I’ve not done proper offroading before and so the chance to spend a couple of days driving in the Welsh forests around the Brecon Beacons was too good a chance to pass up. The purpose was to help a driver training company film and and market some offroad training modules for corporate clients running fleets of 4×4 vehicles.

Having spoken to a number of employers, such as utility and forestry companies, that require staff to drive off road, there appear to be a number of problems that they commonly encounter:

  • Lack of basic offroad skills mean they get can stuck on even simple terrain despite the vehicle having much greater capabilities.
  • Failing to adequately judge obstacles such as rocks or stumps results in damage to the underneath of the vehicle.
  • Not adjusting to the different on-road handling characteristics resulting in crashes they wouldn’t have had in a normal car.

Due to the remote nature of many of these drivers, the purpose of our visit was to create a series of videos that could be supplied online or on DVD to impart some of these basic skills required and therefore reduce the likelihood of damage to the fleet vehicles.

The first clue as to the remoteness of our location was the complete loss of mobile signal as drove across the Brecon Beacons to our chosen overnight stop the Baskerville Hall Hotel – where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Hounds of the Baskervilles. It was a quirky but enjoyable place to base ourselves with friendly staff.

An early start was required the following morning as we had a lot to film:

We started with some gentle offroading in the XC60 in a wet grassy field, which is as ‘offroad’ as most people ever get, but still presents a series of challenges that could damage the vehicle. Even a gentle slope can snag the front overhang. Attacking the slope at an angle minimises this risk but then creates the additional challenge of one of the wheels being in the air. Learning how the all wheel drive system in most modern SUVs works, and how it differs from four wheel drive, proved to be vital knowledge.

We then took the XC60 into the forests where it coped admirably with the steep rocky tracks and is surprisingly capable. The XC60 is not the sort of vehicle companies purchase as an offroad workhorse though. To film the more extreme modules required something altogether more serious – a Ford Ranger with lockable diffs! Under the expert guidance of international 4×4 legend Selwyn Kendrick, we traversed some extremely challenging terrain calmly and safely, learning skills that let the car do the work. Steep climbs, ditches, even flooded craters were all dispatched with ease.

While doing this, Selwyn was impressing on us the importance of judging the terrain ahead. It’s easy to misjudge a rock or tree stump and take the sump off or damage the bodywork. The key is slow and steady – too much aggression with the pedals and you get stuck!

Finally we filmed some onroad segments but with offroad vehicles. A pickup truck can handle very differently depending on the load in the back, or if the tyres are muddy or not. Understanding how it behaves differently from a normal car is essential knowledge for drivers new to offroad vehicles.

All in all it was a tiring few days, but productive and educational, and we can now start putting the course and the marketing plan together. A day’s respite from the phone was very welcome – although it did take a while to catch up on messages when I got home.