Highland Safari July 2001
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THE HIGHLAND SAFARI
The smell of woodsmoke drifted across the loch. A wisp of smoke curled from the stone chimney of the bothy, it's peeling paint showing the long passage of time since last it felt the touch of a brush. In the mirror there was a serpent shaped movement of 4x4's as they rocked gently along the lochside track. You could almost smell the anticipation, everyone knew the bothy contained our well deserved 'high tea' (is 900 feet considered high? We had just descended from 1200 if that sounds better?) and more than one had confessed to hunger pangs previously. Wicker baskets were still being unloaded from a RAV 4 parked by the bothy door so I kept the group moving, intent on arriving just as everything was ready to perfection. Isn't it always the last sweep, the last lane, the last hill, the last ford that is the one too far? Nothing dramatic, just an uphill muddy trench but more than enough to stick a couple which in turn slowed everyone down, leading to genuine signs of distress amongst the foodies. Luckily they weren't to be disappointed and were soon enough disporting themselves lochside with plates of sandwiches, quiche, sausages, ham, chutneys, tea and coffee. Later despite my best encouragements we were unable to clear the whole of the tables and some was returned from whence it came.
It has to be said that our final perambulation was somewhat depleted in numbers as some made the eminently wise decision not to risk a full stomach on undulating terrain. We had a fulsome display of Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, every schoolkids mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow. It moved me enough to burst into a moving rendition of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' which it has to be said wasn't as universally well received as I thought it deserved. That was but the first day of the Highland Safari and the best was yet to come!
In 1879 the Tay, Scotland's longest river, had an infamous disaster when the rail bridge collapsed into the river along with a train and its passengers. Not an auspicious omen when I had purchased a pair of aluminium bridging ladders from Matt Savage specifically for this event. Our previous travels here suggested that we could get further with ladders, and so it was to be. Potential through routes were now bridged and tried with a pioneering spirit and several trails proved to be excellent off roading as well as opening up new parts of this vast upland forest area. Over seventy vehicle/bridgings were carried out successfully so the ladders were considered a top buy which is a serious accolade from Yorkshire, trust me. Far from being case hardened 4x4's most of our group were road motors, and unusually the Land Rovers were outnumbered too. The scores were; Ninety 6, Discovery 4, Shogun/Sport 4, Frontera 3, G Wagen 2, Range Rover 1, Fourtrak 1, SJ 1, Trooper 1 and smallest but certainly not least Jimny 1. Previous heavy rain meant the going was softer than last year but the big bonus of the dampness was a complete lack of dust on the main tracks. Only when you have been at the rear of a 4x4 convoy in dusty conditions can you truly appreciate what eating dirt means. Rain never stopped play though it did curtail the Isle of Wight artillery regiments al fresco drinking arrangements in the campsite.
We had no shortage of lady drivers. At least one, who was new to off roading, did look at me more than a little doubtfully when hearing the immortal line, ' Trust me. Just take your feet off the pedals and let it go!' It took time but we got that trust in the end didn't we Janice and look at the places your Shogun took you both to, and back! Each group have their own tales to tell. Keith Bettis' group can tell of a late finish, but the upside was the conquest of the Aberfeldy equivalent of the Darien Gap. Not all returned unscathed however a Discovery spoiler and 90's bumper end cap were sacrificed to appease the trolls en route. Problems however, were few given the number of 4x4's and the routes travelled. Bess Norris suffered two punctures on her Discovery which resulted in borrowing a 750x16 to see them through, very swish it looked too. Alan Wormald also ruined a tyre on a granite outcrop, but that is one of his party pieces by now. (Off roading isn't that hard on tyres though. I blew a caravan tyre on the return journey and that took a large portion of the caravan bodywork with it). Our sole Daihatsu had to retire before it had begun, having lost its 4x4 due to a faulty automatic free wheeling hub.
Yes I'm biased. Yes we've done it all before but yes there still is a real buzz when over 60 people of all ages (6 months to over 70, and did the whole safari, late nights and everything) and backgrounds get together on an event such as this. The natural enthusiasm to overcome the obstacles that come our way whilst traversing off road routes soon bonds the different groups together. By our finale meal we have a head of steam up that really does make it all very special. Your 4x4, yes yours, isn't just a method of mechanical transport, it really can be a passport to a rewarding hobby and new friends that you have yet to meet, try it sometime. If nothing else, if you missed our final dinner then you missed my choral rendition of, 'Didn't we have a lovely time when we went to Aberfeldy'. OK perhaps that wasn't such an inducement to join us after all! Last but not least the safari gave an addition to the many witty legends I have culled off 4x4's recently. 'How's my driving? Call 0800 I don't give a damn!'
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