mud-plugga tyres.

I'm starting to wonder if these guys know something I don't, but Matt assures me that its quite surprising how far you can get on 'street' tyres, and If I get stuck, they've got plenty of tow ropes

So we are all gathered, and elixir receptacles are returned, and diesel engines started. We all appeared to have CB's so we tuned into channel 22, and off we went, with Matt at the front, and Matt at the back

Matt at the back was a bit disgruntled when Matt at the front, lead him all the way back across town from where he'd started, but I think that they were all a bit more perturbed when I announced on the CB that I'd appreciate it if we could all pull over for a moment

My lad had kicked the hand throttle, and the throttle cable had popped out of its seat. A minute under the bonnet and it was back in place and we were under way again.

And soon enough, Matt has us on some unsurfaced roads and heading for a ford. Now Matt had been a bit worried about this one. It wasn't wide, but Matt & Matt had driven it a couple of days before and rain had swollen it to well over axle depth.

But when we got there they needn't have worried, it was back to just a few inches.

Now, normally I would show some pictured here, but for some reason, the card in my camera has gone wampy, so unless Matt, or Matt or Paul, have got some, I cant, and you will have to make do with my vivid descriptions, OK?

So ford, forded and we are off again, to another track. This one, not too arduous, being hard core, but rutted & pot-holed, and covered in frozen water, which we break up as we bounce along.

More road work follows, and I'm beginning to wonder if I was spoiled by Keiths runs in the Snowdonia Park, and the seemingly endless trails, but the next track is a good one, long enough and all mud.

This is demanding driving.

The Welsh trails are well and often driven. The surface is either graded or deeply rutted, usually with rock beneath.

Its quite simple to drive those trails, you simply get the Landy in the ruts and let it drive itself like a slot car.

The Land Rovers extra ground clearance compared to most other 4x4's means you are rarely at risk of grounding the diff or anything, and as long as you keep moving nice & steadily and don't break traction with any violent throttle or brake control, there's not a lot to worry about.

But these lanes were different.

A lot different.

Waterlogged and almost undriven, there were no ruts, and no firm ground in the bottom.

Just acres and acres of greasy slimy slurry, that offered virtually no traction what so ever.

Getting two tons of 109" wheel-base Land Rover, sideways, in a ten foot wide lane, is not the place you want to be practising your counter-steering techniques.

But, oh look, there's Paul in the Disco, he's pretty crossed up too, and he's on MT tyres.

It must be bad!

But there you are, Solihull's finest. Steer into the skid, power off, and let the front wheels drag you back into a straight line, by applying just a squiff more power, and you are, for a few moments, pointing the right way again.

And the scenery? Well, what can you say about this quarter of the world? Picturesque? Rugged? Majestic? Tranquil? Err? Well, it certainly lacks the drama contained within other regions, especially those designated 'National Parks'. But if you look for it, there are some wonderful things to look at, just on a smaller scale; a village nestled in a fold of the hills; an architecturally interesting church; an old farm house. Quaint, is probably the best way to put it, but delightful in a strange way. If these things were in the Cotswolds, then they would be 'hum-drum', because there 'Quaint' is done to excess, and each village seems to compete with the next to be some-ones fantasy notion of the quintessential 'English Village'. Here, each picture is a gem, contrasted against a background that gives it texture and depth and makes it real and believable, and all the more charming for it.

But, any way, back to the run.

We have done a long trail through woods, and it is getting close to lunch-time.

Paul has received a 'phone call from his wife to tell him that she is being admitted to hospital, but his mother in law was looking after the kids, so he wasn't going to rush back.

We had a quick drivers brief, and headed back down the black top for one more lane before lunch, and we turned off the road and through little more than a gap in the hedge surrounding a large field.

This demonstrated just how important it is to know all about vehicular rights of way, and have a properly marked up map.

From the road, you would have no way of knowing that you could drive through this field, and shows just how well hidden the vast majority of green-lanes are. There could be hundreds more, like this one, that seem to start and end apparently no-where, and are in no way marked as driveable routes.

We stopped at the end of it for lunch. I had dug out the 'Halfords' travel kettle I had acquired numerous years ago, and stuffed in into the Wiezil, as I was sure that I would want a hot drink, and not a cold glass of squash.

Only to find that the connection inside the accessory plug had gone.

So I placed it on the dash while I tried to sort out the connection - eventually giving up and stuffing the wires into the 'test' sockets in the instrument binnacle, and grabbed a sandwich while it boiled.

The kids had all opened their lunch packs and had almost devoured the contents, and I noticed Paul, unfolding his little galley, and setting up a tilly-stove. While he was priming it, he wandered over and mentioned that when I gave up waiting for the travel kettle to make my water tepid, he'd be happy to boil it for me on his tilly, and started to open a tin of beans.

Any way, he didn't have much joy, as it seemed one of the seals in his stove had gone and the fuel was leaking out every where, and after three attempts he'd got it working well enough to heat his beans, but by then the travel kettle had boiled and I was enjoying another elixir!

 Packed up after lunch and back on the black top, followed by a couple more lanes.

One in particular was an idyllic 'Green Lane'. Following between walls with a small ditch to either side, and a definite camber to the road, it was as if some-one had laid turf instead of tarmac!

Out of that, and we were following across a farm field with yet more glutinous mud, and struggling to keep the Landy in a straight line, before heading back out onto the black top to meet up with Scott, alias 'fwd' from the LROi forum, for a few more lanes before it got dark.

Pulling too in a little turn around in a little village, we waited while Matt at the front got on his mobile to find out where Scott was.

Paul got his stove out.

A woman walked passed with a golden retriever. Amiciably, she enquired if we were going 'down the lane', adding that it had been bad last spring but it was more driveable now.

And there was me thinking she was going to ask what a convoy of 4x4's was doing outside her house, brewing up tea!

Any way, a few minutes later, we heard some squawking on the CB. It was Scott, just coming into range. Matt at the front was trying to talk to him, but it seemed that while we could hear Scott, he couldn't here Matt.

So he gave up and used the mobile phone, Scott agreeing to meat us at the start of the next lane.

This was to be that last lane of the day, but it was a long one. And a muddy one.

Now five strong, the convoy picked its way up a rocky climb - before dropping down and getting increasingly sticky.

It seemed to go on for just miles and miles, with a constantly changing, frost dusted back drop, through woods and across fields and farmers yards.

The biggest problem was that most of it was unending soft mud, clawing at our wheels and offering hardly any grip. We were all skewing out of line and fighting for traction along most of the way.

On a couple of sections there was a real danger of getting so far out of shape we slipped off into a gully or stand of trees, giving us a few 'moments', but after about an hour of tense driving we were through the worst of it.

Then came the bridge. The track, having followed a gully along the edge of a field for about quarter of a mile, crossed over. The bridge was a narrow board affair, just wide enough for a Land Rover, but at a slight angle, and without much shunting room, and it was slippery with mud.

Scott was first over, and took some time lining up on it, struggling a bit on road tyres, and the convoy ground to a halt whilst the rest of us waited our turn.

More eye brows were raised, as I stopped the engine and opened the bonnet. This time to top up with oil - the pressure warning lamp had been winking at me for a while, and it seemed like a good opportunity to sort it.

Oh dear, as I climbed back in and Paul, in front of me moved forward, and took his turn to line up, I twisted the key, and nothing happened. That bleedin' starter solenoid feed had been loosed by the surface water again.

Time for a bit of tinkering to get it back on, burning my hands on the hot exhaust manifold right above it. Oh the joys of an old bus.

Got it started just as Paul was parking up on the other side of the bridge and every one was wondering what was wrong - time to bradcast a brief apology on the CB!

And then line the 109 up for the crossing!

I could almost feel the lazer intensity of every-ones stares as they watched me line up for the crossing, but two shunts and I was at a slight angle and nose on the bridge.

I reckoned that the 109 was actually probably longer than the bridge, so if I got the front over, then I would probably be on the ground again before the back axle followed onto the bridge.

It wasn't perfect. If I backed and shunted some more, I might get her more parallel to the bridge, but I reckoned I would also put her further to one side or other - so I went for it.

We went over and the front off-side wheel and rear near-side wheels half over hung the gap between bridge & bank as we went over. Phew.

And so, with the light closing in on us, on to more mud, taking it gently and making reasonable progress, until we came out through some-one's back garden back on to the black top.

A bit of Radio Traffic decided they ways we were all headed home, and a quick rendezvous to say farewell and clean lights, and then the convoy headed off again, breaking up as it went.

Paul & I heading for Ashby, Matt & Matt back to Loghborough.

Past Ashby, Paul & I were still together and didn't part almost until the A444/M42 junction, but even then, were still in Radio contact for a good eight or ten miles as our courses diverged.

Last 'incident' of the day came at Twycross, where a prat in a hatch back decided that they were going to turn right on the roundabout infront of me, but didn't bother to indicate.

Surge under emergency breaking caused the ancient diesel to die on me, and she wouldn't re-start.

Flat battery!

Luckily the Land Lord of the pub over the road was a friendly chap and gave us a jump start from his Volvo, and we were able to get the last six miles home without further incident.

Over all, a great day. Driving was demanding. Company companionable, and the Wiezil, well, showed the idiosyncrasies you need to expect from a cantankerous old crock, sorry 'Classic'!

But then again, modern technology can be just as annoying - all the pictures we took during the day, lost on a 'Secure Digital' memory car that has taken to crashing the camera! Oh well, Maybe Paul or Matt have some pics!

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