4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
Belgian Wales Laning and Social Weekend
5th November 16
Words and pictures by Ian Stokes

Arriving in the rain on a chilly Thursday evening, the 4 star Metropole Spa hotel in Llandrindod Wells was a welcome sight for our intrepid Belgian clients. After checking in, it was straight to the bar to “meet San Miguel” before dinner!

Dinner in the restaurant set the scene for the whole trip, excellent food and a great atmosphere with a fun group, who welcomed us, their guides, as one of their family. The extensive and interesting menu gave a great choice of up to 6 dishes in each of the 3 courses available. Clean plates and compliments were the only things returned to the kitchen by the professional and attentive staff.

After dinner it was back to the bar for more discussion of their trip so far. Mobile phones were out showing the adventures they had had at David Bowyer’s site the day before with lots of banter aimed in all directions. Nobody was safe as the tab on room 308 grew steadily that night!

Breakfast at 0800hrs provided yet more amusing banter and a wide range of continental and cooked breakfast options were enjoyed before meeting out on the car park. Once outside we were greeted by a crisp, clear Welsh morning as the 4x4 Adventures Ltd. staff checked out the vehicles from Belgium. A short brief and we were on our way for 0900hrs. After a quick fuel stop the first road section provided an interesting view of our exclusive Belgian convoy in the rear view mirror; a real interesting mix including Johan’s Jeep Rubicon, in showroom condition but sporting a bit of Bowyer’s mud, Lieven’s Roll-caged 110SW, the tidy double cab 110 piloted by Davy, Bart bought an overland prepped Toyota Landcruiser to the party whilst “Captain Peacock” Filip guided a tidy Disco1 with great skill despite having the smallest tyres of the group.

The first lane set the off road theme for the weekend; nice rocky tracks with technical aspects surrounded by varied and stunning scenery. Having selected the best of the lanes in the area the banter on the CB’s was flowing and Wales welcomed our Belgian convoy with surprisingly good weather for the time of year.

Animal attractions included the rare welsh sheep, cattle, pigs, ponies, peacocks, pheasants, ducks, swans… Eagle eyed Eddy always spotted the Red Kites majestically cruising the skies above us first - a fantastic treat indeed – but this was to be top trumped on day 2!

After several picturesque lanes including a fairly deep ford crossing near Llangarmach Wells, the group made a lunch stop by the Llyn Brianne Dam. It was here that Bart’s clever sand ladder cum side table was first deployed, before a sudden cloudburst with some hail saw us briefly retreat to the vehicles. Another lane took us over the top of the Cambrian Mountains to the small settlement of Llanddewi-Brefi. We are pretty sure we were there with the only Belgians in the village!

Saving the best till last, Strata Florida provided that special “in the middle of nowhere feeling”, with dark forest, open mountain, the odd low tree, lots of river crossings, the infamous bomb hole (a great photo opportunity) and finally getting to the end in the failing light of a winter evening. “Congratulations you have survived your first day of Welsh laning!”

Back at the Hotel saw the clients reacquainting themselves with “San Miguel” in the bar whilst the guides took advantage of the excellent Spa facilities available, which include a modern gym, lovely sizeable warm pool in a relaxing atmosphere with Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. Then another dinner with banter and excellent wine chosen by our Belgian restaurateur - Johan and then back to the bar, albeit with a slightly earlier turn-in than the previous night.

On day two the temperature had dropped considerably as we set off for the Elan valley. This is truly a beautiful area, especially in autumn as the colours are so intense. It is also home to a couple of cracking lanes which were duly despatched in short order. Following a quick photo stop under the Clearwen Dam a quick transfer over the old mountain road was made to our chosen lunch stop at the Nant-y-Arian visitor centre.

Once again Bart’s sand ladder was deployed as a makeshift kitchen for cooking and serving up hotdogs! As the Ravens hovered for scraps around the car park the skies were ruled by numerous Red Kites. We were impressed to count around 15 of them at one point. However, rolling onto the first lane after lunch we were treated to the spectacle of Red Kite’s daily feeding. What were previously 15 birds had somehow morphed into perhaps 2-300 examples who were now amassing in the sky above the lake. As the food was spread out, the anticipation built slowly to a crescendo until the first bird could resist no longer and dived in. Then it was quite simply as if the flood gates had opened - Imagine a “waterfall” of hundreds of Red Kites cascading from the sky, swooping down to scoop up a tasty morsel on the fly. Truly breath-taking!!

Eventually we left the kites to finish their lunch and moved north into a wonderful area around the Nant-y-Moch reservoir. This area is characterised by a tight network of lanes with very few road miles between. A good few hours were spent driving the myriad tracks with a few technical sections and fantastic views of the Cambrian Mountains to the East and the Sea off to the West. The last lane of the day was completed just as the light began to fade and a quick stop was made to celebrate a successful couple of days of exploration. However, the temperature was falling fast so it was decided to return to the Hotel ASAP for a San Miguel and banter. As the evening wore on it was clear that we were going to really miss these guys, it had been a real treat and great fun for all. All vehicles survived intact with no problems of any kind encountered. Sunday morning saw ice on the screens for the first time this year, as we bade a fond farewell to the Belgian convoy homeward bound. With luck it won't be the last time we can welcome them to our country.

Some pictures from the weekend