Getting to the top—a Range Rover up Cader Idris

“No sensible person will remain content with motoring round Cader: he will insist on climbing to its summit.”—W. Watkin Davies, M.A., F.R.Hist.S., Barrister-at-Law, Minister of Edgbaston Congregational Church, in “A Wayfarer in Wales” (Methuen, 1930).

As a rule getting to the top calls for some effort, whether in mountaineering, personal betterment or on the sales charts of the Motor Industry. Here it applies to altitude. I became involved in this last Christmas, when I read in a weekly contemporary that its Assistant Editor had been unable to climb Cader Idris, which he described as the second highest mountain in Wales, in a motor vehicle. He had chosen Cader (2,927 ft.) for his attempts because Snowdon (3,560 ft.), it was explained, had been vanquished long ago by a Ford Ten driven up the railway track and students had manhandled an Austin Gypsy to the top of Scotland’s Ben Nevis (4,406 ft.). With a longer memory I recall AC and BSA light cars getting to Snowdon’s summit up the narrow-gauge railway in the 1920s and Ben Nevis being conquered by a Model-T Ford in 1911, and in vintage times by a Model-A Ford, although when Sydney Allard had a go in later days he overturned. Incidentally, Cader isn’t the second highest Welsh mountain—the Arrans, for instance, being 43 ft. higher.

The weekly journal’s first onslaught on Cader was with a Steyr-Puch-Haflinger alleged to “climb anything”, which soon stopped with wheel-spin. They then made two visits with an Amphicat but failed again. An Argocat Professional was used next but suffered defeat within some 500 yards of the summit. Rumour had it that the Army tried with a Land Rover but got nowhere and that 19 years ago the local driver of a Jeep failed to clear the final stages when taking up material for a Coronation beacon. The challenge was irresistible.

Having been very favourably impressed with the Range Rover when I road (and off-road) tested it last winter, the idea occurred that to get one up Cader would be useful publicity for this paragon of road-going/cross-country vehicles. Brian Sperring, Rover’s enthusiastic Press Officer, was so intrigued with my suggestion that things got out of hand, in more ways than one. In the first place, he decided to make it an exercise for their Engineering Department, whereas I had visualised merely a private attempt with a borrowed Range Rover; not to grumble, however, for this meant that all worry at my end immediately evaporated. Secondly, in sending out a memo. of these plans my copy was inadvertently addressed to the publishers of the weekly from which the idea originated, which was about as bad as MI5 selling information behind the Iron Curtain! Because this publisher has someone of the same name as mine working for them the letter was justifiably opened, to be sent on to me eventually by their Michael Bowler. On receiving it I rang Rover Publicity and suggested how the secretary-bird concerned should be dealt with. However, there were no untoward noises at the other end of the line, so perhaps she is stronger than her boss….

The outcome of all this crystallised when I was instructed to report to the Dolmelynllyn Hall Hotel at Ganllwyd in Merioneth, where the Rover party would be based. Packing gum-boots and Castrol oilskins into the Chrysler 180 but scorning mountain-climbing gear, for the simple reason that I haven’t any, I set off in light rain under a sky like dirty cotton-wool, the mist right down on the Radnorshire foothills. It seemed that we would have to call the whole thing off. Fortunately the September Saturday we had chosen was to turn out sunny and warm. I dined alone on the Friday but the rest of the motor-Hillarys soon arrived, in the persons of Brian Sperring, Ken Twist of Rover Engineering, John Connor of Rover/Alvis News and Ray Thomas, Rover’s Paintshop Foreman. It seemed cruel to include Thomas, in view of what was to happen on the morrow to the Range Rover’s body panels!

The assault was to be made with a standard Range Rover shod with 7.50 Dunlop Trakgrips and equipped with a front-mounted Warn-Belleview electric winch. This American winch will probably soon be made available to Range Rover owners. It can be operated from a switch within the vehicle’s cubby-hole or from outside using a plug-in flex, has its own battery which is charged automatically from the Rover’s alternator, and gives a 4,000-lb. horizontal pull (we were using a 200 ft.-long 3/8 in.-dia. cable). Its position ahead of the radiator grille reduces rather than increases engine temperature.

At the south-west side of Cader Idris, where permission had been obtained from the two farmers over whose land we had to pass, we picked up “Tom the Shepherd”, who was to show us the route to the summit and without whose help we should surely have floundered. We were joined by Brian Pickup of the Pennine Land Rover Club and his 1948 short-wheelbase Land Rover which has a Rover 60 cylinder head and a rear-mounted Brandon capstan, while Sperring had a modern petrol Land Rover, also on Dunlop Trakgrips, with a front-located Mayflower mechanical winch. The owner of a six-cylinder long-wheelbase Land Rover who has an intimate knowledge of the area rendered us much voluntary help but wisely left his vehicle at the bottom of the mountain, although he has taken an Austin Gypsy up as far as the first rock outcrop.

The approach to adventure was up a grassy track with occasional water-splashes, which in itself would be regarded as a difficult trials’ hill. Then we came to long stretches of undulating open fields, boggy in places, the track scarcely visible, the summit of Cader still far away and as yet unheeded. Here the two Land Rovers stuck frequently but the Range Rover, carrying five, motored quietly and confidently upwards, its 3 1/2-litre engine possessing eight-cylinder torque paying dividends. When we did drop deeply into a bog it would either pull itself out after the passengers had dismounted or it was winched out with the excellent Warn extricator. We had left the farm just before 11.15 a.m. and by 2 p.m. the soft terrain had been defeated and a hard track loomed up. Brian Pickup had already destroyed a new tyre on a projecting rock and now the Range Rover had to prove the value of four-wheel-drive and that locked centre differential over tougher going. In places loose rocks had to be used to build clearance as it climbed over the seemingly impossible outcrops, at others the winch or the support Land Rover had to lend aid, but gradually all three vehicles got closer to the summit, to the astonishment of walkers, from a 4 1/2-year-old child to healthy-looking girls in shorts and sun-tops, who were also aiming for the peak.

The rocks finally converged and appeared to bar all further progress, except on foot. But a good deal of effort saw the Range Rover over them and motoring even further upwards. Where the track became so blocked by rocks that, short of dismantling it, the Range Rover could go no further, an altimeter reading showed 2,810 ft. We were within 39 yards of the summit….

With this we were well satisfied, especially as the view, like the altitude, was quite breath-taking. Peak upon mountain peak rose against the blue skyline, with distant storm clouds forming a backdrop. Below, far below, light and darker green fields extended to the coast, the sea just visible. Civilisation had been shaken off for a space….. So it was understandable that one astonished walker, coming upon the triumphant Range Rover on its precarious perch, should remark, but quite kindly, that he had come up Cader to avoid the traffic, only to find the Solihull product most unexpectedly in his path.

The ascent had taken less than three hours and used roughly the same gallonage of petrol. The Range Rover had acquired a few honourable scars but was mechanically unconcerned. Moreover, it had proved a most comfortable form of mountain transport. Pickup pretended to scorn our achievement and got his ancient Land Rover some twenty yards higher, by winching it up backwards. That accomplished, we started on the downward trek, in the course of which the ever-cheerful Pickup had his rear prop.-shaft come adrift, carrying with it the brake-pipes. Undaunted, he came on down, tied to Sperring’s Land Rover when in danger of running away into the valley below.

We were back at the first farm, where we were hospitably given tea, by early evening. Thus another day’s motoring was concluded, this one a credit to the Range Rover, which had shown itself to be not only a fast luxury car but a mountain-stormer of the highest order. The expedition had been well worth while (at least, I hope Rover’s thought so!) if only to obtain the colour pictures on page 1054. It also seemed a reasonable human accomplishment, although the two sheepdogs and a friendly hound who had stayed with us all the way were obviously not at all impressed….

In conclusion, it must be emphasised that permission has to be obtained before taking a motor vehicle up Cader Idris and that the going is unsuited to unplanned assaults. Apart from which, too-frequent visits by motorists would be unfair to those walkers who go there to escape us. Nevertheless, if that weekly journal, which said it would one day return to Cader, manages to get as far as we did, especially without winching, we will spare them a few hand-claps. To get any higher, if possible at all, would seem to be merely a stunt, involving much man-handling of some lightweight freak vehicle.—W.B.