Cool Camping.

Cool Camping. A group of us get our sub zero camping badges in preparation for the warmer climes of Morocco.

Regular readers will be well aware of this stripey old Series 3 know as The Marrakech Express.  The transformation from a £500 wreck found in a field to budget expedition truck has been well documented in these pages.  Over the coming months it will be fulfilling the role for which it was built, in an ambitious idea to get teams of drivers to use it in a vague relay system around Morocco during April and May this Spring - fly in, meet up, drive it for a week, then fly back home with a large grin and a sun tan.  In terms of shoestring enterprises, this plan surely has to be one of the maddest.  But then, as my daughter, Poppy once said ‘Oh Dad! At least you’re not normal!’. Thankfully at least a dozen other friends and associates of this magazine are not stuck with that damning title either and the trip is a goer.  As I type these words the intrepid and talented Jim Willett is enjoying a lavish breakfast on Brittany Ferries, Portsmouth to Santander crossing, while the Marrakech Express rests on the car deck in readiness for the long haul across Spain.

Of course, only a fool would take a venerable Land Rover on such a trip without a reasonable amount of testing and the difference between being ‘not normal’ and being a fool is generally quite big, though there can be some shared skills!  The idea of trying the old girl out in situations likely to be encountered in Morocco was raised some months ago.  Desert conditions would be tricky, but John Carroll’s trip to Normandy earlier in the year, at least saw sand in the tyre treads and established that this 35 year old truck was capable of covering some big miles with few issues.  However, as the departure date and participant interest grew closer and greater, some kind of get together seemed like a good plan.  Key driver and Morocco guru John Horne instigated proceedings by suggesting a camping weekend and testing session in the North Yorkshire Moors in mid March.

I had decided that the only suitable form of transport for such a weekend was my 1948 Land Rover which made surprisingly light work of the 200 mile journey up the M1 from Leicester to the Yorkshire campsite followed by a pint in front of a roaring fire in the conveniently close Queens Arms which took the edge off the journey nicely.  In line with the actual expedition, we came and left in relays and at no time were we all there at the same time, but most of us met most of us at some point!   John Horne, with the benefit of being retired, is to be the main driver throughout the trip and he had driven the Marrakech Express from the All Drive workshop in South Derbyshire, up to the camp site to arrive first and establish camp.  John Carroll and Ian Clegg could only spare Friday evening, but Adrian Cox and myself  bravely signed up to join John H for the sub zero weekend experience! Dan Clements called in to say hello on Saturday morning and was polite enough not to compare us to a group of frozen refugees from some war zone!  Emrys Kirby arrived early on Saturday morning in his 80 inch and finally Jim Willett pitched up on Sunday morning with his pal Adam in a SWB Series 2 having made an heroic 4.30am start from The Forest of Dean with a view to having breakfast with us, then driving all the way back in their Series 2 and the Marrakech Express for the first real leg of the expedition.

I am sure it must have been the coldest weekend since records began and I do not remember ever pitching my tent on frost covered grass before, but a good fire and some hot food helped dispel the chill, as we sat discussing various options to drive across Spain and itineraries we could explore in Morocco.  Most of us have previous experience of this diverse and friendly North African country and for the adventurous driver it offers everything from deserts to mountains and even great surfing conditions on the Atlantic Coast, if that is what takes your fancy!  There is also plenty of cultural heritage and colourful Souks for passengers who may not be so enthusiastic about the pure driving elements.

Crawling out of my frost covered tent on Saturday morning John Horne’s roaring fire pit was a very welcome sight!  Even with a good so called ‘4 Seasons - Minus 20º’ RAB sleeping bag, two sheepskins, a woollen blanket, a camp bed and a Thermarest I was still frozen!  However, once thawed out and nourished with a hot breakfast, we discussed plans for the day involving a drive along well connected trails across the highest part of the moors.  With the promise of snow on the tops this would emulate nicely the conditions that could be encountered
high in the Atlas Mountains and the potholed condition of the track would be very similar to some of the lesser known routes John Horne had planned for us all. We would take three Land Rovers.  John and Adrian in the 109 Marrakech Express with Emrys and I in our 80 inch favourites.  I could not help but think we were a little like the Battle of Britain memorial flight.  The big one flanked by two smaller outriders.

In convoy we wound our way through villages unchanged for centuries, both of the older Land Rovers looking very much in their natural habitat.  The Zebra striped Marrakech Express looking slightly at odds, as if it had escaped from the set of the 1960’s TV Series Daktari!  Soon we were climbing on rough tracks and all signs of civilisation receded into the distance.  We were on the Cam High Road -  an old drovers route across the moors remarkably uncrowded so early in the year.  The track was perfect for what we had in mind.  Steep in parts, plenty of potholes and even a bit of crusty old snow to drive through at the top.  At one point we had to negotiate a bit of track that had been badly eroded away leaving a steep and sharp turn to the left where one route met another.  This would be a true test of the 109's capabilities so we all stopped to assess the situation.  It was a step about 9 inches high so John, who was driving at the time, selected low ratio and the old girl just crawled up it effortlessly in 1st gear, with a slight squeal from a rear tyre.  It was only after we had completed the section that we realised we had forgotten to engage the freewheel hubs - we had done it in two wheel drive!  In all we covered about 30 miles of mixed driving conditions and felt the Marrakech Express had earned its stripes except for a rather alarming thirst for oil.  Whilst oil and diesel are cheap in Morocco, the estimated 60 litres of 20/50 that would be required was an issue.

As we rolled back into camp we found we had been joined by Mick Outhwait in his well prepared Series 2A Dormobile.  Mick had kindly offered to cook us all a traditional Moroccan Lamb Tagine and Chicken with Couscous. So whilst he and John set about preparing the ingredients and a couple of decent fires to cook on, a few of us guiltily snook off to the Queen's Arms to enjoy a pint in front of
their welcoming fire.  On our return a feast awaited us and as the food warmed us and the drink flowed, the stories of the day and past Moroccan adventures unfolded under a crisp clear sky with The Milky Way putting on an authentic North African panorama for us.

I slept far better on Saturday night.  Whether it was the effect of the good food and a puff on the Shisha Pipe, or the fact that I had all my clothes on in the sleeping bag I do not know, but I emerged from my tent to a sunny morning and we soon heralded the arrival of Jim Willett and his pal Adam.  It was then that the whole plan suddenly had an air of reality to it.  It changed from a handful of
blokes camping in a Yorkshire field to a Land Rover that was about to depart south for Morocco via Jim’s workshop in The Forest of Dean for a week of final fettling.  Maps of Spain and Morocco were spread on the bonnet and information on camp sites and cheap hotels were exchanged over a large and extended breakfast.  Then, with a cheery ‘See you in Marrakech!’ we all went out separate ways.

As I finish writing this I can see on the Brittany Ferries web site that Jim is now half way across The Bay of Biscay and probably Dolphin spotting from the deck of the good ship Pont Aven!

Box out.

Brittany Ferries operate several crossings from the UK to France and Spain which, quite rightly, claim to be of cruise ship quality. or call 0871 244 0744
The Marrakech Express has been prepared by All Drive Classic Land Rovers, Acresford, Derbyshire and Jim Willett Land Rover Services in The Forest of Dean.


001  North Yorkshire sub-zero camping with the essentials of running water and a flat field

002    The occasional ray of sunshine lifted the temperature momentarily above freezing and the day could be described as ‘glorious’

003  The Marrakech Express acts as camp base and windbreak on the western edge of the makeshift camp

004    John Horne briefly removes warm gloves to discuss routes across Morocco with Adrian Cox

005    Reminiscent of the Battle of Britain memorial flight, the 109 flanked by the smaller 80’s

006    Emrys Kirby pours another couple of litres of oil into the engine, which ran well apart from this worrying thirst for 20/50

007    On the High Cam Road far from the madding crowd.  Note the telltale whiff of blue smoke from The Marrakech Express

008    A challenging little climb to negotiate. She made it with ease and only afterwards did the team realise that the freewheel hubs were not engaged!

009     Not enough to ski on, but enough to be able to say that the 35 year old Land Rover had ticked the snow box off the list

010    In the right sort of trees this paint scheme would make the Marrakech Express well camouflaged, but not here in North Yorkshire

011    In the right sort of trees this paint scheme would make the Marrakech Express well camouflaged, but not here in North Yorkshire

012    Under a bruising sky the Marrakech Express earned her stripes and nothing actually broke.  The only issue was the oil consumption

013    Melted snow left some large puddles to splash in up on the top of High Cam Road

014    With so much space and so few people, it was easy to imagine this was the High Atlas Mountains

015    True wild camping with old Land Rovers.  No fancy gadgets or creature comforts as it will be for the rest of the expedition

016    Sunday morning was brighter and the camp had been joined overnight by Mick Outhwait in his Series 2A Dormobile

017    Mick cooked a truly magnificent Lamb Tagine in the traditional Moroccan way over an open fire

Toby Savage.  April 2015