4x4 Adventures Ltd
Defender 2 Forum Wales Laning and Social Weekend
10th February 13
Words By James Trembath and Mark Morgan, Pictures by Mark Morgan
Lead Vehicles James Trembath/Mark Morgan and Tim Jones/Jim Pugh
With a year having passed since the highly successful Defender2 forum trip of 2012 we decided it was high time to plan and execute another outing over the fantastic Welsh Countryside. Keeping with the 2012 precedent we wanted to continue the social theme of the weekend and duly set about making the necessary enquiries for a stay at the Metropole Hotel which is located in the heart of some great laning areas based around Llandindrod Wells. The hotel is well suited to our needs with some excellent facilities (spa, pool, gym, bars and several restaurants) which we have the option to use from 0700hrs on the day of arrival. They are also very accommodating in that there is the option of a private function room for the evening meal on the Saturday. So hotel provisionally booked and date set it was time to find some like minded Land Rover drivers who would be interested in a demanding guided laning trip with everything organised for them. With the majority of those who came last year soon snapping up the places we soon had two convoys and it wasn’t long before both convoys were full with four vehicles plus a lead car in each convoy. The Defender2 forum groups were augmented by a keen winch challenge competitor of ours, Ade Richards in his Tdi Discovery, with the last place going to Jonathon Lindsay in his 110 TGV carawagon. Jon had recently completed some driver and recovery training with us in preparation for his ‘2 year round the world’ trip due to start in the next few months. (Jon only passed his driving test 8 mths ago!). Certainly an ambitious trip, and something to be envious of.
Steve Lishman was joining us in his new X-Tech grey Utility station wagon 110 (USW 110), Jon Swatton with his daughter Annabel in their blue td5 110 SW, Dave Hutton in a grey USW, Simon Crowe in a grey USW - (can you spot a theme here), Ric Law in a black 110 SW, plus Darren Waite in grey SW.
Tim Jones (grey 110 SW) led the group with Simon, Steve, Jon and Jonathon which left the other group of Ric, Dave, Ade and Darren to follow our grey USW. To say the grey theme had caught on from last year was an understatement. The trip did not get off to a good start for all when come Sunday morning Jon reported that some issues had cropped up at home and he would have to unfortunately leave us after breakfast. So with a quick farewell we set the vehicles up at the far end of the carpark under the bleary grey skies for the pre-event obligatory photographs. With the drivers brief taking place at 0900hrs everyone was then split into their groups for the secondary convoy specific brief prior to the off at 0915hrs.
The rain was certainly persistent throughout the morning and with this in mind it was decided that Tim would lead his group up Strata Florida early on in the day as he would be going against the current. Our own run across Strata, which would be with the current, could afford to be taken later in the day, although we kept a watchful eye on the amount of rain that continued to fall. Certainly a contrast on the 2012 trip with its wonderful clear blue skies.
The first lane of the day was the ever popular byway just outside of Rhayader. This lane climbs gradually up to the top of a hill with great views into the Wye Valley and across the tops of the Cambrian Mountains. It has a firm stone base with some tricky rocky sections thrown in for good measure. Darren Waite certainly had a lot of fun watching Dave and the lead vehicle on the trickiest of the rock steps, the wet rock proving not to be much of an issue for the AT shod vehicles, while those on more aggressive tyres had to work that little bit harder with less surface area contact with the rocks limiting their forward momentum at times. This lane set the scene for the rest of the day since all the lanes we use have a good firm rock or stone/gravel base to them meaning we have minimal environmental impact on the ground and leave little sign of our passage. This means of course that the tracks are also all-weather, and modified vehicles or aggressive tyres are not necessary for the trip.
A short section of tarmac followed the first lane which took us into the spectacular Ystwyth Valley before turning north onto the old mountain road to reach the A44. This track was once tarmac but has fallen into disrepair and is now quite rough and still has a large ford crossing. This was to be the first of many we would encounter throughout the day and was flowing with considerably more water than the previous year. On joining the A44 we all headed east to the Nant Y Arian Visitors Centre for a comfort break before tackling one of the technical highlights of the day. The lane here begins close to the Visitors Centre and heads up through the forest and out onto open moorland. After crossing a low ridge it descends to meet a narrow road in the valley below. However, there has been considerable erosion of the track on the lower side which results in an impressive lean as you drive down it. Of course we all had to stop and so that the co-drivers could get lots of photos while the drivers were left to sweat while 'posing' in the best positions.
From this lane it is only a very short hop into the area around Nant y Goch Reservoir where there are miles of easy gravel lanes which lend themselves to many round-trip permutations. This year we were able to take in an old favourite which was not possible last year due to erosion damage. Fortunately the damaged section had been repaired sometime last year, and once again we were glad to have made a recce of the route the previous day to ensure that all the lanes would be drivable and non-damaging. Due to the inclement weather we were not able to enjoy lunch at one of our favourite viewpoints so had to resort to the shelter of the forestry car park. We had almost finished lunch when the 2nd group arrived from the other direction. Everyone quickly exchanged stories and tall tales about the lanes completed before we were off again. There followed a short loop around a couple of pleasant easy lanes and some impressive old mining landscapes before we hit the tarmac for the short drive down to the start of Strata Florida via the spectacular Devils Bridge.
As we reached the NW end of Strata the rain had finally stopped. However, we were still a little worried about how the water levels would be on the lane. We had driven it 2 days earlier on the recce and it had been very low, but it had however been raining for the past 12 hours. We had a contingency plan should the fords have proven to be impassible, though we knew from the other group that only a few hours earlier all was still OK. We need not have worried. Although there was plenty of water in the stream the many crossings were merely entertaining and gave ample opportunities for photo stops. Although the fords on Strata are a highlight of any laning trip in Mid Wales, I think, given the weather, that by the end of the lane most of the group were happy to be back on relatively dry tarmac. Happy that was until the bottom of the Devils Staircase on the drive back to the hotel where the Irish bridges were all under a foot of water!
At the end of the day, some 107miles of road and lanes later we pulled back into the Hotel carpark just in time to see the second group also arrive from the other direction. After a quick vehicle unload and change of boots it was into the hotel bar for a coffee and chat to reflect back on the weekend. With nearly half of the guys staying an extra night no one was in a rush to move on and soon the stories of river crossings were flowing combined with the inevitable ‘what modification shall I do next!’.
A video clip of the event...
Some pictures from the weekend by Tom Lamb and Jon Hoole