‘Locker – NOW,’ shouts Phil as the tyres try to find grip in the soft mud on the trials section. We’re clean so far – just need to negotiate a bank and we’ll get a clear. Then disaster strikes. The driver’s door pings open as we bounce up onto the mound. Phil grabs for it, but in reaching for it loses a turn on the steering wheel.
We start to descend the bank at an alarming angle. The right hand wheels lose contact with the ground and I’m thinking fitting the Protection and Performance roll cage was a good idea.
Phil spins the steering wheel to point the tyres downwards while gunning the throttle. The Defender slews to the left, the wheels crash down onto the deck, just missing the canes marking the ‘two’ gate and, hearts thumping, we ease the 90 through the ‘one’ gate to record another clear.
Regular readers of Land Rover Owner International magazine will know I like my navigation, putting together the greenlaning guides each issue, and that I also compete in navigation events around the UK. But normally I’m stuck in the driver’s seat. For Mudmaster 2014, I’ve managed to find a person daft enough to drive for me.
That person is Phil Griffiths. He rallies the Series III 88-inch we featured in the May 2014 issue, and he’s been involved in several other features for LRO, so I know he’s a good driver. And living in Cumbria means I’m not going far out of my way to collect him.
The wrong tyre choice?
I’ve already completed the pre-plot info on the Ordnance Survey maps and we collect the rest of the information at signing on. Rain is threatened, but that will just enhance the ‘mud’ aspect and many of the crews have come equipped for the worst the country can throw at them. Mud Terrains and Special Tracks are the order of the day, making the aggressive all terrain pattern of the Goodyear Duratracs fitted to the LRO 90 look positively tame. And I’m a little concerned that they’ll prove to be a touch wide. Still, we’ve entered as in the Challenge class and we’ve a Quaife ATB at one end and an Ashcroft Locker at the other. We shouldn’t have a problem.
We’re seeded car 30 out of 60, so have plenty of vehicles both ahead and behind us and drive smoothly to the first site, getting caught by another crew shortly after crossing the Forth Road Bridge. As we started off at minute intervals, they must have been going some to make up that much time, but you don’t get any points for arriving early – you do lose them for missing letter cards, though.
We pull into the first venue – a quarry and have a 20 minute orienteering section. We finish in 10 minutes having found all of the hidden letter boards and head to the next site, recording the letter boards as we go.
A pair of trials sections is next. The first we nearly roll – and aren’t the only one. Hugh Kay flips his lovely Series IIA onto its roof in the same place just after we leave, luckily he has a roll cage in the soft top 88-inch, but the screen, wings and doors are a bit of a mess. We clear the second section and head for a navigational section through Worm Law, south of Bathgate.
Slow and steady wins the race
This should be where I excel, but I’m having a nightmare grasping the scale of the map. I think I’m so used to having a little dot indicating my position on a tablet that I’ve almost forgotten how to map read. We follow the tracks left by the preceding competitors and pull over to let the trio of Northern Irish crews who have overshot the entrance by. Slow and steady is our plan – they can go faster if they want.
We must look like we’re out for a Sunday drive, rather than competing in an event as we bumble along, calling on the locker again to help climb a slippery hill, but there’s a strict speed limit of 15 mph on the forest tracks. You’re penalised if you’re caught speeding – the first time is a 10 point penalty, enough to throw the event; the second time is exclusion.
As it happens, we’re going so slowly our speed doesn’t even register on the speed gun at a secret check. We pull over, get the scorecard signed, hand the marshals some sweets (bribery, us?) and continue on our way.
A mandatory 45 minute lunch halt is followed by another orienteering section and Glenhove, this one in steep woodland. We’re navigating from an aerial photo of showing the location of the letter boards in the trees. Some paths are visible, but not all. I mark down five letter boards before realising I’ve made a mistake; the wood isn’t as big as I thought it was. We retrace our wheel tracks, find a reference point and start again. Time’s ticking away and Alan Morrison in his Discovery 3 is struggling to get up a slippery climb.
He backs down and we wait for a minute for him to make another attempt, but the Disco’s tyres just can’t find enough grip. Phil engages the locker in the 90 and we hurtle up the hill, but are forced to stop when another vehicle starts to descend. He pulls out of the way and with the Goodyears giving everything they have, we swing onto a track running across the hill and restart the hunt for boards.
The autumn leaves make it incredibly difficult to spot the yellow boards and we decide to cut-and-run after only finding a dozen – that’s six penalties collected – but we’re bang on time.
Penalties for our rival
We clear another couple of trials sections – and watch Ruari Treble in his modified Lightweight (and the driver we need to beat in the Challenge class) miss a gate and pick up three penalties – before flying round an autotest then heading off for a navigation test through Carron Valley forest at dusk. A few other crews catch us as we enter the forest, so we pull over to let them by – now the light’s fading we don’t want our mirrors filled with headlights.
A short road section takes us to our final venue of the day, the driver training area at Cambusbarron west of Stirling. It’s pitch black and a cold rain is falling sideways. The marshals are drenched.
We check in and head out onto the course. Having photographed at this venue last year, I’m more confident with the scale and, with LED driving lights burning into the hillside we start round the course, guided only by a black and white aerial photograph with a traced line on it.
The rain makes things tricky – the rocks are a tough enough drive without being slippery. And there are loads of other vehicles here, with navigators sending drivers here, there and everywhere.
Being a decent sort of fellow – and much to Phil’s disgust – I insist we dip the lights any time we catch up with another vehicle, or turn to face someone. The Wilderness ORBs we’re using are so bright they’ll ruin others’ night vision. It’s a noble gesture, but it ends up costing us dear…
A navigation error
We follow a couple of crews for a while before I realise they’ve gone wrong and we spin round up the slope. A military crew coming down the hill block our route, forcing us to turn up another track with no clear exit and we drop into ruts, the tyres unable to climb out.
As it’s a military training area, there are strict rules about leaving the tracks, but eventually with a combination of throttle and locking diff usage Phil gets the front wheels to grip and the nose climbs out – then we use gravity to slew the Defender round and we’re back on track. A steep drop sees us down to the end marshal and it’s a gentle run into Stirling services to hand the day’s scorecards in. A quick drive to Glasgow in the pouring rain cleans the 90 and a hot meal and beverage sets us up for a good night’s sleep – it all starts again at 7am tomorrow.
But at 7am I’m still in bed. My alarm hasn’t gone off and although I’m awake, I’m sure my watch says 6.05. It doesn’t – it’s 7.05 and a scene reminiscent of the start of Four Weddings and a Funeral ensues, complete with profanity-fest. I don’t do late.
Phil’s on his way to find me as I crash out of the hotel room, flustered. I haven’t checked any of the route for today, so if we’ve made a mistake plotting it, we’ll have to live with it.
As it happens, we needn’t have rushed – we arrive at the start with almost an hour to spare, so get a chance to check out the results from day 1.
A bit of a shock
‘What! 17 penalites at Cambusbarron?’ I choke as I read the results. I’m sure we didn’t do that badly – we may have missed a couple, but the route was spot-on, except for our little detour. And we were well within time. Those penalties were the main topic of conversation – it put many of us out of contention in the standings; had we just miss-read the rules?
Anyway, we head off for some more trial sections on the hills overlooking the M8. Marsh grass tells us it’s soft, so with the compressor fired up and the locker engaged, we blast across the boggy bits.
More sideways rain starts to fall and the marshals again endure the brunt of the weather as us competitors sit in the heated warmth of our 4x4s. We head out onto the section and by now I’ve a good idea when Phil will want the locker in and when he’ll want it out, and we clear both sections.
A road route takes us to the next venue, but I’m conscious that we haven’t seen a speed trap today. And as we approach a village, I comment to Phil that if there’s one anywhere, it’ll be here.
And lo and behold, there is. The fluorescent jackets at the top of the hill stand out and we’re clocked well within the speed limit, so head off happily and onto another trace on an aerial photo. Brian Hartley’s marshalling the site and I mention the scoring for Cambusbarron. ‘It’s not the scoring you’ve a problem with,’ he says, ‘that was all done correctly; it’s the method of scoring that you’re unhappy with.’ And he is right.
Any skills I’d regained yesterday evening have been lost and I’m all over the place with the picture’s scale. We follow the tracks laid down by other competitors and eventually I grasp where we are, triangulating our position using the field corner walls a markers. We get round in 20 minutes – half the time allocated to the task – and decide to have a scout around for some more boards – there was a huge section with no markers. We don’t find any extras, so check out and make our way to the final section of the event.
The final event’s an autotest. Phil’s at home doing these with his rallying, but I’ve only done a couple before. We watch a few drivers through, then line up, whzz round and complete the course in a good time.
One of the marshals comes over a bit sheepishly. ‘Er, any chance you can do that again – the stopwatch stopped halfway along,’ he asks.
No problem – if nothing else, it gives us a bit more driving. So we re-drive the course – we’re not quite as quick as the first time, but it’s still well within the bogey time, which is what matters. We amble back to the army base, hand in our remaining score cards and discuss the weekend’s events while we wait for the results.
Once everyone is back in, and the numbers have been crunched, the provisional results are posted. The scoring method for Cambusbarron has been revised and instead of 17 penalties, we picked up just three – bringing our total penalties down to 15 and putting us 10th overall. Ruari dropped just 12 penalties and took the class win – if only I’d done better at Glenhove…
The event was won by Martin and Mairi Duncan in a 90, dropping just 7 points. Second place went to Gordon McCheyne and Andy McGregor and a Freelander 1, finishing on 10 points. How did they get the Freelander round the rocky Cambusbarron? Rumour has it they parked up and ran the course…
George and Tom Shacklock drove up from Devon to compete and took the Globe Trotter award and, perhaps the most popular award – the Bob Hammond Award for spirit of the event – went to Hugh Kay and Lorna Gillen. They spent the evening fixing their Series IIA after their roll, hammering panels straight and fitting a new windscreen before returning for day two, finishing at 11th overall.
Mudmaster 2014 proved to be a very tough event, testing both driver and navigator – and the fact that a Freelander and a Series Land Rover finished in the top five (there were also two 90s and a Suzuki Jimny) shows the winning factor is the crews ability – not just the person with the deepest pockets. That’s refreshing in motorsport and I’ll definitely be back next year.
For more info om BAMA events go to http://www.armymotorsports.co.uk/Disciplines/4x4-Navigation
For Scottish Land Rover Owners Club go to http://slroc2.co.uk
See pictures from Mudmaster 2013 here.