4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
J33P Wellington Drive Round Day – 5th Oct 08
Words by Mike Cuff

For me, this Drive Round Day was going to be something very special, my first outing in a recently purchased 1958 Hotchkiss M201 Jeep; an almost identical copy of the famous WWII Jeep that was built under license in France.

Arriving at the Wellington site (only 10 minutes late this time), I did feel a bit outclassed so to speak, I was more than a tad concerned that I might slow the group down. The group consisting of James (4x4 Adventures Organiser) and Peter in a modified winch equipped 90, Jeroen and Joe in a fairly stock 90, Darcy, Simon and Peter in a stock Discovery, Chris and Grenville both in modified winch equipped TJ Jeeps and Kevin and Willow in his newly painted Willy’s MB Jeep. Ok, I know Kevin’s Willy’s pre-dates my M201 by 10 years. However Kevin’s been driving his Willy’s for 2 years plus – prior to the DRD I’d only done 6 road miles, from the seller’s home to mine! Kevin certainly did not need a bit of paper showing the gears/transfer box lever positions!!

Following a short safety briefing from James, we headed off to an area known as Widecombe moor, the group organised so that the winch equipped vehicles were dispersed evenly. Entry into the moor was via a small wood, the group travelling down a track that was initially firm as it meandered through some fairly tightly packed trees before becoming very muddy (deep ruts and a holes) as the trees thinned out a little, the section culminating in what James is now referring to as Cuffy’s corner!!

I can think of several reasons why James took the group to the corner; it could have been easily bypassed. Being charitable (I’ve known James for some time) I believe the intention was to in still some confidence (one of the objective of DRDs); the track doing a sharp 90 degree right turn at what seemed to be an alarming angle with a steep drop off on the left. Off course, we all got around it safely, me some what more hesitantly than the others, having little M201 experience I stalled several times and made some rather “tasteful” comments about James as I looked over the edge – the M201 is left hand drive! Thanks to Peter for his spotting.

Following on from Cuffy’s corner, the group minor myself continued on. After traversing a short deeply rutted section through open moorland the group re-entered the woods, following a series of firebreak tracks that offered a number of very interesting features and obstacles, including deep and extremely wet ruts, tight turns, mud holes and a final sting, a very deep and gloopy hole that claimed several vehicles, the victims being winched out. I say minor myself as I’d been along the fire tracks a few weeks earlier in my Challenge spec’d TJ and so I knew my small tired M201 was sure to get stuck, so I skirted the worst of it meeting the group after they cleared the gloop.

I was just gearing up to tag along at the end of the group when James asked me if I would return to the starting point and try and find John and Johnny in a bob-tailed Rangie, they had arrived late due to an unexpected trip to Halfords. Unfortunately after about 10 minutes or so of searching I was unable to find them so I rejoined the group, who by now had progressed to an area known as Ian’s Bog - the area earning its nick name due to Ian getting stuck for several hours whilst competing in one of the excellent 4x4 Adventures Punch Challenge events. Rather than entering the bog, the group played in the surrounding area. Kevin a previous DRD participant taking the lead whilst James left us to recover John and Jonny who’d made contact via phone. Once James and co returned, we decided it was time for lunch, so we headed off to seek shelter under a large Marquee. Weather wise we were very lucky, rather than the forecasted heavy rain and gales we experienced only a few showers during the day, something that both myself and I’m sure Kevin and Willow appreciated as we both only had limited protection, i.e. no doors!

Post lunch, it was time for a “little” water, James leading the group through a large water hole, the water depth being increased due to some dam building by James the previous week. Not seeing the preceding vehicles, when it was my turn, I was offered differing opinions as to which line to take, “go left, no, go right”, for some reason I had a nagging suspicion that some folks wanted to get me very wet! Anyway I made the right decision; going left, the water was just below the sides of the Jeep, apparently if I’d gone right my suspicions would have proved correct!

At this point, Simon asked to join me, telling me he had a friend who had always wanted a Willy’s Jeep. Bouncing along behind Grenville (in case I got stuck) Simon’s first experience of offroading in an old Jeep was how to stay in it, the M201 comes equipped with a strap across the door way and a couple of hand holds. After about half an hour of exploring various tracks, including an extremely narrow one through the trees (even for Kevin Willy’s and my M201) James lead the group back to the main Wellington site start point.

Arriving at the site, after a quick breather, James led us into an L-shaped two level wood. The wood catching three of us out, firstly whilst exploring one of the legs, I had my only mishap of the day; due to drive error the M201 turning into a toboggan while descending a steep curved track that connected the upper and lower levels, progress being halted somewhat abruptly by a tree just before the track levelled out. As I was well and truly stuck, under the guidance of James I was winched backwards of the tree, pushed clear and then lowered down the last few feet. People who don’t share my opinion that regardless of age, Jeeps such as my M201 should be used rather than cosseted may be horrified to hear that the tree left its mark, a 3 inch dent in the left fender – a dent that will be removed in the next few weeks. Secondly John and Jonny in the bob tailed Rangie got hung up whilst climbing and turning right over a 3 foot hump. Under normal circumstances I think the Rangie would have easily cleared the hump. However the Rangie had developed a frequent and severe back fire, people walking by could have easily been forgiven that a “shoot” was in progress! After some spade work by Simon the Rangie was freed. Thirdly Jeroen and Joe in the 90 lost traction; the back end of the 90 sliding sideways towards a drop off, the 90 being pulled back by Chris’s winch.

After these stoppages, the group continued on, exiting the wood via a track that snaked up from the lower to the upper level, by all accounts I got considerable air whilst keeping the momentum up! Back at the start point, for the last part of the day, Simon decided to go up market; exiting the M201 with a huge smile and then jumping in with Grenville in his very smart and well looked after TJ. The last section of the day consisting of a number of tracks in the other leg of the woods, the tracks twisting in and out of the trees taking us in and out of an assortment of bomb holes – tracks that were very tight for the larger vehicles forcing them to take bypass routes.

By 4.30pm we were all back at the start point, after thanking James for a superb day out and saying our goodbyes we all headed off home. Needless to say, we all had a great day out, me being the only person to go home with any damage, my fender dent. Definitely look forward to attending another DRD after the M201 has had some TLC.

Some pictures from the day