Bob's Bash 2003 (by Camel Trophy Club member Máire O Hara)

When promised a dirty weekend, thoughts of a few days in Paris sprung to mind…There was certainly dirt: Welsh mud as happens, but no elegant pavement cafés were in sight, only a sea of Sandglow. Apparently the Mona Lisa is overrated anyway.

This was my first time on a Camel Trophy-style event with off-roading and special tasks, not to mention camping in its most genuine (I mean basic) form…  No toilet block here: bring a shovel!

Our August Bank Holiday weekend trip started on Friday afternoon preparing for departure to Wales. Again this was a first for me: to have a full bank holiday weekend off in my line of work.  

GPS co-ordinates set up, road map as back-up (really for my benefit to improve my geography and map-reading skills) we set off mid afternoon.  After several hours on the road with the Camel, and one short ‘water-stop’, we arrived at our GPS waypoint. Backtracking once, we saw the white arrows on yellow painted signs pointing to a small dirt track. We negotiated several fields and gates to arrive at the top of a private field to camp. What a fantastic view of the Black Mountains, in addition to the view of the 15 or 20 Camels I could see in the dusk of the evening. Another two ‘firsts’ for me. This was a brilliant and exciting weekend already.

By now it was getting dark.  Thank goodness for a Khyam Igloo tent and a Volcano kettle.  Now I know what they are and what they do, I give thanks for their inventors. Tent up, we settled down to a well deserved cup of tea, which was speedily achieved by the volcano kettle. Dinner al fresco – what was I to expect?  Irish Stew, no less. It tasted pretty good too, even if it was from a tin.  The luxury of having a fridge in the back of your Land Rover is that you can have fresh food and fresh milk for another cuppa. See, I told you we were roughing it!

Listening to the chatter around the campsite under the starlit sky of Wales was a very calming and relaxing atmosphere and particularly welcome after several hours road journey earlier that day. 

I was awoken slowly by the soft lull of voices chatting in muffled tones so as not to awaken everyone, followed by someone, without a fridge, complaining vocally that their milk had gone off, obviously after they’d tipped it on their cornflakes! There were distant sounds of children playing happily in the wide open field, and a short time later the aroma of bacon, sausages and breakfast fry-ups wafting into the tent. It was a bright, sunny and warm Saturday morning. 

A briefing from Bob Ives about the plan for the day’s driving followed. I was particularly impressed with his emphasis on safety at all times, especially in my profession as a nurse/midwife which I hoped I would not need to use!

What a sight! Circa twenty Camels lined up like a large yellow ribbon flying on the top of the Black Mountains. Even the "experienced" eventers took pride in getting the cameras out to take shots of this beautiful sight.

The engines revved, lights on (for effect of course) and the convoy of Camels trundled down the narrow, dusty, beaten track of the forest. We were off!

The pot-holes of the West of Ireland are a mere ‘drop’ in comparison to the ‘ditches’ we drove through. It’s a shame there aren’t more Camels on the County Mayo roads – reduced repair costs. Dwelling on that thought – that would be a miraculous apparition in my hometown.

The Defenders and Discoverys soon came to a gradual stop but not due to traffic congestion. Time for the first task. Team work was vital – look, assess, plan and successfully complete navigating every Camel up a steep slope (I think it was about 50 degrees), not to mention once at the top, to come back down again some time later in the day.

Here come the ropes, winches and towels (not for cleaning your hands or mopping sweaty brows) for safety to prevent the winch cables flying everywhere and perhaps injuring someone, Winches were used to take every Land Rover to the top of the slope, one by one. It was very exciting and I was particularly impressed with the amount of skill required. Hard work and  a great sense of achievement was certainly the aura at the time.

I can honestly say that the ‘drive’ down the slope gave me a huge rush of adrenaline, particularly when we were at the top waiting to go down – you couldn’t see the ground under the Land Rover – brilliant! I want to do it again.

Some more pot-holes (I mean ditches and trenches), trees, branches, flora and slopes were negotiated successfully as we continued through the forest. Lunch was ‘on the run’, but this was part of the whole experience. Talking to other eventers, learning about their experience and interests was fascinating.

Another special task in the heat of the day was to recover a 109 from the bottom of a huge ravine!. But we thought the 109 died last year? Not a chance!  It had been carefully resurrected by Bob, not to mention transported to Wales. Hot sweaty work, more winching and hard graft eventually brought the 109 to the top of the gorge.  It was towed by a Camel and steered along the dusty bumpy tracks, and ‘parked’ safely to one side. Another task completed; elation all round: that’s why we bothered.

What a day! By late afternoon it was time to return to camp, consider dinner or even a barbecue. As the evening drew in, the aroma of barbecued meat (and other foods) spread across the camp, and everyone migrated toward the fire to chat, laugh, and reminisce on the days events. Beer was certainly welcomed that evening.

The warmth and flickering lights of the campfire merely enhanced the atmosphere of the Welsh mountains. Suddenly Bob was back: another briefing, another nighttime's off-roading in the dark. I can’t wait.

This was the best so far. Headlights, driving lamps, auxiliary lights, any light you can think of on every Land Rover was switched on.  This, of course, was purely practical to see where we were going... Well, I’m exaggerating slightly, it also helped Guy Shepherd with special effects for his camcorder.

The convoy of Camels at night was spectacular. As we bumped our way through the dry (and wet) tracks of the forest, we soon arrived at our next task. Large tree trunks had to be moved (winching again) from one area of the forest, across the roadway to form a bridge above a gorge. Not any old bridge, one which every Land Rover had to cross safely.  Just like a real Camel Trophy. Enthusiasm and team work was at the ready and soon had the first of several tree trunks winched, dragged, lifted and pulled into position with the help of Land Rovers, winches, and good honest sweat. Then Bob spoiled it – he said we had to continue the next day as it was late. Like children not wanting to go to bed, we reluctantly returned to camp to await completion the following day. Well Bob – you were right! Daylight and renewed energy to complete the task were needed!

After more laughing, chatter and of course the celebratory beers, it was time to retire and replenish energies, ready for day two.

Another bright, dry, Welsh morning. Another hearty, hot breakfast.  Following Bob’s briefing, the group divided into two for alternative tasks – one to complete the bridge from the previous night and one to create a path (not even a straight one) down a steep precipice for the Land Rovers to negotiate safely. We opted for the second one as we had already started the bridge the previous night. Again, I was very impressed with the comradeship, team work, fun and especially the skills involved in fulfilling this task.  Pick axes, machetes, saws, spades, hands and gloves – any tool you could think of to remove branches, undergrowth, overgrowth, tree trunks, slabs of stone, just to mention a few.  Even the youngsters were able to help in removing the undergrowth. Within an hour or so a true transformation occurred.  The first Camel negotiated the steep, twisting pathway down the slope with caution – and reached the bottom successfully.  All others followed – negotiating between two large tree trunks at the top, taking a sharp left turn, followed by a right onto soft ground underneath at an angle.  The ground conditions were such that as you turned you needed to power down the slope to avoid any risk of turning the vehicle on its side. Then a longish steep decent through some tall bracken and a right bend at the bottom of the woodland, all successfully and safely achieved…

…..except, some first-aid was required for Mike Jenning’s Land Rover which unfortunately now had a track rod which resembled a banana.  Fortunately, David Hatherill came to the rescue and had a spare (unlike human first-aid), and it wasn’t long before everyone was on their way. I was quite taken aback at the way that everyone was prepared and waited or helped out until the Land Rover was mended, so that the whole team could continue. What a club!

We headed off to join the other group who were at the finishing stages of building the bridge across the gorge. Once completed, the first Camel went across gingerly and carefully with excellent co-ordination skills of Louis giving instructions clearly as the Land Rover inched forward. The skill of driving across the man-made bridge and the skill of instructing and directing every Camel in the convoy was awe-inspiring… and fun too. Everyone, enjoyed it… Skill and thrill!

Having completed all tasks, successfully, the Camel Trophy convoy drove through the whole route, up and down the slopes, inclines, hills, man-made and natural, across the bridge and finally back to camp. There was an air of absolute achievement and success all round.

A final prize-giving by Bob and team – rewards for those who showed particular team work and enthusiasm on this event.

I was privileged to be part of this event and to have met and being made welcome by a very friendly club. I can say 100% that ‘I’ve been hooked’ and look forward to learning more of the same, even maybe at next year’s event.

Finally… Thanks to Bob Ives and his team, and Likes, the local Land Rover dealer, for allowing us to use their land. It was a truly memorable weekend.

In addition the Club raised over £700 for the Marie Curie Cancer Charity in entry fees - well done all!