Past Events > 2002 > Bulldog Trophy

Bulldog Trophy

14th September 2002

The Bulldog Trophy
September 14th and 15th 2002

by Dave White

Photos by John Davies

The Bulldog Trophy is one of the toughest challenge events of the year with 2 full days and a night section. Last year myself, Matthew, John and Lee had an "interesting" taste of the event that more or less came to a finish when Lee's 90 ended up on it's roof in a ditch. This year, with the event also being run as part of the Optima Challenge series we were determined to do better with what is becoming our "normal" team line up of myself, Matthew Sykes, John Davies and Nigel Waller. Following our efforts at the round at "Swampies" in Wales earlier this year we needed to place well in the Bulldog to guarantee our place in the Optima Challenge Final at Tong in November.

Friday 13th is never a good day to travel, allegedly, so it was with some trepidation and lots of bits crossed that on Friday afternoon we set out to travel the 150 miles or so to Town Yetham, a small village between Kelso and Wooler. Other than nearly becoming the meat in a lorry sandwich on the A1 when a Vectra decided to brake test the Range Rover we had an uneventful trip and pulled up outside our hotel about 4 miles from the competition site. This was when we found that, despite them taking a credit card confirmation, the hotel claimed to have no knowledge of our existence. Not a good start to the event but after some frantic phone calls we ended up in a small B and B in Coldstream, about 15 miles away. I have heard stories (well you do, don't you) of eccentric land ladies in these establishments but had never come across one in real life before. I have no idea what she was on but it was obviously pretty good stuff !

Anyway, Saturday morning we downed a full breakfast and headed into the hills for the day's competition. After signing on and applying the competitor numbers to the vehicles we were lined up for the prologue and had a chance to compare the maps we were given with the terrain we could see, mapping out the various peaks ahead of us and trying to plot possible routes. By the time of the briefing many of those peaks were disappearing under the clouds and it was pretty obvious that navigation was going to become difficult. The prologue involved an imaginary chasm, a piece of string, a mouse mat, a wheel nut and a bulb together with some written answers... whilst half of our team looked on bemused myself and Nigel ran around (while Nigel did most of the actual running) gathering a number of items, finally transferring them across the track (the imaginary chasm) using the aforementioned piece of string. The results of the prologue were then used to determine our starting order.

So, the 27 teams (54 vehicles) set off at 2 minute intervals into the competition area to the first 2 grid references where they were to pick up a list of further grid references for punches.This first part simply involved driving towards the far end of the site, constantly gaining altitude but the ground was fairly firm until just before the second point where a short boggy section was already cluttered with vehicles sunk up to their axles, pointing in all directions. Matthew was first to attempt a run through. The first attempt failed quickly but after a quick pull backwards with my winch a more successful attempt took him a good two thirds of the way across the bog. We deployed the waffle boards and "walked" the 110 to firmer ground, I followed his line and again, this time with Matthew's winch assisting, we "walked" my Range Rover across the remaining soft ground. This bog claimed it's first real victim of the day when Neil Redpath of 'Team Ibex" attacked the area with his usual gusto. A combination of bumps brought the diesel V8 into contact with the radiator, punching a neat circular hole into it.

As we wrote down and plotted the grid references for the next series of punches, the cloud base dropped so that the ridge that the punches were located on soon disappeared. We set off with the GPS pointing the way and headed into the clouds. With visibility down to about 50 yards, we had some difficulty finding routes to the punches and once or twice had to leave team members forming a chain across the moor looking for the best route. Each team member keeping the next in view with the first staying in view of at least one of the parked vehicles, to do otherwise risked losing the vehicles altogether ! We soon got into a rhythm and quickly gathered all the punches. As we approached the last punch a marshal came up to warn us that one of the competitors had just taken a "250 foot swan dive" not far ahead of us. The occupants were bruised but OK, the vehicle, a Toyota Hi-Lux, was totalled. We were to ensure that we checked in with a marshal at the last punch who would ensure we followed a safe route down the ridge.

With all the punches collected, we returned to the control to get our next set of grid references, 5 special tasks. We plotted the tasks, planned a route and set off. By this time several of the tasks had teams queued up so we had to be careful to choose one that we could get onto without having to wait too long. We chose task 1 as there was room for 3 teams at a time if you were prepared to take whatever line was available. A simple enough task, drop down a couple of steep hills to get to a near vertical climb about 60 feet up the other side. As soon as a route cleared, Matthew took the 110 down while Nigel and John hauled the ground anchors up the slope. Once the anchors were set Matthew winched the 110 up the hill. Waffle boards were deployed at the top of the hill to allow Matthew to drive up the last part. I followed suit with the Range Rover and, once all the equipment was stowed we set off for the second task. This was too crowded so, rather than wait, we went up to the other side of the site where 3 more tasks were located. The next task was a trials section of sorts which involved crossing 2 streams and then winching through the last gate. To make this easier (and hopefully quicker) I drove around to the top of the finishing slope and deployed the winch so as soon as Matthew got the 110 through the stream beds (using the waffle boards to bridge the first one) I could pull him up the slope. We then swapped positions and another task was successfully completed.

The next task was another trials section but this one was driveable with a bit of "enthusiasm" here and there and a bit of care over some of the big boulders and soon we had both vehicles round. By now, time was pressing and we had half an hour to get back to the control or risk losing the points we had collected so far. We had a look at the next task and decided it was worth risking although it involved a very nasty drop into a stream with an equally impressive climb out. Once again I moved the Range Rover to the top of the exit and deployed the winch ready to recover the 110. Matthew didn't really drive the slope down into the gully, it was more of a barely controlled plummet with little control of direction or speed as the damp grass gave little if any traction. Once "landed" in the bog at the bottom we soon had the 110 on the end of my winch and back on terra firma. Matthew came on the radio and suggested that it might not be a good idea to take the relatively top heavy Range Rover round as it does have a tendency to get a bit wayward being a bit top heavy, I agreed and with only 20 minutes to go so we called it a day and headed back to the control.

A buffet meal had been laid on so after a meal and a quick foray to fill up with petrol we were ready to face the night challenge. It was quite an impressive (and expensive) site to see the convoy of tail lights heading up into the hills as we were escorted to the start. we knew we must be at the start when the clouds descended once again and obliterated the view completely ! The organisers assured us that somewhere out there were 8 punches, all we had to do was find 6 of them and return to the control point in just over an hour. We peered into the fog in the direction indicated and one or two braver souls walked 50 or so yards down the hill to see if they could see anything... So all the teams split up and carefully wound their way into the fog, slowly disappearing from view. We decided on the high ground to the right on the grounds that there were supposedly more punches that way and there was a fence line to follow. We spent the next hour in a bizarre game of cat and mouse as lights scoured the bracken for small red punches attached to sticks. Whenever a team stopped moving, other teams would descend on their position in the vain hope that they had found a punch. Lights were turned off to avoid giving away positions and I heard tell of one team using an open navigators door to shield a punch. We didn't do well... in fact we only found 2 punches and one of those we couldn't get to as there was a vehicle so bogged down in front of it that he didn't look like he was going anywhere ! At one point we found a very steep drop and dropped for what seemed like an eternity until we hit the, fortunately, soft peat at the bottom. The tracking arm on my Range Rover got slightly bent but not seriously.

Team Ibex had another piece of bad luck when Steve Barras dropped his rear left wheel down a similar drop and the Ibex rolled over sideways then backwards onto it's roof. Not only did this lose them the 600 points they had collected in punches but they also received a 200 point penalty for rolling which drooped them from 1st to 7th place overnight.

We seem to have a tradition of picking up the most difficult (for us) punches on Sunday morning and this year's Bulldog was no exception. Punch 11 was to prove our undoing and drop us so far down the score board that we would not have thought it possible without a mechanical failure on the way to the site. Teams were set off in the morning at intervals again and this time we were given a pair of punches. We had to collect both and then return in order to proceed to the next part of the event. We plotted the punches and, now knowing the site reasonably well, we set off brimming with confidence. The cloud had come down on top of the hills and once again we found ourselves shrouded in fog as we picked our way across the moorland, between the soft ground and gullies. Following the arrow on the GPS brought us ever closer to the punch and as we were now heading down hill, the navigators were deployed to find the punch and a safe route to it. when we'd plotted the route to the punch we'd spotted a reasonably gentle slope down to it on the map but on the ground the conditions didn't look too good. By now there were 3 teams up on the hill and, whilst the slope itself was steep and slippery, of more concern was the narrow ledge followed by a vertical drop into a stream at the bottom of it. The slope itself was too long for the 150 feet winch cable so we couldn't lower ourselves down on the winch without one of the team having to do it "free". The potential for something to go wrong if things got out of control on the slope couldn't be ignored with about 20 feet to bring the vehicle to a halt at the bottom. After some team and inter-team discussion it was felt that it wasn't worth the risk, particularly as from this height we could now see a track leading up to the punch from below that looked a good option even if we did have to go a long way around to get to it.

An hour later we had traversed the hill and arrived at the bottom of the track leading up to the punch. A quick scout revealed that the track actually ran through a long uphill peat bog around 800 yards in length, covered in moss, interspersed with bracken and with the consistency of jelly "Like a mouldy rice pudding" as John Mills once described a similar problem. Matthew made his first foray up the track and was soon bogged down. A quick pull backwards from my winch and once again the waffle boards were brought out and it soon became obvious that we were going to have to walk the 110 to the punch using waffle boards until we could get within winching distance of solid ground and deploy the ground anchors. A quick radio discussion ensued but we decided that we weren't going to turn back now, we would persevere, after all none of us had anything else to do that afternoon anyway and we had nothing to lose in the way of points !

The going didn't improve and it was some time later before we had coaxed the 110 up the hill, most of it in 5 foot bursts, the length of a waffle board. Now all we had to do was get the Range Rover up ! If I could get the Range Rover within 250 feet of the 110 we could join winch ropes and winch up the hill. Unfortunately the Range Rover made it through the first ditch but sank into the second, with nothing solid enough to winch from and no ground that would take an anchor within reach it was beached. We had to call Matthew back down the hill so we could use the 110 as a winch anchor. Once the Range Rover was extricated we decided that we really were on a loser and there was no way we'd get the Range Rover up the hill in the hour remaining, particularly now the 110 was at the bottom of the hill again, so we turned back and headed for the second punch which took us around 10 minutes to find, get both vehicles to and get back to the main track.

We returned to the control with half an hour left and called it a day... we'd been at it for nearly 5 hours by this time and we had to agree with the marshals that it seemed pointless to go for another punch in the time remaining.

Whilst our abysmally low score for the day meant that we were almost as far out of contention for the trophies as you can get, whilst still finishing, our endeavours were rewarded in the end though, with our team receiving the Steve Maddison Bulldog Spirit award.

Pictures of the event can be seen here
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