Past Events > 2002 > Belgium National

Belgium National

20th September 2002

The Belgium National in a Series IIa
by Robin Sermon
Pictures by Dave Barker, Brendan Brew, Pam White

The idea of going to the Belgium National was first floated on the domestic front some months ago. Enthusiasm from both children was enough to gain muted support from Cath. We’d make it a family trip. But which vehicle? An 88” Series IIa with no refinements apart from parabolics, and with oil leaks capable of replacing the entire output of the North Sea or the newly acquired 4.2LSE with its clean carpets, leather upholstery and the need to be ready for business duty on return? Once again the children provided the answer. “We’re going in the IIa,” said David, leaving no room for debate.

So it was that the Thursday of departure saw me trying to fit two adults, two children and all the equipment into the said historic and battered vehicle. The process goes something like this:

  • Insert largest child into rear of vehicle and strap in.
  • Pack all luggage around, underneath and on top of child (position sharp uncomfortable bits according to child’s behaviour).
  • Strap small child into central front seat
  • Sandwich child between parents
  • Instruct child on moving leg to allow for gear changes and keeping foot from underneath pedals, handbrake etc.

Thus we got on the road to Hull.

Two miles on and the engine stopped! No chance to change motors because the ECU for the Range Rover had just been dropped in the post to RPI. Anyway, it started again and got us to the outskirts of Hull, then splutter, cough, stop restart and repeat every mile or so. Anyway, so near to the ferry it made more sense to carry on and worry about it later.

On to the ferry – and what a contrast. Due to an oversight on getting the booking off we found that the only cabins left were deluxe. Hairdryer, mini bar, television, bowl of fruit and even a trouser press – just what any off roader needs to smarten up his muddy jeans and definitely a step up from a IIa.. A few moments later the phone rings. It’s Dave. They’re all in the coffee bar and where are we? It doesn’t take long to join the others in the coffee bar and the party is complete. Dave and Pam in Dave’s Range Rover, Matthew and Paul in Matthew’s 110, Dave and Sarah in Dave’s 90, Brendan and Stuart in Brendan’s 90 and us in our SIIa.

We’re under way and it’s time to eat in the everlasting buffet. The two children probably reached double figures on ice creams! This is followed by Guinness and then sleep, ready for the early breakfast call.
Black pudding for breakfast – excellent! (This was to be the last until return). Off the boat and the convoy assembles. Not only are we the slowest vehicle, but also the only ones without a radio, so we’re sandwiched in the middle of the convoy and off we go. All is well south to Bruges. Past Bruges and onto the Motorway and the engine dies again. Trees overhang the hard shoulder and it’s difficult to see under the bonnet, so a swift tow courtesy of Brendan sees us to the next services. (Any suggestions that the breakdown was engineered to save fuel are entirely false. It was done to reduce the noise). It’s amazing how many heads will fit under the bonnet of a series motor, but the cause is obvious to all. A simple case of a loose and battered LT lead. With the limitless resources of Matthew’s tool kit a replacement is swiftly manufactured and we’re on the way again (Thanks Matthew).

The motorway miles rattle and shake their way by, (or at least they do in our motor), until late morning sees us arriving at the site on the edge of Tournai. With tales of the mudbath, which was last year’s campsite, it’s good to see clean stone chip tracks between neat, well drained camping pitches. Up with the tents and on with the kettle and then it’s time to register. Well it would be if the registration desk opened on time. After the first of many mentions of breweries and piss-ups we’re eventually able to register. Unfortunately we’re on a different meal sitting to the rest of the team, a problem soon rectified by the charm and influence of Mr Barker.

So after Dinner it’s the first real event – the “Night Drive” Cath takes the wheel for her first off road driving experience. We all have different road books but we set off as a team following the lead vehicle (Matthew’s 110). The dry weather means that the driving is easy. Paul probably has the hardest job, spotting junctions in the dark.

Minor roads and dusty farm tracks and no idea where we are. Somewhere in France, we think! Anyway, an hour and a half in and John’s had enough. After all it’s been a very long day for a seven year old. David’s up for more so Brendan agrees to an extra passenger whilst Cath and I take John back to bed. Fortunately the guess as to where we are is pretty accurate and we’re soon on the road back. In the early hours the others return. David is full of tales of mud, water and winches. He’s had a great time.

Belgians don’t understand breakfast, but at least the packed lunch looks substantial. John still doesn’t want to go off road so our plans are uncertain. The others depart and eventually we settle on a plan. Cath and John will walk into Antoing (the nearest village) and David and I will set off on the road book.
David has never seen a tulip diagram before, we’ve no GPS and the odometer is in miles with no tenths, so we’re going to be relying on a lot of guesswork. The route starts with a thrash down the motorway. We then head into the countryside to make our way back. David takes to the navigation like a duck to water. Before long we realise that people who are lost are following us. We must be doing something right! The miles of tracks go by easily – it might have been different if it had been wet but the only problem is the thick layer of dust everywhere. Hope the sandwiches are well wrapped! Just occasionally there’s a spot muddy enough to justify low ratio, but it’s mostly a gentle cruise in 2WD through beautiful autumnal countryside. The main hazards are large potato picking machines and horse drawn farm carts on the track. David’s really enjoying the navigation and I have to do strenuous mental arithmetic converting metres to miles, but it’s going OK. Occasionally we’re passed by 90’s doing outlandish speeds through the adjoining fields but we’re keeping pace with the majority of users.

Lunch sees us stopped with some folk from Milton Keynes in a series 2 109” and some Belgians in a 90. The sandwiches indeed prove dust free and very tasty. Fed and watered we carry on.
The only impassable obstruction of the day comes in the form of five Dutch motors stopped in the middle of the track. There appears to be a full-scale argument going on, but there’s not a junction in sight., so it can’t be about which way to go. As they show no sign of moving we eventually prospect the ditch crossing into the field. It looks possible but a bit of an axle twister. Carefully over the ditch and we leave the Dutch to their disputes.

Eventually we reach a choice of routes. With no other vehicles in sight we opt for the soft alternative. Shame really as I’d have liked a challenge. Anyway there’s the off road site to come. More lanes and tracks and we arrive at the queue. Nobody’s going anywhere, so after much hanging around we depart having hardly got muddy.

So back to a brew, beer tasting and Dinner. Children are impressed because they have beer vouchers as well. I guess the Chimay stickers will have to stay on the motor! There’s supposed to be fireworks, but it involves a drive to get there so we opt beer back at the tent. We see a few fireworks in the distance.

Sunday is trial day. Belgian trials are a bit different and it’s not entirely clear what’s going on. To add to the confusion the course is still under development, with Bobcats scooping earth all over the place. However I join the queue for section 1. Like most leaf-sprung motors, I get stuck on the first hump, with all four wheels in the air. Matthew has already popped a tyre off its rim here. Then the rain starts. One look at section 2 and it’s a no go on my road bias tyres. Anyway there’s plenty of fun watching as many vehicles fail to negotiate a deep hole with V sides. Dave follows Matthew’s example and pops a tyre. By the time the tyre’s fixed they’re beginning to pack up the middle sections. Pam’s taking pictures so I jump in with Dave and enjoy the luxury of a Range Rover round the final sections.

Mid afternoon and it’s the final presentations. All in French so it doesn’t make a lot of sense. After that, many people are leaving and there’s a huge queue for the jet wash. In common with many of the UK people we’re staying another night to avoid a mad dash for the ferry so instead of heading home it’s up the motorway in search of food. Not much is open on a Sunday so we settle for the motorway services and return replete for beer. The campsite is nearly empty so we take advantage of the space and let the children drive. John sits on my lap and steers in figure of eights, and then David gets in and starts developing his throttle/clutch co-ordination. Several stalls but it gets better and soon he’s driving around with confidence. Only 3_ years and he’ll be doing it on the road. Now there’s a sobering thought!

Next morning and the tents are almost dry as we pack them away. With all day to get to the ferry there’s time for a bit of sightseeing so by common consent we set off east and visit the battlefield of Waterloo. 226 steps get us to the top of the monument, where it’s possible to survey the battlefield from the middle of Wellington’s lines. Onward the wrong way round Brussels and back to the ferry. Washing the mud off in the shower threatens to silt up the harbour, but eventually we’re under way. Another everlasting buffet and over more Guinness next year’s club event programme is planned. An early breakfast and we’re disembarking to go our separate ways home.

The Verdict
“It was a nice ferry journey and the chocolate was lovely” Cath
“I liked the Teddy Bear I got on the boat” John
“The best bit was doing the navigating and driving round the campsite” David
And my view? Well it’s great fun, even if not well organized, but next year I’d only take the family if they really want to go.

Pictures of the event can be seen here
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