Off-roading – Salisbury Plain

It’s been a while since I did my off-road day at Whitecliff 4×4 but I’ve finally joined the ranks of 4×4 owners with the purchase of a Land rover Discovery 2. Despite the known reliability and rust issues, the Disco 2 is a good family/tow car and cheaper to maintain than the newer more complex models. It’s also pretty good off road and so much cheaper than an equivalent Defender.

Keen to try the Disco off-road I trawled the internet and the off-road magazines and found that there a lots of companies that run guided trips, varying from multi-day extreme events in the depths of Wales to one day trips on easier terrain. After speaking with Tom Parkes at 4×4 adventure tours, he suggested his Salisbury Plain one day tour would be suitable for a standard 4×4 with low range gearbox. At only £60 for the day it seemed the ideal ‘first step’

So on a bright but icy December morning my wife Nicola and I headed down to the meeting point at Redhorn Gate on the edge of Salisbury Plain. There were about 12 vehicles there plus 2 leaders vehicles. Highly modified Discovery’s and Defenders dominated the line up but there were also some standard looking defenders plus a couple of Suzuki’s and Nissan’s. Worryingly, even the standard vehicles had A/T tyres.

After the drivers briefing which explained the format of the day we were each provided with radios and split into two groups of six, based upon vehicle ability.  The plain wasn’t in use by the military today so there were no restrictions on where we could go. After a couple of miles driving along a rough tarmac/gravel road we came to our first water obstacle, although ice obstacle would be a better description. Thick sheet ice covered the water. Fortunately I was running at the back so the ice was broken up before I arrived. It also allowed me to watch where the shallower sections were. I really didn’t want to suck water into the engine and blow it up. Fortunately we got through without issue.  There then followed some deeper sections. Fortunately there were easier routes through which I could take. Our leader was aware of the issues I had with a standard vehicle and would recommend which route to take to avoid damaging the car or getting stuck.

At the opposite end of the scale from us were two guys in a heavily modified defender who wanted to try all the most difficult sections. And if they got through, they would turn around and try again, as if they wanted to get stuck. Needless to say this usually ended with them needing to be recovered by winch. At least it gave the rest of us time to take a break, and chat as we watched the defender slowly emerge, water draining from the foot wells.

That towing eye is around here somewhere

At mid-morning break, we stopped outside the German village. It was locked up but I could see enough of the main street to recognise it as the location of a Top gear episode where Clarkson was being shot at by snipers while driving some open top sports cars.

German Village

It was then on to more trails. Salisbury Plain covers a huge area and we often dropped out of the ranges, along the roads for a

couple of miles then back into it again. You can never quite forget where you are though as there are numerous tank crossing signs on these surrounding roads.

As well as the water crossings there was also lots of other varied terrain to traverse. From muddy, rutted sections where the diffs were dragging along the ground, to rough gravel roads where you could move a little quicker. There were also a few steep sections. We only got stuck twice when we got the wheels stuck across a rutted track, but a combination of power and full lock soon got us free.

For our lunch halt we were treated to a view of Stonehenge. It was then back into the vehicles for another 3 hours, finally finishing at 4pm. After saying goodbye to our fellow group members we headed home. The Disco was caked in mud at this point but we found a garage with jet wash shortly after leaving the ranges and spend 20 minutes getting the worst of the mud off (although it’s still dropping mud everywhere over a month later). Once back on the road, the Disco returned to being our family car. It really is amazing how versatile a vehicle it is.

So that was my first outing completed in my 4×4. Other than cracking the lower part of the front bumper, the disco didn’t miss a beat all day.  We took the easier route on some sections to avoid the really deep water but otherwise managed to keep up with the more modified vehicles. We were only beaten once on a steep uphill section where the tyres could do no more.

My wife and I really enjoyed the day and time flew by despite the number of hours spent behind the wheel. In many ways it’s similar to rallying, just a lot slower and laid back. You are constantly making decisions about your line, reading the terrain and looking for where the most grip can be found. It’s an enjoyable challenge.

Joining a guided trip rather than go it alone was definitely the right decision for us. It takes the hassle out of planning a route, allowing you to just enjoy the driving, safe in the knowledge that if I did get stuck or have a problem there were plenty of people/vehicles on hand to help you out.

I wanted to keep the Discovery as standard as possible but some modifications will be essential before venturing off road again. All Terrain tyres are the first purchase (already done), followed by Diff guards, steering guard, and a stronger front bumper. It feels like I’m building a rally car all over again. Oh well, its only money…