Summary: Yes, I know. It’s not possible. You can’t go rallying accidentally. Well, we did. We didn’t mean to, and we didn’t enjoy it. This actually happened around three years ago, but I’ve only just got around to writing about it.
We’d just visited Sam’s mum, and decided to take a scenic route back. We arrived at a large crossroads, and Sam said “If we go right here, we’ll get back fairly directly. Left will take us too far away. Dunno about straight on.”
This is where I made the Big Mistake. I opted for straight on. It looked like a quieter residential area, with trees and things, and according to the signs, there was a golf club there (not the bat thing you hit the little white ball with, the building serving drinks where they brag about their luxury saloons and exclude anyone different). Closer to the ‘scenic route’ we were looking for. See the mistake? No, neither did I at the time.
It seemed pretty much as expected. Houses, trees, and a golf club. After the golf club, the road narrowed down, and everything looked more countryside-like. Just what we wanted. Then we noticed the road was getting a little too narrow. It was down to one lane, and there were heaps of rubbish on both sides everywhere there weren’t trees. Nowhere to turn around, in other words. If we’d known what was further on, we’d have reversed all the way back, but we just assumed that it was just a narrow bit and it would open out again soon enough. It didn’t. A van came the other way, and we had to sort of drive in the rubbish to get past. The road gradually gave way to mud. It was slippery and wet. We began to worry.
We’d come a bit too far to reverse back by this point. We came to the top of a hill. A reasonably steep hill. Made entirely of slippery black mud and rocks. At the bottom of the hill was a large, murky, black puddle. Verging on ‘small lake’, actually, rather than puddle. Still, the only way seemed to be down. Unfortunately, the other side of the puddle was a matching hill going back up again. The top, however, appeared suspiciously flat. Flat, as though it was topped with tarmac, or concrete. Some sort of real surface, anyway, of the sort our car had been designed for. This looked like something to aim for, so we readied ourselves. My plan was that if I had enough speed up at the bottom of the hill, and just aimed to keep it reasonably constant and smooth, we might make it to the top. Or we might slide back down. One of the two. There was a small flat area the other side of the puddle, to get a run up, though, so at least I could take it reasonably gently going down the hill.
p>I guessed that we weren’t on a public road any more, which made things more worrying. I wasn’t sure if calling the RAC (like the AAA for you Americans) was an option once you’d left the road and driven for a while on rocks and slurry, but it didn’t seem likely.
We started rolling. The difficult part was keeping it slow, without hitting the brakes sharply enough to just slide at any point. We hit a large rock. Hard. With whatever is at the bottom of an engine. Sump, probably. Hard enough to be very concerned about what damage we might have done to our car. We carried on, since getting out to check was a messy sort of option. We were, at least, heartened by the fact that the huge puddle seemed to have an edge, so there seemed to be a chance of going around the edge, without getting too deep in the water. It was still deep enough to dip the bodywork of the car, but better than we had thought it might be.
Then, we had to get moving much faster than we really wanted to, in order to give us a chance of making it back up the other side of the hill to the tantalizingly flat edge. We were bouncing on rocks hidden in the black mud, and sliding around, but we were managing to get quite good momentum heading upwards. This was pleasing, as the alternative of sliding backwards through the mud and rocks towards the pool didn’t appeal too much. Fortunately, it was a bit wider on this side too. This was especially good as it was at this point that a couple of vehicles were heading the other way. There were other people here. That at least gave us some confidence that the route must actually lead somewhere – presumably these other people hadn’t all just gone this way then come back. The alternative was that they were taking the most insane shortcut imaginable, but some people are just mad, and it was Mansfield.
We had plenty of speed up as we reached the steepest bit, and made it quite nicely to the top, and popped out onto good flat concrete as expected. Roads went off in no directions. Er. Well, to the right was more mud. Ahead was just a huge slope leading to fields of black mud. To the left was what looked like it might have been a road, but was clearly signposted "No Entry", and had heaps of soil in front of it, clearly deposited there to try to prevent anyone from going that way. A van came the other way, clearly intending to head the way we’d just come. Time to ask for directions. I know that means I’m not a Real Man any more, but it seemed wise.
"Er, hi, er… Which way do we go to get out of here?"
"Depends where you want to go, really."
Made sense, but I’d not really thought of it that way. "Just out, really. Anywhere with roads."
p>"Are you here for the rally?"
p>"Rally? No, we’re just… Er… Heading home. A bit lost, really."
The van drive explained that the way ahead of us was just slurry, as we could see. To the right was pretty much the same, and didn’t go anywhere anyway. We knew about behind us already. He recommended left. It pops out on the main road after a couple of miles of concrete road, he said. It would mean ignoring the "No Entry" signs, but were reaching the point where traffic regulations meant little compared to rediscovering civilisation. The piles of soil left to block entry were a bit of a problem, but had already been knocked down a fair bit by other people, and I reckoned they wouldn’t be too much of a problem for the car after the rocks it had already dealt with, so we went for it.
The soil heaps were no problem – we just bounced over them and onto concrete road. Joy! We passed more cars parked up along the road there, with people riding dirt bikes around on the mud further off to the side. The road was so dusty that the car was raising a great dust cloud behind us, like an old American road movie. At least, I hoped it was dust. I was a bit worried that we’d done something terrible to the car, but pushing on back to a public road seemed more important than stopping to check, so we kept going. It seemed like a long way, but eventually we reached…
…a metal gate. Around ten feet tall, and padlocked shut. Bugger. As we sat in the car staring at it, a water company Land Rover pulled up on the other side. I got out and walked over to the gate. The man from the water company came over and joined me on the other side of the gate. "Hi. Is there any way through here?"
"Not really, no. It’s padlocked shut."
"Oh. Someone told me there was a main road along here that we could get out to."
"There’s a main road just back here, but there’s no way to get to it from there. You’ll have to go back the way you came."
I explained the route I’d got there by, and he said he thought that was the best way back. So we turned round and headed back.
When we got back to where we had passed a couple of cars, we saw someone, so decided to try asking again. I’m not sure what I was hoping for at this point. There was clearly no good way back out of this. Perhaps I was hoping someone would tell us we’d just missed the main road over there, behind that bush, and nobody else had known about it. Anyway, I felt the need to try again. "Hi. Er, how do we get out of here?"
"Are you here for the rally?
"Er, no, we’re just a bit lost. Want to get back out of here."
"Hmm. Where are you wanting to get to?"
"Anywhere, really. Just the easiest route. What’s the best way out?"
"Depends where you’re heading for."
"Anywhere with roads."
"Ah, well there’s really only one way. Keep going until you get to the crossroads, and go right."
"That’s the way we got here. The big dip with the big black puddle?"
"Yeah, that’s the easiest way."
"Oh. Thanks. Er. I guess we’ll just have to give it a try, then."
The thing I hadn’t noticed was that when we first pulled up to talk to him he was pissing on a bush at the side of the road. That was probably why Sam wasn’t so keen on stopping to ask him.
It was also about this point when we realised that the reason there were other vehicles around was that they were taking part in some sort of unofficial rally, and were actually out here for the fun of racing their old bangers and hired Transit vans over the black slurry and rocks. Presumably not caring too much if they did break them. We were there in our nice shiny (relatively) new Corolla, on our way home. So we returned to the top of the hill, and prepared to do it all over again. Fortunately, we made it again, and popped back out by the golf club.