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Hel hath no fury

February 12th, 2010

So, after weeks of tinkering on the car and toying with leaving for our practice expedition, we have finally made it! This is officially the first on-the-road blog up of the trip, written entirely on the laptop in the Landy. And its only 4 months behind schedule, so big pats on the back for us.

We’ve had a hell of a lot of the setbacks and minor frustrations so we are more eager than anyone to get going and start travelling south, but unfortunately our sensibilities got in the way; we had to give the car the mini-expedition and shakedown that we had always promised ourselves we would do.

As previously reported, we have spent a few weeks trying to sort out the brakes. Whilst they worked, they were definitely not as good as they should have been and there was too much pedal travel – definitely not road worthy, due to problems with the brake components.

We found issues with our newly bought Allmakes callipers and explained the problems to the guys at Allmakes. Eventually, following much testing of all the individual components, we had to cough up and upgrade to using Lockheed callipers which are slightly dearer, in the hope that the extra expense would count towards higher quality.

Thankfully, the guys at Allmakes sorted us out with a pair of Lockheed callipers in no time at all and with these on the car, the system was bled for the last time. Finally, after all the bleedin’ bleeding, some deserved success!

So, a merely weeks later than originally planned we called friends and family across the UK whom we had originally agreed to meet and re-arrange a plan which allowed us to drop in on everyone we had wanted to see.

Late last Tuesday we hit the motorway destined for North Wales and Carl’s girlfriend Tash’s house. Within a few minutes of being on the motorway we soon discovered the top cruising speed that the Defender could comfortably muster, a solid 60mph. Although 70mph is possible, at this speed the diesel runs out faster than John Terry’s list of ‘I’m home late because…’ excuses.

We charged into North Wales late that night and fell into bed at a friends house. On inpecting the car the following morning, we were pleasantly surprised to find no large oil puddles.  After a huge breakfast we headed into Bangor to catch up with old friends, taking the road over the desolate Denbigh moors. With it being Wales, it was raining.


That night, we had planned to get the tent out at properly test our camping setup. The Menai straits is a beautiful part of the word at the right time, so this is where we struck camp and cooked our evening meal; all in 30 minutes flat. Not the fastest but a good baseline from which to improve. With our fajitas eaten and our wine consumed, a local canoeist wandered past pointing out that the tide was on its way in and would submerge the entire area we were currently camped on within a few hours.


God only knows how, but we must have forgotten our ‘Safety First’ tide book, as we would normally check the tides before going within 50 miles of the sea.  A speedy packup was implemented and we shot back to friends Alice and Ben’s in Bangor doublequick, looking a bit sheepish and asked for a bit of floor on which to lay our heads.

  Strangely, whilst packing up, we observed a couple of Bangor’s finest inhabitants, who were happily engaged in smelling a strange white powder on a street corner nearby. It was odd to see someone sniffing flour at 10.30 at night; they must have been fans of Nigela’s new book, ‘Large Homemade Floury Baps’.


After a flying visit into the Bangor Uni to see an old Prof friend of Carls, we shot off to see our old mate Elliot and were treated to a guided tour of the DMM Climbing factory.  He showed us round the entire setup, vainly trying to convince us that he had a real job there, rather than being the new tea boy.  No dice, Elliot.


We left the DMM factory late that night having eaten most of the MD’s biscuits. Elliot set us up with a useful assortment of rope, carabineers and other DMM goodies and headed up the Snowdon road into the driving rain and the nocturnal black heart of Wales.

As we wanted to ensure that this practice trip was as close to the real thing as possible, we packed the Landy with all of our expedition kit, including the bonnet-mounted spare wheel. Whilst it isn’t as unmanageable as some have suggested, it does certainly take some getting used to. Visibility is impaired and the off-side flank is now totally obscured for the driver. Due to the width, a bit of educated guesswork has to be employed whilst driving though the more congested streets.


We left North Wales and headed to Carl’s relatives in Ludlow, going through the now familiar camp setup routine and got our heads down for a good nights sleep following a hearty bowl of pasta and Jamie’s finest pesto. That night we fell asleep to the sound of songbirs and Scannia lorries from the dual-carridgeway nearby.

 We awoke bleary eyed to settling snow on Friday and drove through the white fields with Cardiff the destination. Cardiff is Toms old Uni stomping ground and still home to many friends. After a brief cuppa with the girls, we progressed onwards to the West Country and setup camp Friday night on another of Carl’s aunt and uncle’s driveways.

An early start Saturday saw us set off to get over to Weston Super Mare to meet Matt Neale, Land Rover super-mechanic and all round lovely guy. Matt was indroduced to us by one of our fellow writers at LRM, but we had never met the guys and he didn’t know us from Adam.

Despite this, Matt couldn’t help us enough. Matt gave the car a once over, highlighting a few small issues we hadn’t previously noticed and confirming our fears that the rear springs were of insufficient poundage, as the Landy was sagging more than a paper bag full of porridge.

Far more interesting however was the mini 4×4 Matt has built for his son Tom, a real up and coming off-roader. Aged 3 Tom was outside driving across bridged Tracmats 6 foot in the air and a few years on and he’s now flying around in Matt’s latest creation, a twin battery driven buggy with two forward gears and reverse. The attention to detail was just unbelievable – check out the snorkel, steering guard, towball and winch in the pictures! We both know what we want for Christmas now.

Following an incredibly enlightening and entertaining morning with Matt we shot down the M5 to see fellow Land Rover Monthly writer David Lovejoy. Unbeknownst to us as Land Rover newbies, David is somewhat of an offroad God in Land Rover terms. We arrived and ran through some of the key point for Overland prep with David, whilst also discussing some of our key bits o’ kit.

It was great to know that the info we were being given wasn’t from a forum keyboard warrior but rather a level headed guy who has been there and done it – many times.

We spoke for so long that we managed to divert David from his evening schedule and generally disrupt a previously fully-functioning home. This is becoming our speciality.  Both David and his wife were great and invited us to dinner, which we gladly accepted even though it technically strayed from our original idea of being totally self-sufficient whilst on the practice expedition.

As dinner was prepared, Carl was dispatched with David to pick up one young daughter, whilst Tom was gainfully employed to read through ‘The Gruffalo’ with the other young daughter. An informative half-hour later and Tom’s reading skills had improved no end.

After dinner, David informed us that his farmer friend had an area of hard free-standing (no giggling at the back) for us to camp on that night. We setup in record time as it was sodding cold and we were amazed to wake up and find the tent water bottle frozen solid!

*NB. Not this Lovejoy*

We spent Sunday morning running through some of our recovery gear with David, before setting off for Buckinghamshire that evening. Late on Sunday we arrived home, following an hour’s delay in a service station as we rigged up a bodge-job after both rear sidelights lights gave up. The newly installed LED lights in the rear were temporarily disconnected to provide the rear lights with permanent power and so save us a roadside interview with the plod.

In  5 days we covered 1000 miles with thankfully few issues, burning through almost a litre of oil and a few tanks of diesel in the process. A big thankyou must go to all of the people we saw, especially Matt, David and their respective partners for helping us out big time.

Stop press: The state of the rear crossmember (see bloody big holes in pictures) had deteriorated such that replacing it before we leave is essential. Unfortunately this is a large and expensive job so is going to set us back a little further, but we will be ready to go in just a few weeks from now – it is frustrating because we are so close!

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