Destination: ULURU, Part 1

While dates and routes were only finalised a short time before we set off, the destination was never in any doubt. Neither Phil or I had been to Uluru and the opportunity for me to undertake a proper Outback Adventure was way too good to miss.

img_2560While we both had our cars, me a Land Rover Defender and Phil a Land Rover Discovery, there was an awful lot of other stuff to get sorted before we could set off.

The list for me seemed almost endless and without doubt the credit card took a huge hit. Tent, sleeping bag and bed, cooking equipment, table, chairs, fridge, awning and so it went on. There were also the bits for the car itself such servicing, a new tyre, two way radio, etc., etc., etc.

Once we settled on the start date for our adventure, Tuesday  13th December, everything began to come together. We even managed to set out our first three overnight locations although the return journey was to remain undecided until we got to our destination.

By Monday afternoon pretty much everything was packed, loaded and ready to go. Maria, who was joining us for our trip, arrived from Brisbane on Monday evening and so we were set for a very early start next day.

Day 1 : Tuesday 13th December : Sydney to Balranald

6am Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North, the designated start of our journey to Uluru.

But first some breakfast!

Rigged and ready to go, we set off about 7am heading west out of Sydney through Katoomba and the Blue Mountains. Our route took us through Bathurst, past the icon Mount Panorama motor racing circuit and onward.

Today was all about distance and covering the miles, but none the less we got our first feel of the amazing scenery to come. This was particularly the case along the Stuart Highway between Hay and our overnight stop of Balranald where the land became flat and increasingly baron with a huge sky that carried on forever.

img_2565Our stop for the night, after over 10 hrs driving, was the Yanga Woolsheds near Balranald, a spot Phil had visited on a previous trip. This was my first opportunity to set up all my gear and make sure that not only was it all complete, but that it all worked. Only one minor problem was a missing part on my brand new ARB awning. Of all the things which could have gone wrong this was simply an annoyance, and easily resolved as it turned out.

img_2576As always when I go travelling my faithful sidekick Safari Bear was on hand to make sure that we didn’t get into too much trouble or lost somewhere in the Outback!

Distance covered; 875 km.

Day 2 : Wednesday 14th December : Balranald to Baroota (Port Augusta)

Again we needed to cover the miles with a good 8 hours driving ahead of us, before we added a slight detour. Maria made a couple of phones calls once we were on the road and managed to locate a replacement for the missing awning part and so we headed for ARB Regency Park, Adelaide. It seemed rather strange saying we would be there in approximately six hours but this didn’t seem to phase them. Distances and journey times are very different in this country.

Having left our camp site we soon crossed our first border into Victoria, which also meant the first time zone change. Only half an hour this time but sufficient to leave us a little confused about what the time was until we got back in to New South Wales some days later.

We continued to head west crossing through into South Australia; not only did we have another time zone change, but we also had to go through a quarantine station which required us to give up all our fresh fruit and vegetables. For one of my companions the loss of oranges was almost too much to bear!

At some point along this route, but unfortunately I didn’t note exactly where, we got a sight of one of South Australia’s pink lakes. Although I had read about them before the trip I wasn’t expecting to see one. The colour, which is very pink, is caused by an algae not minerals as I had previously thought.

The detour into Adelaide was very successful with the missing part waiting for us when we arrived as well the fly screen awning room Phil wanted. This proved a huge benefit a few nights when it was almost impossible to do anything for waving mosquitoes, and other insects, away.

For reasons I can’t quite remember Port Arthur was mentioned as a possible destination for dinner. Which was an interesting choice as it soon became apparent that Phil was actually thinking of the penal colony in Tasmania. However, on checking the satnav’s we realised that there was actually a Port Arthur in South Australia and it was roughly on our route – clearly it would seem wrong not to visit.

Although Port Arthur is available to select on our various navigational devices and is shown on Google Maps – feel free to check – there isn’t actually anything there! Not a single thing! No buildings, nothing. Just a road straight through empty fields. Have a look on street view. Having checked google while writing this section I have discovered that it is listed as one of South Australia Lost Towns! This became another standing joke of the trip – who suggested going to Port Arthur.

By this time it was getting late and we wanted to be off the road before it got dark. Kangaroos start moving about at dusk and they haven’t yet been taught their Green Cross Code; hitting one could well end our trip. As it was on our way we pulled into Port Pirie and had dinner in a local pub. An interesting experience; one of many on this trip.

img_2572While eating Phil found a camp ground at Baroota (Rodeo Campground) which proved to be an excellent choice. Although wet and muddy as we pulled of the track we were met by the owner who pointed us towards his brand new barn which provided the perfect cover for our camp keeping us nice and dry as it poured with rain over night.

Distance covered; 700 km.

Day 3 : Thursday 15th December : Baroota to Coober Pedy

From Baroota we headed north on the Stuart Highway for our next overnight stop and a place I have wanted to visit for some time; Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world.

But first we had a long distance to travel.

There were three things that we experienced while driving this section of our trip which will stick with me …..

The long straight roads! Several times we stopped just to look at where we were heading and where we had come from. The roads were straight heading off in to the distance with nothing around but hot, barren earth.

At one point the main highway had been widened and signs posted at each end of the section to designate it as an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Its when you see things like this that you begin to realise just how remote the area is.

Following this link to see exactly where the RFDS planes are flying in real time.

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img_2599Next came our first Road House. As with any long, remote, trip you always have your eye out for the next fuel stop, in my case I generally had to refill twice a day. Spuds was one such stop on the junction between the Stuart Highway and Olympic Dam Road.

Not far on from Spuds, out of the right hand side of the car, you will see Lake Hart. A shimmering white salt lake which appears to go on for ever. My picture doesn’t do this incredible natural wonder any justice. In the heat and bright summer sun it was just truly amazing to behold.

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img_2606We pulled off the highway and stood on the railway track to take in the full wonder of the view. This proved to be our first proper “off road” driving of the trip, albeit just a few hundred yards.

coober-pedy-outback1Coober Pedy was exactly as I expected, having seen it a number of times on the the TV.

coober-pedy-outback2You know you are getting nearer as the number of man made earth piles increases almost to the point were the entire landscape is disrupted by mining. The process, as I understand it, is rather simple. You did a shaft, lower somebody in and if there is an opal you keep digging; if not you start again. And so it goes on. The evidence of this is everywhere you look as you approach the town. Clearly some people have struck lucky, or simply got better organised, as their spoil heaps are considerably bigger.

img_2614The town itself is very functional, dusty and as I would image mining towns in the Outback have looked ever since man started digging holes. It is a small town with only the necessities, grocer, bank and of course a bottle shop. There are a few concessions to visitors such as the Underground Hotel, working mines to be toured and an underground church. All except the church were shut when we arrived.

As the summer heat is extreme in this part of Australia many people choose to live underground where the earth maintains a manageable ambient temperature all year round.

The Stuart Range and Highway were named after John McDouall Stuart who was the first European explorer in the area. He was the first to complete the South to North crossing of the continent which he achieved in 1862. The plaque in the photograph below commemorates this achievement.

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Distance covered; 600 km.

 

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London 2 Brighton Land Rover Run – Part 2

Another great weekend brilliantly organised by the South London & Surrey Land Rover Club aided by the glorious weather.

London 2 Brighton 2013 As I was travelling on my own this year, there was less to pack so it was all done on Saturday morning and by ten thirty I was ready for the off. A leisurely drive through the middle of London (an unnecessary but enjoyable addition to my journey) and I was at Hook Road Arena by about 1.30. Although very early I wasn’t the first. The advantage of arriving at this time was that I found an ideal camping spot on the fields parameter away from the groups and the main pack. The tent was pitched and everything set ready for the night ahead, followed by a wonderfully lazy afternoon and evening.

Overnight camping Camping Saturday night.Series I Club Series I Club.101 or Forward Patrol - sorry for getting it wrong. 101 or Forward Patrol – which is it?

Although a chilly night I was well sorted with my two sleeping bags; “as snug as a bug” you might say. An early start in the morning was cold and damp, there was a heavy dew, but the sky was clear and everything was set for a great day.Bright by chilly morning. Bright but chilly morning.Camel Trophy Owners Club Camel Trophy Owners Club.

At about 8 o’clock the first of the clubs started to move soon followed by the overnight campers. Last, but not least, those that had turned up in the morning just for the run were sent on their way.

We're off! We’re off!Sunday arrivals waiting their turn Sunday arrivals waiting their turn!Maderia Drive, Brighton  Maderia Drive, Brighton.Maderia Drive, Brighton Maderia Drive, Brighton.Maderia Drive, Brighton Maderia Drive, Brighton.

A leisurely drive down to Brighton in convoy with a large number of similar vehicles and like minded people is at the heart of this event. The camping is part of the fun; viewing all the Land Rovers parked up on the sea front at Brighton is great, as well as spotting the ones you want to own and getting ideas; but the drive itself is what it is really all about. Seeing people stop and stare as you all pass with the different coloured and prepared vehicles; standard, modified, old, new, hard top, soft top and no top! Flags flying. An experience to be recommended. As Martin says, every Land Rover owner needs to do this at least once.

TweetMaderia Drive, Brighton Maderia Drive, Brighton.

Sunday was wonderfully warm which just round off the weekend perfectly.

Thanks again to SLSLRC for all the work they put in to make this event what it is. I’m already looking forward to Sunday 5th October 2014.

If you can, be there.

The Battle Fields, France

A short trip this August has taken Lauren and me for our first visit to the battle fields of France. The initial intention was to visit sites from both wars, but that was curtailed some what once arriving in Normandy due to the number of sites to see and locations to experience. We only had a couple of days; just enough to dip our toes in.

Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword.

Utah and Omaha were the American landing points. Long stretches of wide, flat, sandy beaches, protected in land by high rock banks. The perfect family holiday location. Every where is clean and well looked after. Clearly the residents are proud of their villages.

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Having taken in the impressive beach views your eye is drawn to the flags, memorials and information notices which bring you back to why you are here.

Theses beaches, along with Gold, Juno and Sword, were the location for the Allied invasion of Europe. The biggest landing of troops and equipment ever seen, or attempted, in world history. The D-day beaches.

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On a warm August evening it is very difficult to imagine the horrors these young men were about to face; their thoughts as they crossed the channel and boarded the landing craft which would drop them on the sand and then leave them to run, unprotected, into enemy fire.

On our second day we visited the American disembarkation museum on Utah Beach. This was built into some of the German fortifications and provided a detailed explanation of the defences constructed, The Atlantic Wall, built by the Germans and how the Allies were to over come them. The photographs showed images of the landing craft, the ships further out and the men and machines coming ashore. The numbers of ships, aircraft, men, guns were all listed; leaving you to try and imagine how this was all put together and directed from the shores of England to the north coast of France. There were explanations of the problems experienced, the plans that had to be reworked in the heat of battle due to the weather conditions and, above all, the bravery and commitment of the young men. These men had travelled through the night to be the first on the beaches, the first Allied troops to finally bring liberation to Europe; well almost the first.

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Gold, Juno and Sword are not as well presented as the American landing sites. But very much worth a visit in order to try and get a full picture of the scale of the Normandy Landings. Facts and figures are easy to reproduce but the atmosphere of the place, both now and on those early days of liberation are much harder to explain. The enormity of the task cannot ever be fully appreciated, but at the beaches you do begin to get some basic understanding. Standing there as the summer sun sinks into the sea, the people have all gone and there is just the sound of the cooling breeze and the birds in the sky; this is the time to think of those young men and try and image what they faced.

There are many stories of bravery, courage and leadership which I could reproduce here to try and give some insight into the men that crossed those beaches during the liberation, but one so clearly defines what it was, and still is, to be British ……

“On D Day, June 6th 1944, on this section of “Sword Beach”, as the Scots have done for generations, the Brigadier Lord Lovat, chief of the 1st Special Service Brigade, also a highlands chief, ordered his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe his commandos ashore. Above the roar of battle the skirl of liberation with a piper leading the way. They both entered in to the legend.”

It is recorded that Bill Millin continued to pipe as the troops made there way in land only stopping when signalled that the enemy was close and he didn’t want to give their specific location away.DSCF3679

“If they remember the Bagpiper, then they won’t forget those that served and fell on these   beaches  –  Piper William ‘Bill’ Millin.”

Pegasus Bridge.

The first Allied ground offensive in Normandy took place just a few hours before the main D Day landings. This is a story that I didn’t know although I had heard of the location. A story that is impossible to believe in many ways but of course for the evidence; the photographs are all there. It is a simple story to tell, three gliders with approximately 20 men in each are released from their tow lines over the coast of France and then directed by map, compass and watch they land within a few hundred yards of a heavily protected bridge. If that wasn’t enough they then proceed to capture the bridge and hold it secure until reinforcements arrive. How can that be achieved with that equipment? No lights to help, every where would have been pitch black and the weather wasn’t on their side either.

This photograph shows just how close the gliders landed to the bridge which can be seen in the bottom left hand corner:

Pegasus Landing

A last cup of tea before departure…..

Tea

The area is now more than a shrine to those men; it is a living community. But when the bridge had to be replaced a modern replica was put in its place and the original moved near by; a permanent reminder of what was done by a few to liberate the people of Europe.

Within the museum at Pegasus Bridge there are detailed testimonies of a number of the men that took part in this daring raid. The words of one, Raymond “Titch” Rayner, sums up to me the bravery and outstanding sense of humour of these men:

“We landed next to a bridge, it wasn’t the right one but as we were there we captured it!”

Graves

DSCF3654 No visit to these areas is complete without visiting the graves of those that made the ultimate sacrifice. American, British, Canadian, Australian, French and all the other allied forces. But also German. All sites were different. All were immaculate. All were humbling.

Somme

Our return trip took us to the Somme and only twenty years earlier. The memorials and cemeteries are everywhere; all in prefect condition. It is important to state what an incredible job the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do in maintaining these sites all around the world to ensure that the few have the fitting memorials they without doubt deserve.

Like the beaches of Normandy, the fields of the Somme form an amazing, wonderful landscape. It is not possible to image or comprehend the hardship, brutality or sheer horror of that war of attrition. Months in a trench then over the top ……

Millions died. 300,000 have no known grave. Yet just twenty years later we did it all again!

During our very short evening on the Somme, one sight did provide a small indication of what happened. The crater at Lochnagar was made by the detonation of 60,000 lbs of explosive in a tunnel under enemy lines. It was this that signalled the start of the first battle of the Somme. On the first day 75,000 men were to lose their lives.

MemorialThe imposing memorial at the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery records the names of approximately 75,000 of the me who have no known graves. It was built on the high ground occupied by the German forces during the battle and due to its position is visible from miles around.

DSCF3787 James Youll Turnbull VC (24 December 1883 – 1 July 1916) was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a British and Commonwealth forces. Before World War I, he played rugby for Cartha Queens Park RFC and was a member of the 3rd Battalion of the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. He was a sergeant in the 17th Battalion (Glasgow Commercials), The Highland Light Infantry, British Army during the Somme in the First World War. On 1 July 1916, Turnbull was awarded the VC for his actions at Leipzig Salient, Authuille, France. He was 32 years old.

Citation : For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, when, having with his party captured a post apparently of great importance to the enemy, he was subjected to severe counter-attacks, which were continuous throughout the whole day. Although his party was wiped  out and replaced several times during the day, Sargent  Turnbull never wavered in his determination to hold the post, the loss of which would have been very serious. Almost, single-handed, he maintained his position, and displayed the highest degree of valour and skill in the performance of his duties. Later in the day this very gallant soldier was killed whilst bombing a counter-attack from the parados of our trench. – The London Gazette, No. 29836, 24 November 1916.” 

Everyone needs to visit the memorials from the Wars. Whether it is the battle fields or the concentration camps. The world must remember the lessons from history and find ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

“LEST WE FORGET.”  DSCF3769

Day 14 – Homeward Bound

Sunday 14th April

Up at 6 and on the road as planned at 7, we made the port of Tangier Med in plenty of time. Unlike the way into Morocco the way out was very ordered with very few people. This certainly wasn’t a route used by the general population.

Unfortunately the 10.30 ferry was cancelled; the 12:30 ferry turned up at about 1 o’clock!

Getting on to the ferry and the crossing itself were generally fine even with the considerable delays, however leaving the ferry was a nightmare. It would appear that three ferris had turned up at once which caused complete gridlock in the port.

When finally we got through we were easily four hours or more behind schedule for the 650 mile run up to Santander …

Day 13 – Heading North

Saturday 13th April

A long, hot, days driving today took us from the magnificence of Marrakech past Casablanca and Rabat to the small Atlantic coast town of Moulay Bousselham ready for the short run up to the port at Tangiers tomorrow.

Generally there was nothing of great note about this drive. It was predominantly motorway, or at least the Moroccan equivalent. There were times when the locals driving skills beggared belief but we all arrived at our final destination safely.

On arrival in Moulay Bousselham huge crowds of people had gathered having some form of festival. When we went to investigate it turned out to be a form of horse racing where groups of riders charged down a stretch of dirt ground about 400 m long. Before hitting the barriers at the end they pulled up their horses and fired their guns. Although there was some logic to the proceedings it beat us, but the spectacle was amazing. All the riders and horses were dressed in traditional costume and the guns, which were also of a traditional design, made an incredible noise. All this coupled with the dust and smoke made for quite a spectical.

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Tomorrow is our last day in Morocco. Wheels rolling is at 7am so that we can try and make the 10.30 ferry. Fingers crossed all goes to plan.

Day 12 – Imperial City

Friday 12th April

The Imperial City of Marrakech was everything I expected and more. The hustle and noise of the night before had given way to slightly more ordered chaos as we entered the walled city at about 10am.

There is so much to see within the walls that one day at the end of a tiring two week trip was never going to be enough and so we decided to concentrate on the Souks which are positioned to the north of Place Jemaa el-Fna, the main square.

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Although referred to in the plural, the different sections, which are each dedicated to their own produce, blend into a single labyrinth of passageways, shops, workshops and homes. As you enter into the Souk you are met by all manner of goods displayed from floor to ceiling and stretching back into the depths of the shop. Shops merge one into another with a vivid collection of colours.

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The passageway we entered started with handmade shoes and slippers leading on to clothes and cloth, then into leather goods and so on the further you progressed into the depths. In some places the shops were over three levels with small staircases linking the floors.

Every now and then there would be a passageway with no shops, but simply a number of doors. These would appear to be the entrance to some of the homes which existed within the overall structure. Further into the Souk workshops became evident between shops and, again, down little alleyways.

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Occasionally you would see an elaborate doorway which was the entrance to a grand hotel or restaurant. Unless the door was open there was no sign of what was inside; no windows were visible simply the doorway. The use, size and complexity of the building beyond would only be revealed once you stepped over the threshold. In a couple of places we came across the entrance to a mosque.

As you progressed deeper the colourful shops slowly gave way to the more practical ones selling the items that the occupants needed for everyday living. It was easy to image some occupants of the Souks spending their entire lives within these alleyways. Never leaving to see daylight.

There were many things that left a mark on the memory …. The sights and smells. The smiles on the shopkeepers faces and the “good price” everyone offered, even though we all knew the “good price” was only the start of the negotiations. And also the comments, “lovely jubley” must have been said a dozen or more times. When asked if we were heading in the right direction one shop keeper returned, with a big smile, “that’s the way to the square, this is the way to my shop …”.

Marrakech is with out doubt a city to revisit. Although the experience of the Souks may not have quite the same impact second time round there are are many other things to see. As I said, one day was never going to be enough ….