The Picos de Europas by Range Rover.
A drive round northern Spain with Brittany Ferries.
Slinging a long recovery rope into the back of a new Range Rover seemed slightly at odds with the immaculate interior, but I had been invited to spend a week in Spain’s, Picos de Europas Mountains, by Brittany Ferries and Land Rover. I imagined that the ‘off road adventure’ would be pretty tame, but it never hurts to have some rudimentary recovery equipment. It was the Spring of 1995 and the P38 Range Rover was the new kid on the block. My version for the week was a DSE 2.5 and my instructions were to meet the rest of the party in Plymouth, prior to sailing to Santander the next morning.
The tall, grinning, PR chap shook me warmly by the hand and, rather apologetically, introduced me to my fellow journo’s. There was a nice old buffer from the Civil Service who was sharing a 4.6 HSE with a gent in tweeds from a West Country radio station. And that was it. Just the three of us and the PR chap. We had 24 hours to get to know each other on the crossing, much of which was spent either in a bar or restaurant. Talking to Radio Man it was impossible to divert my gaze from the top of his head. He had recently had a hair transplant, a-la Elton John and I couldn’t help staring at the neat tufts of hair planted across his brow, like rows of onions in an allotment. It was the source of much childish tittering when his back was turned.
In Santander we were joined by Danny Crespo, a local guide supplied by the tourist office. He too, looked surprised at the diminutive size of our Armada, but for him it was a chance to drive his favourite mountains in a Range Rover. None of the others had any off road driving experience so we were joined by Roger Craythorne, from Land Rover, who had driven down the previous day in a 4.0 litre version and recce’d some routes. On the first morning we took to the hills with Roger and Danny leading our little entourage up gravel tracks through a thick mist. We climbed to about 5000 feet and emerged into clear blue sky and bright sunshine. It was something of an anti climax to find that an elderly couple had conquered the same route in their Fiat Punto.
On the morning of the third and final day in the mountains, Roger left us and headed for home. I asked Danny if there was anything a little more challenging, as I had to get some good action shots for Land Rover World. His mountain biking knowledge of the area confirmed that he did, but was unsure as to whether we could get the two Range Rovers up there. We pulled off the easy tracks into woods and up gullies that had deep, mud filled ruts, concealed by undergrowth. This was more like it and the Range Rovers coped admirably, the traction control systems clicking furiously as they scrabbled for grip.
Deep in some woods Danny was navigating in the 4.6 HSE with Radio Man at the helm. Possibly distracted by the hair situation he took his eyes off the track for a moment and the top spec. Range Rover became stuck. I stopped some distance behind and was also unable to move. Great! Roger had only been gone an hour and we had two Range Rovers stuck in a remote bit of woodland with no mobile phones (they were rare then) and not recovery plan.
At this point the nice old buffer from the Civil Service stepped forward and announced, as a keen sailor, that what we needed here was a ‘Spanish Windlass’. We were certainly in the right country, but none of us knew what he was talking about. He took my rope, attached it to the stricken Range Rover and then made a big loop around a tree, tying a knot as far back to the Range Rover as it would reach. He then put the standard jack handle in the loop and began to wind it up. In the same way you would wind up a model aeroplane powered by a rubber band. He did warn us that the jack handle could spin round like the propeller of the model, if we weren't careful! Bit by bit the rope shortened and the Range Rover was released from the mud. It was then in a position to give me a tow across this tricky bit and we were able to continue our day without incident. We certainly had plenty to talk about that night in the bar and the following morning packed our bags, combed our hair and returned home on the very comfortable Brittany Ferry.