4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
Bampton Drive Round Day Ė 3rd Jan 10
Words by Sam Woodbury (blue V8 90 Hardtop)

We started the day at the landowners farmhouse at Bampton. After a quick briefing from James who suggested we didnít try anything we didnít want to and warned us about some possible hazards such as the water obstacle in one section, which some of us may like to avoid. We were put into a convoy order and began driving down the lanes towards the first section which is known as warm up woods.

The woods consists of various climbs and drops, each 10 feet long or so but quite steep. It is nothing too challenging but gives a good early indication of the state of the ground and the level of grip we can expect. Being in the middle of winter, the ground was frozen solid and offered very little give on some of the landings from descents, but gave a lot of traction due to being like concrete.

After we had all gone around the woods we made our way up a steep climb and into another wooded area. This one features a short but reasonably deep puddle, probably half a meter at its deepest point. First in was the Suzuki of Will Vardy, much to the mikey-taking , as apparently it had become stuck here on a previous DRD and gained the title of first vehicle to do so!

The Suzuki entered the water with some velocity and came to a steady halt just before the exit climb out of the water. A few revs and a bit of patience and it soon climbed free. Everyone else except for the Discovery of Julian Vardy attempted this. As I had only seen the Suzuki go through, when it came to my turn I was unaware of a tree route that sprawled some way into the middle of the bed of the obstacle, which I subsequently found and started spinning wheels. With a bit of steering wheel rocking I soon found grip again and was out of the water.

The next was a section which bends tightly through some trees, making a shunt (reversing and steering to improve the vehicle approach line) inevitable but, to do so requires risking a cross axle. With a bit of direction from James I was able to get through this without too many issues.

After Warm up woods we drove on towards Warrens Hill, via a byway. This was itself interesting as part way along the track there is a large drop, formed probably through water erosion, that is V-shaped as you approach it, so that eventually your wheels are straddling this drop until eventually the track falls away and you slide slightly left into the gully bellow. From inside the vehicle it looks quite steep but is probably no more than 3 or so feet. The key seemed to be to know where your wheels were on each side, as being too far over in any direction would make you fall sideways into the central rut.

This track then leads to a road which we followed to the next site for a few hundred meters. This site is bounded by pheasant fencing, leading us along a long track with a steep drop to the left and an equally steep climb to the right.

We each in turn went up the climb to our right, every vehicle making it up with seemingly few problems. The climb is a challenge because as well as the very loose surface, it is long enough to make choice of gear very important. I decided that first was going to give me all the power I would need and wouldnít run out halfway through, but at the expense of the control second gear gives on loose surfaces. I soon wished Iíd gone for second when I realised the climb could be done much more smoothly in 2nd and with the instant revs of the V8, first made it too easy to break traction.

At the top of the hill we then moved on to the descent parallel with the climb (Wrong woods Sam that was somewhere else) Having seen the other trucks make this without problems I lined up and let the vehicle ease over the ridge to the drop. In the V8 I did not have a level of engine braking I would have liked, being conscious that letting this engine rev too highly is damaging. I tried to control the descent on brakes through left foot braking, keeping the wheels from locking with very gentle application and slight throttle when it felt like they had. The drop was not anywhere near as bad as I imagined and we made it to the bottom without incident.

We stopped some way further along the bottom track and some vehicles were attempting a small section where they drop down to the left of the track, make a U turn at the bottom with a small shunt and then a long steep climb over very loose ground to come back up to the track.

To keep vehicles moving they were already doing this while we were doing our descent, so missed the first few vehicles doing it. When we arrived, Jeroen in his standard red 90 was winching himself out of the top of the climb, it appeared he had only just stopped clear of the top.

Next was the Suzuki of Will Vardy, which despite having no idle on the way down, was like an ant over the ruts and very loose ground up the climb, bouncing over anything that threatened to break momentum of anything else that approached it. It was another demonstration of how this tiny and very light vehicle had advantages over the larger vehicles in our group.

The bobtailed Discovery of Julian Vardy was next, making it down the drop without problems, taking the shunt at the bottom and then making a nice noise as he floored it up the climb, spectacularly spraying mud from all four wheels as it scrabbled up the slope. Just short of the top it came to rest, needing to be pulled free by James in his 90. Myself and Nic Thomas decided to avoid this obstacle, my roof rack would have been forced into trees on the side of the track down as it undulated, accentuating the lean of the suspension, and witness marks on the trees to the sides at roof rack level showed this had been a problem for someone else in the past.

Steve Hardcastle in his very nice silver 90 which was prepared much like a challenge truck with Simex type tyres was next to try the loop. Making it safely down, he then lined up for the climb out. With a bit of throttle and plenty of grip from the tyres he made it up in one go without winching.

We regrouped and followed the main track around a few tight bends with a steep drop to one side as it wormed its way down a hillside, with spectacular views of the frost covered countryside.

This track led to a very steep climb back up to the start of where the track zig-zags its way down the hill. I have done this in my 90 before, it took several goes but with a boot full of V8 power I soon made it! However, the ground being as hard as it was this time put me off, thinking that too much traction and application of lots of revs is one way to risk a halfshaft or diff going, backed up by Jamesí suggestion that we did not attempt it.

I made my way back up the track to the top to watch other cars doing it. Tim Jones in his very nice V8 Hybrid 90 made it up I was told, as did the Suzuki of Will albeit with a bit of winching just before the crest.

A few others attempted it, but it was Steve Hardcastle that once again showed how well his 90 can do climbs that booted it up the run up, straight up the tracks from previous vehicles and scrabbled its way up the hill. About half of the vehicles didnít attempt the climb.

We made our way from this site and along a series of lanes, contrasting from the previous sections in that they were relatively high-speed, although only 10 or 15mph, over rough, potholed terrain filled with ice it made for an interesting ride quality on rock-hard gas dampers.

We made our way to the gate of a field, which sloped down over an interesting and very steep mound, towards Warrens Quarry, an area I havenít tried before. It started with a massive drop into a wooded area. It was intimidating to say the least as we let the front wheels go over the lip, and slid down in as controlled a manner as I could manage. We all did this, then there was yet another huge drop, this one seemed steeper than any of the previous ones and soon I was struggling for grip as I did little more than slide down it.

We stopped for lunch in the wooded area for a short while, had a look over each othersí vehicles and then made our way to Ďwet cornerí - the water section mentioned in Jamesí briefing. First through was the Suzuki, following Jamesí advice to use the water to break the ice by creating a small bow wave then stopping Ė in the past a lot of bodywork damage has happened here as people use their cars as the icebreaker.

After the wave surged under the ice and broke it up, Will then made his way into the water. After the first bend it becomes much deeper, and the Suzuki soon ran out of traction a few meters further in as it started to float a little. Being a petrol engine, it did remarkably well to keep running and it was only the lack of traction that stopped it. It was pulled clear by Timís winch with the help of Jeroen. Other vehicles had elected to skip this part of the course and I was weighing up the chances of our success as I watched the Suzuki. Being petrol as well but having a good few more inches wading depth and having made it through before, I finally decided we would try it. This was a decision I regretted pretty much instantly, as the car stalled once, I started it up as I was confident we were not sucking water into the engine, but a few feet later we stalled for a second time. With this I had to concede defeat, and was very disappointed. Jeroen clambered over the bonnet to connect the winch from Timís truck to ours. Being pulled past the whole group on the banks was somewhat embarrassing!

We drove onwards after I got my car running again, through more lanes and then along a track that led to some very deep ruts, known as middle wood. I was behind the Discovery of Julian, who at one point had become stuck on a particularly high rut, and winched himself clear.

Further on was a section with a deep hole, with a climb in and out and filled with water. Further on from this, a washed out hole, which started off as a deep rut that would wave a vehicleís rear driverís side wheel in the air but is now capable of swallowing half a Land Rover was doing its best to consume Willís Suzuki, which having less articulation was rubbing along its side on the rock hard mud. I had already decided not to do this section, and having seen the trouble it was causing I felt this was probably right on this occasion.

Tim was next through after we had bypassed the hole, and did a good job to limit the bodywork contact and escaped without damage.

From here there was two ways to choose. One led along a sunken riverbed that is filled in partially by collapsed banks and sediment left from when it fills up, making cross axles and tipping from side to side standard for this part of the course. I chose the other way Ė to bypass it through a few gates and over open farmland.

We met up on the other side, with a recovery needed by Steve of another vehicle who became beached in the ruts.

We headed across fields to a steep hillside towards a stream, then along a track and down into a deep sided riverbed and back out. On from this is a road section, with a steep drop off to the left into a river that is reasonably shallow. We followed Steveís 90 around, shunting through the twists of the banks. Eventually we had to stop to be guided through a very tight part where the roof rack was rubbing on an overhanging tree. Being spotted through, we followed the river through to where we park up in a field. I tried the exit that I was guided into by James, and I had seen countless vehicles do it in the past, so when I came to a sudden halt after half-ramming the lip of the climb out, it seemed to be the icing on a day of rather substandard driving on my behalf! It appears that the exit had eroded under the last few vehicles and left a steep ledge which would require much taller tyres and far less of an approach angle than my car had. I made my way around another place I found to exit and then we regrouped once more.

Back at the farmhouse, we had a quick debrief and made our separate ways home. It was an eventful day, and even if my return to off roading after 5 or so months off was far from seamless, I enjoyed the chance to get off tarmac once more and the social side of this sport

Some pictures from the day