A British friend of mine told me this story over dinner about 10 years ago, then THANKFULLY wrote it down for posterity. As he and I haven't read it recently, and the story came up a few days ago in a completely-random way, I feel it is time to re-post...
A tale of two 4x4s (and another 4x4...and a couple of farm vehicles)
It was a clear and sunny (but rather cold) afternoon at the beginning of January. I'd taken the day off work because I was suffering from a touch of the flu, but by lunchtime the Sun had come out, the sky was blue, and my spirits lifted somewhat. I decided to go out for a drive in my Range Rover. What a mistake that turned out to be...
I live in Swindon, a large town in North Wiltshire, surrounded by a lot of farmland and a considerable number of hills, downs and other bits of rural ruggedness that can make driving in the countryside an interesting experience. One of the best bits for an off-roader like me is the fact that Wiltshire has a positive abundance of Byways. These are un-surfaced public roads, open to all traffic, but usually only accessible to a four wheel drive vehicle (and of course Horses and walkers), especially in Winter. Most of them are ancient roads, that have gradually fallen out of use with the growth of motor transport over the past 100 years. One of the best known of these is the Ridgeway, an ancient track that runs along the Chiltern Hills and North Wessex Downs, 85 miles from North-East of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire to just south of Avebury in Wiltshire. It is all that remains of a prehistoric drovers track, used in the past to herd cattle in winter, when tracks down in the valleys would have been impassable, and is at least 5000 years old. Quite a large part part of it is open to all traffic (the rest being mostly bridleway or footpath).
Now, the Ridgeway passes quite close to the edge of Swindon, and I've driven that bit quite a lot, so it held no fears for me, even in the middle of Winter. My mistake was in deciding to explore one of the many side-trails that act as feeder lanes for the Ridgeway. It was a relatively short trail that I had driven one end of a few months before, but had backed off driving in it's entirety as I did not have suitable mud tyres. Now, of course, I had raised suspension and General Grabber Mud Terrains fitted, so I thought (erroneously as it turned out) that I was properly equipped. I had of course overlooked the cardinal rule, the Prime Directive of off-roading, which is NEVER GO DRIVING OFF ROAD ON YOUR OWN.
You're beginning to sense what's going to happen, aren't you?
I should have guessed the nature of what awaited me when I tried to turn onto the side-trail that leads across Ufcott Down. Even with the big lumpy tyres and the diff-lock engaged, I barely managed to get off the Ridgeway, as the junction of the two lanes was a quagmire. Thick, sticky, glutinous...choose your own adjective to describe the mud. Anyway, once away from the junction, the mud was replaced with wet grass, and I had to be careful not to slide sideways into the fields. A few short minutes driving led me to the edge of Ufcott Down, and the top end of the hill that I had seen from the far end of the lane a couple of months before. I'll describe it for you. Imagine that you are standing on level grass at the top of a hill. The grass is very wet, and a stiff breeze is blowing. Just a few yards in front of you the edge of the hill slopes away, at angle of about 45 degrees. Down the face of the hill are two tracks, carved out of the soil by the passage of many vehicles, both are about 75 yards long. Halfway down the hill the two tracks are joined by a diagonal piece of trail. Both tracks are very wet, very muddy and look very slippery. The track on the right hand side has a partially level section where the diagonal track joins it, and that part is flooded. Although it may only be a few inches deep the water could be much deeper. At the bottom of the hill the two tracks continue along a reasonably flat and level lane between two fields, then turn a corner, border another field and eventually pass under the cover of some trees and thence onto tarmac about half a mile further on.
At this point any sensible person would have turned around and driven back, but obviously I wasn't thinking straight as I decided to press on. I selected the left hand track, as I didn't like the look of the flooded section on the right-hand trail. I slipped the Transfer Box into low range, engaged first gear, gently let out the clutch and started my descent. As the Range Rover is equipped with a V8 there is quite a lot of engine braking available, and I was able to maintain control all the way down, despite the mud getting more and more slippery the further I went. I finally reached the bottom of the hill and encountered the first obstacle. At some time in the recent past, someone else had driven this way and had got stuck at the bottom of the hill. In trying to get out their wheels had dug a huge hole with the result that there was a ridge of slimy mud about two feet high to get over. Trying the cautious approach did no good as there simply was not enough traction on the slime, so I had to back off to the foot of the hill (just a few yards away) and try rushing the ridge, trusting on my up-rated suspension to help me. It worked, and I found myself on the level track.
This was when my problems _really_ started.
I mentioned earlier that the two tracks continued along the lane between the fields. Well the jump over the mud bank to get out had landed me between tracks, the wheels on the left side in one set of ruts, the wheels on the right had side in another set. This was ok until the lane got a bit bumpier and rougher. You see, the ruts were at least a foot deep, and filled with water for the most part. Even reducing my tyre pressures and using the diff lock did not give me enough traction to climb out of them. I tried to continue along the lane, but the land between the tracks rose, until the underside of the axles started to ground out on the earth. I backed off and considered my plight. Against all reason I had come out without something as simple as a spade. I had a 4ft high-lift jack, a 12 tonne tow rope, a tree strop, various shackles and a heavy duty hand winch, but no spade. I reversed back to the hill, hoping that I might have a chance to go backwards up the hill, or at least switch back into the proper ruts, but it was no good. Reversing up the hill just dug my tow-hitch into the ground, because the hill was so steep, and the ruts were so deep and slippery that getting out of them was impossible.
I got out and walked up the lane to the point where the vehicle was getting stuck. The mud was so sticky that it was adhering to the soles and sides of my boots, with the result that I soon had feet ten inches wide, and began to appreciate how Donald Duck felt. After the high central ridge between the tracks, the land levelled out again, and approached the entrance to a field. At this point the ruts had all been carved up by tractors, and I felt that I might have a chance to slide my way into the correct set, and thus make it to the end of the lane. So I decided to use the power and Torque of the V8. Big Mistake.
I returned to the Range Rover and spent some minutes removing mud from my boots, then strapped myself in, put the transmission in low box third, gunned the engine and went for it. The first attempt grounded out again, the second one got me a few feet further, and I reversed back to the foot of the hill (about 40 yards) to get some more speed up for the third attempt...which stranded me completely with both axles embedded in the mud and all four wheels spinning furiously.
Now, I mentioned the tow-rope, the tree strop, the winch, etc? Well, it's not much good when you haven't got anything to attach the rope to. There weren't any trees...not for a good half-mile in any direction. I tried attaching the rope and winch to some scaffold poles that were stuck in the ground as a fence around an old abandoned sheep-dip trough, but all that happened was that as I cranked the winch, the poles bent down until they were almost horizontal. The Range Rover didn't move an inch.
So, I got the high-lift jack out and tried jacking up the front, the theory being that I could then put something under the wheels (I'd found some pieces of wood in a gully by the side of the lane) that would possibly hold the wheels a little higher, thereby maybe lifting the axle out of the mud. No go...all that happened was that the wheels spun with more noise and I started to wear the tyres out.
I stood back to review the situation. The biggest problem seemed to be that the bottom of the tow hitch was firmly embedded in the ground. So I jacked up the back with the high-lift and tried wedging some wood under the back wheels...but then I found that the front axle and steering rods had embedded themselves more firmly. It was at this point that I realised that: a.) I wasn't going to get out of this on my own, and b.) It was beginning to get dark, and rather cold. This was at about 3:15pm.
So, where was I? Ah yes...in a muddy lane at the foot of Ufcott Down, with the Range Rover grounded out on a ridge with it's axle casings embedded.
At this point I had run out of things to try. I didn't know the local area all that well (except for the off-road bits), had no money on me with which to bribe local farmers and it was geting dark.
I cleaned as much mud off me as was possible, got back in, and started the engine again to get some warmth into the vehicle, as temperatures were dropping rapidly. I couldn't run the engine for too long, as I was not overly well-off for fuel and the Rangie drinks petrol as if it is going out of fashion.
I decided to call Geoff, a close friend and fellow 4x4 enthusiast, who at that time was spending weekday evenings as a lodger at my place in Swindon, as the commute from his house in Wales to his place of work at Compaq (formerly DEC Park) in Reading was around 200 miles, whereas from my house it was only about 50 miles. He had an off-road equipped Land-Rover Discovery, and I thought that we could probably make use of his hydraulic winch. I called him up using my mobile.
"Hi Geoff, it's Sean....listen, don't laugh, I've got a bit of a problem. I'm stuck up to the axles in mud...can you bring the Disco down and help to winch me out?". After he finished chuckling he explained that he was happy to help, but that the timing was rather bad as the network control centre and server room that he was responsible for had just sufferred a serious power outage, cutting network services for several large and important clients, and that he couldn't leave until it was sorted out.
So I settled down to wait. I played music, tried to have a bit of a nap (not easy in the front seat of a 1977 Range Rover, as they don't recline) and I called once an hour just to see how things were going. At about 8:00PM Geoff called to say he was on the point of leaving Reading to head to my house. Once there he changed out of his suit into some more suitable clothing, and then I directed him to the spot where I was stuck, using the mobile phone as I had stupidly neglected to take my CB set with me.
By now it was after 9:00PM, had been dark for about five hours, and was bitterly cold. As Geoff in his Discovery lurched down the rutted and pitted approach road from the direction of the hamlet of Uffcott, I could see the beams from his vehicle's spotlights cutting through the darkness, swaying and bouncing violently as he encountered the potholes and deep puddles in the lane. He negotiated the turn into the field, and managed to traverse the 200 yards or so of badly rutted track without falling into the deep ditch which was a feature of that particular field, at this time of year part filled with water and more of that slimy mud with which I had become so familiar over the preceding hours.
Then he got to the right turn which placed him at the head of the lane I was in, with it's twin sets of ruts. At the end he was at, the grassy bit at the side of the lane was pretty much level, and the ruts only a couple of inches deep. My plan was for him to drive the Discovery down this grassy verge, past the gap into the next field, and as close as possible to my position, then use his winch (plus possibly a bit of strategic reversing) to pull me over the ridge and back into the ruts, from where I was hoping to be able to drive out. So, over the phone I kept saying "Keep to your left, Geoff, onto the grass bit...keep to the left....the left, Geoff, onto the grass...". At which point the Disco's lights bounced once again and from their position I judged that Geoff had managed to avoid the grass completely and drop into the main ruts on my side of the lane. I called for him to stop, and go back to to the start and try to get back onto the grass, but he said he was going ok and could see my lights and was just going to drive down to meet me.
You can see what's going to happen next, yes?
You guessed it. With a lurch the Discovery's lights stopped moving, and over the phone link I heard muffled cursing and the whine of transmission components. Geoff had managed to get the Disco grounded. In much the same situation as mine, with the axles and towing hitch drop plate stuck in the central ridge.
I decided to walk up the lane to meet him, so got out of the Rangie, realised I didn't have a decent torch with me, and staggered through the mud towards him.
At this point the two vehicles were about 300 yards apart I guess. And Geoff's winch, good thought it was (and is) only had about 100 feet of cable on it. Even with the combined length of all our tow-ropes and tree strops, we couldn't lengthen that by more than about 50 feet. And there were no trees or other items of substance to which we could attach to pull the Discovery out. Geoff was now in the same situation as me.
We decided to see if we could use the winch to pull the Disco forward. The plan was that if we could get the Discovery down to the entrance to the next field, we could turn it around, then reverse down towards the stranded Rangie.
Geoff still had the Winch, AND a set of Ground anchors, three big T-section steel posts that attached together with a chain. Unfortunately he was NOT carrying a sledgehammer to put them in with. So I had to use the third post as a kind of hammer to put the first two posts into the ground.
We couldn't put the ground anchors directly ahead of the vehicle as there was nothing there but mud with the consistency of chocolate mousse for many hundreds of feet. I managed to hammer them at an angle into the side of the lane, a couple of feet over the edge into the field, where the cable would have to pull over a ridge, hopefully taking some of the strain off the anchors. It took about fifteen minutes of heavy hammering to get both posts in, and at the end my hands were numb from the vibration. Then we hooked up the cable, and for good measure I stood balanced on top of the posts, to help keep them in position (not good winching practice I know, due to the danger of the cable snapping and causing injury, but what the hell? We were deperate, or at least I was). Geoff started the winch rolling. It stalled, then took up some strain, then stalled again. The vehicle wasn't moving. We slackened off the cable, and Geoff changed the winch to it's lower gearing and we tried again. This time the winch pulled in steadily...and uprooted both stakes, even with me standing on top of them. Well it does have a 10,000lb pull. The vehicle didn't move.
As you can imagine we were a bit upset by this. Geoff then figured that pulling on that side wouldn't work anyway because the top edge, of the ruts was too high for too great a distance. He decided that we should try pulling forward from the other side, where the edge of the ruts was lower, the chance of the tyres climbing out better, and incidentally where the centre of the opposite ruts seemed to be a bit drier and therefore harder and denser and a better bet for positioning anchors.
So I went through the rigmarole of hammering in the stakes again. It took longer this time, about twenty minutes or so, and I could barely feel the ends of my arms by the end, not just because of the vibration, but also because of the cold, which was beginning to affect me despite my use of reasonable gloves.
We hooked up the cable and started winching away again. For a moment it seemed as if it was going to work. The winch took up the strain and put a lot of tension in the cable and I was still adding my weight to the top of the stakes in an effort to keep them in the ground. The Discovery moved forward maybe half an inch, possibly an inch. Then the stakes were torn from the ground.
In addition to the cold winds that had been blowing all evening the weather had something else in store for us.
It started to rain.
I wanted to try again and in a hammering frenzy that I don't even want to think about I got the two stakes back into the ground a little further on from their original position. I couldn't go any further on because at that point the centre of the ruts vanished under murky water. Any closer to the Discovery and the sideways angle would be too acute to use the winch effectively. We got maybe another half inch before the anchors were torn out again.
It was now close to half-past ten at night.
I decided that we were never going to retrieve the vehicles by ourselves and remembered that there were some houses close to the other end of the lane where Geoff had entered. Maybe someone there could help? Geoff had some money on him...perhaps we could pay someone to pull us out?
Neither of us had a torch so I had to walk back up the track, along the sticky edge of the field (where I managed to walk into some barbed wire) and slog through the mud and puddles to the start of the lane, where there was a house that still had some lights on and wonder upon wonders, had a Range Rover parked in the front yard.
I rang the doorbell.
The door was answered by a woman who eyed me suspiciously. I guess I must have looked a sight, shivering with cold and yet drenched in sweat, covered in mud from head to toe, with wild (and now mud coated) hair and beard, torn combat trousers and bloodstained hands.
I explained the plight of our little expedition and asked if there was anyway they could help us, or if they knew anyone who could. The woman asked me to wait and went and got her husband. I explained everything a second time and offered money, and he smiled grimly and said yes, he would help. He was used to it, he said, he'd pulled at least half a dozen vehicles out of that lane in the past year.
We got into his Range Rover, and set off back down to the field. Maybe it was because he was local and knew the area better than me, maybe it was because his Rangie was one of those powered by a relatively gutless VM Turbo Diesel that needed revving to keep the power and torque up, or maybe he was just annoyed, but he drove with a reckless abandon, leaping over ruts and swerving around like crazy. We got to the field and I explained that Geoff had driven along the left side of the ditch. He said that the right hand side was better, if you kept your speed up and could avoid the barbed wire fence separing this field from the next.
Yes, you've guessed it.
Remember I said that this ditch was deep and filled with all kinds of slime? Guess where we ended up.
Basically he was driving so fast that when he found us too close to the edge he didn't have time to react before we lost first one and then a second wheel over the edge, and came to an abrupt halt, with the vehicle tilted to the left at an angle of about 45 degrees. There was no way we could drive out of this. The two wheels on the left were both half submerged in a kind of watery mud soup, and as the Rangie (like mine) had a centre diff lock but no Axle diff locks, we were going no-where fast.
We spent the next 40 minutes or so trying to jack the rear of the vehicle up sufficiently to get some wood under the wheels but it was no good, so the man (I still don't know his name) trudged back to his house in a bit of a temper to get the little 4wd dumper truck from his yard, in the hope that it would be able to pull his Rangie out.
So now we had three vehicles stuck where previously there had only been one.
I trudged (or should that be "Glooped"?) back to the moribund Discovery and discussed things with Geoff. I didn't have to get up too early the next morning, as my working days are flexible, and I could spend some time trying to track down people who might be able to help...but Geoff had to be in Reading for about 8:30AM. I decided on a plan. I would walk out to the main road and call a cab from my local taxi company, get back to my house, fire up Baby Blue (my Short Wheel Base Series III Land-Rover) and go back to collect Geoff, so that he could get some sleep. Then I would drive him to the station in the morning so he could get a train to Reading, pick up some cash from the bank, then return to the scene of the crime and see what might be done.
It took nearly two hours to get a cab. On my first call, I got passed among the despatchers at the cab company, trying to find someone who knew where Ufcott was. Then I got put onto the boss, who instantly knew where Ufcott was, and even knew the bend in the road where I was calling from, once I had described how far I was from the houses, etc. He said he would get a car sent out, but that it might take half an hour or so, not because of the distance (Ufcott is only about five miles from Swindon) but because of the time of night, which meant that a lot of his drivers were busy ferrying drunk people home from pubs and restaurants, etc.
45 Minutes went by. It was now well past midnight. Our friend with the stuck Range Rover had passed me in the lane when I was walking out, driving his little dump truck, which had no lights. He was not in a good mood. As I waited for the cab I could hear the engine of the dumper revving in the distance, then a pause, silence for a few minutes, then more revving.
I called the cab company again. The despatcher I spoke to seemed puzzled. She had given the job to a driver twenty minutes before and he should have been with me by then. She put me on hold while she radioed the driver. He had gone to Uffington, not Uffcott. For those not in tune with North Wiltshire geography, Uffington is in The Vale of the White Horse, in South Oxfordshire, about 12 miles north-east of Ufcott as the crow flies, and about 14 by road.
She said she would send another car out and get him to call in when he reached Ufcott.
Another 30 minutes went by. By now I was almost frozen. It had stopped raining a little earlier and the skies had cleared. As a result temperatures had dropped and frost was appearing everwhere. When cars occasionally drove by, I could see the ice crystals glinting on the road in the beams of their headlights.
I called the cab company again as a last resort before deciding to curl up in a ditch and die from the cold. The car, it seemed, had reached Ufcott, and couldn't find me. The driver was not equipped with a radio, or a mobile phone, so had driven around until he could find a phone-box, called in, and had been told to give up and return to base. They were reluctant to send out another one, presumably taking me for a hoax caller. Just then there was the sound of an engine, some headlights, and a car rounded the bend and stopped. The window hummed down. "Are you the bloke who wanted a cab to West Swindon, mate?"
The driver had not entirely given up, and had driven around a bit in the hope of finding me. It turned out that he had been sent to the wrong place. The hamlet of Uffcot has a small road running through it that joins the larger main road at two points, one north, and one south of the main collection of houses. I had told the boss (days earlier, it seemed to me now) that I would be standing on the grass by the side of the road, just along from the north road junction. The driver had been sent to the south junction.
The interior of his car was wonderfully warm, and I luxuriated in it for a while as we drove to my house. I gave the driver a very large tip, as a thank you for persevering, and dived indoors. A quick cup of hot tea, and the addition of some thermal underwear and I was ready to brave the elements once more.
Baby Blue started up ok, although I suspect that the neighbours wondered what on earth I was doing driving my old Landie around at 1:30 in the morning.
I called Geoff on his mobile and told him I was on my way, then set out back to Ufcott.
I drove down as far as the entrance to the field, where the muddy track ran alongside the ditch. Although Baby Blue had big chunky mud tyres, her suspension was the original Land-Rover leaf springs, with no lift, and much less ground clearance than either my Rangie or Geoff's Disco. She has been off-road under many trying circumstances, but nearly always in the daylight, and usually when there were other vehicles there to help. I decided not to tempt providence by attempting to get any nearer, and called Geoff to let him know of my arrival. He arrived fifteen minutes later, besmirched with mud and looking none too happy in the glow of Baby Blue's rather feeble lights. Our erstwhile saviour's Rangie was still there, abandoned in the ditch, with the little dump truck still tied to it by a big tow rope. The man himself had obviously gone home to get some sleep and, presumably, to curse all those who drove off-road for fun.
I backed BB out of the field and we bounced and rattled our way back up the entrance lane, reached tarmac, and were home fifteen minutes later.
So, just after 2:00AM we had returned to West Swindon. But our vehicles (and the other Rangie) were still stranded in mud. What happened next?
I couldn't sleep much, despite being very tired, and was awake by 06:30. Geoff had to be at the Station by 07:30, and we both moved around in barely awake Zombie mode...until we got outside to get into Baby Blue (My Series III Land Rover) and it was shockingly cold.
I dropped Geoff at the station in time for his train, then went home and made myself some breakfast. While I munched my toast I placed calls for help in the Land Rover and Off-Roading conferences on CiX, my favourite on-line service, and one where I have many friends. I then went out to my bank and withdrew UK£200 as I had a feeling that I might be needing it. When I got home it was to find several messages of comiseration waiting for me, and one potential offer of help. Unfortunately it wasn't suitable. This particular acquaintance had a John Deere tractor on his farm and was willing to use it to pull me out...unfortunately he lived about 50 miles away, and it would have taken him most of the day to get to where the vehicles were stranded. He also offered to help with his Land Cruiser, but again I had to decline. His LC was shod with road-biased tyres, and I didn't want ANOTHER vehicle stuck in the mud.
So, armed with some cash, much warmer clothing, and the keys to the Discovery and The Range Rover in my pocket, I headed back to Ufcott in Baby Blue. I drew up outside the house of the Range Rover owner who had tried to help us the previous night, but there was no one at home, and the Rangie and dumper truck were still missing from the yard. I turned BB around and bumped off down the track towards the field and the ditch. On the way I came upon an elderly lady walking her dogs, and stopped for a chat. I asked if she knew where the couple from the house had gone, and she said that the house had seemed quite empty earlier on in the morning when she first went past with her dogs, when she would normally have seen the mother and children at least. I assumed that they were with their stuck vehicle, and continuing down the track I found Range Rover Man, AND his wife AND his kids. He was still trying to get the Range Rover out of the mud using the little dumper, but the dumper didn't have enough weight and as a consequence was simply wheel-spinning without making any forward progress.
I parked up and walked (or squelched) over to talk to him. It turned out that his wife needed the Rangie to get his kids to school and herself to work. He was already late for work and so had called in sick, to give himself enough time to retrieve his vehicle.
I had a look at the situation and then suggested that I reverse BB down to a point a few yards in front of the dumper, fix a strop to the front of it as a bridle, then attach that to BB with one of my 12-tonne tow ropes. He decided it was worth a go, so I got to work. The reversing back was fun. A Series III hard-top without side windows, and with all the available windows steamed up does not make for easy reversing, especially when you need to make sure you don't got to far to the left (barbed wire) or right (deep muddy ditch). I ended up scraping some paint on the left hand side of BB, but nothing serious. We hitched up, and I fixed the rear door open with a bungie cord, so that I could see the dumper, and then put it in low box second and gave the diesel some right foot.
And then I got out, switched the front free-wheeling hubs to lock, got back in and tried again...it's a lot easier in a 4x4 if all four wheels are being driven :-)
The whole convoy started to inch forward, the dumper bouncing up and down on it's huge balloon tyres, and the Rangie gradually being pulled free of the mud. The whole pull lasted less than five minutes, at which point we had advanced about 75 yards and were all back on an even keel.
The Rangie was a mess, both inside and out. Still, it was only mud. As I had promised the night before, I offered the guy some cash to get the Rangie cleaned and valeted, and he took it gratefully, adding that several people he had helped out in the past had offered him money, but that I was one of the few to actually hand it over.
Now that our erstwhile rescuer had himself been rescued, it was time to see about getting my Range Rover and Geoff's Discovery pulled out. Mr Local Rangie had said that the farmer that owned the fields that bordered the lane the vehicles were stuck in lived on the other side of Uffcott, so I got back into Baby Blue and drove over there. When I got there the farm yard was empty and quiet. I was running low on diesel fuel and didn't know how much I might use later in the day, so I drove down to the petrol station near Avebury to fill up, then returned to the farm. Now there was someone there, unloading bales from a 4WD Fork Loader.
I walked into the farm yard, introduced myself, and started to explain the problem. As soon as I mentioned vehicles, and the lane running from Ufcott Down, the farmer broke into a barrage of abuse, swearing away and blaming us recreational 4x4 users for practically every problem he had ever encountered in that lane. This I thought a bit rich, considering the size of ruts that I have seen produced by even a small tractor, when driving through mud that soft. It was then that I played my trump card. I offered him money, and got a wad of notes out of my pocket and held them in front of me. At the sight of the money he calmed down considerably, and told me to go back to the field and that he would meet me there.
I drove back to the corner of the field and sat there listening to the radio while I waited for the farmer to arrive. About 25 minutes later I heard a diesel engine and a couple of minutes after that the farmer appeared in the Fork Loader. His temper was much improved, presumably by the thought of how much beer he could buy with the cash I had shown him. I pointed out the stranded vehicles to him and suggested that we clear the end of the lane first by pulling out Geoff's Discovery. He agreed to this and started driving over there, while I got the rope and shackles out of the back of BB and then followed on foot.
The 4x4 Fork Loader was an interesting beast. It was articulated at two points by the axles, so that it was in effect four wheel steering as well as four wheel drive. And it had large lugged tyres, each at least a foot bigger in diameter than those on our vehicles, and twice as wide. they looked well worn, but still up to the job.
Mr Farmer manouevered in behind the Disco and I fixed up the rope to the tow hitch and the other end to the strange hydralically operated hitch on the loader. Then I got in, started up the Discovery, and slid the transmission into reverse. The farmer took up the slack and on my signal out of the window he drove steadily forward. The Discovery, which had been grounded on both axles and the tow hitch, slid easily backwards and up the ruts as if on well greased rails.
"Well", I thought, "If the Rangie moves as easily, this should be a real short rescue". Of course it didn't, did it?
I unhitched the rope and shackles and started the long sticky slog back to the Rangie. The farmer put his vehicle in the ruts in the far side of the lane and started to drive down. It was now that you could see the falsity of his statement about recreational 4x4s damaging the lane. His vehicle was tearing the surface of the lane apart. Each rut was ending up twice as wide and much deeper after he had passed.
He got to the vicinity of the Rangie while I was still walking down, and started to turn the loader around. It took him several minutes as, although he had those huge tyres, the fact that the tread lugs were so badly worn meant that he had trouble getting the tyres to climb out of the huge deep ruts he had created. Eventually he got turned around. We both surveyed the scene and he decided to try and pull the vehicle forward, over the ridge, in an attempt to get it back into the ruts. I wasn't worried, as there was nothing particularly vulnarable under the chassis. I hooked up, got in, started up the Rangie and slipping the gearbox into low second I signalled the farmer. He started to pull away, taking up the strain, and just as the Rangie edged forward an inch or so, the rope (with alloy shackle attached) flew back towards the Rangie and hit the screen just to the left of my head. The farmer had forgotten to close the hydraulic hitch on the loader...
The screen was slightly chipped, but just behind the rear view mirror, so it wasn't in a place that would interfere with my vision. And I was impressed with the screen's strength!
I re-did the rope attachment, this time running the rope around the bottom rail of the bull-bar for added strength, and made sure that the hydraulic hitch on the loader was closed. We started again. Despite several minutes of pulling, the Rangie was going nowhere fast, until there came a lound bang, and the loader shot forward...the bottom rail of my bull bar had snapped. The Rangie had moved forward about six inches and tilted violently to the right, so that I could no longer use the driver's door.
I exited via the passenger door, standing on the edge of the seat to get out (covering the interior in sticky grey mud as I did so), undid the rope and we discussed the problem. The Ridge was too high. All we would accomplish by pulling further forward would be to tip the Rangie on it's side. We had to pull her backwards.
The farmer got back into the loader, turned it around again (which took another five minutes, as the ruts were now _seriously_ churned up on that side of the lane) and got it into position. I hitched up the rope to the rear towing hook on the Rangie, attached the other end to the loader, and we tried again.
Yup, you guessed it. The Rangie didn't move. All that the farmer managed to accomplish was to turn the lane behind the Rangie into a sea of mud, as he had done to the lane ahead and to the left.
At this point he was getting a bit despondent and seemed like he might give up, but I mentioned the money again and he said that he could go and get one of the farm hands in the "Big Bugger" and give that a try.
So, he spent another five minutes or so turning the loader round again (by now about ten yards of the lane ahead and behind of the Rangie was a quagmire) and drove back to the farm.
I walked up to Baby Blue to get a drink of coke, and on the way back collected Geoff's Kinetic Energy Recovery Rope from the back of the Discovery. Another pleasant half hour listening to the radio, and "The Big Bugger" appeared. It was an _enormous_ John Deere tractor, four wheel drive, with front wheels bigger than the wheels on the loader, and rear wheels that seemed at least six feet high. The guy drove it straight down the middle of the ditch where we had lost the other Range Rover the night before, and it didn't falter.
Salvation was in sight.
When the tractor finally got to the spot in the lane where the Rangie was marooned, I got out and chatted with the driver. I explained that the only possible way to get the thing out was to pull the vehicle backwards off the ridge, and then somehow drag it sideays so that it would slide into the correct ruts. Then pull ot forward and out of the lane. The tractor driver looked at the sea of mu for a minute, then nodded, and got the tractor lined up. I hooked up the kinetic rope to the Rangie's towing hook and the other end to the tractor, then got in and put the Rangie in reverse as before. Power from the Rangie's V8 was not needed though, as the John Deere dragged two tonnes of Range Rover off the ridge as if it was a child's go-kart.
In order to get the Rangie pulled sideways, the tractor had to be up on the grass by the side of the lane, something that the fork loader had not been able to manage. The John Deere, with it's HUGE tyres had no such problem, and climbed out of the lane easily. Once it was in position I hooked up the rope again and as the tractor chugged off towards the foor of Ufcott Down the Rangie slid and bounced along, and finally dropped into the ruts that it should have been in the previous afternoon. The driver took the tractor around to the front and I attached the rop again, this time using one of the tree strops as a bridle to lessen the strain on the bull bar. And it was a straight pull half a mile up the lane. At one point, twenty yards or so before the field entrance, the front of the Rangie was submerged under hundreds of gallons of liquid mud, as the tractor pulled us along and through a large and deep dip in the lane, and we emerged, coated in brown sludge, but with the V8 still running, at the head of the lane. I got out, doing more Donald Duck impressions with the mud on my boots, unhooked the rope, strop and shackles, threw then in the back, and drove out to the top of the lane, and parked behind the Discovery.
Finally, we were saved!
I handed over the rest of the cash to the driver of the John Deere, with instructions that half was for him and half for his boss, and he gave me a grin and a cheery wave as he pocketed the money and drove off along the ditch and back across the fields to the farm.
So now I had two 4x4 vehicles out of the muddy lane, with just a half flooded field to negotiate, plus the muddy and pot-holed approach track, and of course Baby Blue, still parked over by the opposite corner of the field.
The tractor driver had suggested that rather than risking the heavily rutted route alongside the ditch, I should drive up along the far side of the field, then turn left and splash through the flooded top part of the field, where there was a roped off corridor from whence I could emerge onto the approach track. I felt somewhat dubious, but walked over to have a look. The top of the field was, for the most part, under a foot or so of water, but it looked like no vehicles had used it for some time, therefore there were no ruts to contend with. I returned to the Discover, fired her up, kept it in low box (The Discover is an Auto, so I didn't need to worry overmuch about gear ratios) and drove slowly up to the top of the field and then out onto the approach track through several water splashes. The going was slippery but with sufficient momentum I managed to avoid getting bogged down.
I drove the Discovery out to the grass verge near the entrance to the hamlet of Ufcott, where I had waited for the taxi the previous night, parked and locked it, and returned to the field where I collected the Range Rover and did the same thing. Then I walked back to the field for a final time and got into Baby Blue. I cast an appraising glance around at the landscape, nodded and told myself that one day I would be back, and that next time I wouldn't be beaten (but also, that I wouldn't be on my own). Then I drove back up the track, bouncing and rocking over the potholes on the old rock-hard leaf springs (one of the reasons I now use a Rangie off-road) and went home to get some well earned sleep.
Later that evening, Geoff returned from Reading. He called me on his mobile and told me what train he was going to be on, and I picked him up at the station and drove us both out to Uffcott. There he transferred to the Discovery and we drove back to my place. I then parked Baby Blue, got into the Discovery, and Geoff drove me back to Ufcott _again_ so that I could pick up the Range Rover.
Since that time I have not returned to Uffcott Down, or the track leading up to it. The past two winters, and the rather wet summers and autumns in between, have made much of the landscape in northern Wiltshire and southern Oxfordshire severely waterlogged. But one day (and Geoff agrees with me enthusiastically, as he _hates_ to be beaten by the landscape) one day...