4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
The Big Outdoors!
5th/8th May 16
Words by Ian "Sticky" Stokes and pictures by Richard Watson & Will Overton

The event took place at a working sheep farm, in the Abergavenny area between Thursday 5th May to Sunday 8th May 2016, with the programmed events taking place on 7th and 8th. From the first communication, it was obvious that this promised to be a very well organised event. For just locating the event, the organisers listed every imaginable option, making it impossible not to find.

On entering the valley from the main road, I had my first glimpse of the stunning scenery and the further into the valley I travelled, the better it got, as I was greeted with friendly waves and smiles from the locals, setting the scene for the event.

I found the entrance to the event, as described, and the clear arrows directed me to the camping field. Wow! What a location! Beautiful scenery surrounded a peaceful setting. Having a ground tent, it wasn’t difficult to find a perfect pitch; lovely flat ground, lots of space, easy to get pegs into; soft, lush grass with a river nearby. Great facilities, clean-smelling loos, even a hot shower with a view! At times all that you could hear was this year’s lambs, or at night, the owls. Such a safe and relaxing environment.

Embracing social media, the attendees’ Facebook site was a great place to pre-organise extra activities before the organised programme took place. I took full advantage of this and first opted for some green-laning. Local knowledge supplied us with some great routes. I only knew one other person attending – I now know a lot more. So many great people to have met and new friendships formed.

Next up was mountain-biking with a local guide and friend of site owner Mark Morgan. A fantastic route straight out of the camping field up onto the surrounding tops, with even better views around the valley. Very soon it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere – total escapism. Another great experience and this is only my second day on site.

The following day the Big Outdoors programmed events began. I had volunteered to be a “victim” for the practical casualty care scenarios with Sam Wilson from the North Devon Coast Gaurds. Forget standard works first aid course, these were realistic outdoor/off-road themed emergency scenarios. Great fun, with very real looking injuries and acting. Quality instructions and discussions followed each practical demo from start to finish, enhanced with real life experiences from Sam. This was so good that I volunteered for Day 2 as well!

Along with other participants, I took my Land Rover around the guided safari route, starting from the camping field – not a public road encountered. Some basic ditch crossings to start, with harder options for those so desiring. As the route winds up into the woods, past some ruins, some axle-twisters, a water feature, steep banks, a muddy ditch run, out onto the clear top for a stunning view of the location and camping field in the distance. Winding back down into the woods, with carpets of bluebells and the scent of wild garlic filling the air. Some trickier sections requiring careful manoeuvering – this route had everything. It felt like we were away for hours and miles from where we started, deep in the big outdoors.

Bush craft, hosted by Vicki Lundstrom of Outdoor Learning Consultancy, started with adventurous hors-d’oeuvres in the form of crunchy critters. I’d never eaten buffalo worms, or a locust’s head before – kinda nutty! – not forgetting your greens – woodland sorrel and stinging nettles. Who’d have thought you could pick and eat nettles without getting stung?! A great start – things just got better. In pairs, we learned how to skin a rabbit. Then we all moved on to have a go at skinning a deer and a few people took the option to assist the butchering, having been shown good knife technique. I also learned how to breast a pigeon. Best of all, we got to cook and enjoy our efforts on the huge communal fire pit. So many firsts for me and I’m not even half-way through the event!

The organisers had constructed a great little course for the radio-controlled rock-crawlers. Though I missed these at the time, it was great watching the video action on the big screen at the campfire that evening.

As the light dwindled, a local astronomer set up a huge telescope, the size of a cannon. What a treat it was to witness his passion and depth of knowledge! Being in a designated Dark Sky area, this location was truly special; the vast number and clarity of the stars above was breathtaking. Even though there was some patchy cloud that night, we learned so much.

The fire pit bowl was kept well supplied and a great night around the campfire followed, snacking on rabbit and venison and sharing these with non-participants of the bushcraft experience. This proved to be a great way to meet new friends and discuss the adventures of the day and past experiences.

Following my second session as a volunteer casualty in the First Aid demonstration, I took my Land Rover to another field for the Snooker Challenge. For this I needed a co-driver, so recruited a willing bystander (Scott). Various coloured snooker balls in the Marshall’s own precious plant pots on the ground were dotted around the field. The object of the exercise was to score the highest possible in a limited time by collecting the balls and bringing them back to the start, with the co-driver balancing the ball on a tennis racquet, which needed to be visible outside the vehicle. Great fun and a challenge for both co-driver and driver alike.

Having bonded so well with Scott, on the previous’ challenge I enlisted his help for the ‘Trials Drive with a Twist’, which sounded simple enough; drive around a course of 10 gates, in number order, without hitting any gates. Piece of cake! – where’s the ‘twist’? – “Here’s a blindfold for the driver – your time starts now!!” Scott did a great job and I had fun, even though I couldn’t see a thing! A clean run in a good time.

There were so many other great activities going on over the course of the weekend. These included:

  • Overlanding trip and vehicle preparation.

  • Navigation, including GPS plotting, lat and long, tulips.

  • Organised led green-laning.

  • Tuition on various techniques of driving obstacles and recovery, depending upon the vehicle and experience of driver.

  • Offsite canoeing and mountain-biking were also available.

  • Fridges, tents, fuel and water options.

  • Winching demonstrations.

  • Water purification.

I’m convinced that any questions you had about any of them could have been enthusiastically answered by somebody here. A wealth of knowledge from experts and experienced amateurs alike was available.

Overall, this was a really amazing experience in a stunning location, brilliantly organised and run, with something for everyone; all ages, all levels of experience catered for; get involved in everything, or just relax – no pressure, just enjoy ‘The Big Outdoors’.

Some pictures from the weekend