Billings and Wild Wales 2003
Last spring and summer my job took me to the UK, so I bought a Land Rover.
Now I’m the proud owner of a Series IIa 109 station wagon (perhaps
that should be a IIc since it has a Series III chassis and a military
engine). After some difficulty locating a reliable garage to fix the
brakes I found myself with a working Land Rover that needed to be exercised.
My daughter Catherine and I duly embarked on a prolonged safari to Wales.
First we drove from London to the Billing Land Rover show. Unfortunately
our trip took us past Silverstone where the F1 Grand Prix was underway,
and so a short trip turned into a 3 hour crawl. Did I also mention that
the 109 doesn’t have an overdrive or a headlining? Also the first
summer heat-wave was in full swing.
We arrived early enough at Billing to avoid the traffic (arrive before
9:00AM if you ever decide to go there), and spent a happy morning buying
odds and ends. Most of the stalls feature new equipment, but it was neat
to see all the accessories on display. The club stands were also worth
a visit and this year the Camel Club stand really attracted our attention – the
sunken Defender with an arm waving from the foaming water showed a lot
of originality as you can tell from the first picture.
Figure 1: Camel Club Stand at Billings 2003
After a civilized lunch by the lake, we reluctantly climbed back into
the 109 (it has military shackles so “climb” is correct)
and departed for Aberdovey on the coast in mid-Wales. After 5 hours and
4 liters of oil we arrived at our B&B exhausted, cooked, deaf but
fairly comfortable due to the new Exmoor seats (they are rather hard
compared to the old elephant hides).
The Welsh countryside around Aberdovey and inland towards Machynlleth
is very attractive with bleak rocky hills. Next morning, we met Vince
Cobley of the LRO Adventure Club (with his striking 110 County Station
Wagon) in the main car-park together with about 20 other vehicles (later
we formed two groups). I was a bit nervous having never off-roaded in
a 109 (particularly not this 109), and my nerves weren’t helped
by the fact that the only other Series vehicle was a rather serious looking
SIII 88. Before starting Vince warned us of some trail features needing
special care, reminded us of convoy discipline, and without further ado
we set out. Our first crisis occurred in Aberdovey when we stopped on
a very steep hill. A Disco pulled up close behind, and that fact, plus
nerves plus an oiled hand brake and pathetic 2.25 lump made for an exciting
white knuckle start! Fortunately this was the only true crisis of the
We immediately joined a green-lane with some fairly steep sections (but
excellent surface) to the neighboring village where we started the first
main trail. This was the best of the day, with rocks, ruts and water.“This
was the best of the day, with rocks, ruts and water.” Considerable care
was needed not to modify the rear bodywork. As time
went by I came to appreciate the 109. The SAT tires that had annoyed
us so much the day before seemed much more purposeful on the green-lane
and we easily trundled over sections that I wouldn’t have attempted
without peer pressure from the convoy. Unlike most off-roading I have
done in the US there were very few stops or photo ops, just mile after
mile of beautiful, savage countryside and the smell of EP90.
Figure 2 Disco at the top of a slippery climb
All day my companion Catherine didn’t have an easy time. With hubs
locked the 109 has very bad vibrations from the front axle unless in
4WD. So every time we went from green lane to road, she had to jump out
and unlock the hubs. Then on joining the green lane again, she was out
again to lock them. This happened a lot.
Figure 3: Following the SIII through rocks
By 11:00 we finished this trail and arrived at the historic town of Machynlleth.
We then faced a 45 minute road drive south to forestry land just north
of Aberystwth. This proved exciting because the 109 suddenly decided
to pull hard to the left, and later to the right during braking – maybe
due to water in the drums. I should have mentioned the rain had started
mid-morning (and would not stop for another 10 days – the full
time of our visit to Wales as it turned out).
Figure 4: Rain on the forestry run
The second green lane was easier in general although we had our only
difficulty of the afternoon when I had to take a second shot at a climb
up a badly rutted section of the lane. Passing a number of mountain bikers
we finally arrived at a forestry rest area for lunch at around 2:30.
Figure 5: Catherine, Vince Cobley and the 109
At this point Catherine and I decided to leave the convoy since they
were to do another hour of laning in a direction taking them far away
(by ordinary road) from our ultimate goal: my parent’s house. So
after a quick photo-op, we departed.
The rest of the holiday included a trip to the local garage (which turned
out to be the best place of all for repairs that I found in the UK),
a visit to a local Land Rover guru with around 30 series vehicles in
a field, meeting a Series 1 truck cab long wheelbase being used to provision
a local microbrewery (now that is good taste) and a burst heater hose
on the way home. All in all we had a great Land Rover adventure.
If you want to try a Wild Wales trip contact Vince Cobley at the LRO
Adventure Club (see any issue of the magazine for details) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I found him very accommodating (he allowed us to join a two day outing
at the start of the second day).