If you go down to the woods today.....

If you go down to the woods today..... A novel way to barbecue.

As a family of Land Rover owners, we seem to have one to suit every occasion and for a camping weekend in the woods the ideal combination was Matt’s 1985 110 and my Series 2A Carawagon, plus a handful of small tents.  Both Land Rovers have enormous amounts of previous history, the 110 having completed two round trips from London to Cape Town in the hands of previous owners, and my Carawagon has taken me across the deserts of North Africa and beyond for the last 16 years.  It is fair to say they are both now enjoying semi retirement, but could still be ready to head off into the unknown with a week or so’s notice.  The woods in question were a wise purchase by Matt and his wife Liz about 10 years ago and have absolutely no use for building or agriculture, but are excellent for having fun in!

We try and have these family get togethers once a year and it is a chance to sit around the camp fire, sip a few beers and catch up. The challenge set this year was to design and construct a water wheel powered spit to use over the open fire.  Matt is handy at all things practical and has the resources in his workshop to fabricate wonders of engineering.  My other son, Will is a Civil Engineer specialising in the handling of water. Eldest grandson Ed is a welder and the younger grandson, Tom is just plain useful!  The deal was that if they made it, I would provide a pig for roasting and we could have an enormous feast in the woods shared with the rest of the family and a few friends.

Research led the chaps the various You Tube movies depicting confident Californians building similar things from wood, but we wanted this to be a more permanent structure for use over the next few summers.  Lying around at Matt’s workshop were a couple of 40 gallon oil drums and the garage next door donated two more to make the paddles. With these cut in half measurements were taken to get a rough idea of how to design the wheel. This was then made using square section steel tube.  When finished it looked big enough to power a small town!  One oversight was how to transport this large feat of engineering from the workshop to the woods - a distance of about 10 miles.  Matt’s trailer was otherwise engaged, but the advantage of having a ‘working’ 110 is that you can haul bulky items around without worrying unduly about the odd scratch.  The wheel was heaved onto the roof rack and lashed in place with ratchet straps and the journey completed without incident, but with a few funny looks.

Once home, Matt, Liz, Ed and Tom spent the evening manoeuvring the wheel into position and anchored it in two fully floating bearings bolted to pieces of suitable wood spanning the stream.  They managed to find an area that was both deep enough and wide enough so that, in theory, the wheel would turn with the flow of the water.  However, whilst the theory was roughly correct the wheel refused to turn. With 48 hours until barbecue time and a considerable amount of effort having gone into the design and manufacture, things were not looking too promising.  As it was dark, it was decided to leave it until the Saturday morning when fresh eyes could be cast on the problem and everybody would be less tired.

The waterwheel was not our first priority on a bright and sunny Saturday morning.  First we had to get the two Land Rover down into the woods.  Though we have done this many times the thrill is still there.  Access is gained up a rough track, then a sharp turn through the bushes and down a steep bank.  The skill is not to let the Land Rover slide into the tree that is perilously close and bring it safely to rest in the damp mud at the bottom.  It’s a case of engaging 2nd gear, low ratio and some very gentle braking, then steering slightly to the left to miss the tree.  I went first, followed by young Ed on his first ever attempt.  All went well and as I set up the Carawagon bed and Ed raised the roof tent on the 110, Matt, Will and Tom gave their full attention to the waterwheel.  It was mutually decided that the flow of water was not powerful enough and a height difference needed to be created by building a dam and having a controlled release of water from this dam to fill the ‘paddles’.  With perseverance this was constructed using boulders and lengths of plastic drain pipe.  The wheel began to turn on its own and achieved 1 rpm, which was judged to be about right.

With everything looking as though it should work the fire was lit.  We made a big fire that would reduce to a large and steady pile of glowing embers ideal for cooking over.  I had been advised that a pig would feed about 100 people so, as there were only 10 of us, I opted for a large neck joint of pork and a chicken. The cut of pork was chosen because of it’s high fat content that would prevent the meat drying out and the chicken was a back up, in case the pork didn’t work.  Both of these were impaled on the spit and secured by brackets that Ed had made to ensure they turned with the spit.  An axle stand made a handy adjustable height devise and as we stepped back and admired our joint efforts it looked as though it was all going to work.  With the irresistible smell of cooking in the air I lit my OzPig stove to keep the pre cooked jacket potatoes hot and to bake some flat bread on the top whilst others prepared salads and managed to resurrect a rather dilapidated table that had been left down there since last year.

It took two hours for the meat to cook and this time was spent fine tuning the water wheel by adjusting the supply pipes.  Although the turning speed of 1 rpm was just right, it seemed that one half of the revolution was quicker than the other resulting in the meat being better cooked on one side than the other.  The fine tuning rectified this and as we cut into the meat it was lovely and juicy and cooked to perfection.  We seemed to feast all afternoon and continued chatting around the fire long into the evening, before crawling into roof tents, tents and the Carawagon.

In the morning the wheel was still lumbering round, it’s progress almost hypnotic, but after a breakfast cooked by more regular means it was time to pack up and attempt to get both Land Rovers out of the woods and back up onto the track. Ed went first in the 110 soon finding that the deep mud at the base of the slope was not ideal for gaining momentum. After a couple of failed attempts we dropped the tyre pressures to 16 psi and, with encouragement from the rest of us he made it.  My attempts in the Carawagon followed the same pattern, but we did not have to resort to using the winch and with lumps of mud falling off we returned to the house and then on to our respective homes pleased with both our camping weekend, culinary experiments and how a pair of old Land Rovers can form the basis of a great weekend.


There are few greater pleasures than a family camping weekend blessed with good weather and a water wheel to play with

Transporting the water wheel from Matt’s workshop in Darley Dale back to his house presented a challenge. There were some odd looks from other road users

Access to the woods is a challenge with a very steep and slippery bank and a few trees to negotiate

Toby’s Carawagon traces it’s roots back to 1970 and has taken him far and wide in North Africa and the Middle East

Matt’s 110 left the factory in 1985 and, with previous owners, made the return drive from London to Cape Town twice!

Matt, Ed and Will use their combined knowledge and experience to achieve 1 rpm using water power

Toby explains to importance of creating a big fire to grandson Ed, to provide and steady heat from glowing embers when it dies down

Will watches the meat slowly rotating and considers improvements for next time

Neck of pork and a chicken were the two meats tried and took about 2 hours to cook thoroughly

An OzPig stove was used for keeping jacket potatoes warm and baking simple flat bread

Neck of pork cooked perfectly and with the special taste that can only be achieved by cooking over an open fire. The streaks of fat kept it moist and succulent

A dam was constructed to provide a head of water and four pipes fed the wheel. This will be improved for the Mk. 2 version

The pipes feed each drum to fill it sufficiently to force it down into the stream, instead of a natural inclination to just float

The wheel axle turns in roller bearings and drive is through a flexible rubber coupling

Getting both Land Rovers out of the woods could only be done by reducing tyre pressures to 16 psi.

With deep mud at the bottom and very little space to manoeuvre there was no opportunity to take a run up, but both Land Rovers made it

Toby Savage June 2016